Arsenal finished last season a respectable third in the Barclays Premier League table and also lifted the FA Cup following a comprehensive victory at Wembley against Aston Villa. The Gunners approach the new season looking in good shape in almost every department. Petr Cech has joined from city rivals Chelsea and is expected to be Arsene Wenger's first choice keeper. Apart from that, despite having money to spend, Arsenal have so far been quiet in the transfer market. Overall the squad looks strong, but they could perhaps do with a striker that can net twenty goals a season. It remains to be seen if Olivier Giroud will be up to this task. Wenger's midfield options are immense. They have improved in defence in recent seasons but in games against the other top clubs they probably need to keep things a little tighter at the back.
Wenger has already stated that winning the league is the aim and feels that his side will be genuine title contenders. A place in the last eight of the Champions League is also high on the list of priorities.
Aston Villa have been a team going nowhere for the last couple of seasons. They finally parted ways with Paul Lambert during last season and replaced him with Tim Sherwood. Sherwood steered the team away from the relegation zone and also took them to an FA Cup Final. The former Tottenham Hotspur manager now has the chance to build a team capable of not just surviving in the Premier League, but of also being competitive. Straight away he has something of a rebuilding job to do following the departures of key players Fabian Delph, Ron Vlaar, Tom Cleverley and Christian Benteke. They will need to be replaced but it remains to be seen just how much money Sherwood will have at his disposal. Scoring goals was a major problem last season and one would imagine Villa need at least two strikers added to the squad before the start of the season. On top of that the Lions need further options at centre back.
Premier League survival remains the name of the game for Villa. Sherwood will no doubt speak very positively about the new season but he will need new signings to gel quickly and even then it looks like being a bumpy ride.
Adam Federici (gk), Reading), Christian Atsu (mid), Chelsea - loan), Josh King (att), Blackburn), Tyrone Mings (def), Ipswich), Sylvain Distin (def), Everton)
Miles Addison (def), Benjamin Buchel (gk), Ian Harte (sp)(def), Ryan Fraser (sp)(mid), Ipswich - loan), Daryl Flahavan (sp)(gk), Josh McQuoid (sp)(att), Luton), Mohamed Coulibaly (sp)(mid), Racing Santander), Jayden Stockley (sp)(att), Portsmouth - loan), Brett Pitman (sp)(att), Ipswich)
Bournemouth sealed a fairy-tale promotion to the Premier League after getting their hands on the Championship winners’ trophy, a success that capped a stunning last few years of progress for a club that was propping up League Two only six years ago and was one game away from dropping out of the Football League. Some wise investment over the last few years, coupled with the undoubted managerial nous of Eddie Howe, the youngest manager in the Football League, has seen the Cherries go from strength to strength. Having finished tenth in their first season in the Championship, they decisively made the step up to become a serious contender for promotion. They were in and around the top places throughout the campaign and there is little doubt that they were worthy of their top spot at the end. They played with little abandon, showing excellent attacking quality and were rewarded for the fearless football that they practiced. Harry Arter, Simon Francis and Callum Wilson stepped up to the plate and became key players over the season, contributing immensely in different areas of the pitch and enhancing their reputations. Of course, continuing the trend of success in the ruthless Premier League is another thing altogether and it is already looking difficult to see the Cherries beating the drop. The main positive for them from the close season is that none of the key players from the title-winning squad has departed. Only fringe players have been released so far and there has been some good additions to the squad made. Sylvain Distin is certainly not the fastest anymore but is know-how at the back could be vital, given that none of the current members of the defence has played in the Premier League before. Tyrone Mings is another excellent capture at left-back and the fact that Bournemouth have beaten off stiff competition of proven Premier League sides for his signatures speaks volumes about their ambition. Howe has been adamant that he will not change the style of his side and Bournemouth will be certainly fun to watch in the coming season. Whether they can remain consistent enough to get close to the 40-point mark remains to be seen but they will definitely give it their best and might just have enough in the locker to beat the drop against the odds.
Battle for survival and should not be immediately written off
Drogba (att)(released), Cech (gk)(Arsenal), Van Ginkel (att)(Stoke),
Chelsea fully deserved their title win last season, but you can be sure that manager Jose Mourinho will not be living on past glories ahead of the new season. On the face on it, Chelsea look like the team to beat again this season and will no doubt be hoping for a strong start just like in 2014/15. Mourinho has reluctantly allowed second choice keeper Petr Cech to depart the club but his replacement Asmir Begovic looks up to the task of providing cover for Thibaut Courtois. Didier Drogba, another Chelsea legend, has also departed and Radamel Falcao is the man chosen to replace him. The Columbian certainly had a tough time at Manchester United last season and will to up his game considerably in order to provide the goals that Chelsea will demand from him. John Terry, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma should ensure the heart of the defence remains strong, but it must be remembered that although Terry was excellent last season, he will be 35 years of age in a couple of months.
The Blues will be looking to make it two in a row this season and lift the title again. Mourinho will also be hoping his side progress a little further in the Champions League.
Price (gk)(released), Thomas (mid)(released), Hangeland(def)(released), Ameobi (att)(released)
Last season was a bit of a roller-coaster for Crystal Palace fans. The club was in a mess and odds on to get relegated until Alan Pardew was appointed to replace Neil Warnock. It was an almost instant turnaround under the former Newcastle United manager and as the season progressed relegation and Palace were never even mentioned in the same sentence. But for a somewhat lazy end to the campaign, the Eagles were on course to finish as high as eighth. In the end a tenth place finish was hailed as a major success given everything that had gone on previously. Pardew has raided his former club for Yohan Cabaye and will be hoping the Frenchman settles quickly and provides plenty of goals and assists from midfield. It looks like Yannick Bolasie will remain at the club and that is a massive boost. Along with the likes of Dwight Gayle and Jason Puncheon, Palace should be exciting to watch going forward this season. Patrick Bamford has also joined on loan. He has no top flight experience under his belt as of yet, but is full of potential and goals!
Palace will be hoping to break into the top half of the table this season - and they look capable of it as long as Pardew can get the balance between attack and defence correct.
Gerard Deulofeu (mid), Barcelona), Tom Cleverley (mid), Manchester United)
Sylvain Distin (sp)(def), Bournemouth), Luke Garbutt (sp)(def), Fulham - loan), Antolin Alcaraz (sp)(def), Las Palmas), Christian Atsu (sp)(mid), Chelsea - end of loan), Aaron Lennon (sp)(mid), Tottenham - end of loan)
Everton struggled badly for large parts of last season and begin the upcoming campaign determined to have more of a success and re-establish themselves as a side challenging for the European places. The toll of the extra games in the Europa League, coupled of a number of injuries, proved too much for the Toffees and they were nowhere near the standard set in 2013-14. There was quite a lot of discontent towards Roberto Martinez at various points of the season and only a late-season improvement in results and performances put a bit of a positive lookout on the campaign as a whole. Martinez has proven that he can simultaneously make Everton a very effective and pleasing on the eye side and will be aiming to strike the right balance this time. Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu are the only two signings of the summer so far and while the former returns to the club on a permanent basis after being on loan a couple of years ago, Cleverley gets re-united with the manager that gave him a breakthrough in the Premier League back in 2010-11. He and Martinez worked together at Wigan back then and there has been a degree of admiration and respect between the pair ever since. Cleverley was close to joining last season and now arrives on a free transfer in what represents something of a coup for the Toffees. One feels that further strengthening is needed, especially with the loss of a couple of centre-back back-ups in Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz. Moreover, John Stones remains firmly on the radar of Chelsea and a transfer of the much-coveted defender is still very much on the cards. Everton still have some excellent players in the squad and should definitely improve after the struggles of last season. Whether they good enough to challenge for Europa League remains to be seen but they should be able to command at least a top-half finish comfortably.
Securing a more respectable finish and possible challenge for Europa League
Leicester City achieved what appeared to be impossible last season and successfully fought off the threat of relegation. An incredible six wins from seven games towards the very end of the season meant that the Foxes maintained their top flight status with a game to spare and actually finished the season in fourteenth place. Since then manager Nigel Pearson has been sacked with a break down in his relationship with the clubs owners being cited as the reason. Claudio Ranieri has been appointed on a three year contract - a somewhat surprising choice for many observers. The Italian does not seem to have been the clubs first or indeed second choice for the post. He would appear to have a very difficult job on his hands and received some bad news right from the off when Esteban Cambiasso, one of last season most consistent performers, decided to leave the club. Leicester have been pretty quiet in the transfer market so far but are expected to make a couple of further signings in the coming weeks.
The players seemed to have a great relationship with Pearson last season and it remains to be seen if they will perform to the same levels for the new manager. Avoiding relegation is once again the aim.
Gerrard (mid)(LA Galaxy), Johnson (def)(released), Sterling (att)(Man City), Jones (gk)(released)
Last season was a disappointment for Liverpool. A number of new signings failed to make the desired impact and all in all the Reds were inconsistent throughout the season. After finishing second the previous year, it was a case of one step forward and two steps back for Brendan Rodgers' men. Rodgers has since been given a vote of confidence by the clubs owners, but one has to believe that major improvements are required this season in order for the Irishman to remain at the helm beyond this current campaign. Once again Rodgers has been busy in the transfer market and in theory five or six of the new recruits will be first team regulars. Bedding in so many new faces again this season could again prove troublesome - but on the other hand they have plenty of Premier League experience. Question marks remain concerning the teams balance between attack and defence. The Reds need to be less open at the back and also more clinical in front of goal.
This may well be Rodger's make or break season. He is certainly under a lot of pressure to deliver. A place in the top four is the target and should they not achieve that it will be difficult to view this season as anything but a let down.
Raheem Sterling (mid), Liverpool), Fabian Delph (mid), Aston Villa), Jason Denayer (def), Celtic - return from loan), Patrick Roberts (mid), Fulham)
Dedryck Boyata (def), Celtic), Stevan Jovetic (sp)(att), Inter - loan), James Milner (sp)(mid), Liverpool), Micah Richards (sp)(def), Aston Villa), Karim Rekik (sp)(def), Marseille), John Guidetti (sp)(att), Celta), Frank Lampard (sp)(mid), News York FC - end of loan)
Manchester City struggled badly in their defence of the league title last year and never really threatened Chelsea from February onwards, going away on a whimper. It was arguably a disappointing second season at the club for Manuel Pellegrini and he knows that the pressure is firmly on him to rectify the issues and make the Sky Blues a formidable force again. They struggled both in defence and in midfield for most of the last 12 months but have not really addressed these areas so far. The focus on their transfer activity early in the summer was the capture of Raheem Sterling and they managed to do that in time for him to have a pre-season with the club. Sterling is a potentially world-class player and a brilliant talent but his output over the last season has not been that good and one should not expect instant impact from the youngster in a star-studded City side. The only other new senior signing has been that of Fabian Delph and he is likely to play a back-up role for most of the season. On the other hand, James Milner and Stevan Jovetic have already left the club and Edin Dzeko appears destined to move to Roma before the start of the season. Kevin de Bruyne is likely to be the big name linked with City for the rest of the window and it remains to be seen whether they can pull off that deal. Overall, it has been a slightly disappointing summer transfer window for the club so far and one feel that they have not really made the strides needed to close the gap to Chelsea. There is still abundance of quality in the squad but they have lacked the sort of hunger and determination to fight for every win last year. Whether the manager is able to find the missing link and make Manchester City the team to beat remains to be seen, but they do not look like the main title contender at the moment, with Chelsea and even Arsenal looking stronger at present time.
More serious title challenge this time but do not look that formidable at the moment.
Nani (sp)(mid), Fenerbahce), Robin van Persie (r)(att), Fenerbahce), Angel di Maria (r)(mid), Paris St-Germain), Tom Cleverley (sp)(mid), Everton), Rafael da Silva (sp)(def), Lyon), Radamel Falcao (sp)(att), Monaco - end of loan)
Manchester United prepare for the upcoming season with renewed optimism that they are ready to challenge for the title again after a couple of years far away from the battle for the top. That said, last season was a successful one for the Red Devils as they managed to return to the Champions League courtesy of a top-four finish. It was not always an easy ride and Louis van Gaal needed quite a lot of time to find his best 11. But the stretch of games in March and April in which United looked genuinely superb gives the fans enough reason to be bullish about their chances for a title challenge. There has been good strengthening in key areas over the summer, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin classy additions in midfield, and Memphis Depay a real livewire in the attacking department. These three have the quality and potential to transcend United to a higher level from the one that they have been on in the past couple of seasons. However, there are still a number of areas that needed to be addressed before starting to talk about United as genuine contenders. The lack of proper alternative to Wayne Rooney up front, with Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao no longer around, is an issue and one that does not look like being addressed before the end of August as the main focus now is securing the signature of Pedro from Barcelona. The failure to sign a top-end centre-back is another disappointment of the summer, especially given that Sergio Ramos looked tantalisingly likely to join at one point over the summer. And that leads to the elephant in the room, the continued stand-off regarding the team’s best player of last season, David de Gea. He clearly wants to join Real Madrid immediately but United have so far refused to play ball with the Spanish side. This is a saga that is set to go to the end of the transfer window and could have potentially disastrous impact on the side for the remainder of the season. But Van Gaal is clearly making progress with this United side and they are capable of playing excellent football with the new personnel added. However, they still look short of the required level for a title push and one would still rate them below the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Expected to compete fiercely for the title but one suspects that they will fall short
Jonas Gutierrez (sp)(mid), Ryan Taylor (sp)(def), Hull), Adam Armstrong (sp)(att), Coventry - loan), Sammy Ameobi (sp)(mid), Cardiff - loan), Facundo Ferreyra (sp)(att), Shakhtar Donetsk - end of loan)
Newcastle had an absolute nightmare of a season last year and were certainly fortunate to escape the drop, having been on a run of quite dire performances in the second half of the season. It is now a time for a fresh start and Steve McClaren is the man to lead the revival from the dugout. The former England national manger has rebuilt his reputation in the country by making Derby County one of the top sides in the Championship in the last couple of seasons. Indeed, the Rams should have secured promotion last year but completely collapsed in the final few weeks and could not even get a play-off spot. But they played excellent football and McClaren definitely has what it takes to make the Magpies a more homogeneous and impressive outfit after the preceding shambles. Newcastle have bought smartly over the summer and signed three impressive and promising players from Belgium and the Netherlands. Giorginio Wijnladum was one of the best players in the Eredivisie last year and represents a genuine coup, having excelled for champions PSV Eidnhoven in central midfield. He should bring excellent range of passing and boundless energy to a department that has been ailing badly since the departure of Yohan Cabaye back in January 2014. Aleksandr Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba both arrived from Anderlecht and look like cracking prospects. The former certainly knows where the back of the net and has excellent movement and finishing qualities. His temperament is not the best but the raw materials are there for Mitrovic to become a star. Mbemba is a solid and assured defender who has experienced unprecedented rise in the last couple of years. Thus, Newcastle’s squad have a more balanced and encouraging look overall and McClaren is capable of steering them to a place in the top half of the table.
Securing a place in mid-table and possible good run in the Cups
Youssuf Mulumbu (mid), West Brom), Graham Dorrans (mid), West Brom), Robbie Brady (mid), Hull), Andre Wisdom (def), Liverpool - loan), Jake Kean (gk), Blackburn), Kyle Lafferty (att), Rizespor - return from loan), Ricky van Wolfswinkel (att), Saint-Etienne - return from loan)
Carlos Cuellar (sp)(def), Ignasi Miquel (def), Ponferradina), Remi Matthews (sp)(gk), Burton - loan), Mark Bunn (sp)(gk), Aston Villa), Javier Garrido (sp)(def)
Norwich managed to complete the feat of immediately returning to the Premier League at the first attempt after relegation at the end of the 2013-14 campaign. Things did not look too great for them at the midway point of the season as Neil Adams was not getting the best out of the squad and the Canaries were only on the fringes of the play-off race. The surprise appointment of Alex Neil in January proved a masterstroke by the Norwich management as the young Scottish manager quickly turned things around and instilled winning mentality into the side. A run of 14 wins in 19 games from January to April propelled them into the top five and the team went into the play-offs with momentum and belief that they can succeed. They were underdogs against Middlesbrough in the final but made the most of their chances to secure a professional 2:0 win. Thus, the Norfolk side are back in the big time and face a massive challenge if they are to avoid another relegation. Neil has had the least amount of time to prepare for the upcoming campaign compared to the other top-flight managers, and transfer business has been underwhelming. Youssef Mulumbu is easily the top signing of the lot as he has experience in the Premier League and is a very good player on his day. Robbie Brady and Andre Wisdom could turn out to be decent captures as well but it remains to be seen whether they will be even regulars. Thus, it is likely to be pretty much the same starting 11 that finished the season in the Championship like a freight train. The worry is that most of these players were around when Norwich did go down a couple of years ago. The main source of optimism for the fans is that Neil is a lot more positive and engaging manager than Chris Hughton and has the mentality to succeed in the highly competitive league. That said, Norwich are still massive favourites to go down and it will be nothing short of a feat to actually beat the drop.
Up against it in the battle for survival and will need a massive effort to stay up.
Despite losing a number of key players, Southampton managed another successful season in the Premier League last season. Ronald Koeman's men finished a very respectable seventh in the table and on their day were a match for all the top sides. Ahead of the new season they have once again lost a couple of first team regulars in Nath Clyne, Toby Alderweireld and Morgan Schneiderlin, but Koeman has been busy in the transfer market and on paper at least seems to have added numbers, strength and depth to the squad. With Florin Gardos facing an extended spell on the sidelines the Saints probably need to add another centre back before the start of the season and if possible they could also do with some cover in midfield to make up for the loss of Schneiderlin. Striker Jay Rodriguez finally seems to be over his injury hell and will be hoping to re-establish himself in the startling eleven and rediscover his form of 2013/14.
Southampton are expected to make it through to the Group Stages of the Europa League and if so it will be important that their domestic form does not suffer, particularly in the first half of the season. The club have a long term aim of breaking into the top four, but that would seem to be unlikely just yet.
Joselu (att), Hannover 96), Jakob Haugaard (gk), Midtjylland), Ibrahim Affelay (mid), Barcelona), Moha El Ouriachi (mid), Barcelona B), Ibrahim Affelay (mid), Barcelona), Shay Given (gk), Aston Villa), Glen Johnson (def), Liverpool), Marco van Ginkel (mid), Chelsea - loan)
Asmir Begovic (k)(gk), Chelsea), Steven N’Zonzi (r)(mid), Sevilla), Wilson Palacios (mid), Thomas Sorensen (gk), Victor Moses (r)(att), Chelsea - end of loan)
Stoke enjoyed their most impressive Premier League season to date last year and continued what has been an unrelenting path of progress in the last few years. The Potters have moved on from the days of Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes has now firmly established himself as the man in the dugout. He is starting his third season in charge of the club and will be looking for more of the same exciting attacking play that characterised the last campaign. Stoke were still focused and solid at the back but they are now a lot more entertaining and inventive in the final third, with excellent wide players complementing powerful centre forwards. There is no reason for Stoke to keep doing what they have done in recent seasons and the ingredients are there for a genuine push for the Europa League places. That said, Stoke did lose key personnel over the summer and some of the departures will be tough to overcome. Asmir Begovic moved to Chelsea after a few stellar years between the sticks that established him as one of the very best keepers in the Premier League. Victor Moses is no longer around after enjoying a pretty good season on loan from Chelsea. Steven N’Zonzi, the unheralded midfielder who enjoyed a superbly consistent last season, is off to Sevilla and he may be the harder to replace. Steve Sidwell and Glenn Whelan can do a decent job as defensive midfielders but none of them is of the same level as N’Zonzi. The new name in the middle of the park is that of Marco van Ginkel, a cultured and flexible Dutch midfielder who has the basic qualities to be a big hit upon arriving on loan from Chelsea. Ibrahim Affelay is the most eye-catching of the summer signings as the former Barcelona man joined the growing contingent of Catalans at the Britannia. His career has been disrupted by a series of knee injuries but there is no doubting his talent and he may well experience the same renaissance that Bojan Krkic had last season. Hughes has been chasing another top wide player this window and is still holding hope to bring Andryi Yarmolenko, having been snubbed by Xeridan Shaqiri. Stoke already have a pretty good squad overall and there is no reason for them to at least match the top-half finish of the last season.
Challenge for possible Europa League slot after the good progress in recent years.
Jermaine Lens (att), Dynamo Kyiv), Younes Kaboul (def), Tottenham), Adam Matthews (def), Celtic)
Santiago Vergini (r)(def), Getafe - loan), Anthony Reveillere (sp)(def), Connor Wickham (r)(att), Crystal Palace)
Sunderland had another season of relegation struggle and a close escape right at the end, ensuring another season in the top-flight in the coming year. They needed Dick Advocaat to come in at the end of March and get the house in order after the shambles of the Gus Poyet reign. The experienced Dutchman did not do much, it has to be said, other than just sorting out the defensive shape of the side and squeezing out a couple of tight wins that proved enough to finish above the bottom three. It is clear that improvement in a dysfunctional and creaking squad is needed and there is still not enough evidence to suggest that the Wearsiders can make tangible progress in the coming season. Advocaat was initially set on retiring after that season but was swayed to take up the challenge of leading the team and trying to establish them as a more stable force in the top-flight. He focus his recruitment on players he knows and Jermaine Lens is indeed a pretty commendable signing. The wide forward has the pace, eye goal and delivery to succeed in the Premier League and is definitely an upgrade on Connor Wickham, who moved to Crystal Palace. Younes Kaboul endured a woeful last season at Tottenham but there is still a good defender there and he may well work in what is a more conservative Sunderland side compared to Tottenham. More signings are on the way as Leroy Fer and Yann M’Vila are likely to join before the start of the season. It is clear that the midfield options are shallow at the moment and improvement is indeed needed there. The attacking alternatives are not especially encouraging too. But Advocaat knows how to set up a team properly and one still would expect Sunderland to have enough to just about beat the drop.
Aiming to beat the drop and likely to endure an arduous battle for the most part
Ayew (mid)(Marseille), Tabanou (mid)(St Etienne), Nordfeldt (gk)(Heerenveen), Eder (att)(Braga)
Richards (def)(Fulham), Tremmel (gk)(released)
Swansea City finished a comfortable eighth in the table last season. Garry Monk's first full season in charge was a success and as a manager he proved himself to be quite capable. The question now is whether he can keep it up and maintain the Swans as a top half of the table club. Monk has held on to practically all of last season's first team squad and with the start of the season only a week or so away no one seems set to depart. Keeping a hold of Ashley Williams and Bafetimbi Gomis is important. Andre Ayew has joined from Marseille and is an exciting winger who is capable of getting among the goals and Monk will also be hoping that Eder proves a handful for Premier League defences. It is perhaps a little surprising that another centre back has not been signed to offer competition and cover. Should Williams pick up an injury for any amount of time, the Jacks may well struggle to cope without him.
Expectations are high ahead of the new season and the players and Monk will have to learn to deal with that. They have ambitions of getting closer to the top four but that looks difficult and a repeat of last season's position may be the best they can hope for.
Tottenham experienced a number of highs and lows over an exhilarating first campaign under the tutelage of Mauricio Pocchetino and will be looking forward towards making the next step in the coming year. The North London side never really went close in the race for the top four last season, despite being constantly in the top six, and the aim for coming campaign will be to sustain a more lasting challenge and hopefully break the glass ceiling in regards to the Champions League qualification. Tottenham badly need to get into this group of teams regularly playing in the Champions League and it is a massive season for them in many regards. Pocchetino does not have the excuse of needing time to get to know the club and the playing squad now. He is expected to deliver consistently better results, especially at home, and ensure that Spurs do not waste as many points against the lesser sides as they have done before. The story of the last season was undoubtedly the rise and rise of Harry Kane, the homegrown striker who enjoyed a season for the ages. He was quite brilliant once he broke into the first team in November and went on t bag in the excess of 30 goals over the course of the season. The big question mark now is whether he can sustain it that sort of form in the upcoming season, now that every defence in the league will be aware of him. It is a potentially major issue for Pocchetino as there are not really other options in attack apart from Kane, with Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor both set to leave the club. There has been something of a clear-out of bit-part players over the summer and the squad is certainly looking trimmer and more compact at the moment. Toby Alderweireld is the only new signing expected to slot straight into the starting 11, with the Belgian set to re-unite with former Ajax teammate, Jan Vertonghen, at the heart of defence. While he is a fine capture, the other new signings have been quite underwhelming and it is difficult to see Spurs doing much better than last year.
Need to break into the top four but do not really look equipped to do so
Bond (gk)(released), McGugan (att)(Sheff Wed), Fabbrini (mid)(M'Boro - loan)
Watford are back in the top flight again for the first time since 2007. The Hornet's finished the season second in the Championship table and were just a single point behind champions Bournemouth. Indeed, winning the title looked on the cards right up until the final game of the season when they could manage just a draw against Sheffield Wednesday. Watford went through four managers last season, and Slavisa Jokanovic has now also departed to be replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores. Flores has been busy in the transfer market, adding a total of ten players to the squad. Much is expected of playmaker Jurado, while Capoue offers Premier League experience and solidity in midfield. Strikers Matej Vydra, Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo scored a massive fifty seven goals between them last season and will be hoping to make the step up without too much difficulty. Flores is likely to be under a lot of pressure right from the off, so a decent start to the season could be important in terms of buying him some time.
The club have lofty long term ambitions, but for now maintaining their top flight status is the aim for this season. Flores seems to have no shortage of options within his squad.
After a disastrous start and first couple of months last season, West Bromwich Albion turned things around from January onwards after the appointment of Tony Pulis. They stumbled a little in March/April, but then upped their game again and come the end of the season were nine point clear of the drop zone. There was always the sense that relegation was not going to be an issue once Pulis took the reins. Ahead of the new season Pulis has added James McClean and James Chester to the squad. As of yet he has been unable to strengthen the central midfield area. The Baggies could do with a little bit of creativity in that area. Last season they relied perhaps too heavily on Chris Brunt. Pulis will be hoping to keep his side tight at the back, but at the same time will be well aware of the need to create more chances and score more goals. One gets the impression that if Saido Berahino is offered better service, he is capable of scoring a lot more goals as long as he stays focused and free from injury.
West Brom will be hoping to challenge for a place in the top half of the table. That is not beyond them, but is perhaps a very ambitious target. As long as they are not involved in any type of relegation concerns, a mid-table finish will be deemed adequate.
Mauro Zarate (att), QPR - return from loan), Stephen Hendrie (def), Hamilton - return from loan), Modibo Maiga (att), Metz - return from loan), Perdro Obiang (mid), Sampdoria), Dimitri Payet (mid), Marseille), Angelo Ogbonna (def), Juventus), Darren Randolph (gk), Birmingham)
Nene (sp)(mid), Carlton Cole (sp)(att), Jussi Jaaskelainen (sp)(gk), Guy Demel (sp)(def), Stewart Downing (r)(mid), Middlesbrough), Alex Song (r)(mid), Barcelona - end of loan)
West Ham start a new era in the coming season as the Croatian, Slaven Bilic, returned to Upton Park to take over as a manager. He was a fan favourite in his time as a player in East London and will be certainly given a more warm welcome than Sam Allarydce. The brash and outspoken Allardyce was never really liked by the Hammers faithful, even if he delivered good results more often than not, and his departure at the end of last season seemed inevitable for a while. It was disappointing to see now quickly the Hammers dropped off after a superb first half of the season saw them challenge at the top end of the table. There is definitely excellent talent in the squad as a whole and Bilic has been given the funds to further enhance his options in all areas of the pitch. Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna and Pedro Obiang are all pretty good signings who are really to step into the first-team and have lasting impact. Payet seems to be the pick of the bunch as he has been the leading assist-maker in the French Ligue 1 for the past couple of seasons and is highly flexible, direct and incisive in his actions. Stewart Downing surprisingly departed during the summer as the midfielder decided to return to his home club, Middlesbrough, even after enjoying a stellar last campaign in which he was the Hammers’ standout player. Alex Song will leave a sizeable gap in midfield as well but the players are there to step up and fill the void. One area of concern in the squad is the attacking department as some players there are still injured and some additional signings are needed. Bilic has never worked in England before and tends to divide opinion about his managerial qualities. He had a good spell at Besiktas over the last coupe of seasons but the Premier League is way more unforgivable and he will face high expectations from the word go. Thus, it is hard to pinpoint where West Ham can finish this season. On one hand, they have a pretty talented squad and might as well challenge for European places if they get off to a flyer. On the other hand, there is always potential for things to go awry quickly and a season of struggle at the bottom end of the table could be on the cards too.
Looking to challenge in the top half of the table but it may go badly wrong as well.