Season Preview: Part 3

With each passing day we get closer and closer to that most glorious of things – the first day of the new Premier League season. Depending on how your team did last year you will either be overwhelmed with excitement at the approaching kick off or else dreading what might happen to your team this time around. Whichever camp you fit in to, though, we’re fairly confident you’re as excited to hear the Match Of The Day theme tune again as we are.

We’ve already looked at Aston Villa, Arsenal, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Crystal Palace here, and yesterday we covered Everton, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. You might well disagree with our thoughts and some of them could be seen as controversial, but today we will keep on ruffling some feathers as we take a look at the next 5 teams in the league.

We’ve split these season previews into 4 parts, 5 teams in each section. Today we’re looking at Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland. If your feathers are indeed ruffled by what we’ve got to say then please do let us know. We’re all about the feedback.

The Runners And Riders

Newcastle

Andy Linden / shutterstock.com

Andy Linden / shutterstock.com

Ah Newcastle, what a depressing team they really are. Like a larger version of Mike Ashley’s Sport’s Direct superstores, where both the staff and the customers seem sad about life. Time and again the rotund owner of the Magpies has had chances to change the way the club is run and listen to those supporters that want him to adapt his methods, only for him to completely ignore them and take them deeper into problems. This summer his great idea was to introduce the notion of “preferred media partnerships”, meaning that only companies the club deems friendly to their current regime will get full, unfettered access. Indeed, no club has banned more reporters since 2007 than Newcastle.

But can Steve McClaren introduce a more positive feeling around the club this season? The ex-England manager, known as The Wally With The Brolly, has overseen 7 pre-season matches since he took over at St. James’s Park. Results wise, things have been mixed for the North East club; if you consider really quite terrible to be ‘mixed’. They beat both Gateshead and Sacramento Republic 1-0, drew 2-2 with Sheffield United and lost the other 4 games. This included a 2-1 loss to York City and a 1-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach, neither team being particularly tough opposition.

Of course pre-season doesn’t always mean much, but both the supporters and those associated with the club would have liked a couple more wins to lift the cloud of misery that remains over the ground since John Carver oversaw just 3 victories, 3 draws and an incredible 10 losses in 16 matches as manager. McClaren’s has brought in a number of new faces this summer as well as managing to clear out some of the squad’s dead wood, with Georginio Wijnaldum arriving from PSV Eindhoven, Aleksandar Mitrovic being a rather exciting forward coming in from Anderlecht and Chancel Mbemba arriving from the same club.

Can these new faces spur Newcastle back to the dizzy heights they hit a few years ago, when Alan Pardew earned himself an 8 year contract by taking the club to 5th in the league? It seems extremely unlikely. No one is happy at Newcastle; the fans hate Mike Ashley, he hates them back and yet seems to be keen to stubbornly stick it out, presumably because he quite likes the pies they serve in the club café. We’re looking forward to McClaren trying to do a comedy Newcastle accent like his Dutch one at FC Twente, but other than that we predict another miserable season for Magpie fans. Their new signings mixed with their retention of the better players from last season means they’ll have enough to avoid relegation, but other than that we don’t see much fun up in this part of the North East.

Our Prediction: 15th

Norwich

Remember when Delia Smith went on to the pitch with a microphone and told the Norwich crowd, “Come on, let’s be having you!” They were good times. The times weren’t quite so good the last time Norwich were in the Premier League and Luis Suarez was at his swashbuckling best, scoring 4 goals against the Canaries at Anfield and adding another 1 in the return fixture at Carrow Road. They won just 8 games across the entire season, losing a depressing 21 matches. 6 of the 8 wins came at home, meaning the travelling Norwich fans had more than a few sad journeys home after taking a spanking on the road.

Times have changed in East Anglia, though, with Alex Neil’s arrival from Hamilton Academical changing the club’s dwindling fortunes and taking them to 3rd in the Championship. Most people thought Middlesbrough would win the Play-Off Final, but Norwich ended up running out comfortable 2-0 winners. The Telegraph described their performance as being ‘Premier League [standard] at just the right time’, but will they be able to carry that on when they actually come up against the big boys?

Alex Neil has vented his frustration at the club’s lack of ambition in the transfer market, with only 4 players coming in to the team. Both Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu have arrived as free transfers from Norwich, Andre Wisdom has come in on loan from Liverpool and Robbie Brady has transferred in from Hull, but Neil wants a couple more players to come in before the window closes so we can expect a bit of last minute activity from the Canaries.

feelphoto / shutterstock.com

feelphoto / shutterstock.com

Norwich had goals all over the pitch in the Championship, with their midfielders weighing in as much as the strikers, but it’s a different kettle of fish in the country’s highest division. We predict that it will be slightly more cheery for Canaries fans than last time around, but not by much. Admittedly they can’t get much worse, but a few more wins and a couple more clean sheets could send their long suffering fans home with a smile on their face at least once or twice more. They’ve done well to keep the core of their squad in place, but they’ll need to be clever in the last couple of weeks of the market if they seriously think they’ll have enough to stay up.

Our Prediction: 17th

Southampton

In the summer of 2014 Southampton lost their manager to Tottenham, one talented full back to Manchester United and the other to Arsenal, their captain to Liverpool, their best centre back to Liverpool and their second highest scorer to…well…Liverpool. Despite the arrival of Ronald Koeman they were doomed to relegation according to most pundits; there was no way they could do as well as they had the previous season given how much they’d been feasted upon by teams at the top of the league.

But something strange happened last season, starting in the very first game when they were unlucky to lose to a Liverpool team that seemed to have more of their players than they did. Their activity in the transfer market suddenly seemed like tremendous business, with the trio of lads that they sent to Anfield struggling to settle and make an impact and Luke Shaw looking like he’d found the chip shop before the training ground when he arrived in Manchester. The replacements they brought in, on the other hand, took to the Premier League like ducks to water. Fraser Forster was on course to collect the Golden Gloves until he suffered from a broken kneecap in a match against Burnley, whilst Graziano Pelle netted 12 times and Sadio Mane picked up 10 goals for the club.

Having notched up 56 points and finished 8th in 2013-2014 they managed to get 60 points and finish 7th in the season that they were supposed to get relegated. They’ve had another summer of change this time around, with 9 players leaving the club for pastures new. Liverpool was again the destination for one of those players, with Nathaniel Clyne swapping St. Mary’s for Anfield, and Manchester United also return to the Southampton Supermarket in order to take Morgan Schneiderlin to Old Trafford. But, much like in the summer of 2014, their recruitment has been quietly impressive, seeing Juanmi, Cedric Soares and Steven Caulker arriving at the club.

The other thing of note about Southampton under Ronald Koeman is the pressing, all action style that they employed last season. It was a continuation of the work done under Mauricio Pochettino and meant that it seemed as though nothing had changed on the South coast. The problem they’ve got this season is the likely addition of Europa League football, something that can take the wind out of the sails of even the most bloated squads. Southampton’s squad is slightly improved if the new signings settle in as well as the last lot did, but you wouldn’t say it was over run with numbers, meaning the pressing style could see them fade again come the end of the season.

We think that the lads in red and white will relish this season, hoping to prove that last time out wasn’t just a fluke as they respond to Koeman’s man management and push for success on at least one front. It’s not out of the realms of the possible that they could pick up a piece of silverware, too, so watch out for them in the cup competitions. On the one hand we reckon they’ll improve on last year, but we also think the Europa League will hold them back. What does that mean? That they’ll stay in the same place, obviously.

Our Prediction: 7th

Stoke

Maxisport / shutter stock.com

Mark Hughes has done what many thought was impossible – made Stoke fun to watch. With Tony Pulis introducing a brand of football that was both effective and tedious enough to make you want to stab yourself in the eye, it was like rugby league had been allowed to take place in the Premier League. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Hughes has made Stoke like Barcelona-lite, but he has got them playing some good football; a fact that culminated in the 6-1 win over Liverpool on the final day of last season. Despite the Reds’ struggles at the tail end of the campaign did anyone seriously think they’d be 5-0 down by half time at The Britannia? If you did then you’re either a visionary or a liar.

Much like Southampton, Stoke have lost a couple of key players this summer. Asmir Begovic has been an impressive figure between the sticks for a number of seasons now, but his departure to Chelsea leaves the goal somewhat gaping. Steven N’Zonzi, meanwhile, has been the heartbeat in the middle of the park that keeps the team ticking over, so his loss will be keenly felt in the Potteries.

Marco Van Ginkel is a new arrival on loan from Chelsea and will be hoping to show he has what it takes to make it in the Premier League after an impressive season in the Eredivisie, with Ibrahim Afellay also out to prove a point after being released by Barcelona. Bojan will also return from injury and could, cliché alert, be like a new signing. Those two and Arnautovic will offer some real creativity for Stoke as the move up the pitch, with players like Shawcross and Pieters still able to offer them a fair amount of solidity at the back.

Mark Hughes would undoubtedly love to add some managerial silverware to the medals he won as a player, and he could see this season as a real opportunity to do just that if the club gets a favourable draw in one of the cups. We don’t expect them to be challenging the top 4 any time soon, but The Britannia remains a horrible place to go and plenty of teams could come a cropper on the green, green grass of Stoke. Yet if they do go on a cup run then this will surely affect their league form, meaning they’ll be solid and dependable but might not be quite as successful as last year.

Our Prediction: 11th

Sunderland

Dick Advocaat remains not only a good manager but also an excellent porn name for an alcoholic. Sunderland fans are delighted that the club were able to retain his services for an additional year after he helped them to avoid relegation last year. A narrow avoidance of relegation is something Black Cat fans have become used to in recent times, with 5 out of their last 8 campaigns seeing them only just miss out on the drop.

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

Advocaat came in and solidified things at the back, though, conceding just 5 goals in the last 6 games of a campaign that saw them concede 53 goals over the whole of the season. This summer has been good to the club in the transfer market, too, with only El-Hadji Ba, Santiago Vergini and Connor Wickham leaving The Stadium Of Light. Arriving in their stead are Sebastian Coates from Liverpool (who spent some of last season on loan with the club), Adam Matthews, Jeremain Lens and Younes Kaboul from Spurs.

Coates was in inspired form for the team at the tail end of the season, helping them keep clean sheets against Everton, Leicester and Arsenal, so they’ve done well to bring him in permanently. Equally the news that they’ve been able to get Lee Cattermole to sign a new contract will be music to the ears of the Sunderland faithful. Lens is a fast, intelligent wide player that will offer them something new on the break, whilst Kaboul is an exceptional defender when he’s able to stay fit. Adam Johnson can be an electrifying player when he’s not dealing with personal problems off the pitch and Jack Rodwell was once considered to be one of the finest young midfielders in the country. If they can both get fit and firing them Sunderland could well surprise a few people.

The Black Cats obviously don’t have the distraction of European football and in Dick Advocaat they’ve finally got a manager who is experienced, intelligent and not even slightly mad; something the fans certainly think has been a long time coming. Here at A Blog Of Two Halves we really enjoy the constant mini-battle that takes place between Newcastle and Sunderland each year, like siblings who squabble and fight but secretly have a grudging respect for each other. The Magpies got the better of their North East rivals last time out, so we expect Sunderland to step it up and match them this time around.

Our Prediction: 13th

As always it’s worth noting that we’ve written this preview before the transfer window “slams shut” so everything could change. When Stoke sign Luis Suarez and cause immense panic throughout the Norwich area, we’ll obviously change our opinion. We are aware of this, though, so there’s not much point in complaining if you’re reading this after August 4th and wondering why we haven’t talked about the sensational move from the Potters for a player who likes to get his teeth stuck into things.

If you’re not happy with what we’ve written then do let us know, we love interacting with our readers and would be keen to know who you think will finish where in the upcoming campaign.