TTU Go Predicting: A Club-By-Club Premier League Preview 2015-16

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in TTU Go Predicting | One Comment
TTU Go Predicting: A Club-By-Club Premier League Preview 2015-16

Rounding off this year’s week of divisional previews we profile English football’s top-flight which – for all its predictability – will no doubt offer plenty of high-drama during the course of the season.

Arsenal

Am I alone in questioning the narrative that suggests that Petr Cech is the missing piece in the jigsaw that is Arsenal’s pursuit of a first Premier League title since 2004? That’s not to say that the Czech stopper isn’t an excellent player – more that, in Colombian David Ospina, the Gunners already seemed to have finally found a solution to a long-standing problem position. Similarly, the emergence of Francis Coquelin has plugged the perennial gaping hole in front of their back four, and Laurent Koscielny has evolved into a commanding central defender. At the other end of the pitch, Arsenal’s attackers – aided and abetted by Aaron Ramsey and the superb Santi Cazorla – are lightning quick and capable of slicing any defence to shreds, with Alexis Sanchez having instantly found his feet in England. The only real issues the Gunners face are, I’d suggest, psychological rather than matters of personnel. If they can improve their consistency and stamina, and find a way to win ugly whenever they’re off the pace, then Wenger could yet get his hands on the trophy for a fourth time.

Verdict: Runners-up

Aston Villa

Villa start the season in second, but it’s a safe bet they won’t end it there. Fans of any side with a wantaway owner that only narrowly evades relegation and then parts company with their best striker, best midfielder and best defender are unlikely to approach the new campaign with much in the way of optimism – and the denizens of Villa Park are notoriously glass-half-empty at the best of times. Tim Sherwood responded to the losses of Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar by signing no fewer than seven players in the space of a fortnight, four from Ligue 1, and for a considerable sum of money, and now faces the challenge of integrating the new boys into a cohesive unit. Sherwood has abandoned the stifling tactical cautiousness of his predecessor Paul Lambert, but – as a 6-1 late-season tonking at Southampton proved – more attractive and attack-minded football can also come at a cost. If Villa are to avoid the drop again, then Jordan Ayew and Rudy Gestede need to assume joint responsibility for delivering Benteke’s goal tally, and the likes of Carlos Sanchez, Jonas Okore and Charles N’Zogbia have to perform much, much better.

Verdict: Relegated

Bournemouth

To many fans of Premier League clubs, Bournemouth are this year’s unknown quantity – suffice to say, though, that they didn’t win the last season’s Championship title by fluke. The Cherries’ success was founded on the vision and stewardship of a young, likeable manager in Eddie Howe; the second meanest defence in the division; a dynamic and creative midfield featuring Matt Ritchie, voted the best player in the Football League by the readers of FourFourTwo; and an attack led by Callum Wilson that top-scored with 98 goals, including eight without reply in an extraordinary away win at Birmingham. All set to become everyone’s favourite second team, then. You’d imagine they’ll find it much tougher in every respect in the top flight, though, even with additions of the calibre of free-scoring winger-cum-forward Max Gradel. Furthermore, while one of the myths Chris Lines was keen to dispel on this very site in June was that they had bought their way to the title, the giddy £8m purchase of Ipswich’s Tyrone Mings suggests that financial prudence is now off the agenda. That said, Max Demin’s millions may prove to be Bournemouth’s saving grace, as, if they’re looking anxiously downwards come January, the chequebook will at least be close at hand.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Chelsea

The season hasn’t even started and Jose Mourinho has already begun the mind games, reigniting feuds with both Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger. His comments have served as something of a smokescreen to distract attention away from the relative lack of action at Stamford Bridge, which could be interpreted as complacency. Mourinho has replaced Petr Cech with Stoke’s Asmir Begovic and Didier Drogba with former Man Utd loan flop Radamel Falcao – the latter move indicative of the Portuguese’s supreme confidence in his own ability to get the best out of someone – but the only other activity of note has seen Filipe Luis return to Atletico Madrid. The Blues won the league at a canter last year, and it’s always dangerous to underestimate Mourinho, but the champions’ squad suddenly doesn’t look as strong as those of their closest rivals and they can hardly hope to be so fortunate with injuries this time around. As the creative fulcrum of the side, Cesc Fabregas in particular is priceless, though Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are all critical components in their bid to retain the title.

Verdict: Top five

Crystal Palace

Much as it pains me to say it, as a Newcastle supporter, but arguably the best pound-for-pound signing of the summer to date has seen our former favourite Yohan Cabaye reunited with Alan Pardew, the man who first brought him to England in 2011, after an ill-fated spell back in his native France with PSG. Pardew’s Palace have been desperate for someone who can pull the strings in an advanced central midfield role, and the former Lille man is perfect for the position and will be tasked with supplying the passes for Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie to run riot on the wings. If the £10m club record capture of Cabaye was a coup, though, then the same certainly can’t be said of the bizarre £9m deal for Sunderland’s Connor Wickham. With the addition of Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford, Pardew already has a glut of strikers to choose from (especially for a side that usually lines up with one up front), and would be well advised to prioritise investment in a top-quality central defensive partner for Scott Dann.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Everton

After a disappointing eleventh-placed finish, Roberto Martinez’s Toffees have endured an even more dismal summer – and it could get significantly worse, if persistence and fistfuls of cash prevail in Chelsea’s very public attempt to woo John Stones to swap Goodison Park for Stamford Bridge. It’s little wonder that the young Englishman – an elegant and composed central defender despite his tender years – is so sought after, but he’s a player that Everton can ill afford to lose, especially with possible stand-ins Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz both having departed. Supporters were underwhelmed by the arrival of Tom Cleverley from Man Utd via Villa, and the widespread delight at the return of fleetingly exciting former loanee Gerard Deulofeu on a permanent basis should be tempered by the fact that last term’s stint at Sevilla saw him named in Marca’s worst La Liga XI. Even if Romelu Lukaku finds the net regularly and Ross Barkley starts to deliver to his promise, Everton look to have lost touch with the Champions League chasers.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Leicester

Many football supporters – myself included – rejoiced at the demise of Nigel Pearson, a smirking, arrogant bully who paid the price for “accumulated misdeeds”, including his son’s novel approach to a “goodwill” post-season tour of the Leicester owners’ home country. Foxes fans, however, remain largely incredulous that the man who last season steered their club to seven wins from the last nine games and a position of safety that had looked completely out of reach has been ditched in favour of Claudio Ranieri, whose managerial record since leaving Chelsea in 2004 makes for dismal reading. The loss of Esteban Cambiasso’s midfield nous will also be felt keenly, though striking a permanent deal with Stoke for Robert Huth, an invaluable loanee in the fight for survival, was a no-brainer. With Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki signed from Mainz to compete with Leonardo Ulloa, Andrej Kramaric and David Nugent up front, it would be a travesty if the tireless Jamie Vardy – by some distance the club’s best performer last season – finds himself squeezed out of the side. Application and perspiration may be all that can save them again this time around.

Verdict: Relegated

Liverpool

If Brendan Rodgers is suffering from survivor’s guilt, having clung to his job while assistant Colin Pascoe paid the price for a poor season, then retail therapy appears to be just what the doctor ordered. The collective failure of last summer’s signings meant that Liverpool never came close to a reprise of their 2013/14 title challenge, but Rodgers has faced a similar dilemma this close-season: how to invest the substantial proceeds from the sale of his best player. The impact of Raheem Sterling’s defection to Man City will be offset by the arrivals of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino, while the early acquisitions of out-of-contract duo Danny Ings and James Milner are among the most astute of the summer. And of course, Rodgers couldn’t resist yet another raid on Southampton, on this occasion returning to Merseyside with full-back Nathaniel Clyne just in time to wave goodbye to Glen Johnson. With the addition of a commanding central defender (one who, unlike Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel, doesn’t need to be boiled down for glue), the Reds should run their rivals at the top extremely close indeed.

Verdict: Top five

Man City

Like Rodgers, Manuel Pellegrini is a man under huge pressure – as is Raheem Sterling, finally confirmed as a Man City player following protracted negotiations, unsavoury machinations and an obscene £49m transfer fee that made him the most expensive Englishman of all time. While at that price Sterling is practically guaranteed to start, you have to wonder what induced Fabian Delph’s extraordinary volte-face . The midfielder has failed to heed the cautionary tale that is the experience of Villa team-mates Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair, as well as Sunderland’s Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell, which suggests that the Etihad is all too often a graveyard for young English talent. With Stevan Jovetic already gone and Edin Dzeko set to follow him to Serie A, City look a little short-handed up front – something they’ll need to rectify before the end of August if they’re to eclipse their noisy neighbours and mount a serious title challenge.

Verdict: Top five

Man Utd

Man City may have made the biggest single purchase of the summer, but it’s their cross-city rivals whose display of financial clout and pulling power has been most impressive. If you’re going to pigheadedly persevere with a weak central defence staffed by Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, then the most sensible course of remedial action is to sign Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to form a more resolute protective shield in midfield and to retain possession more effectively. The termination of Falcao’s loan and the curiously low-key departure of Robin van Persie have both depleted the Red Devils’ striking options, but Louis van Gaal has promised to restore Wayne Rooney to his customary position up front, while Javier Hernandez is back from a temporary sojourn in Madrid and the summer’s marquee signing Memphis Depay also has an eye for goal. Add in top-drawer Italian full-back Matteo Darmian and the message from Old Trafford is loud and clear: Man Utd will not settle for finishing outside the top three for a third season in succession, and indeed have more than half an eye on reclaiming the top prize for the first time since Fergie’s retirement.

Verdict: Champions

Newcastle

After a horrific five months during which a perfect storm of a hapless coach, out-of-form and disinterested players, injuries and ill discipline brought the club to the brink of relegation, Newcastle needed arguably the most radical overhaul of any club in the league – not least to begin repairing the breakdown in relations with supporters. John Carver’s exit was inevitable, but his replacement Steve McClaren looks like damaged goods after Derby’s alarming decline last season. The Magpies have continued to demonstrate a haughty disdain for the press, insisting on dealing only with “preferred media partners”, and for long-standing servants of the club, with both Ryan Taylor and testicular cancer survivor Jonas Gutierrez informed of their release by the same phone call. Little surprise, then, that Newcastle have been named as the third worst run club in the UK by the Telegraph. However, discontent among supporters on Tyneside has been partially dissipated by a trio of excellent signings: Georginio Wijnaldum, captain of PSV’s Eredivisie-winning side and acclaimed as the Dutch Player of the Year (ahead of Memphis Depay); Aleksandar Mitrovic, a Serbian striker who Jose Mourinho claimed “has everything to be a European star”; and Chancel Mbemba, Mitrovic’s former team-mate at Anderlecht and a central defender of uncertain age who, it’s hoped, will shore up a porous back four. The retention of the handful of players who didn’t disgrace themselves last term is also a relief, but further additions are needed if the modest objective of a top-half finish is to be achieved.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Norwich

Of the three promoted teams, Norwich are under the greatest threat of an immediate return to the Championship because, by and large, they’re set to kick off the new season with much the same squad that suffered relegation in 2014. The Canaries have found recruitment hard-going, and while Hull winger Robbie Brady and West Brom pair Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu are all solid signings with Premier League experience, their arrival may destabilise a settled midfield of Alexander Tettey, Nathan Redmond, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson. Perhaps the club might have been wiser to focus their efforts on bolstering options in attack and defence. Nevertheless, like fellow promotees Bournemouth, in Alex Neil Norwich can boast a personable yet fiercely determined young manager with a superb track record. The fact that the club’s progress has gathered significant momentum under Neil, culminating in the play-off final victory over much-fancied Middlesbrough, may prove helpful in rolling with the punches that the Premier League will inevitably deliver. A relatively benign opening run of fixtures presents a great opportunity to bag some early points that they can’t really afford to pass up.

Verdict: Relegated

Southampton

After a mass exodus that saw Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren all leave, logic dictated that the 2014/15 season would be one of arduous struggle for Southampton. However, the Saints – under new manager Ronald Koeman – confounded the gloomy predictions of the pundits (myself included) and finished in a highly creditable seventh. The question now, of course, is whether they can repeat the trick for a second time. There have been more sales (Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne), while Toby Alderweireld has plumped for Spurs over a permanent return to St Mary’s and fellow loanee Eljero Elia has signed for Feyenoord. The reinforcements – including highly rated Dutch midfielder Jordy Clasie, Spanish striker Juanmi and Portuguese right-back Cedric Soares – look typically astute. However, to sound a note of caution, two of last year’s key summer recruits Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic, who hit the ground running and were instrumental in Southampton’s early-season triumphs, both faded badly as the campaign wore on, suggesting that they – like their team – had been punching above their weight when mingling with the usual suspects in the Champions League places.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Stoke

Hats off to Mark Hughes for developing a sure-fire strategy for bringing about a radical transformation of the style of play for which Stoke had become synonymous – namely, buy up anyone and everyone languishing on the fringes of Barcelona’s first team. The Potters can now boast four former residents of the Catalan capital, with attacking midfielders Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ourachi joining Marc Muniesa and Bojan Krkic at the Britannia. Afellay has arrived hoping to resurrect a once-promising career – much like Krkic, the pint-sized magician who, were it not for injury, would surely have come close to being 2014/15’s signing of the season. With Peter Crouch and Jon Walters now both the wrong side of 30, Joselu will be assigned the task of leading the line and versatile Chelsea loanee Marco van Ginkel will add youthful energy to central midfield. It’s a measure of Stoke’s steady and impressive progress that they were hugely disappointed by (rather than resigned to) the losses of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to champions Chelsea and midfielder Steven Nzonzi to Europa League winners Sevilla.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Sunderland

The eternal conundrum: should I tip the Mackems for relegation once again, in the knowledge that they’ll probably escape that fate at least in part by taking six points from the Tyne–Wear derbies? This year I’ve decided against it and am predicting that Mrs Advocaat will deserve another big bunch of flowers at the end of the season, perhaps because I’ve been unduly swayed by the Black Cats’ signing of exciting Dutch prospect Jeremain Lens. While the sale of Connor Wickham made sense in itself, especially given that Palace effectively refunded the cost of a player who has only sporadically threatened to fulfil his early promise, Dick Advocaat’s suggestion that it was necessitated by the proliferation of forwards at his disposal was curious in the extreme – Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher barely answer to that description, and Jermain Defoe isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, Younes Kaboul and Adam Matthews have presumably been assessed for their suitability for the Sunderland defence in terms of their prowess at scoring own goals, and Adam Johnson may soon be more than just distracted by off-field events – but if, as looks possible, the Wickham money is invested in Yann M’Vila and Leroy Fer, then the Mackems should have just about enough to keep their heads above water. More’s the pity.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulder

Swansea

Take note, Mike Ashley. Swansea remain a model football club in every respect, not least in identifying problem areas and consequent transfer targets early and then concluding the desired deals quickly, decisively and with a minimum of fuss. Wilfried Bony’s January move to Man City left the Swans perilously bare-boned in attack, but this summer they moved swiftly to address the situation, bringing both Marseille’s Andre Ayew and Braga’s Eder to the Liberty Stadium for a combined total of just £5m to relieve some of the pressure on Bafetimbi Gomis. Forward-thinking full-back Franck Tabanou will line up on the left-hand side of a defence still marshalled by much-coveted skipper Ashley Williams, for whom the club continue to rebuff approaches. One potential headache for Garry Monk is the current lack of cover for Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Icelandic playmaker and lynchpin who is evidently enjoying life back in Wales after being underused and unappreciated at Spurs. Otherwise, though, a top ten finish is certainly within their capabilities.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Tottenham

It’s a damning indictment of Spurs’ recent transfer policy that Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli and Vlad Chiriches – all signed in the last two years – have been moved on, while Eric Lamela and Roberto Soldado, also bought during that period for more than £50m, have proven to be chronic underachievers and a spectacular waste of money. As a result, few Spurs fans are likely to hold out hope of this summer’s purchases turning out to be much better. At least Toby Alderweireld demonstrated his considerable abilities when on loan at Southampton last season, though, while Kieran Trippier shone in a Burnley side destined for relegation. Their only other addition to date is another defender, Kevin Wimmer, indicating a determination to tighten up at the back. While Mauricio Pochettino is largely well respected and well liked, it’s hard to see quite how he’s improved the team since replacing Tim Sherwood, and injuries to either Harry Kane or Christian Eriksen would be fatal to Spurs’ already slim chances of clawing their way back into Champions League contention.

Verdict: Middle of the road

Watford

Regardless of the circumstances, changing managers five times in a 12-month period is extraordinary even in the modern age of knee-jerk hire-’em-and-fire-’em policies. But then the Watford of 2015 aren’t exactly your typical football club – in addition to the Hornets, the Pozzo family also own Granada and Udinese, and regularly shuffle their pack by shuttling players between their various clubs. Slavisa Jokanovic, who secured promotion during his nine months in charge, left in June following a row over an improved contract, so responsibility for assimilating the raft of summer signings into a unified team has fallen to Quique Sanchez Flores – no easy task, given their diverse diverse backgrounds and nationalities, and the fact that they would probably score more points if the game was Scrabble rather than football. Much will rest on whether Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo can successfully transplant their lethal strike partnership to the Premier League – though, as with Bournemouth, you suspect that cash will be made available in January if the club’s top-flight status looks to be under threat.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

West Brom

As if to prove the point that a Tony Pulis side is never likely to be wildly exciting to watch, with pragmatism always prioritised ahead of flair, West Brom’s acquisitions include industrious but unspectacular winger James McClean from Wigan and a so-called “good old-fashioned centre forward” in the form of Rickie Lambert. The latter has been rescued from personal purgatory at Anfield, the fairytale move to his boyhood heroes having turned out not to have a happy ending, and Pulis clearly sees him as a better foil for Saido Berahino than misfiring record signing Brown Ideye. At £8m, Hull’s James Chester was relatively expensive, but will enable the ageing Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley to be gradually phased out. The Baggies will probably spend much of the season worrying about what’s going on beneath them, but any side drilled in defence and discipline by Pulis stands a chance of survival.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

West Ham

As if the final-day victory over West Ham that not only ensured Newcastle’s survival but also cemented a higher finish than Sunderland wasn’t sweet enough, it also sealed the sacking of Sam Allardyce, still a hugely unpopular figure on Tyneside seven years after leaving the club. Fat Sam effectively paid the price for the Hammers’ unexpectedly good start to the season, bearing the brunt of the supporters’ anger when reality started to bite hard in the post-Christmas period. His replacement Slaven Bilic is already very much a fans’ favourite and wears his heart on his sleeve, but the feeling persists that his tactical naivety will be exploited in the Premier League. The arrivals of defender Angelo Ogbonna and box-to-box midfielders Dimitri Payet and Pedro Obiang for the best part of £30m underline a desire to stiffen the backbone of the side. However, poor performances against minnows in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League have intimated that there remains much work for Bilic to do – not least in instilling discipline in a side that is competing in Europe thanks to the Fair Play Award and yet has somewhat ironically had three players sent off in five games. Easier said than done for a man who was himself sent to the stands against Astra Giurgiu, mind…

Verdict: Middle of the road

Ben
Ben is a long-suffering Newcastle Utd supporter (is there any other kind?) who co-founded and co-wrote Black & White & Read All Over, a blog that, over the course of a decade, chronicled the ups, downs, chaos and calamity of the club he has the misfortune to follow. Since the blog hung up its boots in May 2014 (note: not as a mark of respect for Shola Ameobi leaving St James’ Park), he has contented himself with sporadic, splenetic Twitter outbursts and shamefully rare contributions to The Two Unfortunates. He is currently haunted by visions of Joe Kinnear returning to the club for a third spell and pondering whether he’ll live to see another victory over the Mackems, but at least has a cardboard coathanger with Robert Lee’s head on it for consolation.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Anstee
    June 12, 2016

    Fun to read these things at the end of the season!

    Reply

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