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2016-17 Premier League Primer, Predictions & Pretty Pictures

PL - PussyWhere did the time go? It was just a few weeks ago that the Premier League season was ending and Leicester City were putting a cap on one of the unlikeliest of stories in sporting history.  The 5000-to-1 odds line might have gotten overplayed but they spoke to the insanity of the story.  Bigger teams fell by the wayside.  The expected dip in form never materialized.  In the end, the title went to the Foxes.  Oh well, that confetti is swept away and, as tomorrow dawns, a new season is ready to brighten our day and drive us all to madness.  Welcome back, Premier League!

As before, here’s my little primer for each team taking part in the Premier League campaign – some facts, some fluff and some in-between.  There’s also a bit of a prediction on what to expect from each (the usual TITLE CONTENDERS, TOP FOUR CONTENDERS, MIDTABLE COMFORT and RELEGATION FIGHTERS).  Plus, the usual pictures of pretty women.  Since there’s nothing more English than James Bond (ok, maybe Monty Python) I’ve opted to pick a few images of beautiful Bond women this time out.  Hey, I gotta make this somehow reach more than my eyeballs.  So…with all that said…

Stadium: Emirates, North London
Nickname: The Gunners
Manager: Arsene Wenger, 21st season
Last Season: Premier League, 2nd place
KEY IN: F Takuma Asano (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), M Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach), M Kelechi Nwakali (Diamond Football Academy), D Rob Holding (Bolton Wanderers)
KEY OUT: M Tomas Rosicky (Retired), M Mikel Arteta (Retired), M Mathieu Flamini (Released), D Isaac Hayden (Newcastle)

Oh Arsenal. You often flatter to deceive. On paper, you would look at the Gunners — a team that finished 2nd last year and brings talents like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla — and say they’re worthy challengers for the Premier League crown. But as the season draws, their issues at central defense have become a crisis and the striker to challenge/supplant Olivier Giroud in the Starting XI is still nowhere to be found.  Adding Xhaka seems a boon to the midfield — an issue last season — but unless they find a way to score more goals, they will stall in place. A fear for many a Gooner as Ozil and Alexis enter their last 2 years under contract. Of equal concern is manager Arsene Wenger’s last year under his current deal.  There’s many fans ready to see him leave, but no one knows what the next step might be.  They’ve talent but gotta show they can bring it together.  PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS.

AFC Bournemouth
Stadium: Dean Court, Boscombe, Bournemouth
Nickname: The Cherries
Manager: Eddie Howe, 5th season
Last Season: Premier League, 16th Place
KEY IN: F Jordon Ibe (Liverpool), F Lys Mousset (AC Le Havre), M Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), M Lewis Cook (Leeds), D Brad Smith (Liverpool), D Nathan Ake (Chelsea-Loan)
KEY OUT: F Lee Tomlin (Bristol City), F Glenn Murray (Brighton-Loan), M Matt Ritchie (Newcastle), D Tommy Elphick (Aston Villa), D Sylvain Distin (Released)

The Cherries had a few moments of excitement last season and they managed to stay in the top flight after they were favorites to drop back down. And a good first half of the season along with worse teams allowed them to escape when their season ended with lots of losses. They’ve lost Murray and Ritchie but will look to Joshua King, Benik Afobe, Marc Pugh, Junior Stanislas and Callum Wilson to help lead them to key wins.  But their Premier League survival will rely on the work of keeper Artur Boruc and defenders like Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis. Eddie Howe has done a great job in playing attractive and fun football in the smallest stadium in the Premier League.  They’ll be entertaining but they may not be long for the top flight if they don’t improve defensively. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

Stadium: Turf Moor, Burnley
Nickname: The Clarets
Manager: Sean Dyche, 3rd Season
Last Season: Championship, 1st Place (CHAMPIONS, PROMOTED)
KEY IN: F Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton), D Jon Flanagan (Liverpool-Loan), G Nick Pope (Charlton)
KEY OUT: M Joey Barton (Glasgow Rangers), M Lloyd Dyer (Burton Albion), M Matthew Taylor (Northampton Town), D Michael Duff (Retired), G Matt Gilks (Glasgow Rangers)

A title-winning season sees the Clarets punch their ticket back to the first division in England.  PL - VesperTheir hope will be to stay there for the foreseeable future. The Clarets are going to hope forwards Andre Gray and Sam Vokes maintain their great goal-scoring form in such rarified air (38 goals between them last season). If they and new boy Gudmundsson can give them some sort of attack and if the defense that gave up only 35-goals last season in the Championship can retain some sort of cohesion against the big boys, maybe there’s a chance for them in the top flight.  Manager Sean Dyche remains one of the best young managers in England but it’ll take all his skills to keep them here. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

Stadium: Stamford Bridge, West London
Nickname: The Blues, The Pensioners
Manager: Antonio Conte, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 10th Place
KEY OUT: F Michy Batshuayi (Marseille), M N’Golo Kante (Leicester)
KEY OUT: F Mohamed Salah (Roma),F Stipe Perica (Udinese Calcio), D Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), D Abdul Baba Rahman (Schalke 04-Loan)

What’s next for the Blues? Following a title-winning season with the mess that was last year cost the manager his job and exposed a lot of fissures in their foundation. Whatever can be said about Mourinho the fact is things had reached a point of no return at Stamford Bridge. Now it falls on new boss Conte to come in and sort it all out.  Step one: figure out how to improve his defense which last year surrendered 53 goals. That involves rehabbing the poor forms of Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and even John Terry (who didn’t depart over the summer).  To help, they’ve brought Kante’ from Leicester City to help shield the back four. Step two: find someone besides Diego Costa to score goals. Costa’s injuries limited him and there was no one but Willian to save their bacon time and again last year. Maybe Batshuayi will be what Falcao and Pato couldn’t be — viable alternatives. It would help if Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard returned to something close to their best. It might be too much to expect an immediate return to the mountaintop, but they’ll be better. They’ll expect to. PREDICTION: TOP FOUR CONTENDERS.

Crystal Palace
Stadium: Selhurst Park, South London
Nickname: The Eagles
Manager: Alan Pardew, 2nd season
Last Season: Premier League, 15th Place; FA Cups Finalists
KEY IN: F Andros Townsend (Newcastle), D James Tomkins (West Ham Utd), G Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

KEY OUT: F Dwight Gayle (Newcastle), F Marouane Chamakh (Released), F Emmanuel Adebayor (Released), D Adrian Mariappa (Released), D Brede Hangeland (Retired), G Chris Kettings (Oldham Atheltic), G Alex McCarthy (Southampton)

A rapid start followed by a sharp decline is how last season went for the Eagles.  Even a FA Cup Final against Manchester United, however, wasn’t enough to sour some of the good feelings that their second half slide caused from European contention to near relegation fight.  They start the season having lost players like Gayle and Hangeland but having added Townsend to an attack that includes Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and Connor Wickham. They’ve also added Tomkins to their defense with Scott Dann and Mandanda — who was one of the best young keepers in Europe not so long ago — who should all help curtail some of the goals they conceded. Pardew is a keen football mind but there’s a reason he got ran out of Newcastle. Another poor year and the Palace fans won’t be kind. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

Stadium: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Manager: Ronald Koeman, 1st Season
Nickname: The Toffees
Last Season: Premier League, 11th Place
KEY IN: M Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa), D Ashley Williams (Swansea), G Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham)
KEY OUT: F Steven Pienaar (Released), M Leon Osman (Released), D John Stones (Manchester City), D Tony Hibbert (Released), D Felipe Mattioni (Released), G Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

PL - TatianaThe rapid decline of Everton under Roberto Martinez meant the Spaniard was let go by his bosses. That wasn’t a surprise.  What was a surprise though was their ability to steal Southampton’s Koeman away. With new boss Farhad Moshiri around and a large TV deal to bolster their coffers, the hope was that Everton would be adding to their talented squad led by Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman. They will hope that new keeper Stekelenburg can replace the fading ghost that was Timmy Howard and that they’ve lost nothing swapping Williams for Stones. A challenge for the top may be beyond them this season, but don’t be surprised if they become a tougher challenge as the season progresses. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

Hull City
Stadium: KC Stadium, Hull
Manager:Mike Phelan, Interim Coach
Nickname: The Tigers
Last Season: Championship, 4th Place (PROMOTED VIA PLAYOFFS)
KEY IN: None
KEY OUT: F Sone Aluko (Fulham), M Mohamed Diame (Newcastle), D Ryan Taylor (Released)

What should be a time of preparation is turning into a minor disaster for Hull City. With a month to go before the season started, manager Steve Bruce quit over the inability to bring new players in. The Allam family has tried to talk to Chris Coleman, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Martinez and been rebuffed every time. They’ve already lost Diame and the squad is worrying about how they’re going to manage Premier League survival. All of this is pointing to a simple truth: it’s going to be a long season and Premier League survival is going to be difficult. If Phelan can get them playing well and if Abel Hernandez has anywhere near the 20 goals he had last year, maybe they’ll have a chance.  As it stands, it’s doubtful even if they bring in the requisite additions to the squad. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

Leicester City
Stadium: King Power Stadium, Leicester
Nickname: The Foxes
Manager: Claudio Ranieri, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 1st place (CHAMPIONS).
KEY IN: F Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), M Bartosz Kaputska (Cracovia Krakow), M Nampalys Mendy (Nice), D Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon), G Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96)
KEY OUT: F Andrej Kramaric (TSG Hoffenheim), M N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), D Paul Konchesky (Gillingham FC)

How do you follow last season? What can you possibly do to outshine one of the greatest sports stories ever? That’s the question that Ranieri and company will be trying to figure out as the Foxes start the season as Defending Premier League Champions.  They’ve managed to hang onto Jaime Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (for the moment). Adding players like Musa, Mendy and Hernandez might help freshen up the squad and offset the loss of Kante. With Wes Morgan, Danny Drinkwater, Shinji Okazaki, Robert Huth, Kasper Schmeichel and Marc Albrighton all back, at least this is a team that knows what it is and what it does best. How they balance Champions League football with their league campaign will be interesting. They will be taking everyone’s best shot this season. If they can manage to hang near the top of the table, it might be a big achievement. PREDICTION: TOP FOUR CONTENDERS.

Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool
Nickname: The Reds
Manager: Jurgen Klopp, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Premier League, 8th Place; League Cup Finalists
KEY IN: F Sadio Mane (Southampton), M Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle), D Ragnar Klavan (FC Augsburg), D Joel Matip (Schalke 04), G Alex Manninger (FC Augsburg), G Loris Karius (Mainz 05)
KEY OUT: F Jordon Ibe (Bournemouth), M Joe Allen (Stoke City), M Joao Teixeira (FC Porto), D Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahce), D Brad Smith (Bournemouth), D Kolo Toure (Celtic)

When Klopp took over last season, he willingly worked with the squad left behind by Brendan Rogers. PL - JinxHe resisted the opportunity to bring players in January. But now, he’s gone ahead and began to look at making this team more a Klopp team. In comes Mane, WIjnaldum, Matip and Klavan. If they can mesh with Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne, they might be able to play Klopp’s high-intensity matches. Manninger and Karius are coming to challenge Simon Mignolet’s position as #1 keeper. For many of these players, this will be the year to show they can play up to Klopp’s standards. For all his good humor and quality, he’s not a patient man and he won’t hesitate to rip out what isn’t working.  They won’t want to finish out of Europe again. PREDICTION: TOP FOUR CONTENDERS.

Manchester City
Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Nickname: The Citizens, The Sky Blues
Manager: Pep Guardiola, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 4th Place; League Cup Winners
KEY IN: F Nolito (Celta de Vigo), F Leroy Sane (Schalke 04), F Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional), F Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras), M Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund), M Oleksandr Zinchenko (FC UFA), D John Stones (Everton)
KEY OUT: F Edin Dzeko (Roma), F Marlos Moreno (Deportivo La Coruna-Loan), D Florian Lejeune (SD Eibar), D Martin Demichelis (Released)

The folks at Etihad finally got their man. For years, the rumors of maneuvers by Sheik Mansour’s staff at Etihad to lure Pep Guardiola to their club ran and ran until they finally have come true.  Guardiola takes over a talented, albeit injury-prone and disappointing squad and has wasted no time splashing the cash to build it in his way. Players like Nolito, Sane, Gundogan and Stones should refresh a team that looked bereft of ideas last year.  Can Guardiola solve the issues at the back though? Can he help Joe Hart become the world-class keeper everyone thinks he is? Can he sort out the defense so that it doesn’t fall apart without Vincent Kompany? Can he find a way to turn Raheem Sterling, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri into key contributors whenever Sergio Aguero or David Silva are down due to injury? And can he mend things with Yaya Toure so that the Ivorian is delivering at the levels he can consistently? This is one of two massive experiments in Manchester. Everyone’s waited for Pep to turn up in England. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS.

Manchester United
Stadium: Old Trafford, Manchester
Nickname: The Red Devils
Manager: Jose Mourinho, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 5th Place; FA Cup Winners
KEY IN: F Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain), M Paul Pogba (Juventus), M Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund), D Eric Bailly (Villareal)
KEY OUT: F Nick Powell (Wigan), F Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland-Loan), D Guillermo Varela (Eintrach Frankfurt-Loan), D Paddy McNair (Sunderland), D Donald Love (Sunderland), G Victor Valdes (Middlesbrough)

The more volatile Manchester experiment, however, might be happening in Old Trafford. Out went Louis Van Gaal’s with his binder and in comes Jose Mourinho fresh from the disaster at Stamford Bridge. The once Special One is hoping that the job he wanted all along isn’t a poison pill. To help in his efforts to bring the formerly-mighty Red Devils back to the top, he has spent big: Mkhitaryan, Bailly, Zlatan (with his huge wage packet) and, most of all, Pogba’s world-record 89 million pounds transfer fee. Spending like that is a sign of intent. But it’s also a dangerous game. Results will be expected quickly. And his team of youngsters — like Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial — and veterans — such as Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and David De Gea — will have to mesh with these shiny new pieces.  So many big personalities, under such a big spotlight will make for interesting viewing. Mourinho won’t care though if the results go his way. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS.

Stadium: Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Nickname: The Boro, Smoggies
Manager: Aitor Karanka, 3rd Season
Last Season: Championship, 2nd Place (PROMOTED)
KEY IN: F Viktor Fischer (Ajax), F Alvaro Negredo (Valencia-Loan), M Marten de Roon (Atalanta), M Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), D Antonio Barragan (Valencia), D Bernardo Espinosa (Sporting Gijon), D Jordan McGhee (Hearts of Midlothian-Loan), D Fabio (Cardiff City), G Victor Valdes (Manchester Utd), G Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
KEY OUT: M Harry Chapman (Sheffield Utd), D Rhys Williams (Perth Glory), D Jonathan Woodgate (Released), G Connor Ripley (Oldham Athletic-Loan)

PL - SolitaireA solid campaign has seen the Boro return to the top division after a 7 year absence. Guided by Karanka, Boro didn’t make too many mistakes: conceding a Championship-best 31 goals while scoring a respectable 63. And while they still have the core of that solid defense — such as keeper Dimitros Konstantopoulos, defenders Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson and George Friend — they’ve also gone and brought in players like Valdes, Barragan and Espinoza to give them options.  They’ll hope Alvaro Negredo has a better time with them than he did in his first English stint. And if Cristhian Stuani, ALbert Adomah and David Nugent can assist in scoring goals, Boro might have a chance to stave off relegation. It’s going to be a slog for them though. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Nickname: The Saints
Manager: Claude Puel, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 6th Place
KEY IN: F Nathan Redmond (Norwich), M Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Bayern Munich), M Jeremy Pied (Nice), G Alex McCarthy (Crystal Palace)
KEY OUT: F Sadio Mane (Liverpool), F Graziano Pelle (SD Luneng), F Juanmi (Real Sociedad), M Gaston Ramirez (Middlesbrough), M Victor Wanyama (Tottenham), G Paulo Gazzaniga (Rayo Vallecano)

Another summer, another period of upheaval. This is getting to be old news for the Saints.  Not only are key players like Mane, Pelle and Wanyama gone but so is former manager Ronald Koeman; convinced by Everton’s sales pitch.  In steps Claude Puel, fresh off managing Nice. His job is to somehow ensure Southampton manage to turn their usual trick once again and surprise teams who think they’ve had their heart ripped out.  He’s bought smart and added players like Hojbjerg and Redmond who will hopefully line up well with Jay Rodriguez, Charlie Austin, Dusan Tadic and Oriol Romeu.  If Fraser Forster continues to show his skills — and he’s healthy all year — the defense ahead of him with Ryan Bertrand, Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk remains stout.  I don’t think they’ll be as high-flying as they were at times last season, but St Mary’s remains one of the toughest grounds to get results for visitors and maybe Puel can continue the run of quality against all the odds that the Saints have become known for. PREDICITON: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

Stoke City
Stadium: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Nickname: The Potters
Manager: Mark Hughes, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 9th Place
KEY IN: F Ramadan Sobhi (Al-Ahly), M Joe Allen (Liverpool), D Ryan Sweeney (AFC Wimbledon)
KEY OUT: F Peter Odemwingie (Released), M Steve Sidwell (Brighton)

For a short time last season, the Potters began turning people around on their opinion of them.  Known for physical play and tough defending, all of a sudden they began to show off skills and talents unknown before. Thanks to the work of players like Xherdan Shaquiri, Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic, “Stokealona” became less a joke and more a sign of respect.  It didn’t last sadly due to injuries and Stoke tumbled down the table and resorted back to type. But maybe it’s a sign of things to come from manager Hughes, who once played for the Catalan giants.  He has to hope that he can merge that tenacious defense of Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross and Glen Johnson with the skills of those players. Perhaps Joe Allen will be the lynchpin to link it all together. Stoke should be too good to flirt with relegation. Depending on how things go, maybe they’ll challenge for one of the European places this season. It would really shatter expectations. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

Stadium: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Nickname: The Black Cats
Manager: David Moyes, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 17th Place
KEY IN: F Adnan Januzaj (Manchester Utd-Loan), D Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea), D Paddy McNair (Manchester United), D Donald Love (Manchester United)
KEY OUT: F Emanuele Giaccherini (Napoli), F Danny Graham (Blackburn), F Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday), D Santiago Vergini (Boca Juniors)

The beneficiaries of the horrid quality of teams around them, the Black Cats managed to survive another Premier League season without falling through the relegation trap door.  PL - XeniaTheir reward was watching their manager Sam Allardyce take the England national team job.  In comes David Moyes, who is trying to rebuild his reputation after the disaster that was his Manchester United run.  They haven’t done much business in the window, bringing Djilobodji, McNair and Love to add to their defensive ranks. In that, at least, Moyes knows what he has to do to keep his team in the top flight. He’ll trust Vito Mannone at keeper and hope that Seb Larsson, Fabio Borini, Jack Rodwell and Jermain Defoe score just enough goals to see them steal points from bigger teams.  Make no mistake though: it’s going to be a tall task for the Black Cats to somehow survive once again. They’ll rely on teams around them being worse than they are as much as their own quality to stay in the Premier League another year. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

Swansea City
Stadium: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Manager: Francesco Guidolin, 1st Full Season
Last Season: Premier League, 12th Place
KEY IN: F Fernando Llorente (Sevilla), F Borja Baston (Atletico Madrid), M Leroy Fer (Queens Park Rangers), D Mike van der Hoorn (Ajax), G Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets)
KEY OUT: F Alberto Paloschi (Atalanta), F Eder (Lille), F Bafetimbi Gomis (Marseille-Loan), F Andre Ayew (West Ham United), D Kyle Bartley (Leeds-Loan), D Ashley Williams (Everton)

For the last few years, the Swans have stood as one of those teams in the middle of the pack — always on the cusp of knocking for European qualification but coming up short.  A mediocre season at home and a poor one on the road cost Garry Monk his job and, in his place, comes Guidolin to try and right the ship.  He’s added pieces like club-record signing Baston and Llorente to try and have a more concerted attack. Though they lost top scorer Ayew, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ki Sung-Yeung are still around to help.  They also have Fabianski, who’s been known to snatch key points form time to time. Guidolin will be looking to improve on both the attack and the defense. He will have to hope that there’s other teams more confused down the table as he sorts things out. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

Tottenham Hotspur
Stadium: White Hart Lane, North London
Nickname: Spurs, The Lilywhites
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino, 3rd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 3rd Place
KEY IN: F Vincent Janssen (AZ Alkmaar), M Victor Wanyama (Southampton)
KEY OUT: M Alex Pritchard (Norwich), D Federico Fazio (Roma-Loan)

So much went right last season that to see it end so ignominiously appears to have hurt manager Pochettino something awful. As the joke went, they managed to come in 3rd in a two-team title race. This seemed to cast a pall over what was their best season in the Premier League. Led by Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and the rise of Dele Alli and Eric Dier in the heart of their midfield, Tottenham had many a great game last year.  Combined with the stoutest defense in the Premier League — with Hugo Lloris, Toby Aldeiwereld and Kyle Walker leading efforts — Spurs should expect another season of contention at the top. To help give Kane some help, they’ve brought in Janssen and Wanyama is the long-coveted Saints player Pochettino has wanted in his midfield. They’ll go all out to end #ThatsSoSpursy once and for all. No excuses now. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS.

Stadium: Vicarage Road, Watford, Hertfordshire
Nickname: The Hornets, The Golden Boys, The Yellow Army
Manager: Walter Mazzarri, 1st Season
Last Season: Premier League, 13th Place
KEY IN: F Isaac Success (Granada), F Jerome Sinclair (Liverpool U-23), M Camilo Zuniga (Napoli-Loan), D Christian Kabasele (Genk), D Brice Dja Djedje (Marseille)
KEY OUT: F Jose Manuel Jurado (Espanyol), F Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord-Loan), M Almen Abdi (Sheffield Wednesday), D Miguel Layun (FC Porto), D Juanfran (Deportivo La Coruna)

PL - MoneypennySo much of last season came down to two men: Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.  The Hornets’ two-man strike force terrorized opponents up and down the table all throughout the campaign; at times scoring at will. Truth be told, things would have been dire for the Hornets without their 2-man attack as they managed to concede 50 goals in spite of trying to defend like crazy. With last year’s manager (and House MD-lookalike) Quique Sanchez Florez gone, it falls to Mazzarri to sort things out at Vicarage Road.  He’s still got the bulk of the team — Heurelho Gomes, Etienne Capoue, Valon Behrami, Sebastian Prodl — and he’ll hope his additions add something to ensure the Hornets stave off any relegation fights. They’ve already rebuffed one massive offer for Deeney. I shudder to think what would happen if he or Ighalo got bought. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS.

West Bromwich Albion
Stadium: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Nickname: The Baggies
Manager: Tony Pulis, 2nd Season
Last Season: Premier League, 14th Place
KEY IN: F Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers)
KEY OUT: F Victor Anichebe (Released), F Stephane Sessegnon (Released), D James Chester (Aston Villa), G Anders Lindegaard (Preston North End)

On the one hand, it felt like Tony Pulis did his job last season. The Baggies survived in the Premier League and his side surrendered just 48 goals. If there was a problem, it was in attack, where they managed only 34 goals.  If Salomon Rondon can keep his good run going and Saido Berahino and Rickie Lambert find their old goalscoring form, there may be a chance for them. Pulis will trust Ben Foster, Jonas Olsson, Craig Dawson, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans to retain last season’s form. Pulis is an expert in Premier League survival so it’s tough to pick them for the drop. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT.

West Ham United
Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Stratford, East London
Nickname: The Hammers
Manager: Slaven Bilic, 2nd season
Last Season: Premier League, 7th place
KEY IN: F Andre Ayew (Swansea City), F Ashley Fletcher (Manchester Utd), F Gokhan Tore (Besiktas), F Sofiae Feghouli (Valencia), M Manuel Lanzini (Al-Jazira), M Havard Nordtveit (Borussia Monchengladbach)
KEY OUT: M Alex Song (Barcelona-End of Loan), D James Tomkins (Crystal Palace), D Joey O’Brien (Released)

The Hammers are moving into new digs. After decades at the old Boleyn Ground, they have picked up and moved to the refashioned Olympic Stadium. And in their new grounds, they’ll hope they can finally build the kind of support to compete with the other big London clubs.  Bilic seemed to find a right balance in both defense and attack to challenge the big boys.  Built around the talents of Dimitri Payet, Bilic’s attack now ads Ayew and Tore to Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyate and Andy Carroll. At the back, Bilic will look to Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell, Reece Oxford and Nordtveit to assist Adrian in keeping other teams at bay.  Big money talents, a major manager and now a shiny, new stadium. The Hammers are here to tell everyone that they want to sit at the big table. But that seat is earned by taking it from someone else. PREDICTION: TOP FOUR CONTENDERS.

And with that, let’s raise the curtain and get to enjoying hundreds of hours of footie!! And as always, we end with something for the ladies:

PL - Bond


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