There are a lot of club by club previews for the up coming season out there. The best of which, in my opinion, is on The Guardian’s website. So instead I wanted to raise a few questions that I am looking forward to being answered as the season goes on.
*How will Newcastle United perform this season? The Geordie club surpassed everyone’s expectations last season by finishing in 5th position and at one point looked like challenging for a champions league spot. At the start of the season expectations were not that high after the club had, in some people’s eyes, failed to replace Andy Carrol and had sold former captain Kevin Nolan. The club had also rid themselves of Joey Barton but the emergence of Yohan Cabaye ment his loss was not felt.
Papa Cisse arrived in January and went on to score 13 goals in 14 games. How he and Ba will perform this season is one the big questions facing the Magpies. Cisse now no longer has the surprise factor about him and clubs will be well aware of the threat he poses. Newcastle has done well to hold on to their big names, namely Tiote who was one of the stars of this Newcastle side last season and they are still looking to add to their roster. The likely addition of Lille right-back Mathieu Debuchy would be a great bit of business.
Alan Pardew won the manager of year award last term but now the real hard starts for him. Repeating a 5th place finish will be tough enough but to improve of that will be even tougher.
*How will AVB perform at Spurs? The young Portuguese tactician saw his time at Chelsea cut short after only 27 matches in charge. He was brought in with the mandate to change the squad but he may have gone about trying to change too much too quickly. He will have learnt from his mistakes at Stamford Bridge and his time there will only help him develop as a manager. Spurs would seem a better fit for him then Chelsea was as he goes about imposing his methods on the squad. The Spurs squad is blessed with pace and have players who are, arguably, more willing to adapt to change. AVB wanted his back line at Chelsea to play higher up the pitch but their lack of pace meant they were exposed several times. The Kaboul and new signing Vertonghen could see the return of the highline.
This is a squad that has not won a major title (bar a Carling cup in 2008) for a long time. Winning a title may not be a priority for the chairman but qualifying for the Champions League will be. This side should have secured third spot long ago last season but the constant speculation of then manager Redknapp moving to the England job seemed to affect them. Losing their Champions League spot to Chelsea will have hurt and that should act as motivation for the players to improve on last season’s performance.
Keeping Modric seems a lost cause but they do have other options if he does leave. Gylfi Sigurosson has been drafted in and he is a creative player that can fill the void in the middle of the park should Modric get his move to Real Madrid. A return to fitness for Tom Huddelstone would also be a boost but he has been out of action for to long for the team to pin their hopes on him. What formation AVB chooses will also be of interest. He favours a 4-3-3 but it’s hard to see how both Bale and Lennon would work in that system. We may see a new role for Bale who could be asked to play much more advanced role as Spurs are lacking in striking options. The sale of Pavlyuchenko, release of Saha and the end of Adebayor’s loan deal has left Jermain Defoe as the clubs only senior striker. A situation that AVB will try to address before the end of the transfer window. A move to a back three could also be on the cards with Bale and Walker acting as wing-backs.
*Surly Aston Villa can only get better. After an awful season last term Aston Villa finally came to their senses and parted ways with Alex Mcleish. The Scott was always a controversial choice as manager after he had managed Villa’s rivals Birmingham. The fact that he remained in charge for an entire season is remarkable. The club has now turned to another Scott, former Norwich manager Paul Lambert. Villa have one of the smallest squads in the Premier League, an issue that Lambert hasn’t been able to address in the off-season due to the clubs poor financial state. It is a massive fall from grace for a side that had made the Carling cup final in 2010. That side boasted the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young, Steward Downing and the season before Garth Barry. Now the stars are few and far between with only Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor providing any kind of star quality. Lambert needs to get the best out Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia who both massively under performed last term. Addressing their awful defence will also be a priority. They conceded 25 goals from set pieces last season, a record that surly can’t be repeated.
The expectations have been lowered but the mood is much more upbeat since the arrival of Lambert who probably felt he had taken Norwich as far as he could. He now has a real challenge in front of him, re-establishing the clubs position in the top half of the table and returning some joy to Villa park.
*Will Swansea struggle or continue to progress? Micheal Laudrup in charge of Swansea. That sentence seems so crazy. The Welsh Barcelona now have one of the Catalan clubs finest former players in charge. Laudrup will no doubt continue the fine work set out by Brendan Rodgers who had Swansea playing a passing style that surprised many. A style of play that won the affections of many neutrals and saw Rodgers move to the Liverpool hot seat. Many promoted sides have performed well their first season then suffered in their second (Reading, Hull) so how Swansea adapt this season will be interesting. Clubs now know what to expect when they face the Swans and having lost one of their stars in Joe Allan repeating last seasons 11th spot will be even harder. Finding a plan B will be the main task facing Laudrup. Swansea need to develop a new way of playing if they face a side that neutralises their passing/ possession based game. New midfield signing Michu may help soften the loss of loan star Sigurdson, he managed to score 15 goals for former club Rayo Vallecano last term and if he manages to get to double figures this season that will go a long way to relive the pressure on striker Danny Graham who ended the season with 12 goals.
*New players to watch out for. Arguably Arsenal have recruited the most wisely. The signing of Santiago Cazorla is a coup, along with new boys Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud the loss of captain Robin Van Persie to Man United should be softened. Chelsea have also invested heavily £32 for Eden Hazard. The Belgium wonder kid comes to the Premier League with a big reputation, will he live up to the hype? If his final season at Lille is anything to go by, then yes. He managed to have his best season last term scoring 20 goals in the French league. Not bad for a wide man. Chelsea have also bought Brazilian playmaker Oscar from Internacional for approx £25m. How he, Mata, Hazard and fellow new boy Marko Marin all fit into a starting eleven will be quite a challenge for manager Di Matteo.
At Liverpool Fabio Borini has arrived from Roma with a reputation of being a highly technical player. Striker Marcus Rosenberg could prove to be a smart bit of business for West Brom while West Ham pulled off a sensational signing when they landed Marseille’s Alou Diarra. The Hammers have also secured the services of Mali striker Modibo Maiga who was on the verge of joining Newcastle in the January transfer window last season. His aerial threat will be a test for Premier League defences. At Manchester United Shinji Kagawa will look to provide some flair to a midfield that at times looked a bit short of creativity last season. The loss of Ledley King at Tottenham has been addressed with the signing of Ajax and Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen, the defender is 6ft 2in and has already won 37 caps for Belgium at the age of 25 and has won two Dutch league titles. Honourable mention to Brett Holman at Aston Villa and Curtis Good at Newcastle who are waving the flag for Aussies in the Premier League.
*Players who are hoping for a better season. Andy Carroll will be looking to prove himself this season. Can he fit into Rodgers new Liverpool? Only time will tell, West Ham are reportedly looking to lodge are bid for the big man. Also at Liverpool Charlie Adams and Steward Downing are hoping to improve or poor seasons that saw many people question why they were bought in the first place. Fernando Torres is facing his make or break season with Chelsea, now no longer living in the shadow of Didier Drogba can he step up and be the striker that we all remember? Chelsea have broken the bank to bring in players that can create chances for him, it’s his time to shine. Pretty much the entire Aston Villa squad will be hoping for a better season, mainly Charles N’Zogbia who failed to repeat the form he showed at Wigan. Over at QPR Joey Barton would be well advised to concentrate more on his football then copying inspirational quotes onto twitter. Man United striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez endured a difficult second season due to injuries and the rise of Danny Welbeck. The arrival of Van Persie could see him fall further down the pecking order. Over at the Emirates Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby will be hoping to put their injury nightmares behind them and get back on to the pitch.
*Managers most likely to get the sack. If Roberto Di Matteo doesn’t perform straight away it wouldn’t shock anyone if Abramovich gives him the chop. It’s probably no secret that he wanted to bring Guardiola to Chelsea however Di Matteo’s perfomances in the champions league forced the Russian into handing him a two-year contract. Mark Hughes may also find himself under pressure if he can not get his QPR side to gel by the half way mark of the season. As always one of the new boys will find themselves near the bottom of the table so expect a knee jerked reaction from one of the newly promoted sides. Steve Clarke may find his first managerial job at West Brom very different from being a coach, he should be given time to prove himself but if things look to be going pear-shaped Chairman Jeremy Peace will act.