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2015-16 Premier League Primer, Predictions & Pretty Pictures

Though it was just about three months ago, it really doesn’t feel like soccer left us at all.  Thank the great tournaments in Chile (Copa America) and Canada (Women’s World Cup) as well as the controversial Gold Cup in the USA.  This summer has had heroes, villains, moments of glory and tension.  Every reason why we tune in week in and week out to the Premier League was on display and allowed for a Picture Shows: Jenna Coleman as Clarawonderful time at pubs and bars across the land.  However, here comes the real thing back again to consume thought and time and conversations.

So what can we expect this year? More of the same, I’d imagine, with a wrinkle or two new along the way.  We have new players in new clubs. There’s a number of managers who are in the Premier League for the first time. We also have one club which is starting in the top division of English football for the first time ever.  The top clubs will chase the title and European glory.  The middle tier will want to pip them and maybe end up with with a cup final at Wembley.  And the teams at the bottom will pray that they can somehow avoid relegation back to the Championship.  Heroes and villains both will appear. Moments will both dazzle and disappoint. And when’s all said and done, we’ll wish it hadn’t gone so quickly.

As always, the predictions break down as Title Contenders, Top Four Challengers, Midtable Comfort and Relegation Fighters. And after a year off, I shall bring the pictures back of pretty English ladies. Because I have to throw some eye candy in here to tantalize some of y’all.  But let’s be good and British and make it pictures of some of the most notorious ladies ever: the Companions of Doctor Who! It can’t get more British than that!

With all that preamble done:

Arsenal
Stadium: Emirates, North London
Nickname: The Gunners
Manager: Arsene Wenger, 20th season
Last Season: Premier League, 3rd Place; FA Cup Winners
KEY IN: G Petr Cech (Chelsea)
KEY OUT: F Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), F Yaya Sanogo (Ajax-Loan), F Chuba Akpom (Hull City-Loan), F Serge Gnabry (West Bromwich Albion-Loan), M Abou Diaby (Marseille), D Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United-Loan), G Wojciech Szczesny (AS Roma-Loan)

Two seasons ago, Arsenal had a great first half of the season, but a poor second half prevented them from recapturing the Premier League title last held in 2004.  Last season, it was the reverse: a poor first half followed by a terrific second half with a similar result. Back-to-back FA Cup triumphs meant the seasons ended on a positive though.  The expectation is that Arsenal can put the two halves into a whole this season and finally bring back the trophy they most covet.  They have no excuses.  There’s an established team with depth and talent. In players like Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, they’ve the kind of quality that can win games.  The arrival of Petr Cech should help turn one of the better defenses in the Premier League into a world-class one.  The desire for a better striker than Olivier Giroud and more cover at defensive midfield remain, but this is a team that can challenge for the Premier League. It’s been over a decade since they last stood atop the mountain. Time to put it all together. PREDICTION: Title Contenders.

Aston Villa
Stadium: Villa Park, Birmingham
Nickname: The Villans
Manager: Tim Sherwood, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Premier League, 15th
KEY IN: F Scott Sinclair (Manchester City), F Jordan Ayew (Lorient), M Idrissa Gueye (Lille), D Jordan Amavi (Nice), D Micah Richards (Manchester City), D Jose Angel Crespo (Cordoba), G Mark Brunn (Norwich City)
KEY OUT: F Christian Benteke (Liverpool), F Darren Bent (Derby County), F Andreas Weimann (Derby County), M Fabian Delph (Manchester City), M Tom Cleverley (Manchester United-Loan Ended), M Yacouba Sylla (Stade Rennes), D Antonio Luna (Eibar), D Matthew Lowton (Burnley), D Ron Vlaar (Released), D Enda Stevens (Portsmouth), G Shay Given (Stoke City)

A solid run to the FA Cup Final last spring along with 5 wins to save their Premier League position was as good as it could get for Villa after they hired Tim Sherwood to replace Paul Lambert.  But Sherwood now has the difficult task of doing it all over again without top scorer Benteke or captain Delph. He’s started by overhauling the roster.  Maybe Ayew and Sinclair can provide some of that goal-scoring form. Maybe there’s enough in Sinclair, Gary Gardner and Carlos Sanchez to spur the midfield to life.  Maybe Richards, Crespo and Amayi link up with Aly Cissokho, Jonas Okore, Ciaran Clark and Alan Hutton to create a tougher backline in front of Brad Guzan. And maybe Gabriel Agbonlahor will find something like the form of years past. That’s a lot of maybes for Sherwood to figure out. The ugly truth is that, if he can keep them from another relegation battle, Sherwood would have done a great job this season. If he can add another cup run, then that would just be a cherry on top. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

PL15 - Amy PondAFC Bournemouth
Stadium: Dean Court, Boscombe, Bournemouth
Nickname: The Cherries
Manager: Eddie Howe, 4th Season
Last Season: Championship, 1st Place (CHAMPIONS)
KEY IN:  F Joshua King (Blackburn Rovers), F Christian Atsu (Chelsea-Loan), D Tyrone Mings (Ipswich Town), D Filippo Costa (Chievo Verona-Loan), D Sylvain Distin (Everton), G Adam Federici (Reading), G Artur Boruc (Southampton)
KEY OUT: F Brett Pitman (Ipswich Town), F Josh McQuoid (Luton Town), M Mohamed Coulibaly (Racing de Santander)

Welcome to the Premier League, Bournemouth! For the first time ever, the Cherries grace the bright lights of England’s top flight.  A team more accustomed to welcoming teams in the lower divisions now has to find a way to fit in the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea in their small ground (11,700 capacity at Dean Court).  Now watch as everyone picks them to be the first ones to punch their tickets back to the Championship! Manager Eddie Howe will need to find a way to steal points from stronger teams if there’s any hope of allaying a drop back down.  They have a reasonable start to scoop up points.  An away trip to Anfield aside, the Cherries will start the season with games against teams like Aston Villa, Leicester, Norwich, Sunderland and Watford.  They will hope strikers Callum Wilson and Yann Kermorgant and midfielder Matt Ritchie keep the kind of form they had in the Championship last season and that something of a defense can be made out of newcomers like Mings and Distin with last year’s back four of Dan Gosling, Steve Cook, Simon Francis and captain Tommy Elphick. It’s gonna be a tough fight for the Cherries this year. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

Chelsea
Stadium: Stamford Bridge, West London
Nickname: The Blues, The Pensioners
Manager: Jose Mourinho, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 1st Place (CHAMPIONS), Capital One Cup Winners
KEY IN: F Radamel Falcao (Monaco-Loan), G Asmir Begovic (Stoke City)
KEY OUT: F Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), F Gael Kakuta (Sevilla), M Josh McEachran (Brentford), D Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), G Petr Cech (Arsenal)

Last season may have ended in triumph, but that means nothing to Jose Mourinho. Other managers may rest on their laurels, but he’s already in midseason form, lobbing barbs at rivals.  He’s also looking at arguably the best team in England and looking to improve it.  With the departure of Didier Drogba, he turned to the once-terrific Falcao in the hopes of proving that his season at Manchester United was a blip.  And though he didn’t want to lose Cech, he went and got Begovic to take the spot behind Thibault Courtois.  There’s still rumors of a move for Everton’s centerback John Stones, but those may run till September 1.  They’re also after a left back to take over Filipe Luis’ vacated bench spot.  If it feels like I’m talking around the obvious point though, I am. Chelsea have the best starting XI in the league.  They retain the league’s strongest defense in Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic.  They have incredible midfield options in Nemanja Matic, Ramires, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard. And Diego Costa remains one of the league’s best forwards – when healthy.  And that might be what keeps them from repeating: do they have the players to step in if key contributors are out injured for more than a game?  They’ll contend because they’re talented but this season may depend on the likes of Loic Remy and Kurt Zouma. PREDICTION: Title Contenders.

Crystal Palace
Stadium: Selhurst Park, South London
Nickname: The Eagles
Manager: Alan Pardew, 1st Full season
Last Season: Premier League, 10th
KEY IN: F Connor Wickham (Sunderland), F Patrick Bamford (Chelsea-Loan), F Bakary Sako (Wolverhampton), M Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain), G Alex McCarthy (Queens Park Rangers)
KEY OUT: F Shola Ameobi (Released), D Mandela Egbo (Borussia Monchengladbach), D Jahmal Howlett-Mundle (Heart of Midlothian), G Lewis Price (Sheffield Wednesday)

After turning Palace’s season around, Alan Pardew has taken to look for ways to making them a tougher team to face.  In comes former Newcastle talent Cabaye and once-touted striker Wickham to help them add to their scoring tally.  They’ll hope to mesh with Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, Kwesi Appiah and Jason Puncheon.  There’s a solid defense in keeper Julian Speroni and defenders like Scott Dann, Adrian Mariappa, Joel Ward and Brede Hangeland that should make them a tough team to all but the most talented of sides.  This is the kind of team that Pardew excels with – capable of beating bigger clubs and ensuring that they never face the relegation battle.  And that will be tested early with games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham 4 of their first 6 games.  If a cup run happens, all the better. But right now, it’s all about staying for a 4th consecutive season in the Premier League. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

Everton
Stadium: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Manager: Roberto Martinez, 2nd Season
Nickname: The Toffees
Last Season: Premier League, 11th Place
KEY IN: F David Henen (Olympiakos), F Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), M Tom Cleverley (Aston Villa),
KEY OUT: F Chris Long (Burnley), D Sylvain Distin (AFC Bournemouth), D Antolin Alcaraz (Released)

Last season felt like a big step back for the Toffees. After having spent their first year under Martinez flirting with a top 4 spot, they fell back to Earth last season and hard.  Some of it could be a poor season by Timmy Howard. Some of it was growing pains for players like Ross Barkley and John Stones.  There shouldn’t be any expectations of big changes to how Martinez sends his team out though.  They’re going to hope former Barcelona starlet Deulofeu and former Man United wunderkind Cleverley live up to some of their hype and assist Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith in scoring more goals.  And should they hang onto Stones and Howard prove it was just a poor season, they will still have a decent defense with Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines in front. Everton’s chairman, Bill Kenwright, is not known for dumping managers. So even a poor start shouldn’t light a fire under Martinez’s seat.  Still, after their opener against Watford, they go to Southampton, welcome Manchester City, travel to Spurs and then welcome Chelsea.  Not an easy start. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

Leicester City
Stadium: King Power Stadium, Leicester
Nickname: The Foxes
Manager: Claudio Ranieri, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 14th Place.
KEY IN: F Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05), M N’Golo Kante (SM Caen), D Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04), D Robert Huth (Stoke City), D Yohan Benalouane (Atalanta)
KEY OUT: F Chris Wood (Leeds United), M Paul Gallagher (Preston North End), M Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liege), D Esteban Cambiasso (Released)

PL15 - Martha JonesJust as they found a positive end to their first season in the Premier League, the Foxes went and got mired in the worst kind of scandal. During the team’s tour of Thailand – their owner’s home nation – footage leaked showing several players engaging in an orgy and making racist statements. Among them was former manager Nigel Pearson’s son, James. Following previous incidents during the season, this proved too much for ownership and the elder Pearson soon followed his son out the door.  So now what? In comes Ranieri, a man knowledgeable of the Premier League and capable of building a team to survive the drop.  They’ll have to do it without the powerful Esteban Cambiasso in midfield as he and the club could not come to terms.  If Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy improve on last season, if the new signings in the back help keeper Kasper Schmeichel cut down on the goals allowed and if one of Danny Drinkwater, Andy King or Marc Albrighton can help in replacing Cambiasso, they may have a chance. It took a minor miracle to survive the drop last season and the summer may prove to be too much for Leicester City to overcome. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

Liverpool
Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool
Nickname: The Reds
Manager: Brendan Rodgers, 4th Season
Last Season: Premier League, 6th Place
KEY IN: F Christian Benteke (Aston Villa),  F Danny Ings (Burnley), F Roberto Firmino (TSG Hoffenheim), F Divock Origi (Lille-Returning from Loan), M James Milner (Manchester City), D Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), D Joseph Gomez (Charlton Athletic)
KEY OUT: F Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), F Iago Aspas (Sevilla), F Rickie Lambert (West Bromiwch Albion), M Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), D Luis Alberto (Deportivo La Coruna-Loan), D Sebastian Coates (Sunderland), D Glen Johnson (Stoke City), D Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid-Loan Terminated)

It was not going to be easy to replace Luis Suarez, but Liverpool found it impossible last season. To be fair to Brendan Rodgers, he also missed Daniel Sturridge for most of the season as well. So his front-three of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling had two-thirds missing. And now the last third is gone. With Sterling and Steven Gerrard moving to new pastures, the Reds now find themselves having to replace last season’s top 2 scorers with a new squad of attackers.  Can Benteke have the kind of season we all think he can? Can Firmino light up the Premier League?  Will it fall to players like Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Emre Can to carry the load if their new comrades struggle? Milner and Jordan Henderson at the heart of midfield should be steadier (truth be told) now that legendary Gerrard is in LA.  What of the defense that has surrendered 50+ goals the last two seasons? They brought in Clyne from Southampton to settle the right back spot. If he and Gomez take the fullback spots, it should decrease the number of chances Simon Mignolet faces.  If Liverpool is to have any kind of success this season, it’s time to find a cohesive team out of the many talented individuals in place. If not, Rodgers will pay for it. PREDICTION: Top Four Challengers.

Manchester City
Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Nickname: The Citizens, The Sky Blues
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 2nd Place
KEY IN: F Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), M Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)
KEY OUT: F Edin Dzeko (AS Roma), F Alvaro Negredo (Valencia), F Stevan Jovetic (Inter Milan-Loan), M Frank Lampard (NYC FC), M James Milner (Liverpool), M Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa), D Matija Nastasic (Schalke 04), D Micah Richards (Aston Villa)

A season that had so much promise and bore so little fruit has resulted in a minor clearout at the Etihad.  Former luminaries and players who didn’t deliver were shuffled out the back door.  And though they’ve spent heavily once again, the Citizens have opted to go for English quality over quantity in Sterling and Delph — a necessity given their losses and the Premier League’s English quota requirements.  Still, the hope is that Sterling’s best years are yet to come and he can link up with David Silva, Wilfried Bony and Sergio Aguero to strike fear in opponents’ hearts.  Pellegrini also has to hope that, a season removed from his contract issues, Yaya Toure will return to his imperious form in midfield.  The more surprising thing to me is they’re returning their entire defensive unit and trusting that another offseason working together will result in their gelling like they did not do last season.  Joe Hart had a great season that went wasted due to the poor form of Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala and the Fernandos in front of him.  If they’re not better this season, Aguero could score 40 and it might not be enough. Still, that much talent has to be respected. PREDICTION: Title Contenders.

Manchester United
Stadium: Old Trafford, Manchester
Nickname: The Red Devils
Manager: Louis van Gaal, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 4th Place
KEY IN: F Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), M Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), M Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), D Matteo Darmian (Torino), G Sergio Romero (Free Agent)
KEY OUT:  F Robin van Persie (Fenerbahce), F Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco-Loan Ended), F Nani (Fenerbahce), F Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), M Tom Cleverley (Everton), D Rafael (Olympique Lyonnais)

Just what exactly is Louis Van Gaal up to?  Last season, he entered Old Trafford on the back of a great World Cup run with Robin Van Persie leading his line and had seen major additions to his squad in transfer record Angel Di Maria and loanee Falcao. Now, Van Persie , Di Maria and Falcao are gone and Van Gaal is remaking his squad once again. In Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, the hope is that there’s a stronger midfield being created alongside Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.  If Depay can provide the creative spark out wide and feed Wayne Rooney, goals may follow. The big question is how do they improve the backline. Darmian may be an improvement on Rafael but Johnny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain at the heart of the defense. And if David De Gea is sold, things could get dicey for them—and now Van Gaal is sitting him and giving a start to newly-arrived Romero. There’s tons of talents, but just as many questions and LVG isn’t making things easier with his combative nature. He’s either smarter than everyone else or creating tempests that will prove tough to overcome. PREDICTION: Top Four Challengers.

Newcastle United
Stadium: St James’ Park, Newcastle
Nickname: The Magpies, The Toon
Manager: Steve McClaren, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 15th Place
KEY IN: F Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht), M Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven), D Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht)
KEY OUT: F Adam Campbell (Notts County), D Davide Santon (Inter Milan)

PL 15 - Lady Christina de Souza 2A bad season nearly resulted in a drop down to the Championship again by the Toon.  They survived barely and have brought in Steve McClaren to help prevent that from happening. He’s turned to his former Dutch Eredivisie stomping grounds and raided to bring in Mitrovic, Wijnaldum and Mbemba.  But of greater importance is going to be how he manages the disparate but talented individuals that make up his squad. Tim Krul is a good goalkeeper who has had some poor outings. The defense, with Daryl Janmaat, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini is all over the place. There’s talent in players like Papiss Cisse, Jack Colback, Yoan Gouffran, Ayoze Perez, Remy Cabella and Cheick Tiote but they too often squander it.  And some like Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote have a lot to respond to after the bad seasons they had last year.  In short, for McClaren and the Magpies to have any chance this season, they’re going to need to become a team. It might be too tall an order with a season that starts against Southampton, Swansea, Manchester United and Arsenal. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

Norwich City
Stadium: Carrow Road, Norwich
Nickname: The Canaries
Manager: Alex Neil, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Championship, 3rd Place (PROMOTED VIA PLAYOFFS)
KEY IN: M Graham Dorrans (West Bromwich Albion), M Youssuf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion), M Robert Brady (Hull City), G Jake Kean (Blackburn Rovers)
KEY OUT: F Luciano Becchio (Belgrano), M Cameron McGeehan (Luton Town), G Mark Bunn (Aston Villa)

After a year out of the top flight, Norwich punched their ticket back up via the playoffs. Led by 34-year-old manager Alex Neil, the Canaries managed 17 wins out of 25 games, beat Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough in the Playoffs and found themselves back at the top division.  Now the former Hamilton Academical midfielder has to find a way to keep them there.  The good news is that his team still has much of the same talent that it had during its last Premier League stint.  Players like keeper John Ruddy, defenders Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong and Steven Whittaker, midfielders Wes Hoolahan and Bradley Johnson and strikers Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper were all present when Norwich was here and it’ll fall on them to fight for a way to keep them here.  They’ll also look at forwards Cameron Jerome and lewis Grabban to keep scoring if they’re to have any hope of staying in the Premier League.  Starting the season with games like Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Stoke and Bournemouth could give them a chance to pick up some points before the meat of the season.  It still might prove too much. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

Southampton
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Nickname: The Saints
Manager: Ronald Koeman, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 8th Place
KEY IN: F Juanmi (Malaga), M Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), D Cedric Soares (Sporting CP), D Cuco Martina (FC Twente), D Steven Caulker (Queens Park Rangers-Loan), G Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham-Loan)
KEY OUT:  M Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), D Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), D Toby Aldereiweld (Atletico Madrid-Loan Ended), G Artur Boruc (AFC Bournemouth)

Another summer, another roster overhaul. It’s as much a tradition at St Mary’s as feuding with Portsmouth. Out the door went Schneiderlin (at last), Clyne and Aldereiweld — whom was sold by Atletico Madrid to Spurs. As big a loss will be the absence of keeper Fraser Forster, who, until he broke his kneecap last spring, was one of the best keepers in the league.  In spite of all this, you can feel that the Saints will push teams bigger than them and contend for an European spot once again.  If the additions of Juanmi, Soares, Clasie and Martina gel with forwards Jay Rodriguez, Shane Long, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle, midfielders Dusan Tadic, Victor Wanyama and Steven Davis and defenders Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida, then it might not matter. That’s Southampton’s M.O.: they lose talent, they find new talent and they face the new season as if nothing’s changed. Ronald Koeman has helped keep St Mary’s a tough place to get results and that will be their ace in the hole.  Last year I bet against them. This year, I won’t.  PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

Stoke City
Stadium: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Nickname: The Potters
Manager: Mark Hughes, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 9th Place
KEY IN: F Joselu (Hannover 96), F Ibrahim Afellay (Free Agent), M Mohamed El Ouriachi (Barcelona), M Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea-Loan), M Sergio Molina (Real Madrid), D Glen Johnson (Liverpool), D Phillip Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), G Shay Given (Aston Villa), G Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtyjylland)
KEY OUT: F Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla), M Wilson Palacios (Released), D Robert Huth (Leicester City), G Asmir Begovic (Chelsea), G Thomas Sorensen (Released)

PL15 - Rose TylerWhen did Stoke-on-Trent become Barcelona North? Former Barcelona player Mark Hughes manages this team and, after adding once Barca darling Bojan Krkic last season, he’s gone and brought in forward Ibrahim Afellay and midfielder Moha El Ouriachi from the blaugrana club this summer.  (Just for good measure, he did also add former Real Madrid midfielder Sergio Molina.)  It speaks to the way Stoke was seen under Tony Pulis that Hughes’ changes are so attractive.  Hughes has managed to keep the core of Stoke’s tenacious defense with Phil Bardsley, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron, Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa. If that grit combines with the flair of Mame Diouf, Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters and the new additions like Joselu and Afellay, then the Potters should not just find themselves safely within the Premier League’s table but might even push up against those teams vying for an Europa League spot.  It’s a strange spot they find themselves in.  The old “rainy Tuesday night in Stoke” might have to be retired as a negative if this keeps up. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

Sunderland
Stadium: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Nickname: The Black Cats
Manager: Dick Advocaat, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Premier League, 16th Place
KEY IN: F Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), M Yann M’Vila (Rubin Kazan-Loan), D Adam Matthews (Celtic), D Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), D Younes Kaboul (Tottenham)
KEY OUT: F Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace), M El-Hadji Ba (Charlton)

The Black Cats’ luck started when Dick Advocaat managed to keep them in the Premier League when it looked like they were headed down.  Then, they found a way to convince him to return after he had retired.  His order of business was finding a way to cut down on goals and so he’s brought in Coates, Kaboul, Matthews and M’Vila to assist John O’Shea, Patrick van Aanholt and Lee Cattermole in that task.  That should help keeper Costel Pantilimon in not facing so many shots.  The more difficult question is where are the goals going to come from. Seb Larsson, Jordi Gomez and Adam Johnson in midfield as well as strikers Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham have to find a way to score enough to propel Sunderland past the 7 wins they obtained last season.  Sunderland may be relying on other teams being as bad as they were to survive again. It may not be enough this time. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

Swansea City
Stadium: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Manager: Garry Monk, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 8th Place
KEY IN: F Andre Ayew (Marseille), F Eder (Braga), M Tom Holland (Manchester City), D Franck Tabanou (St Etienne)
KEY OUT: D Ashley “Jazz” Richards (Fulham)

Do you realize that the Swans are going into their 5th season in the top flight? That they’ve managed to stay through the managerial changes and sales of key players speaks to a solid and stable foundation in Wales. The Liberty Stadium can be a tough place to travel to and get a result and it’s likely it’ll remain that way. This is due to a good defense led by Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor as well as the work of keeper Lukasz Fabianski. Monk’s midfield with Ki Sung-yueng, Jonjo Shelvey, Wayne Routledge, Jefferson Montero and Gylfi Sigurdsson should remain its strongest unit.  The key for Swansea this season is if Ayew and Eder — and the returning Michu — can somehow assist Batefimbi Gomis in scoring enough goals to turn draws into wins. If nothing else, expect them to take points off the bigger clubs.  They could start with Chelsea on Saturday. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

Tottenham Hotspur
Stadium: White Hart Lane, North London
Nickname: Spurs, The Lilywhites
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 6th Place
KEY IN: D Kevin Wimmer (FC Cologne), D Kieran Trippier (Burnley), D Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid)
KEY OUT: M Lewis Holtby (Hamburg SV), M Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), M Etienne Capoue (Watford), M Benjamin Stambouli (Paris Saint-Germain), D Younes Kaboul (Sunderland), D Benoit Assou-Ekotto (St Etienne), D Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), G Brad Friedel (Retired)

Another year, another failed attempt at climbing into the Champions League spots.  Spurs are still hoping to find the right combination of grit, talent and capability to pip one of the clubs ahead of them. Of course, any time they get close, one of those clubs goes and buys their key talent. It happened with Michael Carrick, Luka Modric, Dimitar Berbatov and Gareth Bale before. Here they are again and the fear is that some club like Manchester United will buy either keeper Hugo Lloris or striker Harry Kane, two of the three men most responsible for their last season’s successes (along with midfielder Christian Eriksen).  They still need them to ensure they can challenge for a top four spot, specially as players like Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela are still coming into their own at White Hart Lane after the clearout of players who didn’t deliver. There’s hope that Toby Alderweireld will pair well with Jan Vertonghen in defense.  Pochettino hasn’t done much business but it’s been focused on improving the defense.  But they need another striker besides Kane and Roberto Soldado if they want anything beyond another season of Europa League nights. Or the vultures will circle again and make off with their prized assets again. PREDICTION: Top Four Challengers. 

Watford
Stadium: Vicarage Road, Watford, Hertfordshire
Nickname: The Hornets, The Golden Boys, The Yellow Army
Manager: Quique Flores, 1st Season
Last Season: Championship, 2nd Place (PROMOTED)
KEY IN: F Matej Vydra (Udinese), M Valon Behrami (Hamburg SV), M Jose Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow), M Etienne Capoue (Tottenham Hotspur), M Steven Berghuis (AZ Alkmaar), D Miguel Britos (Napoli), D Allan Nyom (Udinese), D Jose Holebas (AS Roma), D Sebastian Prodl (Werder Bremen), G Giedrius Arlauskis (Steaua Bucharest)
KEY OUT: M Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday), G Jonathan Bond (Reading)

PL15 - Astrid PethWelcome back the Hornets to the Premier League. It’s been an interesting year for them. They started last season under Beppe Sannino, but player turmoil resulted in his departure by September. He would be followed by three other men, including Slavisa Jokanovic, who managed to get them promoted to the Premier League. But since he and the club couldn’t come to terms on a contract, he was gone too and Quique Sanchez Flores is the new man in charge.  I can’t imagine what odds are there that he’ll last the season, but at the very least the Pozzo family has given him funds and opportunity to overhaul the roster.  He’s still likely to rely on keeper Heurelho Gomes, defenders Gabriele Angella, Juan Carlos Paredes and Craig Cathcart, midfielders Gianni Munari and Daniel Tozser and forwards Matej Vydra, Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney to help him stay in the top flight. This much upheaval and turnover don’t inspire much confidence. PREDICTION: Relegation Fighters.

West Bromwich Albion
Stadium: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Nickname: The Baggies,
Manager: Tony Pulis, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Premier League, 13th Place
KEY IN: F Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), F James McClean (Wigan Athletic), F Serge Gnabry (Arsenal-Loan), D James Chester (Hull City)
KEY OUT: F Georgios Samaras (Released), M Youssuf Mulumbu (Norwich City),M Chris Baird (Derby County), M Graham Dorrans (Norwich City), M Kemar Roofe (Oxford United), M Alex Jones (Birmingham City), D Donervon Daniels (Wigan Athletic)

After arriving in time to ensure West Brom didn’t have to face a relegation battle, Tony Pulis has been working to ensure the Baggies find it easier this time around.  He’s cleared out a lot of the old roster and brought in players like Lambert, McClean and Gnabry to assist Saido Berahino in scoring. Of course, a cynical eye might say it’s to ensure there’s sufficient talent to replace Berahino if he’s sold. Not surprising that Pulis’ biggest buy was for Chester to help solidify what was a poor defense in front of keeper Ben Foster. Which defenders start for Pulis will be big. Jonas Olsson, Joleon Lescott and Craig Dawson all have experience.  Midfield is easier to pick as players like Chris Brunt, Darren Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon, James Morrison and Claudio Yacob will feature at one point or another.  Tony Pulis is well-versed in how to keep teams in the Premier League. If West Brom aren’t playing up to his standards fast, he won’t hesitate to make even more dramatic changes.  Early dates against Manc hester City and Chelsea will prove a good measuring stick off the kind of work needed. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

West Ham United
Stadium: Boleyn Ground, East London
Nickname: The Hammers
Manager: Slaven Bilic, 1st season
Last Season: Premier League, 12th Place
KEY IN:  M Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira-Loan), M Pedro Mba Obiang (Sampdoria), M Dimitry Payet (Marseille), D Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal-Loan), D Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), D Stephen Hendrie (Hamilton Academical), G Darren Randolph (Birmingham City)
KEY OUT:  F Carlton Cole (Released), M Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), M Ravel Morrison (Lazio), M Alex Song (FC Barcelona-Loan Ended), G Jussi Jaaskelainen (Released)

A season of change blows through East London.  Not only is this the final season at the Boleyn Ground (West Ham will move into the Olympic Stadium next season), but in comes former Croatia national team manager Slaven Bilic to take over for Sam Allardyce. He’s quickly begun making his mark on the team and released long-term servants like Jaaskelainen and Cole.  It is concerning that Alex Song, so key last season, couldn’t be retained.  The good thing for Bilic is that there’s much of the same talent that calmly finished in the midtable for him. Players like keeper Adrian, defenders Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinison, midfielder Matt Jarvis and forward Diafra Sakho should help Bilic in keeping the Hammers well away from the bottom end of the table. Bilic has a reputation for starting fast and burning out quick. We’ll hope that isn’t the case this time. PREDICTION: Midtable Comfort.

And with that, let’s kick the balls in anger and start the season!

OK, OK, One for the ladies:

PL15 - Captain Jack

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