2015-16 Premier League Preview #2

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So you’ve read Part 1 yeah? If you haven’t, then don’t worry I’ll forgive you and give you a quick link here. If you have, thanks very much, and I hope you’re looking forward to Part 2 of my Premier League previews which features two local rivalries, half of last year’s top six, a team who were aiming to be in the top six, and a team who were nowhere near the top six. It’s Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. Read on for more star players, ones to watch, views from fans and of course my prediction!

Everton

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  • Last Season: 11th
  • Most Goals: Romelu Lukaku (10)
  • Most Assists: Leighton Baines (9)
  • Stadium: Goodison Park (39,572)
  • Nickname: The Toffees

Transfers (as of 4th August)

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In: Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, £4.2m), David Henen (Olympiakos, £200,000), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, free)

Out: Chris Long (Burnley, undisclosed), Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth, free), Antolin Alcaraz (released), Francisco Junior (Wigan Athletic, loan), Luke Garbutt (Fulham, loan)

Manager – Roberto Martinez

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After guiding Everton to an impressive fifth place in 2013-14, former Swansea and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez was handed a new five year contract by the club last summer. 2014-15 was slightly underwhelming for the Toffees though, who despite a strong finish could only finish 11th in the table, their worst performance in nine years. This means that this campaign is make or break for Martinez at Goodison Park.

Star Player – Leighton Baines

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‘The perfect player for your fantasy football team’ is probably how I would sum Leighton Baines up. He contributes consistently in all areas of the pitch – helping the Toffees pick up nine clean sheets in 2014-15, as well as getting himself two goals and 10 assists thanks to his set-piece responsibilities. No full-back created more chances than Baines’ 70 last season, proving how important he is to Everton.

One to Watch – Tyias Browning

Tyias Browning

With Sylvain Distin departing to join newly promoted Bournemouth, and John Stones looking set for a switch to Chelsea, Roberto Martinez might be forced to give opportunities to youngster Tyias Browning. Having been in the Everton youth system for a decade, the 21 year old made his Premier League debut last season – something of a baptism of fire, as a substitute in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 4th August)

  • Everton to finish in the top six in the league – 3/1
  • Everton to win the FA Cup – 22/1
  • Romelu Lukaku to finish as the league’s top scorer – 33/1

Fan’s View – Mark Finnegan from Lower Gwladys Lad (@LowerGwladysLad)

1. Which player is a ‘one to watch’ at Everton this season?

I would have said John Stones, but it is unclear as to whether he will still be at the Club this season! If he does stay then he is definitely one to watch – huge talent with massive potential and a big career ahead, I just hope that career is at Goodison Park. Stones is such a raw talent, confident, a great reader of the game, and that’s just for starters. Future Captain of England in the making, and more importantly Everton of course.

Two other players who I think might catch the eye this season are our two new signings – Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley. Whilst the latter doesn’t excite our fans like Deulofeu does, both players come to Everton with points to prove and will be hungry to cement a regular spot in Martinez’ side and play a key part this season.

2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?

I am happy with the signings we have made; Deulofeu and Cleverley are both good additions in their own right, but we’ve lost two players in Distin and Alcaraz so in terms of numbers we haven’t strengthened. Deulofeu is a talented player but tended to be a bit hit and miss during his loan spell, however after a frustrating season in Seville and not being able to force his way through at Barca, I am hoping he will want to make a real impression and demonstrate his attributes in the Premier League with Everton – where he will hopefully settle and continue to develop. He gets our supporters on the edge of their seats, has the opposition constantly on the back foot and was welcomed back to the Club with open arms.

The Cleverley deal made sense for all concerned; United didn’t want him, he was looking for a permanent move where he can play regularly, Everton were looking to bolster their midfield options, and Martinez has previously worked with Cleverley at Wigan. Plenty of our fans have written him off already, but I believe he will do well here, he’s certainly impressed in pre-season so far. Like Deulofeu he is a player with a point to prove and I believe Everton is the perfect place for him to showcase his capabilities.

In terms of transfer targets we need a central defender, a winger (potentially Aaron Lennon) and ideally another striker too. However after a hectic few weeks in terms of rumours, it has all gone quiet on the Goodison front. Worrying really because we need players – our squad is simply not strong enough. Money is always an issue at our Club, and we usually shift a few out before we shift a few in, on the face of it this summer appears to be much of the same.

3. Were you disappointed with an 11th place finish in the last campaign?

More than disappointed; Evertonians were left dejected, confused and very worried at times last season. A combination of confidence-loss, tactical stubbornness from the Manager and defensive frailties were exposed and compared to the season before we looked a shadow of ourselves. Many said we were found out by the opposition, and Martinez’ football vision fell flat on its face. We flirted with relegation at one point, but thankfully manage to drag ourselves away from the danger zone. Everton are not used to being out of the top 7/6 sides in the League in recent times, so to finish bottom half was a real wake up call. Martinez and his side need to right the wrongs of last season and start the forthcoming campaign well otherwise the pressure will begin mount once again.

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

Even though their fans do my head in, I’ve got to say West Ham. This away day always seems to result in an Everton win which makes my choice biased, but overall there is a few decent boozers, often an intimidating atmosphere and plenty of snarls (that’s just the women) on your way to the ground, and once inside it is just one of those traditional British football grounds, quite tight and compact. I’ve enjoyed my trips there, and unfortunately the Boleyn Ground won’t be used by the Hammers as they move to a new stadium. According to their fans they are going to win the League now because they’ve signed a few players, but take my word for it Everton will still beat them home and away.

5. Who do you think will win the Premier League title and who will get relegated?

I reckon Chelsea will win the League. It is the Mourinho effect. With Costa firing and Hazard/Fabregas pulling the strings, backed up by a spine of Matic, Terry, Cahill and Courtois – there is only one winner for me. They are bound to spend again this summer and even though the other top sides are too, I believe Chelsea will still be too strong for the likes of City, United and Arsenal.

From the sides that came up I can see Bournemouth staying up; for some reason I believe they will consolidate, they play good football and I am looking forward to seeing them in the Premier League. I think the other promoted sides – Watford and Norwich – will struggle and go straight back down, and they will be joined by Aston Villa. I am not a fan of Sherwood, and I believe this season will be one too many for them and they’ll go down, especially now that they’ve just lost Delph and Benteke.

6. Predicted Everton finish?

My heart says top 5 but my head says 6th or 7th place. The aim for us has to be to finish as high up as possible, get back into Europe, why can’t we aim for the top four (we’ve done it before), but we need more players because we will inevitably lose a couple more players this window and suffer injuries throughout the campaign – we need quality squad depth and be rid of the dead wood – it is all about ambition and we don’t often see it at our Club.

Keeping a settled back four this season, Martinez being less stubborn and Lukaku picking up where he left off last season (20 goals) will be key to our success. Bringing Lennon in would offer us another option in our offensive areas but there is a couple of positions (as detailed above) that we need to strengthen in and with a few weeks left of the window I am hopeful we will. Our Europa League adventure came to a horrific end last season but we want to be back in Europe, we did have a real go up until our disastrous exit in Kiev, and as a team we need to learn from it and aim to get back amongst the European spots. Silverware has eluded us for over twenty years now so a real go at the domestic cups would be something I’d like to see; even a League Cup win is silverware, why not go all out to get it.

Roberto has had one good season and one bad, us Evertonians are hoping it is third time lucky and we can do something memorable during the forthcoming campaign.

My Prediction

With no European commitments this season, Everton could return to their form of a couple of years ago, which excited the Goodison Park faithful. This could especially so if Romelu Lukaku becomes the kind of striker that you pay £28 million for and starts banging in goals left right and centre. This would be a saving grace for Roberto Martinez too. 7th


Leicester City

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  • Last Season: 14th
  • Most Goals: Leandro Ulloa (11)
  • Most Assists: Jamie Vardy (8)
  • Stadium: The King Power Stadium (32,262)
  • Nickname: The Foxes

Transfers (as of 4th August)

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In: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz, £7.2m), N’Golo Kante (Caen, £5.6m), Robert Huth (Stoke City, £3m), Yohan Benalouane (Atalanta, undisclosed), Christian Fuchs (Schalke, free)

Out: Chris Wood (Leeds United, undisclosed), Paul Gallagher (Preston North End, free), Matthew Upson (MK Dons, free), Zoumana Bakayogo (released), Conrad Logan (released), Gary Taylor-Fletcher (released), Ben Hamer (Nottingham Forest, loan)

Manager – Claudio Ranieri 

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Thanks to controversies on and off the pitch, Leicester’s owners decided that Nigel Pearson’s time in charge needed to come to an end this summer, and decided to appoint Claudio Ranieri in his place. The experienced coach, most recently in charge of the Greece national team, has managed in the Premier League once before – with Chelsea between 2000 and 2004, but ended his tenure trophyless. Many people feel the Italian has something to prove in his second spell in England.

Star Player – Jamie Vardy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Leicester, England.

Jamie Vardy’s rapid rise from non-league culminated in a first ever Premier league season for the striker last season, and he proved he was more than comfortable in the top flight, scoring five goals and getting eight assists. The 28 year old played a huge part in Leicester’s unthinkable great escape, and won April’s Player of the Month. Roy Hodgson rewarded Vardy with an England call-up, and he made his Three Lions debut against the Republic of Ireland in June.

One to Watch – Andrej Kramaric

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A £9 million signing in January, Andrej Kramaric failed to show the Premier League why he is so highly rated in his first five months in England – scoring just two goals in 13 appearances. He faces further competition for places this season with the arrival of Shinji Okazaki, but now he has adapted to English football, he could be a star turn for the Foxes. After all, Chelsea were also interested in signing the Croatian before he moved to the King Power Stadium.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 4th August)

  • Leicester City to get relegated – 3/1
  • Leicester City to finish in the bottom half of the league – 1/5
  • Leicester City to finish as the top Midlands club – 4/1

Fan’s View – Tom & Karl from For the Fox (@forthefox)

1. Which player is a ‘one to watch’ at Leicester this season?

In terms of youth, 18 year old Ben Chilwell looks like he is going to have a big season. Having represented England U19s, he was linked with Arsenal earlier in the summer and Claudio Ranieri certainly sounds like he is a fan; he has said Chilwell is going to be a ‘fantastic player’. Moreover, Ranieri has told experienced defender Paul Konchesky he does have a future at the club because of the excellent performances Chilwell has put in during the pre-season. Although Foxes fans are slightly disappointed to see local lad Liam Moore out of favour, they will certainly enjoy seeing young Ben lining up as part of a back three and supporting another LCFC product, Jeffrey Schlupp, on the left.

Also, Danny Drinkwater needs to have a big season. The 2013/14 Championship Player Of The Year had a fragmented 2014/15, with injuries and inexperience meaning he spent more time on the sidelines than he would have liked. Still only 25, the former Manchester United trainee is likely to have the opportunity to stake his claim in the starting XI in the opening series of games; last season’s main man Esteban Cambiasso is no longer a Fox and Matty James is out until December. Whilst For The Fox is hoping to see the midfield strengthened by the end of the transfer window, we also want to see this playmaker fulfil his potential and be the dominant box-to-box midfielder we know he can be.

Finally, last season’s big January acquisition, Andrej Kramaric has been looking very impressive during the pre-season friendlies this summer. Having fought off Juventus and Chelsea for his signature, ‘Kram’ came to the KP Stadium with a big reputation and impressive scoring record from his native Croatia. However, he noticeably struggled to adapt to the English game and, aside from a few flashes, appeared tired and fatigued by the end of the season. After a summer of rest and fitness, Foxes fans around the world are keeping everything crossed that he fires us to another season of Premiership safety.

2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?

For The Fox has got mixed views on the transfer activity during this off-season. Things got off to a promising start; centre back Robert Huth provides a wealth of experience and was one of the key factors in last season’s ‘Greatest Escapes’, whilst Christian Fuchs on the left is a definite improvement on Paul Konchesky and will challenge Schlupp for a starting position. On the other hand, the jury is still out on whether Shinji Okazaki will provide the goals up front that we desperately missed last season and we are surprised that there hasn’t been more of a turnover in that area of the pitch. Moreover, the timing of Nigel Pearson’s sacking (more on that later) was baffling; it seemed to disrupt all of our transfer plans and it is not until recently that the club seems to be making some real moves in the market.

Also, as mentioned earlier, we are desperate for some midfielders. It appears that there may some additions in the next week, but most are from overseas and will take time to achieve match fitness and adapt to the physicality of the EPL. In the remainder of the window, FTF hopes to see at least two top-quality centre midfielders, as well as a forward that can find the net more regularly than our current crop. Over to you Claudio…

3. Are you happy with the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, or would you rather have kept Nigel Pearson?

Any Leicester City fan who said that they were not happy with Nigel Pearson at the end of last season would have been in serious need of medical help. After staging the greatest comeback since Lazarus, Foxes fans were more likely to petition for a statue of Big Nige to be erected next to the city’s Clock Tower rather than call for his head. However, two months after the event, many fans are still scratching their heads over what happened. Popular opinion seems to have decided that Pearson’s sacking was due to a combination of reasons. Firstly, there was ‘the Thailand incident’; three youth teamers, including Pearson’s son, were sacked after a video of them was leaked onto social media where they used racist language to some Thai prostitutes – imagine how awkward the conversation around the breakfast table with Mr and Mrs Pearson was! Leicester City’s wealthy Thai owners had arranged the end-of-season trip as an attempt to win ‘hearts and minds’ in their native homeland and it seems that they were not too impressed with the conduct of these players. It is rumoured that Nigel Pearson disagreed with the decision to sack the players – everyone makes mistakes after all – and it was the subsequent argument that led to his dismissal, but FTF reckons it was more a case of the owners having enough. They had been constantly embarrassed by the increasingly eccentric behaviour of their manager – we all remember the legendary “ARE YOU AN OSTRICH????” incident – and we imagine that this incident was the final straw. Whilst we were sad to see Pearson go, everyone could see it was inevitable and sacking him during the off-season was probably the best time to do it.

However, their new man is most certainly not a calm and collected character! Claudio Ranieri, affectionally known as ‘The Tinkerman’ in the UK after his spell at Chelsea, was popular for his series of bizarre interviews, press conferences and touch-line antics. Whilst his CV is certainly impressive – he has also managed at Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Monaco, for crying out loud! – it has been a long time since he achieved anything significant in the game. His last job was as the national manager of Greece, where he was sacked after only four months after losing to the Faroe Islands!

Here at FTF, we would have preferred a young, hungry manager in the guise of former player Neil Lennon. Ranieri seems too similar to former manager Sven Goran-Eriksson; an old has-been who is more interested in money rather than success. It isn’t an appointment that was popular amongst the fans and we do not think it will be a long relationship if LCFC get off to a bad start. We suggest you start looking for the best odds for Ranieri to be the first Premiership manager sacked in the 2015/16 season; I’d say he will be out by November!

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

The Britannia Stadium is surprisingly loud and the Palace fans certainly know how to make a din, but our vote goes to Goodison Park – it’s absolutely rocking at times! By the way, FTF hopes the KP Stadium gets an honourable mention by the other fans – the atmosphere here was amazing at times last season, especially during our miraculous escape!

5. Who do you think will win the Premier League title and who will get relegated?

Only a fool would vote against Mourinho’s Chelsea to repeat last season’s exploits, but Manchester United will run them very close. Schweinsteiger is a great season and if they manage to sign Sergio Ramos and keep De Gea, FTF make them favourites. However, that series of events is incredibly unlikely so we are saying Chelsea to win, followed by Man United, Arsenal and Manchester City in fourth, paving the way for Guardiola to take over at the end of the season!

Relegation is more difficult as there are lots of poor teams in this division. However, as Leicester found out last season, the gap between the Championship and the EPL makes the Grand Canyon look small. Of the new teams, Bournemouth will concede too many goals and Norwich simply aren’t good enough, but Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, and their global scouting network could save them. Expect Sunderland to finally lose their ongoing battle with survival and taste relegation at the end of the year.

Champions – Chelsea

Relegation – Sunderland, Norwich, Bournemouth

6. Predicted Leicester finish?

FTF are eternal optimists; whilst we are fully aware that it does not look good for the Foxes at the minute, the experience of last season will see us through to a relatively comfortable finish of 13th. That being said, if you offered us a 17th place finish right now, we would snap your arm off!

Message from Tom & Karl: Don’t forget, you can keep up to date with all things LCFC at www.forthefox.com. Don’t be a glory hunter like everyone else, support a real team who still has English players and produces young talent of their own!!!

My Prediction

Leicester have made some very good signings this summer and not lost any players that were key to them last season. Claudio Ranieri could prove to be a fantastic appointment, or he could fail to rally his troops like Nigel Pearson if the Foxes find themselves in a spot of trouble. I think they’ll face a relegation battle again, but not to the extent of needing a great escape to survive. 17th


Liverpool

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  • Last Season: 6th
  • Most Goals: Steven Gerrard (9)
  • Most Assists: Jordan Henderson (9)
  • Stadium: Anfield (45,276)
  • Nickname: The Reds

Transfers (as of 4th August)

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In: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32.5m), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim, £29m), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £12.5m), Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3.5m), James Milner (Manchester City, free), Adam Bogdan (Bolton, free), Danny Ings (Burnley, fee to be decided)

Out: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, £49m), Rickie Lambert (West Brom, £3m), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland, £2m), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy, free), Glen Johnson (Stoke City, free), Brad Jones (released), Jordan Williams (Swindon Town, loan), Andre Wisdom (Norwich, loan), Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon Town, loan)

Manager – Brendan Rodgers

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“Judge me in three years” is what Brendan Rodgers said when he was appointed as Liverpool manager in 2012. Well Brendan, that time is up and I’m afraid your tenure at Anfield is trophyless so far.  There have been big signs of promise under the Northern Irishman, as the Reds virtually had one hand on the trophy in 2013-14 before letting it slip away (no pun intended), but after spending big this summer, you feel as though it could last chance saloon for Rodgers.

Star Player – Philippe Coutinho

16th May 2015 - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool - Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

Philippe Coutinho excited Liverpool fans for the entirety of last season, even if the team as a whole didn’t particularly impressive. He ended the campaign with five goals and five assists, and was rewarded with a place in the PFA Team of the Season – making him the only Reds player to get in. It will be interesting to see how he links up with new signing and fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino, as they’ll either produce emphatic results or prove too similar to play together.

One to Watch – Jordan Ibe

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Seemingly the perfect replacement for Raheem Sterling, will Brendan Rodgers put his faith in Jordan Ibe to produce the goods on the wing for Liverpool, or will he pick new signing James Milner? If he does go with the exciting young Englishman (that’s not you James sorry), then he will be rewarded with more pace and trickery to bamboozle defenders. After being recalled from a loan spell at Derby County last season, Ibe went on to make 12 league appearances with no goals or assists – but he did get man of the match in the Merseyside derby.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 4th August)

  • Liverpool to finish in the top four – 11/4
  • Liverpool to win the FA Cup – 12/1
  • Christian Benteke to finish as the league’s top goalscorer – 14/1

Fan’s View – Kirsty from The Liver Bird (@_TheLiverBird)

1. Which up and coming player is a “one to watch” at Liverpool this season?
I’d definitely have to say Jordan Ibe as a youngster he has no fear and is full of confidence. He has the skill to take on players and the strength to break through Premier League defences. I’m hoping he will get some game time this season despite the wealth of signings.
2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?
Pretty happy but not entirely. I’m pleased FSG have supported Rodgers with a big transfer kitty but I’m not necessarily happy with some of the ways it has been spent. Christian Benteke is a big risk for me, I like him but I’m not sure he will fit into our system and £32.5million is a massive price tag, only time will tell. The likes of Milner and Firmino could prove to be good signings however only the former has Premier League experience. It will be interesting to see if all of the new boys can fit in and if Brendan Rodgers can find a system that works for his players and not a system that he forces his players to work in.
3. Should Brendan Rodgers be sacked if he doesn’t win a trophy this season?
Although silverware is important it shouldn’t always be the deciding factor. Despite this, I was very close to wanting Brendan to go at the end of last season, he’s on very thin ice in my opinion and will need to create a team who are playing good football and at least finishing within the top 4 to have any chance of remaining as boss. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will finish fourth so it could be an interesting end to 2015/2016.
4. Who do you think will win the title and who will get relegated?
I think Chelsea will probably take the title they are annoyingly strong under Mourinho. As for relegation I have never predicted this correctly, not once. However I do think there’s a high probability that the three that came up will go back down!
5. Do you think you can mount a serious title challenge again?
No. The only reason we got so close in 2013/2014 was due to a compelling strike force. We’ve made so many changes to the team that I would be extremely surprised if it all gelled together and we were able to mount some sort of miraculous fight for the title, it just won’t happen.
6. Predicted Liverpool finish?
5-7th
My Prediction
As aforementioned, the Reds have spent big this summer, so there’s no excuses if they fail to perform. It will be interesting to see how they cope without Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, but Roberto Firmino looks like a very good capture. They should improve from last season’s inconsistency, but are still not as good as the top four – although Liverpool should come the closest to breaking into it. 5th

Manchester City

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  • Last Season: 2nd
  • Most Goals: Sergio Aguero (26)
  • Most Assists: Sergio Aguero (8)
  • Stadium: Etihad Stadium (53,359)
  • Nickname: The Citizens

Transfers (as of 4th August)

Raheem Sterling signs for Manchester City

In: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, £49m), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa, £8m), Patrick Roberts (Fulham, £8m), Enes Unal (Bursaspor, £2m)

Out: Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa, £2.5m), Matija Nastasic (Schalke, undisclosed), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic, undisclosed), Micah Richards (Aston Villa, free), James Milner (Liverpool, free), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo, free), Stevan Jovetic (Inter Milan, loan)

Manager – Manuel Pellegrini

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In his first season as Manchester City manager in 2013-14, Manuel Pellegrini had a successful campaign, winning both the League Cup and Premier League. However last season the club finished trophyless, yet Pellegrini was allowed to stay on, unlike his predecessor Roberto Mancini. This means that the pressure is on the Chilean to deliver silverware this year, otherwise he could be given his P45. He’s spent big money to get more home-grown players in his team, but will he use them?

Star Player – Sergio Aguero

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Who else could it be than the clinical Argentinian? As shown above, Sergio Aguero topped both City’s goals and assists charts last season and won the Premier League golden boot. It was therefore a surprise that he was not nominated for PFA Player of the Year. This season he will be out to be better his goal tally and prove he is the best striker in the English top flight, factors that will no doubt scare opposition defenders. If he forms a bond with Wilfried Bony, City could have the deadliest strike force in the league.

One to Watch – Rony Lopes

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After featuring in City’s pre-season tour of Australia and going to the Under-20 World Cup with Portugal, Rony (real name Marcos) Lopes will have high hopes for this coming season and become one of few youngsters at the club to actually break into the first team. The 19 year old spent last season on loan at Lille, scoring three goals in 23 league games with three assists. Plus, having been at City since he was 15, he qualifies as a homegrown player too.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 4th August)

  • Manchester City to win the league – 3/1
  • Manchester City to win the FA Cup – 7/1
  • Sergio Aguero to finish as the league’s top scorer – 3/1

Fan’s View – David Mooney from Blue Moon Podcast (@BlueMoonPodcast)

1. Which player is a ‘one to watch’ at Manchester City this season?

There are always a few to watch at City, given the nature of the team – and it’s no surprise the names featured here are the likes of Sergio Aguero or David Silva. They will be ones to watch, however if you’re looking for an up-and-coming star or someone the watching world might not yet know about then I’d probably say Kelechi Iheanacho or Jason Denayer. Both have come through the club’s academy and both look particularly exciting ahead of the season. Iheanacho is a striker that’s been scoring and assisting throughout preseason; Denayer a defender that seems to be unfazed by whoever he’s up against.

2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?

Bluntly, no. They’ve done some good work in injecting pace into the attack in Raheem Sterling and he’s a brilliant buy, while the addition of Fabien Delph should help the midfield providing he plays – it may signal a switch to a midfield three. Yet, throughout the end of last season and through the warm-up to this, it’s been clear the defence needs addressing – and there’s been nothing done to shore it up. Vincent Kompany has looked well out of form for some time to the point where it’s been affecting Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis isn’t the youngest either…

3. Do you think the title race will be closer this year, if so why?

I expect the problems City had in the second half of last season extentuated the difference between them and Chelsea, so I suspect it’ll be closer on that front providing they can avoid a run of months where they don’t put back to back victories together. However, Arsenal have been looking good for a while and with the additions Manchester United have made, those two could be much more competitive this year. That’s probably your top four, but I’m honestly not sure what order they’d be in.

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

I’m not really a big away-match goer unfortunately and haven’t travelled to an away game in a few seasons. However, from those that I have been to, I’ve always enjoyed travelling to Newcastle. In recent years, there’s the added bonus that City have a great record there and seem to always pick up the three points. The atmosphere is great and the fans very friendly.

5. Which one player would you happily drive to another club?

After an awful first season at City – where he potentially has the excuse of an early injury and needing to settle – it’s a big year for Fernando. The Brazilian needs to impress, with the vast majority of the crowd yet to warm to him. If he doesn’t improve quickly, then he isn’t going to get much time or leeway from the home fans.

6. Predicted Manchester City finish?

This could be anywhere between 1st and 4th, depending entirely on how the club defends. If they put in a defensive horror show like in the final preseason friendly against Stuttgart then they’ll struggle to compete. However, if they can get their act together and get some cohesion into the back four, I think the strike force could see them well. My instinct says it’ll be somewhere in between and I’d go for runners up again.

My Prediction

Following on from David’s conclusion, I can’t see Manchester City winning the league again unless they sure up the defence. Joe Hart usually reliable in goal, but in front of him it looks nervy. Arsenal and Manchester United might both overtake them in the league table if it is decided on paper, but it could be a very intriguing and exciting title race. 4th


Manchester United

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  • Last Season: 4th
  • Most Goals: Wayne Rooney (12)
  • Most Assists: Angel di Maria (10)
  • Stadium: Old Trafford (75,635)
  • Nickname: The Red Devils

Transfers (as of 4th August)

morgan-schneiderlin-bastian-schweinsteiger-matteo-darmian-manchester-united

In: Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, £25m), Memphis Depay (PSV, £25m), Matteo Darmian (Torino, £14.4m), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, £14m), Sergio Romero (free agent)

Out: Nani (Fenerbahce, £3.5m), Saidy Janko (Celtic, fee to be decided), Robin van Persie (Fenerbahce, undisclosed), Reece James (Wigan Athletic, undisclosed), Rafael da Silva (Lyon, undisclosed)Tom Cleverley (Everton, free), Ben Amos (Bolton, free), Tom Thorpe (Rotherham United, free), Will Keane (Preston North End, loan)

Manager – Louis van Gaal

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Being David Moyes’ successor was relatively easy for Louis van Gaal, as he knew it couldn’t get much worse than the Scot’s efforts at Old Trafford. Although it looked as though it might in a stuttering start under the Dutchman, before the Red Devils returned to the Manchester United of old and finished the season in fourth place. van Gaal has won silverware at every club he has managed, and he hopes that record will continue with a trophy this season.

Star Player – David de Gea

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If it wasn’t for David de Gea, United would not have finished in the top four last season, and van Gaal could have faced the axe after just one season. But luckily for him, the Spaniard performed excellently, keeping 10 clean sheets and earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year. He was also nominated for both the Player and Young Player of the Season awards and scooped two accolades at United’s end of season ceremony. It looked as though de Gea might be on the move to Real Madrid this summer, but he has stayed put, much to the relief of Red Devils fans.

One to Watch – James Wilson

Manchester-United-v-Cambridge-United-FA-Cup-Fourth-Round-Replay

As it stands, Manchester United only have one out and out striker: skipper Wayne Rooney. It seems likely others will be signed to share the goalscoring burden, but 19 year old James Wilson will pray no one else arrives. An astonishingly quick centre-forward who likes going in behind defences, Wilson was given his debut by Ryan Giggs in his time as temporary manager, and then used sporadically by van Gaal last season – scoring one goal in 13 league games. That appearance tally could rapidly increase in 2015-16.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 4th August)

  • Manchester United to win the league – 5/1
  • Manchester United to be the North West’s top club – 7/4
  • Wayne Rooney to finish as the league’s top scorer – 9/1

Fan’s View – James, a United supporter since 1983 (@writtenoff_mufc)

1. Which up and coming player is a ‘one to watch’ at Manchester United this season?

I would say Andreas Pereira could make a breakthrough into the first team this season with the increase of games following our return to the Champions League (hopefully). He has been excellent in pre-season playing from the left or as a no 10 behind the main striker. He has great skills, is tenacious off the ball and has a good work ethic. United have not got a great track record with South Americans (he was born in Belgium) but this lad could buck the trend.

 2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?

I am very happy with the purchases so far but more are needed especially in central defence and attack. The goalkeeping situation is also a worry given the uncertainty of De Gea and Valdes. The signings of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin are excellent. The German is a genuine world star who commands respect from everyone and can be the leader (on and off the pitch) that we have missed in the last few years. There are concerns over his fitness but hopefully he can put these behind him and if so, he will have a huge impact on the club.

Schneiderlin is the type of midfielder United have been crying out for since the departure of Keane in many ways. He is solid in all departments and will shield the back four with his habit of breaking up play and sound distribution. He can be United’s equivalent of Matic in my opinion. Another bonus is his knowledge of the Premier League and the English game meaning he will slot straight in with minimal fuss.

Darmian at right back is an astute signing and offers real value for money considering he is an Italian international and so highly regarded in his homeland. He has been amongst our best performers in pre-season looking sound defensively and showing a willingness to join the attack. His crossing needs to improve but that will come in time. He also offers an alternative to Luke Shaw at left back. I would not be surprised if he is chosen in the team of the year at the end of the season.

Memphis Depay was signed at the back end of last season but was snapped up when interest from other clubs became known. He will offer us pace, trickery and goals in an attacking sense which was lacking last season. He will frustrate at times but his decision making will improve as he learns the game under the tutelage of van Gaal. Watch out for his free kick ability as he proved last season with PSV that he can be deadly.

3. You’ve got a load of midfielders at the club, who would you start on the opening day?

In all the pre-season games, we played a 4231 formation with two sitting midfielders but I hope we see a more traditional 4-3-3 when the season starts as it suits our personnel better in my opinion. With a few doubts still concerning the fitness of Schweinsteiger, I would expect to see Schneiderlin and Carrick start against Spurs and although I would love to see Herrera join them, it seems more likely that Memphis will play the no 10 role with Young and Mata either side behind Rooney. With the arrival of Pedro seemingly imminent, a front three of Memphis, Rooney and the Spaniard is an exciting prospect.

It is nice for once to have options in that vital midfield area and it should mean that we are not overrun as we often were last season when Blind was picked in the absence of Michael Carrick.

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

I don’t go to away matches due to family commitments but United’s away support is the best in the country. The victory at Anfield last season was one of the highlights and Villa Park has always struck me as a ground that United fans love to visit with the close proximity to the pitch and many happy memories from the past.

5. What one change would you make at your club?

I would like to see the Glazers sell their stake in the club and it become much more supporter driven. I know this is not going to happen in the near future with so much money swilling round in the game but it would bring the identity of the club back into line with our history and ensure the paying public have a greater say in how the club is run. The amounts of money that the Glazers have taken out of the club is staggering and it is a takeover that should never have been allowed to take place.

6. Predicted Manchester United finish?

There is still a month to go in the transfer window so it is hard to say as so much can happen. As things stand I would say 4th is the most likely. Chelsea, Arsenal and City all look strong but you can make a case for any of the top 4 from last season to finish as Champions this year. If (and it is a big if) we keep De Gea, sign a world class centre back and add a striker then I think a title challenge is realistic. If that does not transpire, I think we will fall short but as long as the team plays a fast, attacking style of football I will be relatively happy if we see a sign of reasonable progress in the season ahead. A long FA Cup run would be lovely after such a barren spell in this competition recently.

My Prediction

Like City, I can’t see United winning the title if their back four doesn’t improve. This could happen if they spend the money wisely from the imminent sale of Angel di Maria, and not buy more midfielders, of which they have far too many. It does give them plenty of options though, whilst all the signings, especially Memphis Depay are exciting. They should be involved in the title race, but not necessarily finish as winners. 3rd


Part Three is being published tomorrow morning featuring Newcastle United, Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland. Let me know your opinions on my predictions and anything else you have read in part 1 or 2 of my Premier League previews. Many thanks to all the fans that contributed and gave their views

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