It’s been a dire summer in the transfer market for the North London club. With fans begging for big name recruitments and money allegedly in place the only player to come in as yet is Yaya Sanogo, another of Arsene Wenger’s typical exciting French prospects, but by no means a proven quantity (and even he arrived on a free transfer). Meanwhile former first teamers, Santos, Arshavin, Denilson and Squillaci, have all been sold whilst Coquelin and Djourou have gone out on loan, amidst a formidable clearing of the decks at the Emirates that has seen no less than 25 players leave the club. Suspicious Gooners might speculate that the ‘money’ in place for transfers is more like wage-savings. Top target Luis Suarez looks to be staying at Liverpool, and the scuttlebutt suggests Wolfsburg will beat Arsenal to the signing of Luiz Gustavo from Bayern. Arsenal are in danger of doing all their business in the last two weeks of the window yet again. A state of affairs that landed them with the underwhelming signings of fans’ least-favourite Per Mertesacker among other letdowns. Either the youngsters turn their promise into results or Arsenal finish sixth.
After surviving by the skin of the skin of their teeth Villa were dealt an early summer blow with the retirement of their talisman captain Stiliyan Petrov who continues his battle against leukaemia. Paul Lambert though has invested shrewdly bringing in a host of players for around the £3/£4m mark. Danish centre half Jores Okore is a classy brute who’ll fit right in in the Premier League. Aleksander Tonev is a solid winger with good delivery if not the keenest eye for goal. Lambert’s only real gamble is £500,000 on 16-year-old Torquay forward Liam Prynn. Lambert was criticised for playing an inexperienced team last season and his purchases show he’s keen to stick with youth. They’ve also managed, somehow, to hold onto Belgian powerhouse Christian Benteke so far in the window, doing so is essential to their position. However, if the big Belgian CF goes down with injury or goes missing I can’t see them staying up.
After threatening to for years Cardiff finally joined rivals Swansea in the Premier League. In the end the switch of colour from their traditional blue to the Malaysian colour of luck red (at their new owner’s behest), did the trick, along with the good work of manager Malky Mackay. The Bluebirds (redbirds?) topped the Championship last year with a 10 point cushion and will arrive in the Premier League with a few familiar names among their ranks. Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham and Steve Caulker all have solid experience of the top flight, and may have give the Mackay’s men the steel they need to make a fist of it in the top flight. Newly arrived Gary Medel will certainly add bite in midfield and towering Danish Andreas Cornelius looks a handful. That said, it will be immensely tough for Cardiff. I predict a relegation dogfight only for them to stay up – just.
The chosen one, the special one, Chelsea’s only one, is back, Jose Mourinho will be in the dugout at Stamford Bridge this season. And he is already in an enviable position. The team he has been bequeathed is one of immense talent. The blues three amigos Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, will no doubt form one of the most fluid and implacable midfields in the league. There remains the sticky problem of converting all that sexy football into goals. Is Fernando Torres’s talent lost forever? Is Mourinho the man to bring it back? Can Demba Ba carry the weight of expectation of his questionable knees alone? Rooney would be an ideal purchase for Chelsea, but it ain’t going to happen. Are hopes being pinned on the returning Romelu Lukaku?
Everyone is glad Ian Holloway is back in the Premier League. Press conferences are rarely more quotable than when Ollie is holding court. Palace have got scant top flight experience among their ranks with Danny Gabbidon and Peter Rammage the only players to have played consistently in the Premier League. Holloway has signed 40-year-old Kevin Phillips as a bit part player with Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh also added to the books. Even with forwards Dwight Gayle, Glenn Murray, and Aaron Wilbraham – all of whom have spent the majority of their careers scoring sporadically in the lower leagues – it’s hard to see how they’ll notch enough goals to stay up.
And lo, thus comes to an end the David Moyes era. Never have so many, owed so much, to a manager who won so little. Whilst Moyes settles into the mammoth boots vacated by Alex Ferguson (an appointment predicted in this column last year) Roberto Martinez has been quietly strengthening his squad with some genuine, cost-effective, quality. Hitman Arouna Kone and centre-half Antolin Alcaraz arrive from Wigan, the latter on a free and former a snip at £6m. Also new to the hallowed turf of Goodison are players from Spain’s two powerhouses, Joe Robles from Real Madrid and Gerard Deulofeu from Barca. These represent perhaps the shrewdest signings in the whole league; there are no punts here. Four players of solid reputation for £8m. Everton may lose more games under Martinez, but they’ll probably win more too.
Fans of The Cottagers tell me they worry their club is starting to go backwards, but their worry might be misplaced. Martin Jol has held on to most his most significant talent during the summer, including the superb Dimitar Berbatov. The only significant departure is that of Aussie keeper Mark Schwarzer to Chelsea, however his replacement, Maarten Stekelenburg, may turn out to be one of the signings of the summer. If you’re keeping Michel Worm and Tim Krul warming the bench for the Netherlands, chances are you’re pretty shit-hot. Also inbound are the once highly prized Sasha Riether whose loan deal has been made permanent, classy Bilbao centre-half Fernando Amorebieta and Adel Taarabt from QPR. I’m confident Fulham will finish higher than their 12th of last season and grab some big scalps en-route.
Guess whose back with a brand new flavour? It’s only the bloody Tigers! Hull were great value last time they were in the top flight. The goals of last-of-his-generation Nick Barmby, Geovanni’s strike against Arsenal in that famous 2-1 win, the half-time antics of Phil Brown, the loveable japes of Jimmy Bullard. Well, I’m not sure how much of that we can expect this time round. Steve Bruce has put together a robust team, who are hard to breakdown and even harder to watch. However he has recruited some attacking talent in the shape of poacher Danny Graham and winger Ahmed Elmohamady. It’s going to be a relegation battle from day one, and Hull fans won’t expect anything else.
Much was expected of Brendan Rogers at Liverpool and all he asked for was time to put his plans in place. Well, he’s had one season of time, and plenty of cash and his vision only looks marginally closer than it did before he joined. Were it not for Luiz Suarez it’s hard to imagine where Liverpool would have finished last season. However, such speculation is facile. Rogers has signed promising strikers Iago Aspas (who could prove a great signing) and Luis Alberto and strengthened his defence with the signing of Simon Mingolet and Kolo Toure. Liverpool are the hardest team to predict for the coming season, will things have finally clicked, has Rogers got enough of the kind of players to play the way he wants? Even if he does, will it be effective? Sadly I’m predicting another season falling short of the top four.
Manuel Pelligrini is an atypical South American coach. His ethos, far from those of his Spanish contemporaries (where he has spent the majority of his career), isn’t one of measured control, taking a leaf out of his new Mancunian neighbour’s hymm book, Pelligrini’s policy is attack, attack, attack. And my gentle jesus, what an attack. A midfield which would leave even the likes of Robert Huth quaking in his size 14s. The newly arrived Jesus Navas and Fernandinho will join stalwarts Yaya Toure, and David Silva in a formidable midfield. They’ve also landed the much-lauded Stevan Jovetic, an old fashioned target man centre forward with the deftness of touch to play in those around in. It’s easy to see him becoming a lynch-pin of City’s attack. On the other hand fellow sky blue recruit Alvaro Negredo is a pure and simple poacher who rarely scores from beyond the penalty spot. Their squad though still has a fair bit of chaff and if injuries occur or the side doesn’t click they could struggle to stay in the top three. If it works they could run away with it.
United fans are frustrated. Many of them thought Cesc Fabregas would be an unlikely signing from the get-go, and the speculation around a move for Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric is looking just that, speculation. The summer started with talk of power moves for both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, it looks like it’ll finish with a move for Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Banes. That, by anyone’s standards, is a colossal step down in ambition. Moyes today muted that he was “still monitoring” Ronaldo, perhaps in the hope that if Madrid land Bale they’ll be more inclined to let their star player go. And if that sounds hideously unrealistic that’s because it is. Moyes at least has a team at his disposal that is still much underrated. However, with Ferguson gone, so goes the aura of invincibility, Moyes must work to re-establish that with a strong start to the season. This season will be about making the transition as painless as possible.
Well they’ve kept Kebab, and whathisname, and the other bloke. Joe Kinnear’s frankly deeply sad interviews aside, Newcastle (or Nouveau Chateau as they christened themselves on account of the proliferation of French players among their ranks) have signed 17-year-old Olivier Kemen (a Football Manager favourite) and Loic Remy on loan from QPR. Kemen is a great prospect who will hopefully get a decent amount of first team football. Remy was impressive in his end of season cameo for QPR and could work well Papiss Cisse. Despite all the signs of impending departure Fabricio Coloccini remains at the club. If Pardew can keep his captain, and get his midfield firing there’s no reason why Newcastle would have to repeat last season’s farce. I have a feeling though, somehow the farce will be repeated.
Dear old Norwich. It’s impossible not to like them. A proper fans club, a family club, a small, provincial town club, in the big league, and holding their own. Chris Hughton did an immense job to guide The Canaries to an 11th place finish, with a squad who makes up for its modest talent with enormous amounts of heart. Hewson has bought superbly in the transfer window landing Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting and Leroy Fre from FC Twente. Both young Dutchmen have had good starts to their careers, proving themselves in two of Europe’s top leagues and are sure to see plenty of first team action. Norwich has a good backbone of home nations players which will help them to a comfortable mid table finish.
They survived and that’s the main thing. Southampton fans, who can rightly have a pop at me for saying they’d go down, didn’t. And they’ve spent big this summer, well, relatively big, £12.5m Victor Wanyama from Celtic and £8.5m on Dejan Lovren from Lyon. That’s big money for a defensive midfielder in Wanyama, though I have my suspicions Mauricio Pochettino is planning to play the ambulant mountain at centre-half. He will of course always be remembered in Glasgow for his goal in Celtic’s 2-1 win over Barcelona. It is nevertheless going to be rough going for the Saints. A couple of injuries to their key players could cause a slump that would be hard to recover from. Still, I think they’ll survive.
Football, as a movement, shed a tear when the league’s third longest serving manager Tony Pullis left the Britannia this summer. Rarely has there been a truer description of a person as a “football man”. Make no mistake the people of Stoke owe Tony a lot, he took them from provincial also-rans to the rugged stalwarts of the Premier League. Mark Hughes though is a potentially genius appointment. The former United legend is in need of success as much as Stoke are. He needs to revive a career that started promisingly and began to flag with strange spells at Fulham and QPR. Hughes has a solid squad at his disposal. Recruits include Marc Muniesa, a ball playing centre half from Barcelona, and Erik Pieters, at long last an actual left back. It’ll be interesting to see how Stoke go at the start of the season, can they adapt to a new system?
There has been something of a quiet revolution at Sunderland over the summer. They’ve brought in some genuine talent in the shape of Jozy Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini plus a host of free signings from around Europe. Out go much of their core team of recent years: Mignolet, James McClean, Matt Kilgallon, Titus Bramble. Paulo Di Canio was recently good copy for sports journalists last season, but with the return of the the Special One, will there be room for Di Canio’s diva antics? God knows whether he’ll to shape a winning team from his new recruits, but something in me tells me he will, with perhaps a few hilarious implosions along the way. I’ll think they’ll have a decent season.
Swansea had a great debut season under Brendan Rogers and achieved their first silverware under the tutlage of Danish great Brian Laudrup in the form of the League Cup last year. Roger’s tic-a-tac-a was lovely to watch but at times cost them vital goals, Laudrup has made them more incisive, more fluent, less risky and even better to watch. Main man Michu looks set to say so I’ve got them finishing a tentative 8th. I was tempted to put them above Liverpool, but I worry about their strength in depth, and the focus they’ll give to the cups especially with them playing in Europe this season. Shelvey looked like the player he never quite was in his first few outings for the Swans, and Wilfried Bony looks like forward with a plethora of goals ready to spurt from his feet.
Prediction: 8th/UEFA Cup quarter finalists
Get over it Spurs fans, Bale is off (sad for us all, seriously what is happening to the Premier League?). But guess what, your cunning chairman Daniel Levy has convinced Real Madrid that the clearly-no-more-than-£40m player is worth almost £85m. If I was him, I’d get the deal done, giving him time to move for some high quality replacements. Replacements you will most definitely need. Big signing Roberto Soldado is a talent for sure – he’d better be for £26m – but he is far from the dynamic force that is Bale. He is poacher and a finisher. Paulinho looks to be the Bale replacement, and a cracking player he certainly was in Brazil, but North London is a long way from Brazil and the Premier League could be a big challenge for him. Tottenham deserve a fourth place finish after their efforts in the last few seasons.
The signing of Nicolas Anelka on a free to West Brom went almost unnoticed this summer. It’s doubtful the 34-year-old has a 20 goal season left in his legs, but he could be a great bit part player for the Baggies. Diego Lugano is a solid centre back with experience also brought in on free from PSG. Steve Clarke has also brought in a couple of loan signings to strengthen an already solid squad. West Brtom finished 8th last season, though I can’t see them repeating that achievement. Other mid-table teams have invested more heavily this summer and could push them down the league, though I don’t see them troubled be relegation.
With Andy Carroll now a permanent fixture at Upton Park and Stewart Downing coming in Liverpool, it can’t be said that Sam Allardyce is trying to keep his plans under wraps for the coming season. One can confidently predict plenty of crosses at the Boleyn Ground this season. Allardyce won promotion from the championship with burly football, that developed into a slightly more free-flowing brand of burly football last season. The Hammers’ mammoth side will cause most in the league plenty of trouble this season, and may land some notable scalps.
Predicted league »
2. Man City
3. Man U
10. West Ham
11. West Brom
18. Aston Villa
19. Crystal Palace
20. Hull City