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2014-15 Premier League Primer, Predictions & Pretty Pictures

Our ray of sunshine in a bleak world is back! That’s right kids. Though it feels like it hasn’t really gone away, the Premier League is back this weekend. (This is why I love World Cup summers.  They’re always so short).  In a world full of chaos, sadness and anguish, it’s always good to know there’s a weekly diversion to it all.

As the season’s curtain draws open, we encounter a league that has said goodbye to one of its biggest stars and heroes/villains (Luis Suarez), says hello to a cavalcade of new talents (Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Fernando) and has become ever more top heavy.  By any reckoning, there’s 7 teams who will vie for the top 4 spots — meaning that there will be at least 2 teams who won’t earn the glory and riches of European competition.  It will also mean every game lost and every point dropped will be scrutinized by fans on both ends of the table.  It’s interesting that, as the top and bottom of the table expands, I find fewer and fewer teams that I can comfortably say will end in the “midtable” positions – and that was even before Tony Pulis up and left Crystal Palace with only a day and a half before the season starts.  That’s good for ratings, but not necessarily good for supporters’ hearts.

So, as always, you’ll have a bit of a primer on each team, what they’ve done this summer, what I think of them and then my prediction for the upcoming campaign. They’ll be divided into “Title Contenders”, “Top Four Contenders”, “Midtable Comfort” and “Relegation Fighters.”  And, obviously, I’ll try and throw in a pretty picture or two for you.  Normally, that’s been a picture of a pretty girl from England. But I’m changing it up this year and have the pretty picture be of the hallowed grounds that fans all want to be at come game day.  2014 PL - Emirates Stadium

With all that prelude said……

Arsenal
Stadium: Emirates, North London
Nickname: The Gunners
Manager: Arsene Wenger, 19th season
Last Season: Premier League, 4th Place; FA Cup Winners
IN: F Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), D Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), D Callum Chambers (Southampton), G David Ospina (Nice)
OUT: F Nicklas Bendtner (Released), F Park Chu-Young (Released), M Thomas Eisfeld (Fulham), D Johan Djourou (Hamburg), D Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), D Carl Jenkinson (West Ham-Loan), D Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), G Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea)

Lifting the FA Cup seems to have fired up the desire for more silverware at Emirates. The Gunners were decisive in their transfer for Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, followed that up with quick deals for Debuchy and Ospina as immediate replacements for the departing Sagna and Fabianski and then joined the great Southampton culling and took the promising Chambers.  The expectation is of more additions as they’ve been linked with various midfielders to help protect the back 5 and a central defender to replace former captain Thomas Vermaelen.  Arsenal will hope for big things from Mesut Ozil, now that he’s had a year to adapt to England and they will continue to rely on the central defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. They appear poised to finally contend with the big boys once again, with Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leading the way. Can they avoid their usual February fall? Can they beat the big teams and finally regain their long lost crown?  This has been a positive summer for Arsenal. It’s time to prove the naysaysers wrong.  Prediction: Title Contenders.

Aston Villa
Stadium: Villa Park, Birmingham
Nickname: The Villans
Manager: Paul Lambert, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 15th
IN: M Joe Cole (West Ham), D Philippe Senderos (Fulham), D Kieran Richardson (Fulham), D Aly Cissokho (Valencia), Tom Leggett (Southampton), D Isaac Nehemie (Southampton)
OUT: F Nathan Delfouneso (Blackpool), M Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), D Antonio Luna (Hellas Verona-Loan)

Stormy clouds linger about Villa Park.  Owner Randy Lerner has been trying unsuccessfully to sell the team.  Manager Paul Lambert enters the final season of his 3-year contract as one of the preemptive favorites to be the first manager fired. They had no choice but to welcome back Darren Bent after he found no buyers last season. And their solution to fix one of the worst defenses is to bring in Senderos and Richardson; players looking at the twilight of their careers. If they can hang onto Ron Vlaar — who had a great World Cup — and if Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Bent can find their scoring touch, then maybe some light can finally shine on the Villans.  But they enter this season aware of how close they came to relegation last season.  Can they avoid it again?  If not, there’s a good chance Lambert will be gone and the team could sell every big contract asset in a bid to survive life in the Championship – and make it a cheap and attractive option to buyers. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Burnley
Stadium: Turf Moor, Burnley
Nickname: The Clarets
Manager: Sean Dyche, 3rd Season
Last Season: Championship, 2nd place (PROMOTED)
IN: F Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough), F Marvin Sordell (Bolton), M Michael Kightly (Stoke), M Matt Taylor (West Ham), D Steven Reid (West Brom), G Matt Gilks (Free Agent)
OUT: M Brian Stock (Released), M Keith Treacy (Barnsley), M Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth), D Chris Baird (West Brom), D David Edgard (Birmingham),  G Nick Liversedge (Released)

Picked last season to drop into League One, the Lancashire side instead began their campaign by winning 9 out of their first 12 games.  They ended up winning 26 games, drawing 15 and losing only 5 for 93 points and a 2nd place immediate promotion to the Premier League. Not bad for Dyche who won Championship Manager of the Month 3 times.  Now comes the harder part: staying in the top flight.  He’ll rely on lead scorers Danny Ings (22 goals) and Sam Vokes (20 goals) to hopefully steal a few points and the Clarets have done the usual promoted team trick of overhauling their talent base — cutting ties with 6 players and bringing in 6 new ones.  If some of those players, like Jutkiewicz, Kightly, Reid and Gilks can help Burnley stay, they’ll prove smart additions.  Right now they’ll still rely on Dean Marney, Kieran Trippier and Scott Arfield can also display some of the form they had last year. They will, however, start once again being picked for the drop. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Chelsea
Stadium: Stamford Bridge, West London
Nickname: The Blues, The Pensioners
Manager: Jose Mourinho, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 3rd Place
IN: F Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), F Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), M Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), M Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split), D Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), G Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid-Returning from Loan)
OUT: F Demba Ba (Besiktas), F Samuel Eto’o (Released), F Romelu Lukaku (Everton), M Frank Lampard (NYC FC), D David Luiz (PSG), D Ashley Cole (Roma), G Henrique Hilario (Released)

The season hasn’t started and Jose Mourinho is already in form.  He’s flinging verbal arrows at rivals like Wenger and van Gaal. He’s wasted no time in replacing departing servants like Cole and Lampard. In came Filipe Luis and Cesc Fabregas — the latter a man whom he’s had run-ins in the past.  And when the striking options where identified as the weakness that denied them silverware last season, out went Ba, Eto’o and Lukaku and in come Diego Costa, La Liga’s top striker, and Didier Drogba, the best striker Stamford Bridge has had.  Add them to the best defense in the league anchored by John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic and an embarrassment of attacking riches like Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar and you can see why there’s so much pressure.  This is a team built to win silverware. Ending another season without a trophy would raise major questions about “The Special One.” Hence all the preseason action.  Prediction: Title Contenders.2014 PL - Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace
Stadium: Selhurst Park, South London
Nickname: The Eagles
Manager: Keith Millen (INTERIM), 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 11th
IN: F Frazier Campbell (Cardiff), D Brede Hangeland (Fulham), D Martin Kelly (Liverpool), G Chris Kettings (Blackpool)
OUT: F Aaron Wilbraham (Bristol City), M Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff), D Dean Moxey (Bolton), D Johnathan Parr (Ipswich Town), D Daniel Gabbidon (Released), G Neil Alexander (Hearts)

I’m glad I hadn’t had the chance to put this post till now. Otherwise, I’d look right foolish as Tony Pulis walked out of Selhurst Park less than 48 hours before the season’s start.  Now it’s his assistant Keith Millen who will start the season leading Palace into Emirates.  Pulis’ resignation also puts a dark cloud over what had been a good end to last season and decent summer in South London.  Pulis had jettisoned a lot of his defenders and brought in former Fulham captain Hageland and once-promising defender Kelly to partner with Adrian Mariappa, Patrick McCarthy and Scott Dann in defense.  He would have also depended on keeper Julian Speroni and captain Mile Jedinak to help keep their goal clean.  The bigger key for Palace will be to get more goals from Dwight Gayle, Jason Puncheon, Marouane Chamakh and newcomer Campbell.  But all of the good feelings are now out the window due to Pulis’ exit.  Can the right man enter and keep Palace’s ship from sinking? Do the Palace bosses even know who the right man is?   Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Everton
Stadium: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Manager: Roberto Martinez, 2nd Season
Nickname: The Toffees
Last Season: Premier League, 5th Place
IN: F Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), M Gareth Barry (Manchester City), M Christian Atsu (Chelsea-Loan), M Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), D Brendan Galloway (MK Dons)
OUT: F Apostolos Vellios (Lierse SK), G Mason Springthorpe (Released)

Last season was such a banner year for Everton. After years of half-a-season of woe/half-a-season of excitement, Roberto Martinez led the Toffees to a complete season where they challenged the established powers for Champions League qualification.  Falling short, they’ll now enter this season with the desire to break through to the top spots of the table.  To that end, they broke their transfer record and spent 28 million pounds to finally seal Romelu Lukaku’s transfer. They also got Gareth Barry to move on a free from City to join Ross Barkley, Aiden McGeady, Kevin Mirallas and Leon Osman in midfield.  As always, Everton will rely on Tim Howard and the defense of Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka and Bryan Oviedo to deny the stronger sides.  Toffees won’t be an easy win this season and they will enter the season expecting to challenge for a top four spot.  Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

Hull City
Stadium: KC Stadium, Hull
Manager: Steve Bruce, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 16th Place
IN: F Tom Ince (Blackpool), F Johan Ter Horst (Folkestone), M Jake Livermore (Tottenham), M Robert Snodgrass (Norwich)
OUT: F Shane Long (Southampton), F Matty Fryatt (Nottingham Forest), D Abdoulaye Faye (Released), M Conor Henderson (Crawley Town), M Robert Koren (Melbourne City)

For about 20 minutes, everything was going right for Hull City in last season’s FA Cup Final. Up 2-0 and almost scored a 3rd that was saved. They lost though, but their consolation prize is an automatic berth into the Europa League. For a team that battled relegation for much of the season, that European spot is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that supporters and players can dream of nights against continental opponents. A curse because their resources could be stretched thin. It becomes Steve Bruce’s task to outfit a team capable of multiple fronts. He’ll rely on keeper Allan McGregor, the defense of Curtis Davies, Maynor Figueroa and Tom Huddlestone and the attack from Nikica Jelavic, newcomer Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass. European nights can be a poisoned chalice for lucky small clubs and we’ve seen clubs gladly surrender their spots if it means top flight survival. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Leicester City
Stadium: King Power Stadium, Leicester
Nickname: The Foxes
Manager: Nigel Pearson, 4th Season
Last Season: Championship, 1st (Winners) PROMOTED
IN: F Jack Barmby (Man United), F Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton), D Louis Rowley (Man United), D Matthew Upson (Brighton & Hove Albion), D Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa), G Ben Hamer (Charlton)
OUT: F Marko Futacs (Mersin Idmanyurdu), M Lloyd Dyer (Watford), D George Taft (Burton Albion)

It’s been a long way back for Leicester to the top flight. Relegated back in 2004, they’ve been in the Championship, dropped down to League One and finally, after a decade, are back in the Premier League.  It only took winning the Championship to make the dream happen — winning 31 and losing only 6. Now the quest begins to stay.  Manager Nigel Pearson has engaged in a quest to bring in players with some Premier League experience — Upson and Albrighton — to assist keeper Kasper Schmeichel, defenders West Morgan, Paul Konchesky and Ritchie De Laet.  He’ll still rely on top scorers David Nugent and Danny Drinkwater to steal some points from the other teams around them. It’s unlikely they’ll surrender only 43 goals at this level, but if they can avoid thrashings, they may fight enough to stay. Few, if any, however will think they’ll stay long in such rarified air. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. 2014 PL - Anfield

Liverpool
Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool
Nickname: The Reds
Manager: Brendan Rodgers, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 2nd Place
IN: F Lazar Markovic (Benfica), F Rickie Lambert (Southampton), F Divock Origi (Lille), M Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen), M Adam Lallana (Southampton), D Dejan Lovren (Southampton), D Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid-Loan), D Alberto Moreno (Sevilla)
OUT: F Luis Suarez (Barcelona), F Iago Aspas (Sevilla-Loan), F Divock Origi (Lille-Loan) M Luis Alberto (Malaga-Loan), D Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace), G Pepe Reina (Bayern Munich)

Any discussion of Liverpool’s chances this season hinges on one question: are the new players brought onboard capable of offsetting the loss of Luis Suarez? The Premier League’s Player of the Year was going to be absent thanks to the ban picked up during the World Cup, but his move to Barcelona mandates a response. Brendan Rodgers will be looking to Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling to continue their scoring and will trust that his cavalcade of newcomers, including Lambert, Markovic and Lallana, can add enough to offset the loss of Suarez.  The bigger question is whether Lovren, Manquillo, Moreno, Mamadou Sako, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson can help cut on the number of goals conceded. That will be the key for Liverpool’s challenge.  Specially as they return to the Champions League after a marked absence.  There’s a lot of individual talents for Rodgers to select a pretty good XI.  But let there be no doubt.  They were a team that relied on Suarez’s talents.  Can someone step into that role and be that spark for the Reds?  Title and cup challenges hinge on the answer.   Prediction: Title Contenders.

Manchester City
Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Nickname: The Citizens, The Sky Blues
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 1st Place (Champions), Capital One Cup Winners
IN: M Fernando (Porto), M Frank Lampard (NYC FC-Loan), M Bruno Zuculini (Racing), D Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), D Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), G Willy Caballero (Malaga)
OUT: M Gareth Barry (Everton), M Javi Garcia (Zenit St Petersburg),  M Jack Rodwell (Sunderland), D Joleon Lescott (West Brom), G Costel Pantilimon (Sunderland)

For most clubs, winning the Premier League is seen as the culmination of a long and arduous road.  For Man City, the 2nd title in 3 seasons is expected to be the launchpad into the uppermost echelons. That’s why, though restricted by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rulings, the expectation will be a proper defense of their Premier League crown as well as a serious challenge in the Champions League. That’s why they’ve spent millions in bringing Fernando, Sagna, Caballero and Mangala.  They have the offensive firepower between Yaya Toure, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and the returning Stevan Jovetic. They’re looking to improve on the defense around Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart. Their collection of talent is enviable.  But we’ve seen talented teams come and go.  For City, its players, manager, owners and supporters, it’s time to show they belong in the very top tier of the game and that requires trophies.  Another title would cement them as one of the best teams in the world.  Prediction: Title Contenders.

Manchester United
Stadium: Old Trafford, Manchester
Nickname: The Red Devils
Manager: Louis van Gaal, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 7th Place
IN: M Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao), D Luke Shaw (Southampton), G Vanja Milinkovic (Vojovdina)
OUT: M Ryan Giggs (Retired), M Federico Macheda (Cardiff), M Jack Barmby (Leicester), D Patrice Evra, D Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan), D Rio Ferdinand (QPR), D Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow)

While expectations of a decline were natural after David Moyes took over in Old Trafford, no one expected the crash and burn season that United had. Not surprisingly, the Scot is long gone and Louis van Gaal was brought in before he took his Dutch national team to Brazil.  While he was out, he sanctioned the big money purchases of Herrera and Shaw – players identified by Moyes last season.  They’ll walk into the Starting XI that has a lot of the old guard — particularly in defense — in new pastures.  (Well, Shaw is out for a month).  Add a new starting formation (3-5-2) and the continued chase for more talents like Angel Di Maria and United feel like a club in transition. It’s going to come down to how many goals Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, Nani, Adnan Januzaj and Danny Welbeck score to keep them in the chase for the top 4 spots. At least they won’t have to worry about Europe this season.  But make no mistake: another poor season like last year’s and this time it won’t be the manager who pays for it.   Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

2014 PL - Old TraffordNewcastle United
Stadium: St James’ Park, Newcastle
Nickname: The Magpies, The Toon
Manager: Alan Pardew, 5th Season
Last Season: Premier League, 10th Place
IN: F Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco), F Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar Donetsk), F Ayoze Perez (Tenerife), M Jack Colback (Sunderland), M Siem de Jong (Ajax), M Remy Cabella (Montpellier), D Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), D Jamaal Lascelles (Notthingham Forest), G Karl Darlow (Nottingham Forest)
OUT: F Loic Remy (QPR-Returning from Loan), F Shola Ameobi (Gaziantep BB), M Sylvain Marveaux (Guingamp), M Conor Newton (Rotherham United), M Dan Gosling (Bournemouth), D Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal)

Another year, another slew of new faces from the continent walks through the doors of St James’ Park. Their mission? To turn last year’s fall in form into a momentary blip and make sure Alan Pardew’s position with the Geordie faithful doesn’t fall any further than it has. After all, he’s still got another 6 years in that 8-year-long contract owner Mike Ashley gave him. Pardew waited to get Janmaat before letting Debuchy move to North London.  Remy Cabella comes in to take the place of Shola Ameobi (like). But who takes over for Loic Remy’s scoring? Look, there’s talent here: Tim Krul, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Hatem Ben Arfa, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and, of course, Papiss Demba Cisse.  That’s a lot of talent from across Europe in Newcastle for it to linger anywhere near the relegation spots.  A lot of their season will depend on how they start. A bad beginning may mean Pardew’s end, but there should still be too many teams between them and the drop places. Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

Queens Park Rangers
Stadium: Loftus Road, West London
Nickname: The Hoops
Manager: Harry Redknapp, 3rd Season
Last Season: Championship, 4th Place (PROMOTED VIA PLAYOFF)
IN: M Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City), D Mauricio Isla (Juventus-Loan), D Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd), D Steven Caulker (Cardiff)
OUT: F Andrew Johnson (Released), F Hogan Ephraim (Released), F Angelo Balanta (Bradford City), F Tom Hitchcock (MK Dons), M Yossi Benayoun (Maccabi Haifa), M Stephane Mbia (Released), D Aaron Hughes (Brighton & Hove Albion), D Luke Young (Released)

The Wheeler Dealer is back, kids! After an absence of three seasons, good old ‘Arry Redknapp is back to dazzle media members and bring more fun to the Premier League.  Last seen losing the battle at Tottenham, Redknapp found a home at Loftus Road and began trying to find a way for the R’s back into the top flight.  A 23-win campaign gave them enough to enter the Championship Playoffs where a 90th minute goal punched their ticket back up.  His first mission was shoring up a defense that gave up 44 goals in the championship. So in come Ferdinand, Isla and Caulker to protect keeper Julio Cesar. The protracted move of Loic Remy means that he’ll look for top scorer Charlie Austin to help bag a few more goals — with help from Adel Taarabt, Bobby Zamora, Shaun Wright-Phillips and the one and only Joey Barton. I was going to add Ravel Morrison to his list, but his court issues might keep him occupied. As is, ‘Arry will have to pull off every trick to keep the Hoops in the Premier League. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Southampton
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Nickname: The Saints
Manager: Ronald Koeman, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 8th Place
IN: F Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord), F Shane Long (Hull City), M Dusan Tadic (FC Twente), M Saphir Taider (Inter Milan), D Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea-Loan), D Florin Gardos (Steaua Bucharest)
OUT: F Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), F Lee Barnard (Southend United), F Guly do Prado (Released), F Jonathan Forte (Oldham Athletic), M Adam Lallana (Liverpool), M Andy Robinson (Bolton), D Danny Fox (Nottingham Forest), D Tom Leggett (Aston Villa), D Isaac Nehemie (Aston Villa), D Calum Chambers (Arsenal), D Luke Shaw (Manchester United), D Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)

It is a sad sign that we all knew what would happen to Southampton this summer and that it couldn’t be stopped.  First, manager Mauricio Pocchetino moved to North London as the latest in a long line of saviors to take Tottenham’s job.  Then, the great exodus of players began as the big clubs picked apart at last season’s surprise team. A quick recap: their top striker, star central midfielder and 3/4ths of their starting defense are all gone. New boss Koeman — a man who’s had success around the continent — slammed the doors at St Mary’s before Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez could also escape.  His job now becomes to build a new, committed team from the parts that remain and the ones he’s added on.  Can Dusan Tadic and Saphir Taider replace Lallana?  Can Pelle or Long partner with Rodriguez?  Can they put together a decent defense?  Will Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne all have one eye on the exit door? Teams that get picked apart like this seldom succeed. Koeman’s task may be beyond him and Saints enter this season on the wrong side of expectations. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Stoke City
Stadium: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Nickname: The Potters
Manager: Mark Hughes, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 9th
IN: F Mame Diouf (Hannover), F Bojan Krkic (Barcelona), M Steve Sidwell (Fulham), D Dionatan Teixeira (Dukla, B Bystrica), D Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), G Costel Pantilimon (Man City)
OUT: F Juan Agudelo, M Matthew Etherington, M Michael Kightly (Burnley)

Last season was a bit of a surprise for the Potters. Not only did they not fall into the relegation battle, but they managed a comfortable 9th place finish. Now, it’s up to Mark Hughes to ensure that they can stay comfortably afloat once again.  He’ll rely on his Fortress Britannia once again and the solid form of keeper Asmir Begovic, defenders Geoff Cameron, Ryan shawcross and Phil Bardsley as well as  the abilities of his midfield including Charlie Adam, Stephen Ireland, Wilson Palacios, Steven Nzonzi and Brek Shea. The key for him will be to find a more consistent attack this time around and to that end he’s brought in former Barca starlet Krkic as a reclamation project to help Peter Crouch, Peter Odemwingie and Cameron Jerome.  Look, they will not win pretty and they’re not likely to make many fans with their style, but if they can find just a few more goals while keeping opponents out, they will enjoy another comfortable season in the top division. Prediction: Midtable Comfort.2014 PL - Stadium of Light

Sunderland
Stadium: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Nickname: The Black Cats
Manager: Gus Poyet, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 14th Place
IN: M Jack Rodwell (Man City), M Jordi Gomez (Wigan), D Billy Jones (West Brom), D Santiago Vergini (CA Fenix-Loan), D Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea), G Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
OUT: M Jack Colback (Newcastle), M Billy Knott (Bradford), M Craig Gardner (West Brom), M David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), D Carlos Cuellar (Released), D Andrea Dossena (Released), D John Egan (Gillingham), D Phil Bardsley (Stoke), G Oscar Ustari (Newell’s Old Boys), G Kieren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)

Like any team that flirts with relegation, the Black Cats have spent the offseason overhauling the defensive side of the ball.  They’ve brought in Jones, Vergini and van Aanholt as well as Pantilimon and Rodwell to assist long-time veterans Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Mobido Diakite and Lee Cattermole in order to cut the number of goals they shipped last season. Gus Poyet is counting on Connor Wickham, Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson and a hopefully-fit Jozy Altidore to assist in finding enough goals to steal points from teams around them.  In short, this could be the season that sees the Black Cats fall back down the relegation trap. They’ll have to fight to make sure it doesn’t happen. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

Swansea City
Stadium: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Manager: Garry Monk, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 12th Place
IN: F Bafetimi Gomis (Lyon), F Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough), M Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham), M Jefferson Montero (Morelia), D Stephen Kingsley (Falkirk), G Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal)
OUT: F Michu (Napoli-Loan), F David Ngog (Released) F Leroy Lita (Barnsley), M Alejandro Pozuelo (Rayo Vallecano), D Ben Davies (Tottenham), D Jernade Meade (Released), D Darnel Situ (Released), G Michael Vorm (Tottenham)

It’s back to square one in many senses for the Swans. Garry Monk starts the season as the permanent manager after a short stint as interim last season taking over Michael Laudrup. Gylfi Sigurdsson is back, returning after a failed stint at Spurs — though he swapped places with Davies and Vorm. And former star Michu is now in Italy.  They still have Wilfred Bony for the moment. If he and Gomis can form a solid striker partnership, they will not miss Michu. If Sigurdsson can find his old form and be the threat he was alongside Nathan Dyer, Montero, Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-Yeung, then they’ll be better at creating and scoring goals.  And if Ashley Richards, Angel Rangel, Kyle Bartley and Fabianski can offset the losses of Davies and Vorm, they could hope to cut down on the goals they shipped last season. If all that happens, then the Swans could find a way back towards the heights of two seasons ago. It’s not a lot to dream of, but it’s back to square one after all. Prediction: Midtable Comfort.2014 PL - Liberty Stadium

Tottenham Hotspur
Stadium: White Hart Lane, North London
Nickname: Spurs, The Lilywhites
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 6th Place
IN: D Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon), D Ben Davies (Swansea), D DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), G Michael Vorm (Swansea)
OUT: M Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), M Jake Livermore (Hull), D DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders-Loan), G Heurelho Gomes (Watford)

Things have been quiet over on the N17 side of North London. After a season of high expectations, there’s been less crowing about transfers and chances to get one over the old enemy.  Instead, new boss Pocchetino has taken a “don’t break what wasn’t broken” approach to transfers.  The big issue was the lopsided losses? So he buys Dier and Davies to assist Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Walker in defense and brings in Vorm to take over as Lloris’ backup/challenger.  (Yedlin won’t make the move to North London until 2015). He moves Sigurdsson out to make more room for Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela (who’ll hopefully be fit this year, right?).  He has been trying to buy Morgan Schneiderlin from his old Southampton job to take over in defensive midfield. The key for him is going to be getting some of last year’s purchases — Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Lewis Holtby, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Lamela — firing right. Pocchetino can rely on Emmanuel Adebayor and Aaron Lennon, but if he wants this team to challenge for a Top 4 spot, a lot of players have to start living up to hype.  Otherwise the noise will be a chorus of boos.  Prediction: Top Four Contenders.

West Bromwich Albion
Stadium: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Nickname: The Baggies,
Manager: Alan Irvine, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 17th Place
IN: F Ideye Brown (Dynamo Kiev), M Craig Gardner (Sunderland), D Joleon Lescott (Man City), D Andre Wisdom (Liverpool-Loan), D Chris Baird (Burnley), D Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover), D Jason Davidson (Hercales), D Cristian Gamboa (Rosenborg)
OUT: F Nicolas Anelka (Released), M George Thorne (Derby), M Scott Allan (Hibernian), M Zoltan Gera (Ferencvaros), D Diego Lugano (Released), D Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), D Steven Reid (Burnley), D Billy Jones (Sunderland), D Cameron Gayle (Shrewsbury Town)

There’s a reason everyone is picking the poor Baggies to go through the trap door this season.  They nearly managed the trick last season and, but for a single win, avoided it. Their new manager, Alan Irvine, is coaching in the Premier League for the first time. And they’re likely to field a nearly new defense in front of Ben Foster. The hope is between newcomers Lescott, Baird, Pocognoli and Gamboa can help shore up last year’s bad defense. Of equal concern is where the goals are going to come from. Between Victor Anichebe, Stephane Sessegnon, James Morrison and Brown, they’ll hope they can scrounge up enough goals to help steal the points they need to survive. It’s going to be a tough order and, by the new year, things may be beyond hope.  It would be a shame to see the once-proud Baggies fall through the trap.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.

West Ham United
Stadium: Boleyn Ground, East London
Nickname: The Hammers
Manager: Sam Allardyce, 4th Season
Last Season: Premier League, 13th Place
IN: F Enner Valencia (Pachuca), F Diafra Sakho (Metz), F Mauro Zarate (Velez Sarsfield), M Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht), M Diego Poyet (Charlton), D Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town), D Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal-Loan)
OUT: M Joe Cole (Aston Villa), M Matt Taylor (Burnley), M Jack Collison (Released), D Callum Driver (Released), D George McCartney (Released), D Jordan Spence (Released)

On the one hand, it’s tough to get overtly-excited over a Sam Allardyce-managed team.  You sort of know what you’re going to get: quality from keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, a solid formation set up to deny the free-flowing football of bigger clubs by midfielders like Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble and the occasional flash from a big center forward like Andry Carroll or Carlton Cole or winger like Matt Jarvis or Stewart Downing.  But then he goes and adds players like Valencia and Zarate up front and a defender like Jenkinson and things all of a sudden look sort of interesting in East London.  Could an Allardyce team play attractive football?  Let’s not get all crazy here.  They’ll be good enough to not worry about relegation and they may provide a shock surprise or two at home against a bigger club.  Anything else, will be surprising.  Prediction: Midtable Comfort.

We are mere hours away from the fun starting once again. And, as always, things are wont to change if Jim White Day (i.e. Transfer Deadline Day) is as goofy and crazy as last year’s.  All the same, the Premier League is back!

OK, OK. ONE pretty girl picture!

2014 PL - Hello

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