Read who’ll be challenging for the title and the Champions League in part 1.
7th place: Tottenham Hotspur
Would a seventh place finish without Luka Modric be a failure for Andreas Villas-Boas? It would certainly be a disappointment for Gareth Bale who could well leave Spurs next summer if this prediction is close to the truth.
Besides replacing their Croatian magician, Spurs need a striker and signing Adebayor on a permanent deal could be the key to Tottenham’s frontline and Man City’s continued transfer strategy. The signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson complicates matters in the midfield however, as his bursting runs forward may not be as effective without the patient trigger men behind him that he enjoyed at Swansea. There’s also the issue of Van Der Vaart’s own anarchic play style, which could see both attacking midfielders flying forwards when played together along with Bale and Lennon, leaving Spurs wide open. Parker and Sandro will have their work cut out to cover their team mates, and the Brazilian especially may find his box-to-box abilities repressed in favour of a more rigid, disciplined role.
Defensively, Tottenham look ok. Ledley King’s retirement gives the club the closure they need to finally replace the undeniably classy yet physically unreliable centre-back. Enter: Jan Vertonghan. Meanwhile, Steven Caulker, fresh from his loan at Swansea, could add composure and ball retention at the back, but he is still young and a cautious AVB may still prefer Gallas or Kaboul.
Key arrival: Jan Vertonghen – physically domineering and comfortable on the ball. As known for his defensive work as his runs out of defence, carrying the ball forward. Could be an important link player in Tottenham’s game plan without the deep-lying pass hub that was Luka Modric. Speaking of whom…
Big departure: Luka Modric – his departure to Real Madrid is all but confirmed. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore aren’t comparable and his transfer will severely hamper Tottenham’s ambitions.
8th place: Liverpool
Again, would a solid eighth place really be a disappointment for Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers? We’re not talking about a position won by the skin of the teeth here – the squads above each appear more settled and rounded in comparison. This is to be a season of reform at Anfield, with Rodgers’ methods laying the groundwork for future progress rather than immediate, short-term gains.
Suarez will drop back into the hole with Borini up front while Liverpool finally have a player able to stretch the play and pull defences wide in Oussama Assaidi. Combined with the signing of Allen, the movement and link up play of this quartet will be the key to making the most out of a more deep-lying Steven Gerrard and returning trickery of Joe Cole. Lucas will sweep and tidy in support. Andy Carroll could be an awkward plan B but Rodgers will most likely have to create an alternative system around the big Geordie rather than rely on throwing him into the mix for impact like your usual super-sub.
Central defence is Liverpool’s strong point with Agger and Skrtel, but question marks hang over both players and Sebastian Coates has so far done little to dismiss the doubts surrounding his speed and agility in a Premier League defensive line. Enrique and Johnson can be an exceptional pair of attacking wing-backs on their day and will help to contribute towards their new bosses’ gameplan. Liverpool will also be hoping Pepe Reina can put last year behind him and recapture his form.
Key arrival: Joe Allen – he may not be the Scholes-Xavi-Alonso super-hybrid that the scouse lunatic fringe proclaim him to be, but he is a significant upgrade on Adam and Henderson, and far closer to the former bracket of players than the latter.
Big departure: Dirk Kuyt – Kuyt’s inexhaustible appetite to work for his team and contribute will be sadly missed. I can’t help feeling that his ability to graft would have been a key resource in Rodgers’ pressing approach.
9th place: Aston Villa
Paul Lambert will hope Darren Bent stays fit this season, as the English striker could be the difference between a mid-table resurgency and another plummet down the league. Aston Villa’s squad is underrated – young players such as Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Fabian Delph, Nathan Delfouneso and Andreas Weimann look very promising – and considering the results Lambert achieved with Norwich’s modest recourses, the new boss is expected by many to return the club to the top half of the Premier League or higher over the next few seasons.
An experienced central defence is still the base of the team, with Shay Given in goal and Ron Vlaar arriving to partner Richard Dunne in place of the outgoing James Collins who has left for West Ham. With Dunne become less and less mobile with age however, the likes of Ciaran Clark may be preferred to add legs at the back. Prospects Matthew Lowton and Eric Lichaj will likely man the defensive flanks.
In midfield, Karim El Ahmadi has been signed to add some traction in the middle of the pitch. On the flanks, N’Zogbia must look to improve on his damp squib of a season last term while Australian Brett Holman, has been added to the squad for more penetration down the right wing. Much will depend on whether Lambert can get the best out of Stephen Ireland who has become something of a footballing enigma of late. Gabriel Agbonlahor adds rapid pace but can often be founding wanting in situations less reliant on his acceleration.
Key arrival: Ron Vlaar – he’s already earned the nickname “concrete” from his new team mates. Life will be tough for opposition forwards in the Villain’s six-yard box.
Big departure: Alex McLeish – Big Eck’s reign of error at Villa Park was, from beginning to end, a deflated, tedious whimper. Good riddance.
10th place: Fulham
Clint Dempsey wants to move up in the world and he isn’t alone. Martin Jol has slowly been turning Fulham into a tight, technical and surprisingly attacking unit over the past couple of season, with eyes on consistent finishes in the top half of the league. This summer has seen yet more transition with the bemusing free transfer of Danny Murphy to Blackburn. Steve Sidwell and Mahamadou Diarra will likely take up the slack in front of the back four, providing a deep-lying buffer to feed the array of dynamic midfielders in front. The continued development of Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz, Kerim Frei and Pajtim Kasami will soften the blow of Dempsey’s inevitable departure.
In attack, the last vestiges of Roy Hodgson’s frontline have been removed. Andy Johnson has left to reunite with Zamora at QPR, with Mladen Petric brought in to replace him. Former Wigan striker, Hugo Rodallega, will add a physical element, leading the line and bringing the onrushing midfield into play. On the flanks, Damien Duff and Stephen Davies are permanent fixtures on the left and right respectively, while teams will forget about left-back John Arne Riise bursting up on the over-lap at their peril.
Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and co make Fulham solid enough at the back, and loan signing Sascha Riether will offer options from right-back to balance and cotrast Riise’s surges. The venerable Mark Schwarzer shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 15th Premier League campaign although David Stockdale is a ready and willing deputy.
Key arrival: Mladen Petric – the Croatian will need to be on target to make up for the shrinking roster of forwards at Craven Cottage while enhancing the team’s approach play.
Big departure: Danny Murphy – a confusing sale considering Murphy’s integral role within Fulham’s usual game plan and the lack of bought-in replacements. Perhaps Jol hopes that Dembele can continue to develop into a deeper, creative midfielder.
11th place: Sunderland
It appears all is quiet on the North Eastern front, with Sunderland’s summer transfer window eerily quiet like their Tyneside neighbours. O’Neill has appealed for patience, and that he’s waiting for the right players to become available, and this finishing position of 11th is heavily reliant on his plans coming to fruition. Sunderland’s squad could easily drop considerably lower down the table with a couple of injuries to key players such as Sessegnon and Seb Larrson.
A strikeforce of Saha, Campbell, Dong-Won and Wickham looks rather lightweight and far from prolific; unless a suitable front man can be found the goal threat responsibilities may well fall on the shoulders of James McClean and other more adventurous midfielders. At the back Carlos Cuellar arrives to join O’Shea, Brown, Bramble and co, while Phil Bardsley offers options going forward.
Key arrival: Louis Saha – in a squad devoid of quality forwards, Saha stands out as the best all round goal threat. Frightening for Sunderland fans.
Big departure: George McCartney – formerly a highly rated youngster, McCartney has returned to West Ham having fallen out of contact with Martin O’Neill.
12th place: Southampton
So much about Southampton’s story is shared with that of Norwich last season. With their back-to-back promotions from League 1 and cult favourite number nines Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt respectively, the Canaries are very much the example to follow for the Nigel Adkins’ Saints this year. However, with teams across the division strengthening their squads, the 2012/13 season is far more daunting proposition for the newly promoted teams. With a squad featuring Steven Davis, Billy Sharp, Adam Lallana, Jack Cork and transfer coup, Gaston Ramirez however, Southampton look to have far more quality than Paul Lambert’s men did twelve months ago.
The Saints are tactically adaptive and will switch between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 depending on the scenario, with Lallana linking up with Ramirez as the chief playmaking schemers. Southampton are advocates of the beautiful game and will seek to play smooth, flowing attacking football, yet with far more consideration for their defence than the likes of Blackpool ever had. The hotly tipped Nathaniel Clyne has arrived at full-back, dismissing the overtures of Manchester United and Arsenal, to add excitement to the defensive ranks, though much will depend on Adkin’s organisation rather than the abilities of star individuals.
Key arrival: Gaston Ramirez – Could be a Charlie Adam figure for Southampton with his languid yet highly creative approach to the game. Saints fans will be hoping he doesn’t turn out to be a relegation fight Veron.
Big departure: none – Adkins has ejected the dead wood and players unable to cut it in the Premier League while keeping hold of his aces.
13th place: West Ham United
Marmite in claret and blue, West Ham are a team loved and loathed by neautrals in equal measure, yet with Big Sam at the helm, fans of the east enders are growing restless. If Allardyce struggles to bring results, his lack of appreciation for good-looking football could see him hounded out by the Hammers faithful.
Ricardo Vaz Te looks to have all the physical talents required to trouble Premier League defences but Carlton Cole, Nicky Maynard and Sam Baldock may be found out at this level. Modibo Maiga enjoyed an impressive scoring record at French club Sochaux and it will be interesting to see if he can translate his goals to the Prem. Frederic Piquionne will return to the top tier with something to prove.
Mohammed Diame will join Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan in the Hammer’s engine room, with Allardyce going for solidarity and grit rather than technical supremacy. They shouldn’t be underestimated mind, and plenty of goals, assists and late runs will bubble up from the centre of the park. At the back, James Tomkins is the obvious star, but new arrivals James Collins and George McCartney will add experience and Premier League nous. Veteran keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen is perhaps an upgrade on the outgoing Robert Green.
Key arrival: Alou Diarra – the 31 year-old Frenchman is a tough and tidy holding midfielder who will add some sophistication to West Ham’s defensive spine.
Big departure: Attractive football – If David Gold and David Sullivan do jerk their knees at the first sign of trouble, a prediction of 13th place will be wildly optimistic.
14th place: Queens Park Rangers
A few years ago, the reality-cum-documentary TV show Life of Grime featured a hoarder by the name of Mr Trebus who eventually filled his home with 515 cubic yards of rubbish. In the world of football it seems that Mark Hughes suffers the same affliction.
After overstocking Manchester City with overpaid, untransferable players, the former Welsh manager has brought his “unique” scattergun recruitment strategy to Loftus Road. In attack, QPR now boast Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse, Jamie Mackie, Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell on their squad list while Junior Hoilett and Adel Taarabt are far more offensively focussed than your average modern wingers. Park Ji-Sung joins the returning Diakite and Faurlin, who will be the side’s chief creator in the centre of the field. Shaun Wright-Phillips may find his appearances limited behind Hoilett.
Defensively, Robert Green replaces and upgrades Paddy Kenny. Champions League winner Jose Boswinga’s arrival adds class, while Fabio da Silva will be hungry for games to turn his potential into real quality. Even with Ryan Nelsen, they look dodgy at the back.
Key arrival: Park Ji-Sung – Hughes’ “stack ‘em high” approach to squad building has seen QPR saddled with some questionable characters that have contributed heavily to the side’s ill discipline. As the team’s new captain, Park will look to set an example the unwieldy roster he now heads with his professionalism and loyalty.
Big departure: Joey Barton – the anti-Park. For all the supposed rehabilitations of his Tweeted pretensions, Barton remains an unreliable and overrated player prone to violence and disruptive behaviour. A year in France will keep him from derailing Hughes’ efforts to gentrify QPR’s squad.
15th place: Stoke City
Stoke are one of the teams that make the Premier League the exciting and diverse league it is today. Their approach may be overly pragmatic, and at times brutal, but Pulis’ regiment of hardened Premiership warriors are undeniably distinctive. I have a feeling that this could be the season where the momentum begins to drain however, with players realising the glass ceiling limits of their team’s play style.
There isn’t much to say about Stoke’s game plan that hasn’t already been covered elsewhere: attacking wingers feeding two big men upfront with a surprisingly complete pair of midfielders in Whitehead and Walters. This season, James Ness arrives from Rangers and Michael Kightly from Wolves, neither of whom will offer any new dimensions but are quality acquisitions to fit the team’s existing approach.
Geoff Cameron’s arrival from Houston Dynamo replaces Jonathon Woodgate in the burly ranks of Shawcross, Huth, Upson and co.
Key arrival: Michael Kightly – one of Wolves’ best players and an asset to Stoke and their commitment to aggressive, attacking wing play.
Big departure: Ricardo Fuller – Fuller was something of an unpredictable plan B for Stoke on the Bench. With him gone, their options are made all the more narrow. Rumours of Michael Owen heading to the Britannia could remedy this.
Read part 3 to see who’ll be fighting against relegation.
What do you think of these mid-table predictions and team previews?