By Manish Pandey.
They are the team who are fancied by many to lift the trophy this year. Last season, they got over the mental hurdle of struggling in the big games with wins at the Etihad and Old Trafford (FA Cup), and they have started this season with a Community Shield victory over Chelsea. They have strengthened in goal with the signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea, a signing which brings leadership, experience and class. Arsenal have a strong team, with the only visible weakness being in the strikers department, with no recognised world class striker. There is also a question mark over defensive midfield, with this season being the key season for Francis Coquelin to prove he is the real deal. The signing of a world class striker such as Karim Benzema would make Arsenal the favourites to lift the trophy. Arsenal’s success also depends much on the injury record, with Jack Wilshere already ruled out of the start of the season.
Key man- Alexis Sanchez- his form will be important in deciding Arsenal’s form, with his speed and creativity resulting in high level output. Can he better his 16 goals and 8 assists from last season?
Predicted finish: 2nd
Tim Sherwood inspired a turnaround in Villa’s fortunes, culminating in the FA Cup final. They have been hurt badly with the loss of key men Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph. There will be a lot of pressure on Gabby Agbonlahor and new signing Jordan Ayew to provide the goals which could keep Aston Villa up. An area of weakness in recent years has been the defence, and despite the arrival of the versatile Micah Richards, once again the Aston Villa defence looks extremely weak going into the new season. Sherwood will look to bring in another midfielder after the double departures of Cleverley and Delph, currently his options look thin with Idrissa Gueye, Carlos Sánchez and Ashley Westwood. Jack Grealish was a shining light for Aston Villa last season with his distinctive style, his ability to cope with the added pressure will be an important factor in his form and Villa’s form.
Key man: Gabby Agbonlahor – his speed and goals are what will win Villa matches.
Predicted finish: 16th.
Newly promoted, Eddie Howe’s men will deem survival as success. They are a side who are comfortable on the ball and use Swansea City as a template. Right-back Simon Francis and right-sided midfielder Matt Ritchie were in the Championship team of the season, and striker Callum Wilson scored 20 league goals in the last campaign. Harry Arter chipped in with 8 goals from the centre of midfield and is considered to be their best player. Recruitment has seemingly been clever with the acquisitions of midfielders Christian Atsu and Joshua King adding speed to attacks, Sylvain Distin will bring experience to the backline, with Tyrone Mings adding size and power at left back. In goal, Arthur Boruc will bring proven Premier League experience. Bournemouth have a chance due to the hard working and analytically obsessive nature of manager Howe.
Key man: Harry Arter – can he continue his good form into the Premier League? A vital cog in the machine.
Predicted finish: 18th.
The current champions. The team with the best defence and the standout player of the league in Eden Hazard. Chelsea have also added to the forward line with the loan signing of Radamel Falcao, who if he can reproduce his old form, will be a banker for Jose Mourinho. John Terry is one year older and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his form from last season. Chelsea were lucky last season in that they did not suffer as many injuries as challengers. The squad of Chelsea looks thin, particularly in defence at left back. Whilst Chelsea’s first team has undoubted quality, there are question marks over squad players such as Juan Cuadrado and John Obi Mikel. In Mourinho, Chelsea have a man who knows how to win by any means. That is why they are the favourites to retain the crown.
Key man: Eden Hazard- if he reproduces his world class form from last season, Chelsea will win the league.
Predicted finish: 1st.
Under Alan Pardew, there is huge amounts of optimism after the improved performances last season. This is perhaps the best squad ever in the history of Crystal Palace, particularly in midfield. Mile Jedinak provides the strength for the trio of players – Yohan Cabaye, Jordon Mutch and Jason Puncheon to create and provide the energy going forward. Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha provide pace, skill and incision from the wings, with consistency now the aim. The forward line of Glenn Murray, Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh fired in bursts. A new striker will be the aim, though this trio should be helped with the greater creativity behind them provided by Cabaye. The first aim will be survival, but the final aim will be to finish in the top 10.
Key man– Yohan Cabaye- a wonderful midfield player who is as creative as any midfielder in the league.
Predicted finish: 10th.
It was a disappointing campaign last season, with Everton hampered by the Europa League. They have the style of football to succeed but now they need the consistency. The summer acquisitions of Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley provide skill and creativity. It will be important to sort out the future of talented defender John Stones as soon as possible, to find a replacement if needed. The 2013-2014 season showed how dangerous this Everton team can be when on form, with Roberto Martinez tactically flexible and astute. They will be aiming for a top 8 finish with hopes of making the Europa League once again.
Key man: Romelu Lukaku- after a disappointing last season, his goals will be vital to Everton’s hopes.
Predicted finish: 7th.
Leicester have lost 2 key men in Nigel Pearson and the legendary Esteban Cambiasso. It will be vital for Claudio Ranieri and Shinji Okazaki to fill those holes. Despite appearing as a distasteful character in the media, Pearson ensured he had the backing of his players and it was that team spirit which propelled Leicester to safety. Robert Huth will be a key man for Leicester in the 3 man defence which Ranieri seems intent on keeping. The arrival of Austria international Christian Fuchs has bolstered the defence, but Leicester still look extremely thin going forward despite the signing of Okazaki. Cambiasso’s creativity has not been replaced and Matty James will be out injured at least until the new year. Danny Drinkwater, Andy King and Dean Hammond are all good but none look capable of doing what Cambiasso did. The battle to survive will be tough.
Key man: Shinji Okazaki – can the new signing score goals to inspire Leicester’s survival?
Predicted finish: 17th.
The much talked about future of Raheem Sterling was resolved early on, and allowed Liverpool the financial capacity to sign Christian Benteke. He will provide goals, power and energy up front, and can work in tandem with Daniel Sturridge or as a lone striker. Liverpool’s area of weakness last season was the forward line, which has been bolstered by the arrival of Benteke and Roberto Firmino. The signing of Nathaniel Clyne boosts Liverpool at full back, a position which saw the likes of Sterling and Lazar Markovic playing in. The upturn in Simon Mignolet’s form was important to Liverpool in not signing a new goalkeeper, and it will be interesting to see if that pans out to be the correct decision.
Key man: Philippe Coutinho – he is a class player and will be vital in the supply to the forward line.
Predicted finish: 5th.
Despite finishing second, it was a disappointing campaign for Man City who never looked like retaining the title. The arrival of Raheem Sterling should galvanise a team which looked lethargic at times last season. Manuel Pellegrini has employed a 4-3-3 system in pre-season which should give City more control and give Yaya Toure more of a license to roam forward with an extra midfielder protecting him. The burden of goals will once again be on the shoulders of Sergio Aguero whose main battle will be to stay fit for the entirety of the season. Vincent Kompany will also be hoping for an upturn in form after a season of errors and injury. Though City have the individual quality, it will be key for them to work as a team, something they did not do much of last season.
Key man: Sergio Aguero – one of the few world class strikers around, his goals can win trophies.
Predicted finish: 4th.
Louis van Gaal achieved the minimum target of a top 4 finish last season, along with the implementation of his much talked about philosophy. He used last season to experiment with formations and players, but after the astute signings of Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis and Morgan Schneiderlin, there is an expectation that Manchester United should be competing for the title this season. There are still gaps, notably at centre back and the lack of a viable forward should Wayne Rooney get injured. The future of David de Gea casts a dark shadow as he was the standout player for Man United last season, his future needs to be resolved quickly. The departure of Angel di Maria is a blow, as he has much needed speed and creativity, but it seems his individualistic brilliance did not fit into the team based philosophy of the manager.
Key man: Wayne Rooney – has the order to play up front, can he get 20+ goals and fire United to the title?
Predicted finish: 3rd
A team and club in much turmoil over the last 3 years. The owner has been criticised for lack of investment and the appointment of Steve McClaren has not gone down well with many Newcastle fans. However, the purse strings have been loosened with almost £35m being invested so far on Georginio Wijnaldum, the Holland attacking midfielder who joins from PSV Eindhoven, Aleksandar Mitrovic, a young Serbia striker who proved so prolific for Anderlecht last season and Chancel Mbemba, a highly talented Congolese centre-half also recruited from Anderlecht. On paper, Newcastle have a good pool of players – as individuals. Yet so often in recent years, they have been criticised for a lack of mental strength and team work. If McClaren can bring the team as one, they will be dangerous.
Key man: Georginio Wijnaldum- a man who can provide the ammunition for goals.
Predicted finish: 13th.
Alex Neil has been a fine manager for Norwich since taking over, but this may be one challenge too far. The group of players is very similar to the players who were responsible for relegation a few seasons back. The need for new signings and quality signings at that is huge. The full-back Andre Wisdom has come in from Liverpool on loan. Midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu looks a fine import from West Brom and the loan move of his more creative former Baggies team-mate Graham Dorrans has been made permanent. The left-sided midfielder, occasional full-back and set-piece genius Robbie Brady has joined from Hull City. They are all decent mid- to lower-end top-flight players but none who can be depended on for consistency. The lack of quality and goals up front means relegation is a near certainty for Norwich.
Key man: Youssouf Mulumbu – the only reliable player with proven premier league experience.
Predicted finish: 19th.
Many tipped Southampton to be relegated last season, but nobody will make the same mistake this season. After an outstanding campaign, despite falling away in the last few months, Southampton have the players and manager to continue in good form. The loss of 3 key players in Clyne, Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld is a big blow and the form of the replacements will be important in determining whether Southampton can finish in the top 8. The squad looks strong again with the signing of experience Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg on loan, Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares, Steven Caulker at centre back, Jordy Clasie in midfield and Juanmi in attack. The return to regular football for Jay Rodriguez will also be a big boost for Koeman.
Key man: Jordy Clasie – can he maintain the class of Schneiderlin?
Predicted finish: 11th
The old tag of Stoke as ‘long ball’ no longer rings true, with Mark Hughes assembling a team of fine footballers. Stoke have signed Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ouriachi ahead of this campaign. Bojan was wonderful until he was struck down by knee ligament damage in January. If either of the latest arrivals from Camp Nou have a similar impact, then Hughes will have pulled off another masterstroke. In midfield, the impressive Steven N’Zonzi needs to be replaced, with Marko van Ginkel being given that responsibility. Asmir Begovic will not be badly missed if Jack Butland does as well as expected, and Shay Given could serve as a reliable stand-in at times. This could be an impressive season for Stoke, once again.
Key man: Bojan – the little magician has the stardust which makes Stoke so watchable.
Predicted finish: 9th.
Repeated underachievers, Dick Advocaat has lifted the mood at Sunderland. Advocaat has to bring in creativity, pace, power and hard work as all those elements have been missing from Sunderland’s game. The acquisition of Younès Kaboul from Tottenham Hotspur and Sebastián Coates from Liverpool will improve a slow and old defence. Jermain Lens should bring improved creativity, Yann M’Vila and Leroy Fer should also add much-needed physical presence and energy to the engine room. Looking forward, if Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe can be given sustained service, they will be bankers for goals, which should help to keep Sunderland up.
Key man: Yann M’Vila – comes with a big reputation and has the authority to guide Sunderland.
Predicted finish: 15th.
Under Gary Monk, Swansea have confounded the doubters and progressed to the highest points tally in the club’s history. Can Bafétimbi Gomis can step up to the role of being the frontline striker? He needs to add consistency and continue his form from the last 6 games of last season. Eder is another striker, from Braga and the star signing of André Ayew, the experienced Ghana international will lift spirits slightly dampened by Bony’s departure in January. Ayew is likely to be used out wide, but he is also able to play across any of the attacking positions. Franck Tabanou will bolster the left back spot. It will be key for Ki Sung Yeung, Jonjo Shelvey and Gylfi Sigurdsson to continue the great form they displayed last season.
Key man: Gylfi Sigurdsson- creativity with goals and assists – the team is built around him.
Predicted finish: 8th.
Mauricio Pochettino’s first season can be considered a success, but building on that will be a challenge he will relish. The signing of Toby Alderweireld from Atlético Madrid along with Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier strengthened a weak defence which conceded too many sloppy goals last season. Tottenham have shed plenty of their unwanted players and trimmed the squad fat– Younès Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli, Paulinho and Lewis Holtby. The squad still needs reinforcements up front with Soldado barely playing in pre-season, Adebayor not wanted and Harry Kane the only senior striker. There is much pressure on him to repeat his heroics from last season.
Key man: Harry Kane- his goals hold the key to progress.
Predicted finish: 6th.
This team resembles nothing like the team which was promoted. Quique Sánchez Flores, the former Valencia manager is now in charge. Heurelho Gomes is the only player expected to start automatically from last season. The rest will most likely make up the squad. The Greece left-back José Holebas arrived from Roma, the centre-backs Sebastian Prödl, from Werder Bremen, and Miguel Britos, followed, with the Cameroon right-back Allan Nyom joining from Udinese. The defensive midfield slots were filled by Valon Behrami, and Étienne Capoue, a club-record £6m arrival from Tottenham. José Jurado, who flourished under Sánchez Flores at Atlético, has been reunited with his former manager and AZ winger Steven Berghuis will also provide left footed delivery. Despite the massive activity in the market, it will take a big effort to get all of these players to join together as a unit.
Key man- Étienne Capoue – he has to justify his fee and rule the midfield.
Predicted finish: 20th.
Under Tony Pulis, there is no chance of relegation. However, the squad is looking quite thin. The recruitment has been good if not swift. James McClean is a good signing, with wing play and hard work fitting into the Pulis thought. The signing of Rickie Lambert is also a smart move by Pulis. His side were far too reliant last season on the brilliance of Saido Berahino. James Chester is a shrewd move which will provide cover in defence thanks to his versatility. Pulis will want more players, particularly in goal, defence and to cover the forward line.
Key man: Saido Berahino/Rickie Lambert – goals are what will enable progress, these are the men to get them.
Predicted finish: 14th.
West Ham United:
No Sam Allardyce brings its own risks, just ask Blackburn and Bolton. Appointing Slaven Bilic brings swagger, style and unpredictability – and that’s just the man. Preparations for the new season have not been ideal, with West Ham’s unexpected entry into Europe via the Fair Play League forcing them to start their season with a qualifier against the Andorran part-timers of FC Lusitans. However, they are no longer in Europe so the domestic campaign should not be affected. Enner Valencia’s long term injury is a blow, but the recruits brought in by Bilic, such as Payet must fire for West Ham to stay up before the big move to the Olympic Stadium. Andy Carroll’s return will also be pivotal, with his role in Bilic’s system yet to be seen.
Key man: Andy Carroll- his return and form upon return will go a long way to deciding West Ham’s future.
Predicted finish: 12th.