Continuing our preview of the Premier League 2015/16, Riccardo Ronchi presents part two:
Newcastle United Manager: Steve McClaren. Last season: 15th
In: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Aleksandar Mitrović (Anderlecht).
Out: Santon (Inter Milan), Adam Campbell (Notts County), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff), Adam Armstong (Coventry).
Transfer grade: B
What’s in store: First and foremost you should always expect the unexpected with Newcastle but last season was a massive reality check for the club and in particular, Mike Ashley. They should have been relegated and were lucky to survive. Steve McClaren should aim for the top half of the table as he has a talented squad at his disposal.
Key player: Georginio Wijnaldum
Newcastle have acquired a real star in the making. The Dutchman had an outstanding year with PSV last season, scoring 18 goals and helping the team to win the Eredivisie at a canter. Him and Mitrović (and possibly Charlie Austin) will provide the cutting edge that the Magpies desperately missed last season.
One to watch: Ayoze Pérez
The little pocket rocket was signed for £1 million last season and scored a very reasonable 7 goals- a great piece of business. With the Geordies once again bolstering their attack, the Spaniard will aim to chip in.
Predicted finish: 8th.
Norwich City Manager: Alex Neil. Last season: 3rd (Promoted)
In: Robbie Brady (Hull), Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion).
Out: Luciano Becchio (Belgrano) Mark Bunn (Aston Villa), Carlos Cuéllar and 4 other players released.
Transfer grade: C+
What’s in store: Alex Neil has done an absolutely remarkable job since taking over the reins at the turn of the year. As Canaries boss he has only lost three times. However the Premier League is a completely different kettle of fish. Nevertheless, the last time Norwich were promoted there was also a young Scotsman by the name of Paul Lambert who took the league by storm. Neil is a very determined individual and if they buy more Premier League proven players they should survive.
Key player: John Ruddy
The goalkeeper was fantastic the last time the Canaries were in the Premier League. Last season they had the 3rd best defence in the Championship and will have to count on his experience to make crucial saves at crucial moments.
One to watch: Nathan Redmond
The winger has very much been likened to Raheem Sterling for his playing style. Only Bournemouth’s Harry Arter created more chances by the end of last season and he was virtually unplayable in the first half of the Championship play-off final against Middlesbrough. His pace and trickery will cause defenders some serious problems.
Predicted finish: 16th.
Southampton Manager: Ronald Koeman. Last season: 7th
In: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Cédric Soares (Sporting Lisbon), Cuco Martina (FC Twente), Juanmi (Málaga), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham), Steven Caulker (QPR).
Out: Artur Boruc (Bournemouth), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Sam Gallagher (MK Dons), Jos Hooiveld (AIK), Pablo Osvaldo and 3 other players released.
Transfer grade: C+
What’s in store: Many, including myself, expected the Saints to struggle having sold off their most valuable players last season. Yet they came back stronger then ever, finishing in a Europa League berth. This season they have kept the same nucleus of the squad and will try to balance Premier League commitments with those of the Europa League.
Key player: Fraser Forster
Although currently injured and will miss the start season, Fraser Forster was a brick wall in goal last season. The quicker he comes back, the more resolute Southampton’s defence will be (they only conceded one more goal than Chelsea last season).
One to watch: Jordy Clasie
A ready-made replacement for the departing Morgan Schneiderlin. Clasie will give the Saints steel in midfield and link up play effectively. Furthermore, he has already worked for three seasons with manager Ronald Koeman and will fit seamlessly into the side.
Predicted finish: 9th. Predicted Europa League run: Round of 16.
Stoke City Manager: Mark Hughes. Last season: 9th
In: Joselu (Hannover 96), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona).
Out: Asmir Begović (Chelsea), Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United), Wilson Palacios and 11 other players released.
Transfer grade: B+
What’s in store: Stoke have now firmly established themselves as a comfortable mid table team. Mark Hughes has disbanded the Tony Pulis version of Rugby Football played at the Britannia Stadium and has even brought in some former Barcelona players. I guess the Welshman believes that they will be able to do it on a cold, windy Tuesday night at the Britannia…
Key player: Mame Biram Diouf
The Senegalese forward was an absolute bargain last summer arriving from Hannover on a free and scoring 11 goals in his first campaign. This year he will be joined by another former Hannover forward (though he did not play with him) in Joselu. Hughes will be relying on them to deliver the goods.
One to watch: Marco van Ginkel
Steven N’Zonzi has moved to Sevilla, which is a blow to Hughes’s side. Naturally Van Ginkel is not as physical as N’Zonzi but he has a serious point to prove after a very underwhelming season at AC Milan.
Predicted finish: 14th.
Sunderland Manager: Dick Advocaat. Last season: 16th
In: Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Younès Kaboul (Tottenham), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes), Sebastián Coates (Liverpool), Adam Matthews (Celtic).
Out: Santiago Vergini (Getafe), EL-Hadji Ba (Charlton), Anthony Réveillière (Released).
Transfer Grade: B+
What’s in store: Sunderland fall into the same category of teams that probably should have been relegated. Dutchman Dick Advocaat was able to lead them to safety… just. However the Black Cats cannot keep on repeating the same trick every season and will falter eventually. With the teams around them expected to improve it will be difficult for Sunderland to maintain their Premier League status.
Key player: Costel Pantilimon
The 2 metre-tall goalkeeper was one of the main players in last seasons’ last minute relegation escape. His performances, particularly the one against Arsenal were crucial and he will have to do more of the same this season if the Wearside team want to stay in the league.
One to watch: Jeremain Lens
I was surprised to see the Dutchman move to the Stadium of Light, he had a very decent scoring record at PSV and Dynamo Kiev. Lens will provide competition with Adam Johnson for a starting spot on the wing. His service will be very important for the likes of Defoe and Wickham.
Predicted finish: 19th.
Swansea City Manager: Garry Monk. Last season: 8th
In: Éder (Braga), Franck Tabanou (Saint-Étienne), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Heerenveen), André Ayew (Marseille), Oliver McBurnie (Bradford).
Out: Jazz Richards (Fulham), Gerhard Tremmel and 11 other players released.
Transfer Grade: A-
What’s in store: Garry Monk has done a fantastic job since the Swans sacked Michael Laudrup. Even with the sale of Wilfried Bony in January, it seems that the team have grown and become more collective. Therefore they should be relatively safe again in mid-table this season as they have signed some good foreign players.
Key player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
A very impressive first season as a permanent Swansea player for the Icelandic midfielder. Not only did he score 9 goals he also contributed a lot of assists even after Bony left. Swansea will once again look to him to provide the creative impetus for the strikers to feed on.
One to watch: André Ayew
Wow what a signing from the Swans! The Ghanaian could have gone to a whole host of clubs playing in Europe but decided to come to Southern Wales. He can play as a winger or a second striker and has been a consistent scorer for Marseille with 60 goals in just over 200 appearances in all competitions.
Predicted finish: 10th.
Tottenham Hotspur Manager: Mauricio Pochettino. Last season: 6th
Transfer Grade: C
In: Toby Alderweireld (Atlético Madrid), Kevin Wimmer (1.FC Köln), Kieran Trippier (Burnley).
Out: Étienne Capoue (Watford), Benhamin Stambouli (PSG), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Younès Kaboul (Sunderland), Brad Friedel (Retired), 9 other players released.
What’s in store: It was a typical season for Spurs by their standards. Under new manager Mauricio Pochettino they threatened to gain Champions League qualification but ultimately fell away. got to the League Cup where they were beaten by Chelsea and limped out of the Europa League. The Argentine should perhaps consider bringing in an impact substitute striker as Emmanuel Adebayor looks set to leave and Roberto Soldado not being a reliable option. He should also give the Europa League a fair crack since it does guarantee the winner Champions League participation.
Key player: Hugo Lloris
It could be argued that Kane and Eriksen had better seasons last season and that Tottenham conceded as many goals as two of the relegated teams. Nevertheless the captain is a brilliant shot stopper and it would be a big blow if he were to move to Manchester United, although interest seems to have cooled off
One to watch: Toby Alderweireld
As aforementioned, Tottenham’s biggest problems are in defence. Alderweireld’s signing represents an astute piece of business as he was terrific for Southampton last season and will be able to link up with fellow countryman Jan Vertonghen this year to try and sort out the defensive maladies.
Predicted finish: 6th. Predicted Europa League run: Round of 32.
Watford Manager: Quique Flores. Last season: 2nd (promoted)
In: José Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow), Étienne Capoue (Tottenham), Steven Berghuis (AZ Alkmaar), Matej Vydra (Udinese), Valon Behrami (Hamburg), José Holebas (Roma), Allan Nyom (Udinese), Miguel Britos (Napoli), Sebastian Prödl (Werder Bremen).
Out: Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday), Diego Fabbrini (Middlesbrough), Jonathan Bond (Reading), Marco Motta and 2 other players released.
Transfer Grade: B
What’s in store: A very peculiar season for the Hornets last season. 4 different managers and somehow they managed to maintain the continuity and get promoted. The Pozzo family have invested in players from all around the European leagues including a new manager Quique Flores. Flores will have to adapt quickly to the demands of the Premier League or risk being sacked.
Key player: Troy Deeney
Watford’s captain and out-and-out goalscorer. He has scored 20 goals or more and each of the last three seasons. Keeping him fit could be the difference between relegation and survival as Watford fans will remember in 2006-07 when they were promoted but had their main striker Marlon King out injured for most of the season.
One to watch: José Manuel Jurado
The Spaniard has swapped the bitterly cold winters of Moscow for the cool summer evenings of Vicarage Road. He will bring Champions League experience to the Hornets and attacking flair from midfield.
Predicted finish: 18th.
West Bromwich Albion Manager: Tony Pulis. Last season: 13th
In: James Chester (Hull City), James McClean (Wigan).
Out: Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu (Norwich City), Georgios Samaras and 4 other players released.
Transfer Grade: B
What’s in store: Tony Pulis has done it again. He has never been relegated in his career as a manager and guided West Brom to safety as well. The Welshman has instilled defensive solidity in the team and with the likes of Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye up front, the Baggies are always a threat on the counter. They should stay clear of relegation.
Key player: Saido Berahino
The 21-year-old has grown in stature with a very healthy 20-goal-haul last season. Interest, notably from Tottenham, in the Burundi-born forward is high and West Brom will have to try and convince Berahino that the best place for his development is the Hawthorns.
One to watch: Brown Ideye
It took Brown Ideye half a season to acclimatise to the Premier League. However in the second half of the season there were encouraging signs that a very productive partnership between him and Berahino was forming. Despite this if West Brom do lose Berahino then there will be extra pressure on Ideye to deliver in front of goal.
Predicted finish: 15th.
West Ham Manager: Slaven Bilić. Last season: 12th
In: Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria), George Dobson (West Ham), Darren Randolph (Birmingham City), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal), Manuel Lanzini (Al-Jazira).
Out: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Nenê and 6 other players released.
Transfer Grade: A-
What’s in store: Technically West Ham’s season has already started and they almost managed to lose against Maltese team Birkirkara. However Europa League fixtures in early July are not usually a fair representation of the quality of the team and Slaven Bilić will get his first taste of what it’s like to be a Premier League manager. The bare minimum requirement is to not get relegated as the Hammers will move into the Olympic Stadium the following season.
Key player: Aaron Cresswell
A brilliant debut season for the former Ipswich man. He received the Hammer of the Year accolade for his assured performances both in defence and attack. He is expected to progress further and ensure support to both defence and attack.
One to watch: Pedro Obiang
Payet and Ogbonna are West Ham’s marquee signings but Obiang has the ability to become an unsung hero at Upton Park. He was an ever-present in the Sampdoria team that gained qualification to the Europa League and will break up play well in the holding midfield role.
Predicted finish: 11th. Predicted Europa League run: Group Stage.