Premier League Preview: Part 2

Everton, Leicester, Liverpool, Man City and Manchester United

With the 2015-2016 Premier League season now just days away we wanted to have a look at each of the teams in the league in turn. Who will win the league? Is the top 4 likely to change from last year? Which teams are heading for the drop?

The transfer window doesn’t “slam shut” for a while yet, so all of our opinions don’t take any last minute signings into account. Therefore if you’re a Villa fan wondering why we’ve said you’ll be lucky to still be in the Premier League next season when you’ve just signed Cristiano Ronaldo, don’t send us your complaint letters.

We’ve split this season preview into 4 parts, 5 teams in each section. We’ve already covered Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Crystal Palace and you can read our thoughts on them here. Today we’re looking at the next 5 teams in the Premier League. Don’t agree with what we’ve said? Get in touch and let us know!

The Runners And Riders

Everton

Roberto Martinez’s Everton are one of the more interesting teams in the Premier League. In the 2013-2014 season Merseyside as a whole was absolutely bouncing, with the Red half of the city taking the title race to the final day and the Blue half finishing 5th, 7 points shy of 4th placed Arsenal.

Then last season everything started to fall apart for both clubs, with Liverpool stumbling to a 6th place finish and Everton being genuinely worried about a relegation battle before managing to get their act together and finish 11th in the league.

So which Everton are we going to see this season? Will it be the free scoring, entertaining team of the 2013-2014 season that even had Liverpool supporters happy to see them do so well? Or is it more likely to be the defensively vulnerable, unimaginative team of 2014-2015 that seemed to have a cloud of misery hanging over it, as those David Moyes had returned from Spain and taken back over at the club?

By BohemianFC (flickr.com) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By BohemianFC (flickr.com) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A potential factor on the side of the positive for the Blues is the lack of European football. Last year’s collapse was certainly not entirely down to the fact that they had to play in the Europa League, but it definitely didn’t help. Club’s long to play in Europe and, whilst supporters don’t necessarily enjoy the Europa when their team misses out on the Champion’s League, players definitely prefer the notion of pitting their wits against both foreign and domestic teams than of just playing once a week. But the pressure of playing at the highest level twice a week for most of the campaign definitely takes its toll. Going back to playing in only the domestic competitions, then, is bound to do Everton some favours.

They haven’t done much business in the transfer market, but what they have done has been quietly impressive. They’ve brought back Gerard Deulofeu who was so impressive when they were a swaggering team of joy in 2013-2014. Now 21, Deulofeu has a lot to prove after a disappointing loan spell at Sevilla last season – a spell that earned him a place in Marca’s La Liga’s ‘worst team of the season’. He’s an exciting young player, though, and he could offer the dynamism and vision that Everton were lacking last season.

They’ve also brought Tom Cleverly in from Manchester United on a free and he’s likely to give them some balance and stability in the middle of the park. Gareth Barry started to look his age last season and James McCarthy underwhelmed at times, so Cleverly could be just the player that Roberto Martinez’s team needs if they hope to dominate the middle of the park in matches against lower opposition.

We’re expecting some improvements from Everton this year, but we’re not convinced that their transfer activity has been good enough to push them right the way up the league table. If Roberto Martinez is able to remember what it was that made his Everton team so formidable two seasons ago then we could see something special from them this year. If they pick up a couple of injuries, however, it’s likely to be more of the same from the Blues in 2015-2016.

Our Prediction: 9th

 Leicester

You can say what you want about Nigel Pearson, but there’s no question that he had both the dedication and undivided support of his players. In 2013-2014 his Leicester team were untouchable in the Championship, scoring 83 goals and notching up 102 points. Last season it looked as though they were doomed to relegation from the Premier League, sitting bottom of the table on Christmas Day and struggling to get the results that their performances deserved. Then Pearson turned it around, winning 7 of their last 9 fixtures and taking the Foxes from the bottom 3 to a 14th placed finish.

By Whassuo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Whassuo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If he was loved by the players, though, he didn’t quite have the respect and admiration of the Leicester owners who tried to get rid of him on more than one occasion last year. In fact reports emerged in February of this year that Pearson had been sacked after a game against Crystal Palace during which the manager appeared to put his hands around James McCarthur’s throat. The club released a statement later that day denying that Pearson had been released, but the truce was an uneasy one from that point forward.

So when some Leicester players, including Pearson’s son James, were involved in a racist sex tape during the club’s “Goodwill Tour” of Thailand the owners decided to call it a day, releasing a statement saying that, “the working relationship between Nigel and the Board is no longer viable”. So who do you bring in when you’ve released the manager that not only got you promoted but also kept you in the top flight after a rocky season? Why Claudio Ranieri of course!

Having now managed every single club in Italy, Ranieri returns to the league where he earned the nickname of “Tinkerman”. He’ll be able to continue his rotation policy with the Foxes too, should he choose to, as they’ve made a number of good signings this summer. Robert Huth will surely stamp his authority on the defence – as well as any number of opposition players – and Shinji Okazaki scored 1 in 2 in the Bundesliga, so he could add some real attacking verve to the team.

Pearson was a manager who was full of anger – in a bad way – and fight – in a good way; he knew what needed to be done to survive. The simple truth is that Claudio Ranieri doesn’t fill you with the same confidence and Leicester are almost certainly in for a season filled with doom and gloom. To lose Pearson is damaging, to lose Cambiasso as well could be spirit crushing for the squad and the Foxes faithful. It’s going to be a long old season.

Our Prediction: 19th

 Liverpool

As much as neither set of fans would be quick to admit it, there is something of a correlation to the fortunes of Liverpool and Everton at the moment. Both teams had a brilliant 2013-2014 by their own standards, but a miserable 2014-2015 season as a follow up. The difference has come in the two club’s activity in the transfer market, with Everton being reasonably quiet thus far and Liverpool going all out to ensure they don’t repeat the mistakes of last season.

Mario Balotelli’s reputation will always be significantly bigger than his ability, but only an idiot would honestly have believed that he’d be a suitable replacement for Luis Suarez. Perhaps he suffered from not being able to play with Daniel Sturridge, as Brendan Rodgers had doubtless intended when he gave the green light to his signature, but the reality is that he just wasn’t good enough for the Reds.

This summer both Rodgers and Fenway Sports Group appear to have learnt from the mistakes of the year before, abandoning their plan of bringing in expensive youngsters and Southampton players. Instead they’ve bought just the 1 Southampton player and have bought players with a proven Premier League pedigree. James Milner will be an excellent addition to the squad and could be one of the most under-rated signings of the summer. He and Jordan Henderson will give the Liverpool midfield the legs it was sorely lacking when it depended so heavily on Steven Gerrard last term.

James Milner

katatonia82/Shutterstock.com

Up front they’ve added the youthful vitality of Danny Ings and Divock Origi to their line-up, plus the exciting prospect that is Roberto Firmino. Plus, of course, there is Christian Benteke. The imposing Belgian forward has already scored a brilliant goal in pre-season and is more than simply the blunt instrument of a target man that many assume.

Much like the Blue half of the city, Reds fans know that their season could go 1 of 2 ways. If Brendan Rodgers remembers what it was that made his Liverpool team so astonishingly good 2 years ago and decides to ‘cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war’ then they could be a genuine threat to the teams at the top of the league. If the new players fail to click, however, and we see more of the same dross that they produced last year then it could be another mixed season at Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers knows there’s no more excuses for him after an expensive summer. The board have backed him to the hilt and removed his backroom staff in order to replace them with some fresh blood, not to mention the new players that he’s brought in – rumours suggest that Benteke is very much Rodgers’s signing. We expect him to last the season unless Liverpool are in the relegation zone come Christmas, but if he doesn’t get them back to the right end of the table this time around then he’ll doubtless be collecting his P45.

We think Liverpool may well surprise a few people this year. Yes they’re back in the Europa League – a competition that often drains teams of their verve as the season wears on – but now they’ve got a squad that can compete on several fronts without it leaving them overly depleted. In fact they could easily play one team in the league and FA Cup and a different one in Europe and the League Cup without any player overlap. It’s almost certainly too soon for the Reds to compete for the title, but we think they’ll be back in the top 4 come May 2016.

Our Prediction: 3rd

 Man City

Manchester City are a team that need to improve; an odd thing to say about a club that has finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st and 3rd over the last 5 seasons. However everyone knows that last term just wasn’t good enough and improvements need to occur this season or heads will surely roll.

There have been some good improvements to City already, with Fabian Delph adding energy and vitality to an ageing midfield and Raheem Sterling is one of the most exciting young prospects in Europe. Is £49 million too much to pay for the Jamaican born England international? No question. But he ticks so many boxes for the club that they won’t mind spending the dough – especially given just how rich Sheik Mansour actually is. There’s also no doubt that City will splash the cash again before the end of the summer, with both Kevin De Bruyne and Paul Pogba high on Manuel Pellegrini’s wish list.

EUO AGIF / shutterstock.com

EUO AGIF / shutterstock.com

If Brendan Rodgers is under pressure at Liverpool then it’s not going to be anything compared to what Pellegrini will be feeling if Man City miss out on a trophy again this year. It’s the strange thing about City. On the one hand they are one of the richest clubs in world football, capable of buying any player that is available on the open market – and more than a few that aren’t. Yet their squad isn’t as good as it should be given the money they’ve spent on it, being defensively vulnerable and generally more ageing than you’d expect. Yaya Toure was once one of the most powerful players in world football and he can still produce a bit of quality from time to time. Yet he isn’t able to reproduce that form on a regular basis any more.

You always feel that City are more than capable of producing a result out of nothing and that they’ll steam roller the teams in the bottom half of the league, but they remain an injury to Sergio Aguero away from looking depleted when it comes to the battle against the teams at the top. If they can bring De Bruyne and Pogba in as well as add one more quality attacker, they’ll still have too much quality for pretty much every team around when they’re on song. Vincent Kompany didn’t play well enough last season and he knows it, but all of the senior players have one top quality season left in them before they move on. Their last 4 league finishes have been 2nd, 1st, 2nd and 1st. As they finished 2nd last year it seems easy to predict where they’ll be this time around.

Our Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

United fans might not want to admit it, but they were incredibly lucky to have David De Gea in the form he was in last season. The general feeling is that a top quality goalkeeper can add 10 points to your tally, but De Gea may have added more like 20 to United’s. If they lose him this summer – as looks extremely likely given Real Madrid’s less than subtle interest in the player – then they could be in for a bit of a shock to the system if they don’t replace him adequately.

No doubt those same fans would point to the strengthening of United’s midfield as something to be proud of, and they’d be right. Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin will not only earn the club a fortune in letter sales when people get them put on the back of their shirts, they’ll also solidify a midfield that has been crying out for improvement for years. But an injury to either of them and there still isn’t the strength in depth that you need to be able to challenge for the title, something United fans are desperate to see the club do after a couple of years in the wilderness following Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

They also still look dodgy at the back, though the decision to replace Rafael with Darmian takes care of that slightly. If Luke Shaw has had a good summer he might have shifted a bit of weight and that will help him immensely, though a centre back pairing of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo probably wouldn’t be the first choice of any of United’s top 4 rivals.

AGIF / shutterstock.com

AGIF / shutterstock.com

Up front Wayne Rooney is still their greatest threat, though the addition of Depay could change that if he is able to hit the ground running. Rooney remains United’s best player and if he gets to play up top for most of the campaign he could be the key to keeping them challenging. Yet, much like Liverpool last season, the return of Champion’s League football to Old Trafford could do the club more harm than good. They still don’t have the strength in depth to compete on several fronts and unless they add at least one more striker to the squad they could find themselves off the pace very quickly indeed if Rooney starts to tire.

When we spoke to Steve Armstrong about United this season he said that “United need the King at the helm and not the jester”, and that is a good summary of the club’s biggest weakness. Louis Van Gaal would point out that he got the Red Devils back into the promised land of the Champion’s League places at the first time of asking, demanding respect for what he’s achieved so far at Old Trafford. The more wise amongst the Premier League watchers know that it was more the failings of Liverpool and Tottenham that allowed United to get back into the top 4 than it was the club’s outright improvements, and that Van Gaal barely did better than Moyes over the course of the season. Can he draw a line under the laughs and do what needs to be done to make United a competitive force once again? We’re not so sure.

Expect a season of ups and downs for United this year, with erratic league form and the Champion’s League taking its toll as the campaign wears on. If they sell De Gea for big money then there could be quite a few new faces arriving in Manchester before the window closes, but there’s still no guarantee that they’ll add the success that United crave. The club could finish the season with some silverware, but we think their league form will take another dip.

 Our Prediction: 5th

Much like with our first season preview we should point out that our opinions are subject to change depending on how the rest of the transfer window goes, with incomings to the teams at the top making a major difference to how things could pan out. For now, though, we’re reasonably confident we’ve got these ones right. Honest…