With the Barclays Premier League season set to kick off on 8th August, Football and Motorsport correspondent Riccardo Ronchi takes a look at what’s in store ahead of next season in part one of our Preview installment.
The 2015-16 Premier League promises to be another exciting edition of what is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic and action packed sports leagues in the world. The new TV rights deal, which is set to kick in by 2016, has given more financial muscle than ever for Premier League clubs and will see more and more of the world’s best foreigners join the league.
Note: All transfers up to date as of 29th July.
Manager: Arsène Wenger. Last season: 3rd
In: Petr Čech (Chelsea), Jeff Reine-Adelaïde and Yassin Fortune (RC Lens), Vlad Dragomir (Poli Timisoara), Jordi Osei-Tutu (Reading).
Out: Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Abou Diaby (Marseille), Ryo Miyaichi (St. Pauli), Semi Ajayi (Cardiff), Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill (Swindon), George Dobson and Carl Jenkinson (West Ham).
Transfer Grade: B
What’s in store: Arsenal have become the masters of consistency. They are on a run of 17 successive Champions League campaigns, which is very commendable. However they have never really come close enough to going the extra step of securing the title sine the Invincibles and I foresee the same fate for them this season. Wenger should still be one the lookout for a defender to eventually replace the ageing Per Mertesacker and a striker to give Olivier Giroud a serious run for his money.
Key player: Alexis Sánchez
The Chilean has been an absolute hit since arriving from Barcelona. His boundless energy and eye for goal have endeared him to Arsenal and he will be their main man again this season. Wenger’s biggest challenge will probably be to strike the right balance with his fitness next season as he comes off the back of a full Premier League season and a Copa America campaign.
One to watch: Héctor Bellerín
The promising Spaniard made 28 appearances in all competitions last season and with first-choice Mathieu Debuchy continuing to have injury niggles Bellerín could replace him long-term. Blessed with great speed, Bellerín is set for a bright future but will have to keep on improving defensively if he wants to progress further.
Predicted finish: 4th. Predicted Champions League run: Round of 16.
Aston Villa Manager: Tim Sherwood. Last season: 17th
In: Jordan Ayew (Lorient), Jordan Amavi (Nice), Idrissa Gueye (Lille), Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards (Manchester City), José Ángel Crespo (Córdoba), Mark Bunn (Norwich City).
Out: Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Andreas Weimann and Darren Bent (Derby County), Matthew Lowton (Burnley), Shay Given (Stoke City) Yacouba Sylla (Stade Rennais), Antonio Luna (Eibar), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg BK), Ron Vlaar (End of contract).
Transfer Grade: D+
What’s in store: It’s been a summer of change at Villa Park. The Villans have lost key figures in their team including former captains Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and man mountain Christian Benteke. Sherwood has replaced key players with French talent from Ligue 1 but will need to find a suitable substitute for Benteke if the team is to progress from a disappointing last season.
Key player: Jordan Ayew
The void left by Benteke will be tough to fill and the new signing won’t be able to do it all on his own. He scored 13 goals in 28 appearances for Lorient last season and a decent 10-goal haul will help Villa’s attacking problems. His pacey nature will cause Premier League defenders a few headaches.
One to watch: Jordan Amavi
Amavi has risen quickly through the Nice ranks, making 37 appearances and scoring 4 goals last season for the Côte d’Azur team. The Frenchman will provide stiff competition to Alan Hutton and Crespo for the starting right-back spot and his versatility (he can play centre-back) will be a huge asset to Sherwood
Predicted finish: 13th.
Bournemouth Manager: Eddie Howe. Last season: 1st(Promoted)
In: Tyrone Mings (Ipswich), Joshua King (Blackburn), Adam Federici (Reading), Sylvain Distin (Everton), Artur Boruc (Southampton), Christian Atsu (Chelsea).
Out: Brett Pitman (Ipswich), Josh McQouid (Luton), Darryl Flahavan (Released), Ian Harte (Released).
Transfer grade: B-
What’s in store: Bournemouth have already superseded their own expectations by getting an unprecedented promotion from the Championship last season. Howe has so far tried to bring in a mix of experienced Premier League players such as Distin and Boruc and combine them with young Championship players such as Tyrone Mings. A striker who could get them 10-15 goals a season is still a main priority but Howe is an excellent young manager who will be able to upgrade the team.
Key player: Matt Ritchie
Callum Wilson might have been the Cherries top scorer last season but Matt Ritchie was absolutely pivotal in the attacking third. He scored 15 goals in over 50 appearances and gained international recognition with Scotland. If Bournemouth want to stay up they will have to count on Ritchie’s performances.
One to watch: Christian Atsu
The Ghanaian had a disappointing season with Everton last season making just 13 appearances, most of them in the Europa League. Bournemouth chief executive Neill Blake has labelled the deal a ‘huge coup’ and it is the perfect platform for Atsu to showcase that he is good enough for the Premier League.
Predicted finish: 17th.
Chelsea Manager: José Mourinho. Last season: Champions
In: Asmir Begović (Stoke City), Nathan (Atlético Paranense), Danilo Pantić (Partizan Belgrade), Radamel Falcao (Monaco).
Out: Filipe Luís (Atlético Madrid), Petr Čech (Arsenal), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Gaël Kakuta (Sevilla), Josh McEachran (Brentford), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Christian Atsu (Bournemouth), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke City), Tomáš Kalas (Middlesbrough), Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace), Stipe Perica (Udinese), Mario Pašalić (Monaco), Isaiah Brown, Nathan, Lewis Baker and Danilo Panitć (Vitesse).
Transfer grade: A-
What’s in store: A quiet summer window for last season’s champions but then again they haven’t felt the need to make many adjustments because they were so dominant last season. Despite being labelled as ‘boring’ many times last term, Mourinho has built a new spine and has installed his pragmatic mentality. They rightly start the season as favourites but it will be interesting to see how they fare in the Champions League.
Key player: Eden Hazard
John Terry is a leader, Nemanja Matić is a defensive shield but Eden Hazard gives Chelsea the magic that is necessary in tight games. The current PFA Player of the Year is looking as good as ever with his mesmerising dribbles and cool penalties. The Belgian will once again be required to perform at his best if the Blues are to compete on all fronts.
One to watch: Radamel Falcao
The Colombian is at an important crossroads in his career. He misfired badly at Manchester United but if there is one man who can get him back to his best then it is Mourinho. Falcao will get enough opportunities to prove his worth given that Diego Costa has been blighted by injury.
Predicted finish: 1st. Predicted Champions League run: Semi Final.
Crystal Palace Manager: Alan Pardew. Last season: 10th
In: Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Alex McCarthy (QPR), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea).
Out: Mandela Egbo (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Owen Garvan and 13 other players released.
Transfer grade: B
What’s in store: Alan Pardew completed a marvellous turnaround last season coming in January and leading the Eagles safely away from the relegation zone and into 10th place. Pardew has the fans and the team on his side and should keep them firmly away relegation. The signing of Yohan Cabaye will give them creativity and experience in the middle of the park.
Key player: Yannick Bolasie
The Congolese winger really hit his stride towards the tail end of last season to become the first ever Palace player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League during a 4-1 win over Sunderland. He improved vastly last season but still needs to work on his finishing as he has only notched up 7 goals in over 100 games. However, interest in Bolasie is high and Palace will find it difficult to keep him.
One to watch: Patrick Bamford
The 21-year-old had a great season with Middlesbrough scoring 19 goals in 43 appearances, almost leading them to promotion to the Premier League. Chelsea have loaned him out this time to Palace and the Eagles will be hoping that he can give a little more continuity in attack.
Predicted finish: 12th.
Everton Manager Roberto Martínez. Last season: 11th
In: Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), David Henen (Olympiakos), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United).
Out: Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth), Luke Garbutt (Fulham), Antolín Alcaraz and 8 other players released.
Transfer grade: B-
What’s in store: Roberto Martínez had a difficult season last season as the effects of the Europa League run took their toll on their league form. The team should be aiming for the top ten at the very minimum otherwise Martínez will find himself under pressure. The Spaniard has good young players under him but should look for a replacement goalkeeper as Tim Howard is showing his age.
Key player: Romelu Lukaku
The Belgian might have scored 10 goals last season in the Premier League and 20 in all competitions but the Premier League tally was five less than he managed the previous season when the Toffees finished 5th. At £28 million there is huge expectation on Lukaku to peform better than ever if the team want to qualify for Europe.
One to watch: Arouna Koné
This season could be the Ivorian’s final chance to prove himself at Goodison Park having had several injury problems. If he can rediscover his form at Wigan that saw him bag 11 goals then he can become an excellent impact player for the Blues
Predicted finish: 7th.
Leicester City Manager: Claudio Ranieri. Last season: 14th
In: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Robert Huth (Stoke City), Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04).
Out: Chris Wood (Leeds United), Paul Gallagher (Preston North End), Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liège), Ben Hamer (Nottingham Forest), Esteban Cambiasso and 10 other players released.
Transfer grade: C
What’s in store: It is fair to say that everyone was completely taken by surprise when the Leciester City board decided to sack Nigel Pearson after he had masterminded a tremendous run of form to escape relegation. The arrival of Claudio Ranieri has divided opinion especially considering his disastrous tenure as manager of Greece. Nevertheless, the Tinkerman has managed big clubs, possesses a lot of experience and will have to use all his nous if the Foxes want to survive for another season.
Key player: Wes Morgan
The loss of Esteban Cambiasso is absolutely huge. He was their best player last season. Morgan and the team picked up their form towards the end of the season and helped Leicester beat the drop but the captain will have to make sure that consistency is maintained throughout the season otherwise they might be cut off.
One to watch: Andrej Kramarić
The Croatian reportedly rejected Chelsea last January in order to have first team opportunities at Leicester. Now in his first full season the 24-year-old will have to prove that he can carry his fantastic goalscoring record from Croatia to England.
Predicted finish: 20th.
Liverpool Manager: Brendan Rodgers. Last season: 6th
In: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Danny Ings (Burnley), Joe Gomez (Charlton), James Milner (Manchester City), Ádam Bogdán (Bolton).
Out: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Sebastián Coates (Sunderland), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Glen Johnson (Stoke City), Brad Jones (Released), Luis Alberto (Deportivvo La Coruña).
Transfer grade: B+
What’s in store: This season will be make or break for Brendan Rodgers’ future at Liverpool. Since arriving in 2012, he has spent almost £300 million on the squad and reaching the Champions League will be a necessity. Sadly, the Reds may fall just short of this mark as they lack the necessary leadership and quality in their squad
Key player: Jordan Henderson
This season could also be a defining one for Jordan Henderson. Steven Gerrard’s departure leaves a big hole not just in central midfield but also in terms of leadership. Henderson will have to up his game once again, as he did last season, and show the world that he is a worthy captain and a very good midfielder.
One to watch: Nathaniel Clyne
A significant upgrade on Glen Johnson. Surprisingly Clyne is the only player to have joined Liverpool from Southampton this transfer window. The full-back should establish himself quickly in defence and assert himself as one of the best defensive attackers in the league.
Predicted finish: 5th. Predicted Europa League run: Quarter Final.
Manchester City Manager: Manuel Pellegrini. Last season: 2nd
In: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Enes Ünal (Bursaspor), Patrick Roberts (Fulham).
Out: Álvaro Negredo (Valencia), Stevan Jovetić (Inter Milan), Matija Nastasić (Schalke 04), Karim Rekik (Olympique Marseille), Dedrick Boyata (Celtic), Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards (Aston Villa), James Milner (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (New York City), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo).
Transfer grade: B-
What’s in store: Last season was a tame title defence from Manuel Pellegrini’s men as they let Chelsea completely run away with it. The board expect a more contested title challenge this year and will hope for further progress in the Champions League. It is pleasing to see that City’s main buys so far have been young English players.
Key player: Vincent Kompany
Sergio Agüero is City’s most prolific attacking threat but the City captain is an absolute stalwart in defence and crucial in winning games by keeping clean sheets for the Citizens. For example in 2013, City’s win percentage with Kompany was 69% compared to 58% without him. Kompany and Hart have to be kept fit at all times if City want to have a defence as resolute as Chelsea’s.
One to watch: Wilfried Bony
The Ivorian struggled to make a big impact last season following a £25 million move from Swansea. With Jovetić and Džeko set to leave the City of Manchester Stadium, Bony will have to step up to the plate and deliver the sort of performances required especially if Agüero gets injured.
Predicted finish: 2nd. Predicted Champions League run: Quarter Final.
Manchester United Manager: Louis Van Gaal. Last season: 4th
In: Memphis Depay (PSV), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Sergio Romero (Sampdoria).
Out: Nani (Fenerbahçe), Robin van Persie (Fenerbahçe), Ángelo Henríquez (Dinamo Zagreb)Tom Cleverley (Everton), 4 other players released.
Transfer grade: A-
What’s in store: Big season, big signings from the Red Devils. If they can overcome a potentially tricky Champions League Play-Off, they could be set for a great year. Manager Van Gaal has had a season to bed his team in and has now added more steel in midfield and excellent goalkeeper cover. A title challenge is expected.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
If David De Gea is to leave Old Trafford then it will be imperious that Rooney perform at his best. The captain is going to be 30 this year and will be keen to prove that he is still a world-class player in the Premier League and in Europe.
One to watch: Matteo Darmian
Probably the least high profile signing that United have made but the Italian could reveal himself to be the shrewdest. Darmian was one of the few rays of light in a very disappointing World Cup campaign for Italy and his speed and ability to get up and down on the wings will be a very useful tool for Van Gaal’s side
Predicted finish: 3rd. Predicted Champions League run: Quarter Final.