August 16, 2012
English Premier League preview
By DAN BILICKI, QMI Agency
It seems like just yesterday that Sergio Aguero slalomed through two QPR defenders and fired home a Premier League-winning goal to give us only the fifth different champion since the league was founded in the mid-90s.
Well, a lot has happened since that fateful Sunday afternoon. Euro 2012 happened. The Olympics happened. Except if you were a fan of Paris St. Germain, your club likely didn’t splash a ton of cash in the transfer market.
But on the eve of the 2012-13 Premier League season, we know that it’ll be one for the record books. For instance, this will be the first time in the league’s history that there are no teams that start with the letter B. No, Blackburn Rovers (a former EPL champion) and Bolton Wanderers were both relegated while Blackpool and Birmingham City failed to make it back to the top flight.
Another thing that is for certain is that there will be plenty to watch for this coming year – both at the top and the bottom of the table.
Arsenal (21-7-10, 70 points, 3rd)
The skinny: The Gunners’ summer plans were made very clear once Robin Van Persie announced he wouldn’t extend his deal with the team. They knew he would leave like many Arsenal stars before him, so they started stocking up for the future. This could be the weakest team that Arsene Wenger has had in a while and they are in danger of missing out of the Champions League for the first time in a while.
Big question: Will the new recruits be able to make up for RVP’s departure?
Additions: Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski.
Departures: Robin van Persie, Carlos Vela, Manuel Almunia. Possibly Alex Song.
Prediction: Fourth place. It will be tough to hold off London rival Tottenham, though.
Aston Villa (7-17-14, 38 points, 16th)
The skinny: After sacking Alex McLeish, a former manager of their rivals Birmingham City, the fans will now fully get behind the team’s new direction with Paul Lambert at the helm. Darren Bent’s return should see the Villans produce some more exciting football too – they were dead last in goals score last year.
Big question: After tying an EPL record for draws in a season, can Villa start winning more games? Additions: Ron Vlaar, Brad Guzan, Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman.
Departures: James Collins, Carlos Cuellar.
Prediction: 13th place. It’ll be a welcome improvement to be out of the relegation battle.
Chelsea (18-10-10, 64 points, 6th)
The skinny: After beginning the season in turmoil with manager Andre Villa-Boas trying to squeeze out some veterans and try strategies and formations, the Blues finally started firing on all cylinders after AVB’s, well, firing. That propelled them to the FA Cup and the Champions League titles, even if they won by unaesthetically “parking the bus.”
Big question: Can the European Champs improve their league form after finishing sixth?
Additions: Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar.
Departures: Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Romelu Lukaku (loan).
Prediction: Third place. Avoiding early turmoil will go a long way to putting Chelsea in title contention.
Everton (15-11-12, 56 points, 7th)
The skinny: The historically frugal Toffees finally have some money to play with after selling young Jack Rodwell – who didn’t feature much last year. Manager David Moyes has been great at bringing in the right pieces for his side through the market, so look for Everton to add someone who will help them immediately.
Big question: Can they finish higher than their Merseyside rivals two years in a row?
Additions: Steven Pienaar, Steven John Naismith.
Departures: Jack Rodwell, Tim Cahill, Joao Silva, Joseph Yobo.
Prediction: Eighth place. To make the next step up, Everton needs a cash influx.
Fulham (14-10-14, 52 points, 9th)
The skinny: These oft-overlooked Londoners seem destined for another mid-table finish. The Cottagers finished in the middle of the Prem in both goals scored and goals allowed last season – the definition of average. Rumours are still swirling that their best player, Clint Dempsey, could be on the way out. A move that could severely hurt Fulham’s chances at staying entrenched in the middle of the table.
Big question: If Dempsey is sold, can the rest of the squad keep Fulham as competitive as the fans want?
Additions: Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega, Sascha Reither (loan).
Departures: Danny Murphy, Andrew Johnson, Dickson Etuhu.
Prediction: Ninth place. If there’s one thing to count on, it’s Fulham in the middle of the table.
Liverpool (14-10-14, 52 points, 8th)
The skinny: Despite winning the League Cup, 2011-12 was a down season for Liverpool. The Reds had to endure Luis Suarez’s racism suspension plus Kenny Dalglish’s up and down managing and failed to live up to even the lowest expectations by finishing with a club-record low for points. Things are looking up this season with a new manager and formation that may be better suited to the Merseyside squad.
Big question: Can Brendan Rodgers get Liverpool into the Champions League?
Additions: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini.
Departures: Craig Bellamy, Alberto Aquilani, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez.
Prediction: Sixth place. It will take time to adapt to Rodgers’ style of play.
Manchester City (28-5-5, 89 points, 1st)
The skinny: Won their first top-flight title in 44 years thanks to a stoppage-time comeback on the final day of the season. The Citizens haven’t spent like they usually do during the summer, bringing in a solitary player – Jack Rodwell – who doesn’t even figure into their immediate plans.
Big question: Can City keep the EPL crown on the blue side of Manchester?
Additions: Jack Rodwell.
Departures: Vladimir Weiss. Probably Emmanuel Adebayor and Nigel de Jong.
Prediction: Second place. Aiming for a better result in Champions League could hurt their title defence.
Manchester United (28-5-5, 89 points, 2nd)
The skinny: After losing the Premier League to rival City in excruciating fashion, United went out and bought the reigning EPL player of the year, Robin Van Persie. Pairing him with Wayne Rooney should help the Red Devils avoid those many late one-goal wins that eventually cost them the title. Look for United to press for bigger leads more this time around.
Big question: How will Van Persie and Rooney adapt to playing with each other?
Additions: Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa.
Departures: Park Ji-Sung, Paul Pogba, Fabio (loan). Possibly Chicarito, Dimitar Berbatov.
Prediction: First place. The move to land Van Persie pushes United back ahead of City.
Newcastle United (19-8-11, 65 points, 5th)
The skinny: Only a season after returning to the top flight, the Magpies relied on some tremendous bargains in the transfer market to propel them to a spot in Europe. No one will be surprised this time around, but that shouldn’t stop them finishing comfortably in the top half of the table.
Big question: Can they stay near the top of the table with the big boys?
Additions: Romain Amalfitano, Gael Bigirimana, Curtis Good.
Departures: Peter Lovenkrands, Danny Guthrie, Alan Smith, Leon Best.
Prediction: Seventh place. The teams that finished behind them got better while Newcastle stood pat.
Norwich City (12-11-15, 47 points, 12th)
The skinny: After leading the Canaries to consecutive promotions and a respectable finish, manager Paul Lambert resigned his post to leave for Aston Villa. While roster has been slightly strengthened, it remains to be seen if it can continue to punch above its proverbial weight with Chris Hughton at the helm.
Big question: Will they be able to avoid suffering second-season syndrome?
Additions: Michael Turner, Robert Snodgrass, Steven Whittaker.
Departures: Zak Whitbread, Aaron Wilbraham, Adam Drury.
Prediction: 20th place. Can’t continue the upward momentum after losing their manager.
Queens Park Rangers (10-7-21, 37 points, 17th)
The skinny: After a rollercoaster ride last season, QPR is looking forward to a lot less drama this time around. Joey Barton’s likely exile will certainly help. The Loftus Road club have also brought in a lot of talent to help their fight where last year they lacked depth. This should be a much better season for QPR.
Big question: Will a little stability go a long way to ensuring the Rangers’ survival?
Additions: Park Ji-Sung, David Hoillet, Robert Green, Andrew Johnson.
Departures: Heidar Helguson, Patrick Kenny. Probably Joey Barton.
Prediction: 11th place. Poised to make a leap in the standings after barely surviving first year.
Reading (27-8-11, 89 points, 1st in League Championship)
The skinny: Despite winning League Championship to return to the Prem, Reading is a pretty nondescript side. The Royals have built their side by mainly promoting their youth players through their system. Always a calm side, even when down on the scoreboard, their ability to counterattack will come in handy against the stronger sides they’ll encounter.
Big question: Will this side that lacks top-flight experience by able to avoid a quick return to the Championship?
Additions: Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Nicky Shorey, Adrian Mariappa.
Departures: Michail Antonio.
Prediction: 15th place. Getting a foothold in the EPL will go a long way towards establishing themselves.
Southampton (26-10-10, 88 points, 2nd in League Championship)
The skinny: There are lots of comparisons to Norwich City last year. The Saints earned consecutive promotions and return to the EPL. Their attack is led by a journeyman forward who is unmovable in front of the net. The Saints should be higher scoring though, with Rickie Lambert in the Grant Holt role.
Big question: Can one of the Premier League founders stay up in first year back?
Additions: Paul Gazzaniga, Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis.
Departures: None of note.
Prediction: 19th place. It’s hard to imagine all three promoted teams staying up two years in a row.
Stoke City (11-12-15, 45 points, 14th)
The skinny: Undoubtedly one of the hardest teams in the Premier League, the Potters are always sure to ruffle a few feathers during the season. Year after year, Stoke gets by on the strength of its defence and old-school play. While they used last year’s failed Europa League campaign as an excuse for their poor finish, there will be no distractions this year.
Big question: Can they improve on their league-worst 36 goals without upgrading their attack?
Additions: Goran Popov, Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron.
Departures: Jonathan Woodgate, Andrew Davies.
Prediction: 10th place. Being able to focus solely on the Premier League helps.
Sunderland (11-12-15, 45 points, 13th)
The skinny: The Black Cats had a great run of form after sacking Steve Bruce in favour of Martin O’Neill, but that didn’t last. There is a solid base to build on in the midfield, but nobody up front to finish. While a mid-table finish seems inevitable, it’s not exactly a guarantee without someone stepping up.
Big question: With Nicklas Bendtner back at Arsenal and Asamoah Gyan gone for good, who’s playing forward?
Additions: Carlos Cuellar.
Departures: Asamoah Gyan, George McCartney, Michael Turner.
Prediction: 12th place. O’Neill should keep them out of the relegation battle this time around.
Swansea City (12-11-15, 47 points, 11th)
The skinny: Swansea surprised many in the Premier League last year with their fluid play and solid defending, earning them the tongue-in-cheek nickname of “The Welsh Barcelona.” The Swans surprised many by not only staying up, but finishing mid-table. There’s no telling if they can repeat the feat without their manager or loan star Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Big question: How much will the departure of manager Brendan Rodgers hurt the Swans?
Additions: Michu, Chico, Jonathan De Guzman.
Departures: Joe Allen.
Prediction: 17th place. Won’t be able to replicate first-season magic, but avoid the drop.
Tottenham Hotspur (20-9-9, 69 points, 4th)
The skinny: Spurs had arguably the biggest roster turnover in the entire league and it may not be done yet. Whether or not playmaker Luka Modric is sold in the transfer window remains to be seen. New manager Andre Villa-Boas’ style of play moreso suits this young side than at Chelsea last season, where the veterans revolted.
Big question: Will Spurs be able to reach the Champions League after last season's heartbreak?
Additions: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jan Vertonghen. Possibly Emmanuel Adebayor.
Departures: Steven Pienaar, Niko Kranjcar, Verdan Corluka. Possibly Luka Modric.
Prediction: Fifth place. Still in need of some attacking depth before they can make a run.
West Bromwich Albion (13-8-17, 47 points, 10th)
The skinny: West Brom’s biggest loss this summer wasn’t a player, it was their manager. After leading WBA to its highest EPL finish in club history, Roy Hodgson was swept up by another midtable squad, the English national team. They are a fine attacking side, but the defending could be among the most porous in the England this season.
Big question: Is yet another mid-table finish a best that the Baggies can ask for?
Additions: Ben Foster, Markus Rosenberg, Romelu Lukaku (loan).
Departures: Keith Andrews, Nicky Shorey, Simon Cox.
Prediction: 16th place. Should be in the relegation battle for most of the season.
West Ham United (24-14-8, 86 points, 3rd in League Championship)
The skinny: The Hammers spent just one season in the lower division after their relegation at the end of 2011. The East London squad have some money to spend as evidenced by their failed big-money pursuit of Andy Carroll. They are much better equipped to stay up this year than they were the last time they were in England’s top flight.
Big question: Will West Ham get their biggest win in recent memory and seal the rights to Olympic Stadium?
Additions: Alou Diarra, James Collins, Modibo Maiga, Mohamed Diame, Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Departures: Robert Green, Abdoulaye Faye.
Prediction: 14th place. The Hammers are the best equipped of the promoted trio.
Wigan Athletic (11-10-17, 43 points, 15th)
The skinny: Season after season it seems that Wigan barely escapes the drop thanks to a late run of form. After scoring the fourth least goals in the Premiership last year, it could get even worse if/when the Latics sell promising winger Victor Moses.
Big question: Can the Latics pull off another great escape and avoid relegation yet again?
Additions: Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis, Ryo Miyaichi (loan), Arouna Kone.
Departures: Hugo Rodallega, Mohamed Diame, Chris Kirkland. Probably Victor Moses.
Prediction: 18th place. After years of just escaping relegation, Wigan finally takes the plunge.