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2013-14 Premier League Primer, Predictions & Pretty Pictures

The time is upon us to welcome back the English Premier League.  And this year, it will be a vastly different Premier League.  Gone from the sidelines is one of its biggest figures ever.  The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United can’t help but change the way the league will look and feel.  That’s how much of a shadow he casts in England.  That said, he is the highest but not the only of changes.  It does, however, serve to highlight how topsy-turvy the offseason has been.  Old faces like Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and Jaime Carragher have ridden off into the sunset.  Jose Mourinho is back in his old Stamford Bridge stomping grounds.  There’s a new boss in charge at Manchester City.  Even old standards like Grant Holt, Titus Bramble and Rory Delap are no longer at their old clubs!  And for supporters in America, the old Fox Soccer Channel is giving way to NBC Sports.

So it’s time, once again, to look at the 20 teams that will be fighting for England’s top honors and the teams that’ll be praying that they can survive another year amidst the big boys.  Keep in mind that I’m producing this before the transfer window closes.  So things may change within the next few weeks for teams.   As usual, we’ll go with four predictions: Title Contenders, Top Four Contenders, Midtable Comfort and Relegation Fighters.

And, as always, I’ll throw in a picture or two of a pretty lass to make swallowing this behemoth of a post that much more pleasant.

PL 2013 - Emma WatsonArsenal
Home: Emirates Stadium, North London
Nickname: The Gunners
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Last Season: 4th, Premier League
Key Additions: None
Key Departures: F Gervinho (Roma), F Andrei Arshavin (Zenit St Petersburg), F Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace), D Johan Djourou, D Andre Santos, GK Vito Mannone

After finishing last season in blistering form, Arsenal were expected to use this summer to push onwards. The opening was there with so much turmoil elsewhere.  Instead, the club has spent all summer ridding itself of the fabled “deadwood”.  Players like Marouane Chamakh, Andrei Arshavin, Johan Djourou and Vito Mannone have all been slowly led to the exit doors of London Colney.  Who does that leave?  The same team that didn’t lose a game after March 3rd is still present, with a core of Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. With so many exits, big things will be expected out of Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wojciech Szczesny.  There’s talent, but do they have enough when injuries happen?  Arsene Wenger is hedging his bets that they do, even as every fan believes otherwise.  As things stand, they’ll be right around where they were last year. Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

Aston Villa
Home: Villa Park, Birmingham
Nickname: The Villans
Manager: Paul Lambert
Last Season: 15th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Nicklas Jensen (AaB), M Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen), M Aleksander Tonev (Lech Poznan), D Antonio Luna Rodriguez (Sevilla), D Jores Okore (FC Nord), GK Jed Steer (Norwich City)
Key Departures: M Jean Makoun (Rennes), D Richard Dunne (QPR), D Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), G Andy Marshall (Millwall)

Flirting with relegation is not how Paul Lambert hoped his first season at Villa Park would go.  They survived; thanks in large part to the 19-goals Christian Benteke scored.  A new contract secured his services for at least one more year after other clubs began sniffing about.  They’ll need him to ensure this season is better. Part of that will require Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weismann scoring more than they did last year. Part of that will be lowering the number of goals surrendered – 69 last year – which was the worst of any non-relegated club. Lambert has brought Rodriguez and Okore to reinforce his defense and let go of Makoun, Dunne and Lichaj. And somewhere in the back, they still have to figure out what to do with Darren Bent.  They may not get much better this year, but if they can avoid relegation clouds, they’ll be moving in the right direction.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Cardiff City
Home: Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Nickname: The Bluebirds
Manager: Malky Mackay
Last Season: 1st, Championship (PROMOTED)
Key Additions: F Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen), M Gary Medel (Sevilla), D Steven Caulker (Tottenham), D John Brayford (Derby City), G Simon Moore (Brentford)
Key Departures: F Heidar Helguson (Retired). G Elliot Parish (Bristol City)

It’s felt like Cardiff would never complete its mission to break into the Premier League.  They’ve been close but no cigar so many times, it was almost becoming incredible.  Finally though, they have punched their ticket by winning the Championship. Now Mackay’s men have to find a way to stay in the top division.  To that end, Mackay has begun by bringing in Caulker and Brayford to help shore up their back four. He’s also broken the club’s transfer record twice:  First for big striker Cornelius and just recently for Medel, a creative midfielder from Chile.  If they, Aron Gunnarson, Peter Whittingham, Kim Bo-kyung and the still-dangerous Craig Bellamy can combine effectively, there’s a chance they’ll equal their Welsh rivals’ accomplishments and stay in the Premier League. As it stands, it has to be considered a tall order.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

PL 2013 - Gemma ArtertonChelsea
Home: Stamford Bridge, East London
Nickname: The Blues, The Pensioners
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Last Season: 3rd, Premier League
Key Additions: F Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), M Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse Arnhem), G Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)
Key Departures: F Florent Malouda (Trabzonspor), F Yossi Benayoun (Released), D Paulo Ferreira (Retired), G Hilario (Released)

The return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea signals both a new beginning and an admission that he is the best man for Roman Abramovich’s club.  In his long absence, Chelsea has added a ton of attacking talents – Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Demba Ba, Victor Moses – and just added a few more this summer for good measure in Schurrle and van Ginkel.  There’s also rumors of potential bids for either Wayne Rooney or Samuel Eto’o if the Rooney chase should fail.  For Mourinho, his first job is to find his best XI.  That includes deciding if he sticks with the much-maligned Fernando Torres or if he finally gives Romelu Lukaku his shot at leading the forward line; figuring out how much playing time to give his veterans like Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole and choosing his best central defender pairing from David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Gary Cahill.  Lots of work to do but there’s lots of talent to make a title challenge happen.  Prediction: Title Contenders.

Crystal Palace
Home: Selhurst Park, South London
Nicknames: The Eagles
Manager: Ian Holloway
Last Season: 6th, Championship (PROMOTED VIA PLAYOFF)
Key Additions: F Marouanne Chamakh (Arsenal), F Elliot Grandin (Blackpool), F Dwight Gayle (Peterborough), F Kevin Phillips (Blackpool), M Jose Gomez Campaña (Sevilla), M Jerome Thomas (West Brom)
Key Departures: F Jermaine Easter (Millwall), F Antonio Pedroza (Cruz Azul), F Aruna Dindane (Released), M Alex Marrow (Blackburn), M Andre Moritz (Bolton)

Palace is back in the Premier League after winning the Championship Play-Offs.  That accomplishment won’t likely make them favorites to survive the drop this season however.  Even if manager Ian Holloway knows his way around the Prem due to his stay with Blackpool just a few years back, he’s unlikely to be any more eager to play 10 men behind the ball to squeeze out a point.  On the contrary, he’s spent the majority of his summer bringing in attacking players – Gayle, Phillips and Chamakh just the most recent of buys.  There’s hope that if Campaña and Thomas do well in midfield and if the defense holds enough – Julian Speroni, get ready – they might claw enough shock points to stay in the big league.  They’ll be missing Glenn Murray till 2014 though and a lot of these players are untested at this level.  That’s a lot of fingers Palace fans will be crossing for the entire season. And it may not be enough.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Home: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Nickname: The Toffees
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Last Season: 6th Premier League
Key Additions: F Arouna Kone (Wigan), D Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan), G Joel Robles (Atletico Madrid)
Key Departures: David Moyes (Manager),  M Thomas Hitzlsperger (Released), D Phil Neville (Retired)

The Toffees have for years battled and won in keeping their talented players.  Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines are still at Goodison Park as the season starts. Who is not is David Moyes, who’s taken his talents to Old Trafford. In his place enters Roberto Martinez, the highly-regarded manager that just led Wigan Athletic to both a FA Cup trophy and relegation from the Premier League in the same year. On the surface, Martinez should fit right in at Everton: he’s known for finding gems in the bargain bin and he loves to attack.  He’s brought in Kone and Alcaraz, two of his better players at the JJB.  In Fellaini, Nikica Jelavic, Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe and Steven Pienaar, he’ll have plenty of talent to throw at opponents.  In Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, John Heitinga and Baines, he’ll have better defenders than he’s ever had.  This is a veteran squad that’s settled and knows itself.  If there’s any fall for Everton from their perch to the relegation spots, the blame will fall on Martinez’s shoulders. I don’t think it happens…yet.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

PL 2013 - Natalie DormerFulham
Home: Craven Cottage, East London
Nickname: The Cottagers
Manager: Martin Jol
Last Season: 12th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Adel Taarabt (QPR-Loan), M Ange Freddy Plumain (Lens), M Derek Boateng (Dnipro), D Sascha Riether (Cologne), D Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao), G Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma)
Key Departures: F Mladen Petric (Released), M Mahamadou Diarra (Released), M Chris Baird (Released), M Simon Davies (Released), M Mahamadou Diarra (Released), D John Arne Riise (Released), G Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea)

This new season brings a new owner at the Cottage as Mohamed Al Fayed has sold the East London club to Shahid Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.  A new owner might try to win the supporters by splashing the cash on shiny new players, but Khan has allowed manager Martin Jol to continue at his pace.  His main concern is up front where he’s brought in Taarabt on loan and has been pursuing the on-the-outs Darren Bent from Aston Villa. He’s also brought in Stekelenburg, Riether and Amorebieta to join Brede Hangeland and Phillipe Senderos in stopping goals. But they will still rely on Dimitar Berbatov to bang in the goals and a strong form at home to steal points off the giants.  It perhaps might be too much to hope for a push for European places, but they shouldn’t even sniff the lower half of the table. Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Hull City
Home: KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
Nickname: The Tigers
Manager: Steve Bruce
Last Season: 2nd, Championship (PROMOTED)
Key Additions: F Danny Graham (Sunderland), F Yannick Sagbo (Evian), D Curtis Davies (Birmingham), D Maynor Figueroa (Wigan), G Allan McGregor (Besiktas), G Steve Harper (Newcastle)
Key Departures: M Corry Evans (Blackburn)

The last time the Tigers were up here (2009), Phil Brown was manager and they were known for a hard-tackling style of play.  Manager Steve Bruce has brought them back by being attackers with Robert Koren and Ahmed Elmoahamady leading the way. Now, Bruce has to find a way to keep them in the Premier League.  To that end, he’s brought in GK Allan McGregor, defenders Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa and forwards Yannick Sagbo and Danny Graham.  Bruce will be hoping that Koren keeps his form up, that forward Sone Aluko comes back from injury well and that they manage to steal enough points to avoid the relegation battle. Good luck. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Home: Anfield, Liverpool
Nickname: The Reds
Manager: Brendan Rogers
Last Season: 7th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), M Luis Alberto (Sevilla), D Kolo Toure (Manchester City), G Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)
Key Departures: F Andy Carroll (West Ham), F Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea), M Stewart Downing (West Ham), M Jay Spearing (Bolton), D Jaime Carragher (Retired), G Pepe Reina (Napoli-Loan)

Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge at Anfield clearly didn’t go as expected.  A 7th-place finish, behind Arsenal, Spurs and Everton.  Out of even the Europa League thanks to Swansea’s and Wigan’s cup triumphs. And that doesn’t even bring up Luis Suarez.  The talented, mercurial striker knocked in 31 goals, got booked 11 times and bit an opponent. And now he wants out.  To Arsenal, to Real Madrid, to anywhere but where he is.   The Suarez saga could derail what has been a solid offseason for the Merseyside club. They’ve finally rid of failed transfers like Carroll, Downing and Shelvey.  They brought in players like Aspas, Alberto and Mignolet to mesh with Phillippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Martin Skrtel and the ever-present Steven Gerrard.  On paper things are looking promising.  Which is why the Suarez situation has to be resolved one way or another and fast.  Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

Manchester City
Home: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Nickname: The Sky Blues
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Last Season: 2nd, Premier League
Key Additions: F Alvaro Negredo (Valencia), F Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina), M Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), M Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
Key Departures: F Carlos Tevez (Juventus), F Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga), D Wayne Bridge (Reading), D Kolo Toure (Liverpool), D Maicon (Roma)

A new year and a new big name manager arrives at the Etihad.  This time it’s Manuel Pellegrini, the former Malaga coach, who has been brought to deliver upon the expected multi-competition successes that Roberto Mancini couldn’t bring.  There’s been a minor clear-out of players and, as usual, rich new talents have been brought in – players like Fernandinho, Jovetic and Negredo, who’ll be expected to mesh with Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva.  But we’ve been here before with City.  They have loads of talent and a pedigreed manager and go nowhere.  All the same, it’s tough not seeing City challenging for the Premier League crown.  Few have the horses to keep up with them  Prediction: Title Contenders.

Manchester United
Home: Old Trafford, Manchester
Nickname: The Red Devils
Manager: David Moyes
Last Season: 1st, Premier League
Key Additions: M Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace), D Guillermo Varela (Penarol)
Key Departures: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manager), M Paul Scholes (Retired)

Champions once again last year, the retirements of Ferguson and Scholes can’t help but color this new season.  In comes David Moyes, a manager well-versed in getting the most out of limited resources and finding talents where others aren’t looking. The good news is that, but for Scholes’ retirement, the new Scottish manager is inheriting the same squad that just won the Premier League.  He’ll rely on Robin van Persie, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and the evergreen Ryan Giggs. The not so good news is the failed bids for Cesc Fabregas keep denying him a playmaker to run the midfield.  He may still go after his former Toffees midfielder Marouane Fellaini.  Moyes also has to find a way to keep Wayne Rooney or sell him without damaging his position. This is the big leagues for Moyes. Expect choppy waters and constant second-guessing.  Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

PL 2013 - Hayley AtwellNewcastle United
Home: St James Park, Newcastle
Nickname: The Toon
Manager: Alan Pardew
Last Season: 16th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Loic Remy (QPR-Loan)
Key Departures: M James Perch (Wigan), D Danny Simpson (QPR), G Steve Harper (Hull)

If 2011-12 was the best of times, then 2012-13 was the worst of times.  They lost Demba Ba.  They were in the relegation fight till late.  And the summer hiring of Joe Kinnear was the kind of nonsensical hire that owner Mike Ashley loves to make.  In spite of all that, there’s still a good team underneath all of this craziness.  Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote make for a potent midfield.  Tim Krul is a solid goalkeeper.  Fabricio Coloccini, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Mathieu Debuchy are good defenders.  And in Yoan Gouffran, Papiss Demba Cisse and the loaned Loic Remy, they should have sufficient firepower to scare opponents. Another bad start to their season and it’s likely Alan Pardew will be on his way out, big contract be damned.  And another relegation fight won’t be tolerated.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Norwich City
Home: Carrow Road, Norwich
Nickname: The Canaries
Manager: Chris Hughton
Last Season: 11th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), F Gary Hooper (Celtic), M Leroy Fer (FC Twente), M Nathan Redmond (Birmigham), D Martin Olsson (Blackburn), G Carlo Nash (Stoke)
Key Departures: F Grant Holt (Wigan), F James Vaughan (Huddersfield), D Leon Barnett (Wigan)

The Canaries’ first season back in the Premier League featured some solid highs (taking points off Arsenal and Man United) and some dangerous lows (strong flirtations with relegation).  In the end, they finished in midtable comfort thanks to some good defending and performances at home.  Chris Hughton looked to improve his attack by splurging on strikers — Celtic’s Hooper and Lisbon’s van Wolfswinkel, who automatically wins the “Best New Name in a Shirt” award.  They will link up with Wes Hoolahan, Robert Snodgrass and newcomer Leroy Fer.  If they manage to provide some teeth for their attack and if their defense holds — John Ruddy, Javier Garrido, Michael Turner and Sebastien Bassong will have to have another banner year — then they could end up back where they were last year during their best days.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Home: St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Nickname: The Saints
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Last Season: 14th, Premier League
Key Additions: M Victor Wanyama (Celtic), D Dejan Lovren (Lyon)
Key Departures: F Sam Hoskins (Yeovil Town), M Richard Chaplow (Millwall), D Vegard Forren (Molde), D Frazer Richardson (Middlesbrough),

Mauricio Pocchettino’s first half of a season ended with survival from the relegation drop.  In order to avoid it, the Saints have gone through a shopping spree. The much-touted Victor Wanyama somehow slipped past Manchester United and Arsenal and arrived to much fanfare in the South Coast from Celtic.  He’ll be looking to partner with Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield and pushing to join the attack with Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.  The key will be how they defend against opponents and, for that, Pochettino will look to youngsters Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Fonte and keeper Artur Boruc. Cutting down on their 60 goals conceded would help them out. Their hope will be for a more solid, if hectic, season.  Some of it may come down to how others do below them. Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Stoke City
Home: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Nickname: The Potters
Manager: Mark Hughes
Last Season: 13th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), M Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), D Alex Grant (Portsmouth), D Erik Pieters (PSV Eindhoven), D Marc Muniesa (Barcelona)
Key Departures: Tony Pulis (Manager), F Michael Owen (Retired), M Rory Delap (Released), M Jermaine Pennant (Released), D Matthew Upson (Brighton), D Dean Whitehead (Middlesbrough)

The dismissal of Tony Pulis seems to have directed a clear-out of Stoke’s old guard.  Constant threats like Delap, Whitehead and Pennant are gone.  In their place, new boss Mark Hughes has begun to bring in his own stamp of the game.  He’s bringing players from Barcelona’s B team, from the Netherlands and Turkey and even from MLS – although Agudelo won’t join them till January.  Could we expect a changing of style as well?  Not likely. At least not at the start.  They still have Peter Crouch and Kenwyine Jones up front, Charlie Adam, Matthew Etherington and Wilson Palacios in midfield and Robert Huth, Ryan Shotton and Ryan Shawcross in defense.  In short, continue expecting tough, physical football from the Potters.  If they can avoid, the relegation fight, Hughes will be doing better.  It’ll be a lot to hope for.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters. 

PL 2013 - Rosie Huntington-WhiteleySunderland
Home: Stadium of Light
Nickname: The Black Cats
Manager: Paolo Di Canio
Last Season: 17th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), F David Moberg-Karlsson (IFK Gothenburg), M El-Hadji Ba (Le Havre), D Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), G Vito Mannone (Arsenal)
Key Departures: F Danny Graham (Hull), M James McClean (Wigan), M Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull), D Titus Bramble (Released), G Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)

The Cats came damn near close to going down the trapdoor last season.  Then, after surviving, manager Paolo Di Canio made it clear it was his way or the highway.  A minor cull has occurred, which has prompted a flurry of buys.  Altidore and Moberg-Karlsson are in to help Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham bang in the goals.  Ba and Giaccherini are in to help shore up a weak defense.  And Vito Mannone is here to take over for the departed Simon Mignolet.  I wish I was as bullish about their chances this season as Di Canio is likely to be.  But a lot of last season’s escape came down to Mignolet and he’s gone.  They’ll hope the kindness of strangers helps them stay in the top division.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.  

Swansea City
Home: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Nickname: The Swans
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Last Season: 9th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem), M Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool), M Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis), D Jordi Amat (Espanyol) D Jernade Meade (Arsenal)
Key Departures: M Kemy Agustien (Brighton & Hove Albion), M Mark Gower (Charlton)

Last year, the Swans were a revelation.  They attacked.  They dazzled.  They won.  Michu became a sensation.  Michael Laudrup was linked with all sorts of big jobs.  And they had a major trophy to go with it all with the League Cup.  Now, how do you follow that up?  Ashley Williams, despite his stated desires, remains with the club.  They’ll still look to Chico Flores, Angel Rangel, Nathan Dyer, Jonathan De Guzman, Wayne Routledge and the aforementioned Michu to carry them.  They’ll expect big things out of 12M-pound buy Bony and hope that Shelvey finds something of his old promise.  They should be good enough to achieve as much as they did last season, but that’s the hard part:  They aren’t sneaking past anyone this time out.  Can they push for an European spot? Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Tottenham Hotspur
Home: White Hart Lane, North London
Nickname: Spurs, The Lilywhites
Manager: Andre Villas-Boas
Last Season: 5th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Roberto Soldado (Valencia), M Paulinho (Corinthians), M Nacer Chadli (FC Twente)
Key Departures: F Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), M David Bentley (Released), D William Gallas (Released), D Steven Caulker (Cardiff)

Missing out on Champions League football by 1 point to your hated rivals might seem like Spurs were unlucky. Fact is since their defeat of Arsenal on March 3rd, Tottenham dropped another 12 points.  Turn a draw into a win and they’d be celebrating.  You can’t fault them, however, for how they’ve responded to it. They’ve had a minor spending spree, bringing in Soldado and Paulinho at great cost.  Obviously, their outlook for their season will depend on keeping Gareth Bale.  If the Welsh Wonder bolts for a world-record fee to Real Madrid, they will still have talents to offset his loss – Aaron Lennon, Lewis Holtby, Moussa Dembele, Emmanuel Adebayor – but none are of Bale’s caliber.  Keep him and the expectations will be for the best season Tottenham has had in a long while.  They’ll be in the fight for fourth.  Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

PL 2013 - Alice EveWest Bromwich Albion
Home: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Nickname: The Baggies
Manager: Steve Clarke
Last Season: 8th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Nicolas Anelka (Free), F Matej Vydra (Udinese-Loan), D Diego Lugano (PSG), D Goran Popov (Dynamo Kiev-Loan)
Key Departures: F Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), F Marc-Antonie Fortune (Wigan), M Jerome Thomas (Crystal Palace), M Zoltan Gera (Released), D Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), G Shane Lewis (Walsall)

West Brom weren’t bad last year, but relied a great deal on Romelu Lukaku (17 goals, 4 assists).  With the Belgian wunderkind back at Chelsea, the Baggies are looking for someone (anyone) to fill his boots.  They’ve brought in Nicolas Anelka for free, hoping there’s some tread left on those tires, and loaned Matej Vydra from Udinese in the hope he can have just as stellar form.  Besides them, they’ll hope Shane Long and James Morrison continue bagging goals, that Ben Foster continues solid and that Diego Lugano can mesh well with Liam Ridgewell, Jonas Olsson and the rest of Brom’s defense.  They also have to hope that Peter Odemwingie finally gets his head right and is willing to put in a shift for them.  They’ll need him.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

West Ham United
Home: Upton Park, East London
Nickname: The Hammers, The Irons
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Last Season: 10th, Premier League
Key Additions: F Andy Carroll (Liverpool), M Stewart Downing (Liverpool), M Alou Diarra (Rennes-Loan),D Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk), G Adrian (Real Betis)
Key Departures: F Carlton Cole (Released), F Robert Hall (Bolton), M Gary O’Neil (QPR)

It seems odd that Sam Allardyce is so keen on rescuing Liverpool’s failed big transfers, but that’s what he’s done.  He convinced Andy Carroll to make his loan switch a permanent move after scoring 7 goals and getting 4 assists.  And he’s just picked up Stewart Downing for a small fee.  His hope has to be that Carroll, now settled, finds his old Newcastle form and that Downing returns to how he looked in his Middlesbrough days.  He’ll also look to his stalwarts to pick up the slack: Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te, Mohamed Diame and Jussi Jaaskelainen will all be here’; scoring, defending and generally making Upton Park one of the harder grounds to play in.  Allardyce is known for ensuring his teams never get too far down the table and that’ll be just fine with the bosses and the fans.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

If it seems odd that I have more teams fighting for relegation than I do fighting for the title, don’t be alarmed. It’s just that’s usually the way it goes.  Bring on the new season!!

And just to appease the ladies and those that like hot guys….don’t say I don’t think of you.

PL 2013 - Jason Statham


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