We’ve now had a look at 15 of the 20 teams that will be competing in this season’s Premier League. In Part 1 we explained why we think Chelsea will be missing out on the title this season, and in Part 2 we went through the reasons we think Manchester City will win it. In Part 3 we discussed why we reckon Norwich will just avoid the drop and where about both Newcastle and Sunderland will finish in the battle of the North East.
The first kick of the Premier League season 2015-2016 is now just days away, so it seems only fair that we complete the set and take a look at Swansea, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham. Will any of them face the drop? Do Spurs have what it takes to break back into the top 4? Will West Ham rue the day they sacked Sam Allardyce? Here’s what we think about all of these burning questions.
The Runners And Riders
Much like Ronald Koeman at Southampton, many thought Brendan Rodgers would be too tough an act to follow at The Liberty Stadium, and Michael Laudrup did a good job for a time before losing sight of what made it so good. Yet Gary Monk must have picked up plenty of important knowledge when he served as Rodgers’ captain at Swansea because he’s managed to stabilise the club to the point where they are now an established Premier League team. Not only that but they are also one of British football’s most endearing stories of the modern era, escaping financial ruin to become part fan owned; the dream for plenty of fans in today’s game.
Having won the League Cup under Michael Laudrup’s leadership, Monk took them to their best league finish last time out. The important thing for the Swans this summer has been keeping hold of their best performing players and Monk has achieved this, not least by slapping a £25 million price tag on his captain Ashley Williams’ head. Even more important, though, has been their dealings in the transfer market. They’ve added some top quality signings to their squad but have kept the numbers reasonably low so as not to disrupt things too much.
In Andre Ayew they’ve brought in a player who has been watched by all of the top clubs at one point or another, not quite showing enough to tempt them into taking a chance but unquestionably someone of immense talent. Don’t forget that plenty of the top clubs thought Luis Suarez didn’t quite have what it takes to succeed at the top. Ayew could be an extremely astute signing if he manages to settle quickly in the UK. Franck Tabanou, who has arrived from St. Etienne, is a pacey left back and in Kristoffer Nordfeldt they’ve brought in some top quality competition for Lukasz Fabianski.
Gary Monk has restored in Swansea that sense of togetherness, the notion that each and every player should fight for each other and help the club maintain its stability. Even the most ardent Swans fan would be happy to admit that the club isn’t likely to challenge the top 4 any time soon, and most would also say that they might struggle to maintain the same level that they achieved last season given how much the teams around them have strengthened. Yet they are also very much a mid-table team with ambitions to look up rather than down, and it’s difficult to see them falling away all that much this term. Relegation will not be something that will even enter Gary Monk’s head this season, and for that everyone associated with the club should be applauded.
Our Prediction: 10th
Mauricio Pochettino will feel that he did more than enough in his first term as Tottenham coach to justify the club’s decision to bring him in as a replacement to Tim Sherwood in 2014. Not only did he guide Spurs to a 5th placed finish and take them to the final of the League Cup, he also oversaw the development of a certain Harry Kane. The youngster seemed to come out of nowhere, netting 21 goals and finishing second behind Sergio Aguero in the race for the Golden Boot – no mean feat considering the Argentine is one of the best strikers in world football.
He’s also had to deal with some of the transfer errors of the previous regime, dutifully figuring out which of Andres Villas-Boas’ signings were worth their money (not many) and which ones needed to be moved on (loads of them). For that reason there’s been something of a fire sale at Spurs this summer, with Paulinho, Lewis Holtby, Etienne Capoue, Younes Kaboul and Benjamin Stambouli all heading off to find new homes. The incomings have been limited and sensible; Kieran Trippier has arrived from Burnley and could quietly be one of the best defensive signings of the season, whilst they’ve also stolen Toby Alderweireld from under the nose of Pochettino’s former club Southampton, despite the South Coast club having him on loan last season. The only other piece of business they’ve done so far is to bring in Kevin Wimmer from FC Köln, the 22 year old centre back hoping to add some steal to the back line.
It all falls down in the final third for Spurs, however, as the only proper forward they’re likely to start the season with is the aforementioned Kane. Emmanuel Adebayor is out of favour and likely to be out of the club altogether before the transfer window closes, whilst Roberto Soldado has never looked like he’s suited to the rigours of the Premier League. Kane had a breakout season last time around, but he’s yet to do it on a regular basis and plenty of pundits feel he could well be a footballing one hit wonder. If they don’t dip back into the market before it’s too late then they could find themselves a little too light in the part of the pitch that matters the most.
Pochettino isn’t wrong to feel like he deserves more credit for what he achieved last season, but the Premier League is getting tougher and tougher with every passing year and this time around is no exception. Given that we think Liverpool are going to get back into the top four this year it naturally follows that one of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United will fall out of the Champion’s League spots. If that is the case then we expect it to be a close run thing, with Spurs suffering as a consequence. They’ll have plenty of good times this season and we won’t be shocked to see them go on another cup run, but the top four will remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Our Prediction: 6th
The Premier League can be a vicious place for newly promoted teams at the best of times. The last thing a club needs, then, is a boardroom that gets an itchy trigger finger at the first sign of trouble. In that context it really is a miracle that Watford even managed to survive life in the Championship, let alone gain promotion to the country’s top division. Since June 2009 Watford have had 8 managers; remarkably 5 of them have been in charge over the last year. When Gianfranco Zola left the club in December 2013 Giuseppe Sannino seemed like a natural replacement. The new boss had an exciting eight months in charge, winning 13 and drawing 8 of his 31 matches as manager and seeing the club to second in the Championship. Then problems began to emerge from the dressing room concerning his old school methods of management and he promptly resigned on August 31st claiming he’d gone as far as he could at the club.
Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, didn’t waste any time in appointing a new manager, with Óscar García Junyent taking over the role on September 2nd. He only lasted one game, however, suffering chest pains and deciding that he should step down for the good of his own health. In came Billy McKinley, the former Blackburn midfielder who had enjoyed 10 years as a coach at Fulham prior to his appointment. The Pozzo’s quickly changed their mind on the appointment despite McKinley’s good start, though, and opted to remove him from office in order to bring in Slaviša Jokanović for the ‘long term interest of the club’. It proved to be an inspired choice, with Jokanović leading the club to promotion with a game to spare.
The good times weren’t to last, though, with contract talks between the club and the manager breaking down over his unrealistic wage demands – reports suggesting that Jokanović wanted his money trebled after taking the club up to the Premier League. So out went the Serbian and in came handsome Spaniard Quique Flores, a man who had made something of a name for himself by winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid in 2010. Can he stay in his post longer than the last 4 managers combined? It remains to be seen, but sufficed to say if Watford don’t get off to a good start in this campaign the owners won’t be too shy in considering their options.
As for the approaching season, it’s extremely difficult to guess which way it’s going to go. We know very little about Flores’ footballing style and even less about how the players will work together – after all no Premier League club has been as busy as Watford in the transfer market this summer, with the club bringing in ten new signings. Admittedly one of those players is Matej Vydra who scored sixteen times for the club on loan last season, but even so it’s a huge amount of players to bring in and hope they work. A club record fee splashed out on Etienne Capoue could prove to be inspired or it could explain why Tottenham decided to let him go in the first place.
Trigger happy owners, a manager who got sacked from two different clubs in the United Arab Emirates and ten new signings; hardly a recipe for success at the highest level of the football league. Seemingly every year a club comes up and gets spanked by virtually everyone in the league and this year we think that’s what’s going to happen to Watford.
Our Prediction: 20th
West Bromwich Albion
Tony Pulis is a manager who some like and some don’t; he’s a poor man’s Jose Mourinho. All about the defensive solidity rather than any possible attacking flair, Pulis’ management style is horrendous to watch but gets the job done. He knows what it takes to keep teams in the Premier League and this will be West Brom’s sixth straight season in the top flight in no small part because of Pulis’ ability to rescue them from the doldrums after their demise seemed inevitable under Alan Irvine. A comfortable 13th placed finish last season was nothing to sniff at for the Midland’s club and with the baseball cap wearing Pulis now in charge for a full season we expect to see a slight improvement on that this time around.
Their transfer market activity had been limited by the looming possibility of a takeover at the club, with most of the movement involving players leaving The Hawthorns rather than arriving. Some of those players have done well at West Brom, including Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu and Chris Baird. Now that the talks seem to have broken down, though, the board have opened the purse strings and made a couple of good signings, starting with James Chester from Hull. Pulis loves a well drilled defence and Chester will no doubt take to his new manager’s style like a duck to water.
Pulis is less confident when it comes to the attacking side of his game, though the additions of both James McClean and Rickie Lambert will hopefully give him some options moving forward. McClean is a talented winger who impressed at Wigan Athletic, whilst Lambert may have disappointed when his dream move to Liverpool turned somewhat sour. Class always shows through, however, and Lambert was Southampton’s second top scorer and top assist maker before he got his move to Anfield, so he’ll doubtless bounce back under Pulis’ more direct style – indeed he scored 2 goals in West Brom’s 4-0 friendly defeat of Bristol Rovers just hours after signing for the club.
Say what you want about Pulis, and we say a lot about him in the A Blog Of Two Halves office, but he knows what to do to make things work in the Premier League. Everyone knows he specialises in defensive solidity, so there’ll be no worries for the Baggies there. But if he can also get Lambert and Saido Berahino working well together then they’ll cause problems for quite a few teams across the course of the season. Hardly likely to trouble the teams at the top but more than safe from the battle at the bottom, we think West Brom will be quietly efficient this season – even if we don’t really want to watch them doing it.
Our Prediction: 12th
Much like Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he knows how to get things done in the top flight. Similar to the West Brom manager, though, his teams are also not even remotely fun to watch, so the West Ham board can hardly be blamed for wanting to ship him out in the search for a more attractive style of play. Enter Slaven Bilic, the former Hammers player who managed Croatia and Besiktas and has, according to West Ham’s own website, an ‘outstanding’ career win percentage of 55.16%.
Bilic is the 15th full-time manager in West Ham’s 120 year history and has wasted no time in stamping his authority on things at the club. He’s released players like Carlton Cole, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Guy Demel and Stewart Downing in order to replace them with a mixture of European talent and players with knowledge of the English game. Pedro Obiang has come in from Sampdoria and will offer some youthful energy to the Hammers’ midfield, whilst Dimitri Payet will offer them some attacking verve moving forward after impressing for Marseille in Ligue 1.
27 year old Angelo Ogbonna will give the team some defensive solidity after arriving from Juventus and 22 year old Argentinian playmaker Manuel Lanzini, whose nickname is ‘The Jewel’, will hope to take his chances to impress on a year long loan. Meanwhile the English experience comes in the form of Birmingham City’s Darren Randolph as well as Carl Jenkinson and George Dobson from Arsenal. Randolph will hope to compete with Adrian for the goalkeeper’s jersey, whilst Jenkinson will be keen to carry on from where he left off with this being his second year on loan at the Gunners’ London rivals. 17 year old Dobson is a boyhood Hammers fan who will be hoping to develop into a midfield superstar for the club he’s long supported, even if he’s unlikely to make much of an immediate difference to the first team.
Much like with Watford, it is a tricky ask to combine a new manager with a whole host of new players and expect them to gel without any issues. Add to that the complication of about three hundred and twenty Europa League games and things might not go as smoothly for West Ham as their fans might like after finally seeing the back of Allardyce and his direct style of play. They’re not going to threaten the top four or even the Europa League places this season, but they’ll also steer clear of the relegation battle without any problem. That said, it may just be another season that isn’t quite as fun for the Hammers as they’d like it to be.
Our Prediction: 14th
There’s still plenty of time for things to change for every team in the league before the window “slams shut”, so don’t write to us complaining if Swansea sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic and you’re annoyed we haven’t mentioned it. We do welcome interaction, however, so if you think we’ve made any massive errors with any of our Premier League Previews then do let us know in the comments section!