Queens Park Rangers
Last season: 17th
Predicted finish: 12th
Opening fixture: Swansea (H)
SOMEWHERE IN THE midst of the madness of the final day of last season, QPR’s miraculous survival story seemed to get lost. With a flurry of spectacular goals and results – not to mention red cards and suspensions – towards the end of last season, the west London club seemed to become the Premier League’s new crazy gang. That is a comparison that manager Mark Hughes will not want levelled at him next summer.
Sparky will be looking for stability and consistency this season and would no doubt settle for mid-table mediocrity to provide a base to build from in the coming seasons. Having added Park Ji-Sung, Samba Diakite, Robert Green, Andrew Johnson, Fabio Da Silva (loan) and Junior Hoilett, the Welshman has strengthened his side well.
What they need: Joey Barton to retire/go away or failing that – behave himself. He may be suspended for 12 games but he can still be a troublesome influence in the dressing room.
Stats a fact: In their final 11 games, QPR won all five home matches but lost all six away fixtures. Hughes will need to cure his teams travel sickness if real progress is to be made.
Last season: 1st (Championship)
Predicted finish: 19th
Opening fixture: Stoke (H)
IN 2006-07, READING made their Premier League debut. A swashbuckling campaign saw them steal the hearts of many neutrals and finish in eighth place. However, the following campaign was a disaster for the Royals and they were relegated. Unfortunately for the Berkshire club, the coming season is also likely to see them in a dog fight at the bottom. But then again, who knows?
Despite the fact that they won the Championship last May, they simply haven’t strengthened their squad with enough quality. Pavel Pogrebnyak (who in fairness was a fantastic signing) aside, Manager Brian McDermott has brought in minimal Premier League experience in Pierce Sweeney, Danny Guthrie, Garath McCleary, Nicky Shorey, Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa. Reading will be heavily dependent on Russian striker Pogrebnyak to deliver the goods this season.
What they need: Further investment from their new Russian owner.
Stats a fact: Reading kept 20 clean sheets last season – the highest in the Championship.
Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Predicted finish: 18th
Opening fixture: Manchester City (A)
WHEN NIGEL ADKINS took over at Southampton (interestingly, he replaced Alan Pardew) they were in the third tier of English football. That was August 2010 and now the Saints are back in the big time after a seven-year absence. How long they will be able to stay there however, is far from certain.
There is no doubt that the south coast club have some exciting players in their team. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez will ask questions of Premier League defences. But after back-to-back promotions it is unsurprising that the squad lacks any real Premier League experience.
Momentum is one factor that is often crucial to the survival of promoted teams. And with clashes against Manchester City (A), Manchester United (H), Arsenal (A) and Everton (A) in their first six fixtures, it’s difficult to see the Saints gaining any early on. That leaves nail biting catch up as their only option of survival.
Are there three worse teams than Southampton? It is hard to say so with any confidence.
What they need: A solid run of results from October until the New Year. There are some very winnable games in this period.
Stats a fact: Scoring should not be a problem for the Saints. They netted a league high 85 goals last season (including 4 Rickie Lambert hat-tricks).
Stoke and Ireland striker Jon Walters. Credit: Clint Hughes/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Last season: 14th
Predicted finish: 17th
Opening fixture: Reading (A)
ITS SEEMS THAT Stoke City may have hit a wall last season. Having been more praised for their boisterous support and ‘long throw in’ style of attack, it could be argued that much of the novelty has now worn off. Teams have figured the Potters out.
Stoke struggled to score last time out. They managed to hit the back of the net 36 times (the lowest in the Premier League last season). What have they done to rectify this problem? Stoke flirted with Michael Owen for a while before apparently losing interest. As the old cliché goes; ‘goals win games’. It doesn’t appear that Stoke will be winning too many between now and next May. However, Tony Pulis’ drive and the experience of Huth, Crouch, Etherington and others should be enough to keep them up.
What they need: A goal-scoring machine and a reliable plan B.
Stats a fact: Stoke have difficulty keeping the ball. They made the fewest passes of any team last season (10816 passes) and also endured the worst passing accuracy in the league (69.50 per cent).
Last season: 13th
Predicted finish: 9th
Opening fixture: Arsenal (A)
UNDER STEVE BRUCE, Sunderland suffered a dreadful start to the 2011/12 campaign. The club’s supporters were so irked by what they were seeing from their side that a handful were calling for Bruce’s head from as early as August. But things improved (as they always do) when Martin O’Neill took the reins. The Mackems began to play a brand of ‘up-and-at-um’ football which yielded some impressive results. Over the festive period, Sunderland brought smiles back to fans faces by clawing their way back up the table and enjoying victories over both Arsenal and Manchester City.
But the team from the north east are by no means the finished article. They have yet to significantly strengthen this summer. That means they will be relying on Stephane Sessegnon, Sebastian Larsson and Irish winger James McClean to produce the goods once more. With O’Neill steering the ship, a top half finish is not beyond the realms of possibility, but a European place is pushing it.
What they need: A new striker, they have never really replaced Darren Bent or Asamoah Gyan for that matter.
Stats a fact: Sunderland scored a league high five goals from direct free kicks last season. That is despite the fact that they only attempted 15.
Last season: 11th
Predicted finish: 16th
Opening fixture: Queens Park Rangers (A)
SWANSEA’S FREE-FLOWING style of possession football won the hearts of many neutrals last season. It also earned them the flattering comparisons to Barcelona. The Premier League’s first Welsh club finished 11th last season and, as usual when a small team punches above its weight, bigger clubs have come calling for their prized assets.
Having lost both manager Brendan Rodgers and star midfielder Joe Allen to Liverpool (Scott Sinclair and Neil Taylor have also been strongly linked with a move away), Swansea could struggle to reach the highs of last season. The Swans have made a high profile managerial appointment in Michael Laudrup and the Dane must learn quickly if his side are to avoid a relegation scrap.
One positive note for Swansea, however, is their opening fixtures. Each of their first eight games are very winnable fixtures and could provide a strong platform for the Welsh side to build from.
What they need: To keep the faith – even though some important figures have exited the club, it is important the Swans retain belief. They have kept hold of the core of a squad which kept the highest passing accuracy (83 per cent) in the Premier League last season.
Stats a fact: Swansea conceded the lowest number of fouls in the Premier League last season (309) and received the fewest yellow cards.
Last season: 4th
Predicted finish: 6th
Opening fixture: Newcastle (A)
OVER THE CLOSE season Tottenham made the questionable decision to sack their manager Harry Redknapp. Okay, Redknapp had a poor relationship with members of the Spurs hierarchy, and he may well have left the club anyway had his flirtation with the FA and the England managerial position proven successful. But ‘Arry is still the man that dragged Spurs from the doldrums and brought them back into football’s bright spotlight.
The decision to replace Redknapp seems even more misguided when you consider his replacement. Andre Villas-Boas had a disastrous spell at Chelsea. His man management techniques were heavily criticised (it is well-documented that man management is one of Redknapp’s key strengths) and he lost the dressing room by Christmas.
AVB will be under huge pressure from early on this season should results not go his way. Redknapp’s Spurs finished 4th last season and arguably played the most attractive football of any team in the league. Anything less then Champions League qualification will be considered a failure for the Portuguese rookie Manager.
What they need: To replace the big names they lose. Tottenham will be in big trouble if they cannot tempt Luka Modric to stay (or find a viable replacement for the Croatian) or sign Emmanuel Adebayor on a permanent deal.
Stats a fact: In their last three seasons Spurs have finished 4th, 5th and 4th respectively. AVB will need to hit the ground running to keep up with this trend.
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom captain Chris Brunt. Credit: Jon Buckle/PA Archive/Press Association Images
Last season: 10th
Predicted finish: 11th
Opening fixture: Liverpool (H)
HISTORY SHOWS US that appointing a coach to a managerial position can sometimes have disastrous results. Sammy Lee and Terry Connor being two great examples. However, West Brom’s new boss Steve Clarke won’t be daunted by the challenge. As Jose Mourinho once put it; “if he had the chance to manage a club, even a big club, he’d be ready for that – he’s that good”.
Clarke was Mourinho’s assistant at Chelsea (as well as Kenny Dalglish right hand man at Liverpool) and he will no doubt be looking forward to attempting to replace previous boss Roy Hodgson. Clarke will be working on a limited budget which means it is unlikely to make major strides up the table. On loan singing Romelu Lukaku is definitely West Brom’s one-to-watch.
What they need: Shane Long to pitch in more. The Tipperary man only managed eight league goals last season.
Stats a fact: West Brom were the only team that failed to take a point from a losing position at home (losing 10 games).
West Ham United
Last season: 3rd (Championship – play off winners)
Predicted finish: 14th
Opening fixture: Aston Villa (H)
ASTON VILLA WILL no doubt be offered a warm welcome back to West Ham when Premier League football arrives at Upton Park on Saturday. And my how things have changed for the Hammers since their relegation in May 2011. Out has gone the West Ham ‘way’ of passing and movement. In has come Sam Allardyce and his statistics-based approach to management. Some fans have complained about Big Sam’s dull long ball style but the only stat that matters is that West Ham United returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
But can they stay there? Typically Big Sam has brought in some terrific bargain signings. Jussi Jaaskelainen, Mohamed Diame and James Collins will prove great additions to the squad. Add to that established figures Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan and the Hammers should have more than enough to survive any potential relegation scrap.
What they need: To give Sam Allardyce time to work his magic. Everybody from the fans to owners David Gold and David Sullivan need to allow Big Sam the opportunity to rebuild West Ham as an established Premier League club once more.
Stats a fact: West Ham had last year’s best championship away record – they earned 45 points on their travels.
Last season: 15th
Predicted finish: 20th
HOW MUCH LONGER can Wigan’s luck hold out? It seems like every season they look dead and buried before they manage to climb their way back out. That has been thanks in large part to manager Roberto Martinez. But how long can the Spaniard be kept at Wigan? As soon as the ‘managerial merry-go-round’ starts to swing, his name will be linked with every vacant position.
So far in this Transfer Window the Latics have lost Mohamed Diame and Hugo Rodallega. They could well lose Victor Moses before the window closes. The only significant addition to the squad Wigan have made is striker Arouna Kone but the Ivorian is unlikely to be enough to keep the boys in blue up. If he struggles where else are the goals going to come from?
What they need: To hold on to Martinez. As he proved last season, when Roberto Martinez is on your side anything is possible.
Stats a fact: Franco Di Santo was the lowest top scorer for any team with seven goals last season.