2015-16 Premier League Preview #3

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I’m now halfway through my Premier League season previews and we’re only two days away from the start of the new campaign – it feels like the build up to Christmas! If you haven’t read parts 1 or 2 or any of my Football League previews, just click here. Part 3 includes Newcastle United, who avoided relegation on the final day of last season, Norwich City, who were promoted via the play-offs, Southampton and Stoke, who both exceeded expectations in 2014-15, and Sunderland who once again flirted with relegation before surviving. That means a local rivalry, the league’s oldest and youngest, more key players, odds, fans views and predictions on the way…

Newcastle United

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  • Last Season: 15th
  • Most Goals: Papiss Cisse (11)
  • Most Assists: Daryl Janmaat (6)
  • Stadium: St. James’ Park (52,405)
  • Nickname: The Magpies

Transfers (as of 5th August)

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In: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV, £14.5m), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht, £12.5m), Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht, £8.5m)

Out: Adam Campbell (Notts County, free), Ryan Taylor (Hull City, free), Jak Alnwick (released), Jonas Gutierrez (released), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff, loan), Adam Armstrong (Coventry City, loan)

Manager – Steve McClaren

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In his 14 years as a manager, Steve McClaren has had his highs and lows. There’s winning the League Cup with Middlesbrough and the Dutch league title with FC Twente, but then there’s also been his miserable tenure as England coach and other failures with both Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. He arrives at St. James’ Park following a mixed spell at Derby County – where he reached the play-off final in 2013-14, but couldn’t even make the top six last season.

Star Player – Georginio Wijnaldum

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Steve McClaren has spent £35.5 million so far this summer, and his most expensive signing is Georginio Wijnaldum, who won the Eredivisie with PSV last season before being named Dutch Footballer of the Year for 2014-15. In 33 league appearances, the 24 year old scored 14 goals and got three assists. Looking on, it’s a very impressive signing who is just coming into his prime, meaning Wijnaldum could be the creative spark that Newcastle need in midfield.

One to Watch – Rolando Aarons

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One of the few positive things to come out last season for Newcastle was the emergence of young Rolando Aarons, and Magpies fans were frustrated that he wasn’t used more in the club’s relegation battle as he struggled with injuries. But if he can stay fit in 2015-16, then he could be a key player with his pace and trickery on the wing. Steve McClaren has said that he wanted to take Aarons on loan at Derby last season, showing he too has faith in the 19 year old.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 5th August)

  • Newcastle United to avoid relegation – 1/12
  • Newcastle United to finish in the top half – 23/10
  • Newcastle United to win the League Cup – 33/1

Fan’s View – Chris Laws from True Faith Fanzine (@tflawsy1892)

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

From inside the camp, I’d have to say I’ve been very impressed with Rolando Aarons, and it could definitely be his time to shine this season. He’s scored some excellent goals pre-season, but the worry with him is his fitness. If he can stay fit I really believe he can work his way into the first team and progress. This kid has got talent and WILL go far. From outside, I’d say Aleksandar Mitrovic is definitely one to watch, both on and off the field. Saying early doors he wants to be like Shearer and Drogba, the kid doesn’t lack confidence, and he could be the big brick shithouse that quite frankly we’ve lacked since Carroll departed.

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

I would, as I imagine all fans will, have wanted more. The window isn’t done yet, but we really need to bolster that defence. If Mike Williamson continues to get in the side this year it’s criminal. Just simply not good enough. The Austin link just doesn’t go away either and I’d obviously be delighted with him, but I can’t stress enough how much we need a central defender. As for the lads who have already came, Mitrovic has fantastic numbers in Belgium and I’m looking forward to seeing him at SJP, and the same goes with Mbemba. A Belgian journalist was on an NUFC podcast I listen to and said Mbemba will out-perform Mitrovic. Wijnaldum is set to be a real class act though. He got Dutch player of the year ahead of Depay last season, and we all know the hype around him. A touch of class in midfield.

3. Are you happy with the appointment of Steve McClaren, is he the right man for the job?

Personally, yes. I am happy with McClaren. I know he struggled with England, and also Wolfsburg and Derby, but winning Middlesbrough’s first (and only) trophy in 129 years, leading them to a UEFA Cup final, and winning the Eredivisie with a relative nobody in FC Twente has to count for something. Listening to him speak is a breath of fresh air too, given the bullshit merchant Alan Pardew and the idiotic John Carver. He comes across as quietly confident in the press and I’ll do the same with him here, let’s wait and see, but early impressions are positive.

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

Anyone where you win! Not a regular occurrence in the last couple of years of Pardew for ourselves. I always like going down to WBA (we’ve had a few good results when I’ve been there the last few years). In and out easy enough with a decent selection of pubs and grub, it’s got my vote. Everton and Liverpool are in the bad list. Goodison Park would have been out of date in the Game of Thrones era, and the view from Anfield is pretty woeful given the price you’re expected to fork out.

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

I’m really high on Arsenal this year (another good away ground that, padded seats, man!), and I honestly can’t call it between them and Chelsea. Petr Cech is a huge plus for them but let’s be honest, Chelsea are a wonderful team, and whilst they haven’t particularly added this summer, ten times more important is that they haven’t lost anyone. They also have Mourinho which is worth a couple of points a season at least. Neck-and-neck for now, Chelsea ahead by a nose. As for the other end of the table, I think Villa will struggle after losing Vlaar, Delph, Benteke. Regardless who has been brought in, you can’t rip a team’s spine out like that and not be affected. Leicester are also in trouble as I’m unsure how Ranieri will do, and Cambiasso will be another massive loss. The third team will be Watford or Sunderland.

6. Predicted Newcastle finish?

The club have come out and said top 8 is the aim, and who am I to argue with that. Mind, I’d take the top half if you offered me it now. We aren’t going to jump from 15th to 8th in my opinion, although we have got rid of Carver which is probably worth three positions at least! I’ll go 10th for now though, slow steady progress from a manager who isn’t a tactical pygmy. Isn’t life grand!

My Prediction

The signings look impressive and show Newcastle’s eagerness and ambition to succeed and win a first major trophy in 61 years. There’s enough quality in the squad to not face another relegation battle, but I remain doubtful over Steve McClaren’s ability to manage at the highest level, meaning the top ten might be beyond the Magpies. 13th


Norwich City

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  • Last Season: 3rd (in the Championship)
  • Most Goals: Cameron Jerome (18)
  • Most Assists: Nathan Redmond (13)
  • Stadium: Carrow Road (27,244)
  • Nickname: The Canaries

Transfers (as of 5th August)

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In: Graham Dorrans (West Brom, undisclosed), Robbie Brady (Hull City, undisclosed), Youssouf Mulumbu (West Brom, free), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, loan), Jake Kean (Blackburn Rovers, free

Out: Cameron McGeehan (Luton Town, undisclosed), Mark Bunn (Aston Villa, free), Javier Garrido (released), Carlos Cuellar (released), Luciano Becchio (released), Kyle Callan-McFadden (released)

Manager – Alex Neil

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At 34 years old, Alex Neil is the Premier League’s youngest ever boss and will want that to remain the case after guiding Norwich to promotion via the play-offs. 12 months earlier, he had done just the same with Hamilton and took them up to the Scottish Premiership. Neil took over at Carrow Road in January when they were struggling to make the top six, but Norwich lost just three times with the Scot in charge to finish third before beating local rivals Ipswich and then Middlesbrough in the play-offs.

Star Player – Nathan Redmond

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Despite being just 21 years old, Nathan Redmond seems like he has been around for a long time, and the truth is he has! The winger made his Birmingham City debut aged 16 in 2010 and made 82 appearances for the Blues before signing for Norwich in 2013. Last season, Redmond scored six goals and assisted 13 on the way to promotion, bamboozling Championship defenders in the process. He was part of England’s miserable Euro Under 21 campaign this summer, but did manage to get himself on the scoresheet against Italy.

One to Watch – Jacob Murphy

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Another pacy winger, Jacob Murphy has come through the ranks at Norwich alongside his twin brother Josh, who often received more praise for England’s youth sides. But Jacob appears to be in the better position to play games for Norwich this season. Unlike his brother, he was part of the Canaries’ 25-man squad for their pre-season tour of Germany, showing that he clearly impressed Alex Neil whilst on loan at Colchester last season, where he got four goals and two assists in 11 matches.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 5th August)

  • Norwich City to to get relegated – 11/10
  • Norwich City to be bottom at Christmas – 7/2
  • Norwich City to avoid relegation – 4/6

Fan’s View – Callum Springall from The Carrow Crowd (@TheCarrowCrowd)

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

The Murphy twins, Josh and Jacob have been the most valued members of our most recent batch of academy graduates, Josh has broken into the 1st team on occasion, so he’s the most obvious response to this question, except he was left out of the senior 25 man squad travelling to Austria for our tour there. So that leaves Jacob and Harry Toffolo, who were chosen to travel with the senior team and Louis Thompson. Out of the 3, I’d say I prefer Toffolo, and provided we don’t sign another left-back before the opening game against Crystal Palace, I think he’s the one who’s most likely to get a fair crack at the Premier League because I can’t see Murphy being chosen ahead of Redmond or Johnson or Dorrans, who usually played on either wing in the last campaign, and neither can I see the possibility of Thompson breaking into our midfield which is stacked to the ceiling with quality. On top of that, Alex Neil seems to like continuity in the team, as he was often reluctant to take out players who really made an impact in the team, as was the case with Wes Hoolahan and Cameron Jerome towards the end of last season. So, in short, Harry Toffolo is the Norwich youngster with the biggest break-through opportunity this season, provided that our transfer inactivity continues for another couple of weeks or so.

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

As I alluded to in the last question, transfer activity has become a bit of a farce at Carrow Road; we’ve spent the best part of about a month trying to get our hands on Robbie Brady from Hull (This transfer has now been completed). I don’t believe he’s worth anywhere near Steve Bruce’s valuation of the winger, and there are probably far more attainable and worthwhile targets for the club to pursue, although I don’t blame Alex Neil for haggling for low prices on Brady; someone on Twitter summed it up perfectly “Man walks into a pub & orders a pint. Barman says ‘that’s £15’. Man says it’s too much. Some Norwich fans accuse man of lack of ambition.” A somewhat humorous metaphor, but he’s got a point, I definitely don’t blame our manager for not taking the bate, he ought to look elsewhere. Away from Brady, though, we have made 2 very good dealings, bringing in Mulumbu on a free with bags of experience, and Dorrans on a permanent basis after his relatively impressive loan spell. So while this transfer window has been slightly frustrating, we have had some solid bits of business to sleep on, we just need a proven Premier League striker, a good back-up keeper, and perhaps a winger.

3. How much of a difference has Alex Neil made at Carrow Road?

We all know the story of Alex Neil, a former Hamilton Academicals midfielder and manager, esteemed for his work ethic and discipline in both roles. He never got the opportunity to come to England while he was still a player, despite seeing midfield partners James McArthur and James McCarthy move on to bigger things in the top-flight of English football, despite the fans’ holding Neil in a higher regard. He became player-manager of the Scottish club aged just 31. Within 2 seasons with the Accies, he achieved promotion to the SPL, where Hamilton impressed further, challenging at the top of the league and winning 1-0 at Parkhead, the home of Celtic. This earned him attention from our Chief Exec. David McNally, who effectively sacked Neil Adams to bring to Scotsman to Carrow Road. This proved to be an inspired decision from the board, as Neil transformed the team from mid-table cannon fodder to the best team in the division, although it took a few matches to see the ‘Neil effect’, when the Carrow Road faithful did see it, we were virtually unstoppable and only lost 3 games under the 34 year-old, against Wigan, Brentford and Middlesbrough, games where playing the long-ball too often cost us. The occasional shift in playing style seemed a bridge too far for Neil, as the players were often told to cram the midfield and be creative under former Canaries player Neil Adams, it was a style that was largely kept after the managerial change, so our attacking play remained more-or-less the same. Alex Neil’s main successes as Norwich manager were down to bringing out the best of a defence that was like a sieve, save the net, throughout Neil Adams reign. Alex Neil brought back Sebastien Bassong from his Watford loan spell and made him an integral part of City’s subsequent promotion push. Put simply, Neil was the catalyst for the Yellows’ triumphs with his man-management skills (aka. His ‘wee chats’ at half-time) and tactical knowhow, although his preference of the long-ball didn’t suit the players and really cost the team at times, but either way, he’s endeared himself to every one of Norwich City’s supporters and has had a tremendous effect on the club by helping us back into the big-time.

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

This question’s easy. For about 16 other clubs, that is. I’d say the direction of the club is promising, we have a no-nonsense manager, that the fans warm to, several star players and serial goalscorers in the team (going back to last season) and a board that knows what they want the club to become. What is disappointing about the club, and I say that lightly, is that very few academy players are really making the grade. We’ve got the Murphys, Toffolo and Thompson to look forward too, as I mentioned earlier, and Carlton Morris on loan at the manager’s former club, but apart from that, the FA Youth Cup winning team of a few years back seem to have faded away. Even of the aforementioned promising youngsters, only Josh Murphy has had a fair shot in the senior team, being a sporadic substitute in the first half the season. Toffolo and Jacob spent most of 2015 on loan at Swindon (Toffolo), Blackpool and Colchester (Murphy), and while Toffolo impressed at the Wiltshere club, who lost to Preston in the League 1 playoff final, not much was heard of Murphy, despite a handful of goals for both clubs, and having his loan at Blackpool cut short for posting a picture to social media captioned ‘we’re going to lose….. again’. It will be interesting to see how the trio progress this coming season, although I, for one, don’t have particularly high expectations for them, nor for Morris; indicating that if Norwich are to once again be an established Premier League club, we need to be producing more talent from the lower ranks in the academy.

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

I can see this year’s Premier League title run-in being a classic to be talked about for many years to come, obviously, Chelsea had the best overall package last time around and fully deserved last year’s title, however, their lack of transfer activity so far is a concern; Diego Costa’s hamstring troubles may spill over into this season and send them closer to becoming more like the Chelsea we witnessed the season before last in Mourinho’s second coming which lacked a cutting edged creativity that was solved for the majority of the 2014/15 season, they were the best last season mostly through the Fabregas and Costa additions, and were a big miss when not on the pitch, being replaced by Ramires and Remy and/or Drogba, who were unimpressive for the most part of their contributions, so unless the ‘special one’ moves fast in this window, I’m afraid his team will be caught napping on the job. This begs the question, ‘who’s going to be there to pick up the pieces?’. Well, Manchester United have made some impressive dealings during this window, bringing in the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to plug the holes in last year’s squad which came 4th  and was no real improvement over David Moyes’ season in charge of the Red Devils, amassing only 6 points more than his predecessor. I think their big spending and circulating rumours of a striker arriving at Old Trafford look promising for Louis van Gaal’s team, who could be in pole position to win their first league title since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester City are never ones to be discounted, though, and their acquisition of Raheem Sterling looks fruitful for seasons to come, and the basis of their squad already features Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, so their fairly low-key additions make sense for allowing greater squad depth for Chilean Manuel Pellegrini to choose from. At the bottom end of the table, I can foresee another humdinger, obviously there are question marks over all three Preimer League newboys, with Bournemouth splashing out a ludicrous £8m on Tyrone Mings, ask Nathan Redmond and you’ll then know how Mings was torn to shreds on both derby days at Carrow Road, I don’t see Watford being as safe as their transfer activity suggests, new Hornets manager Quique Sanchez Flores was a failure at Atletico Madrid, alienating the superb Diego Forlan and managing only 9th and 7th places in his 2 seasons at the Vicente Calderon, whereas Diego Simeone has managed much more success, breaking into the La Liga ‘big three’. Their signings have been somewhat reminiscent of QPR when they received backing from Tony Fernandes and were relegated after 2 seasons, most of Watford’s signings have little or no Premier League experience, and those who do have hardly impressed in their time in England, namely Etienne Capoue, who was behind Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb nearing the end of his Tottenham experience. Other relegation candidates include Leicester, whose loss of Nigel Pearson and Esteban Cambiasso may cost them dear, with the loss of Pearson, I believe they’ve lost the identity that brought them success and the ‘tinker man’, Claudio Ranieri hasn’t been able to hold onto to jobs at Monaco and Greece in recent years, furthermore, given his failings at generally affluent, so-called ‘big’ teams, I can’t see the Italian being much of a success story for Leicester, who may therefore be prone to the fabled ‘second-season-syndrome’. I am somewhat sceptical towards Newcastle’s appointment of Steve McClaren, who seems to be a hit in Holland, but hasn’t hit the same heights he did while manager of Middlesbrough, where he won the League Cup. While he seems to be sticking with what he knows in the transfer market, I think the magpies could hit the jackpot with the Yorkshireman, although his reputation was severely diminished by Derby County’s collapse last season and could make patience run thin at St. James’ Park should a fast start not come. Other worthy mentions include Aston Villa, who have lost key players and struggled to bring in new ones as yet, West Brom are in safe hands with Tony Pulis’ 100% record of staying in the Premier League, however, safety is not always a given, Sunderland should be much stronger this time around, as Dick Advocaat appeared to make a massive impact to steer them to safety, and has put together an impressive recruitment drive. Southampton could be a wildcard to slip below the dotted line, they’ve lost Schneiderlin to Man United and have the Europa League to compete in and potentially distract them from league matters, although Ronald Koeman says he ‘has a plan’.

6. Predicted Norwich finish?

Predicting where Norwich will finish is always a tough one, we spent small on a large group of players who turned out to be stars in the Premier League while under Paul Lambert and were flirting with the top half of the league throughout the season, and then spent big with Chris Hughton and were condemned to relegation. This season appears to be no different. However, fans can take comfort in the players we already have. John Ruddy earned call-ups to England while in the top-flight, almost our entire midfield has experience at this level, and our forwards will no doubt be itching to prove themselves in what is generally called ‘the best league in the world’, from which the fans can take yet more positives. If you had me at gun-point in a cellar I’d probably say my beloved Canaries will achieve a lower-mid table finish. But, did I say I’m no betting man?

My Prediction

In my opinion, Norwich look the best prepared out of the three promoted clubs to survive this season, with the signings that they have made bringing even more Premier League experience to a squad with a lot in it anyway. But this doesn’t mean it will be easy. Alex Neil might take some getting used to the top flight and the pressures of it, but once he has, the Canaries should stay up. 16th


Southampton

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  • Last Season: 7th
  • Most Goals: Graziano Pelle (12)
  • Most Assists: Dusan Tadic (7)
  • Stadium: St. Mary’s (32,505)
  • Nickname: The Saints

Transfers (as of 5th August)

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In: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord, £10.5m), Juanmi (Malaga, £5m), Cedric Soares (Sporting Lisbon, undisclosed), Cuco Martina (Twente, undisclosed), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, loan), Steven Caulker (QPR, loan)

Out: Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, £25m), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £12.5m), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth, free), Jos Hooiveld (released), Omar Rowe (released), Jake Sinclair (released), Dani Osvaldo (released), Sam Gallagher (MK Dons, loan), Jack Stephens (Middlesbrough, loan)

Manager – Ronald Koeman

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After losing several key players last summer, Southampton were tipped by many to face relegation in 2014-15, and under other managers they may have done. But Ronaldo Koeman made some astute buys and the Saints surprised everybody by finishing seventh. Along the way, the Dutch coach won two Manager of Month awards and earned a nomination for the end of season accolade as well. Can he do it again?

Star Player – Jordy Clasie

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It was a big blow for Southampton to finally sell Morgan Schneiderlin this summer, but Jordy Clasie, who has signed for £10.5 million from Feyenoord could prove to be an excellent replacement. The 24 year old completed more passes in the opposition half than any other player in the Eredivisie in the last two seasons, whilst he also got 3 goals and 13 assists in that time. His performances have even earned him the nickname ‘the Dutch Xavi’.

One to Watch – Matt Targett

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Southampton’s youth academy is often touted as one of the best in the country because of the players it had produced in the past. Left-back Matt Targett was one of three graduates to make their debut in 2014-15 but was only limited to six league games because of Ryan Bertrand’s impressive performances. However with the Saints’ involvement in the Europa League this season, Ronald Koeman will need to rotate much more, meaning that we could be seeing a lot more of Targett, who was part of the England Under-21 squad for the Euros this summer.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 5th August)

  • Southampton to finish in the top six of the league – 5/2
  • Southampton to finish in the bottom half of the league – 9/4
  • Southampton to win the FA Cup – 20/1

Fan’s View – Andrew Walker from Saints Podcast (@SaintsPodcast)

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

This is a tough question because we always seem to have lots of talent coming through. Perhaps the key players to watch though are those who have already had some first team football, such as Matt Targett and Harrison Reed. Left-back Targett played a number of games last season, deputising for Ryan Bertrand where he proved to be a more than capable replacement, eventually making his way into the England U21 squad for the Euros. Reed, also an England youth international, is a tenacious defensive midfielder who continually harries the opposition and generally causes opposition midfielders and attackers problems. With all of the games we are likely to play this season, I’m sure both will get their chances.

Finally, whilst not a product of the club’s youth system, new signing Juanmi is certainly in the ‘one to watch category’. Signed from Malaga, Juanmi scored 18 goals in 43 games for the Spanish side, including a memorable winner in the Nou Camp against Barcelona last year. On his full debut for Saints against Vitesse Arnhem in the Europa League he came on as a second half substitute and showed great composure to set up Shane Long who made the score 3-0 on the night. At 22 years old and with a £5m transfer fee, he could be one of the bargains of the season.

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

This is obviously ever-changing but as I type, the club appear to have had another impressive transfer window. First off, we lost Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin, both of whom were crucial to last season’s success. Schneiderlin in particular has the potential to be one of the best sitting midfielders in Europe, so naturally he will be missed.

Replacing those two though are Cedric Soares (RB) and Jordy Clasie (CM) both of whom seem very capable replacements. Elsewhere we signed Cuco Martina, a versatile defender who can play across the back and who will hopefully add competition. In goal we signed Maarten Stekelenburg who offers lots of experience to cover Fraser Forster whilst he is out injured. And we have also signed the aforementioned Juanmi to provide more attacking options. Most recently we signed Steven Caulker on loan from QPR. He’s one who splits opinion but at 23 years old and on loan, it seems a deal with limited risk attached.

Arguably we still need another Centre Back as we lost Toby Alderweireld who went to Spurs and Florin Gardos to injury. And some Saints fans also feel we need another midfielder but with Reed and James Ward-Prowse, I’m not convinced about that.

3.Do you think you can match or better last season’s impressive 7th place finish?

Last year’s final position came as a surprise to almost everyone – except to those behind the scenes at St Mary’s. Expectations are higher than ever so the pressure is going to be on the players this year. On top of that, if the club make it into the Europa League group stage they will then face regular mid-week fixtures which are bound to put more of a strain on the squad. All of that suggests that matching or bettering seventh is going to be difficult. Yet I remain confident in the manager, the players and backroom staff that we can continue our upward trajectory. I’m going to predict seventh and hopefully a run in the Europa League.

4.Best away ground to visit in the league?

The Emirates is one of the most impressive grounds in the country but sadly has always seemed to lack an atmosphere whenever I’ve been there. For me, going to see Saints play Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park is always a highlight. The unique atmosphere at football is the thing that hooked me to the game and Palace fans create the best in the Premier League – aside from Saints fans at St Mary’s of course. The ground itself also has a dilapidated, charm to it; perhaps it reminds me of the Dell.

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

This season promises to be a tight one. Man United has a top midfield but their defence is still weak in my opinion. Arsenal ended last season in typically strong fashion and have strengthened, particularly with Petr Cech, but they still lack a 25 goal-a-season striker. City will of course be there or there abouts but like Man United I’m not convinced by their defence. So to take a safe option I’m going with Chelsea to win the league, with Arsenal coming second. However, I think it will be a closer contest this year.

As for relegation, I think this is much harder to pick than who will win the league. You can make a case for all of the promoted teams to stay up. Bournemouth is the smallest club in the top flight but with Eddie Howe in charge and with the new additions, I fancy them to stay up.

So with no real conviction behind my decision, I’d pick Watford, Leicester and Newcastle to face the drop this season.

6.Predicted Southampton finish?

Depending on what mood you catch me in, I will predict anything from 5th to 12th. A lot will depend on how many games we play in Europe and how well the club manages those extra games. And of course, the number and severity of injuries we get will also be a big factor. But with all that considered, I think Southampton can match the seventh place finish of last season.

My Prediction

Southampton know that losing key players doesn’t put you in trouble, as they proved last season, whilst Ronaldo Koeman has proved he is a very good boss. However, with a relatively small squad and Europa League games to contend with, fitness could become an issue, whilst the competition on it’s own may become a distraction. They are unlikely to reach the highs of last season, but will still be good to watch. 10th


Stoke City

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  • Last Season: 9th
  • Most Goals: Mame Biram Diouf (12)
  • Most Assists: Marko Arnautovic (5)
  • Stadium: The Britannia Stadium (27,743)
  • Nickname: The Potters

Transfers (as of 5th August)

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In: Joselu (Hannover, £5.9m), Jakob Haugaard (Midtjylland, £600,000), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, undisclosed), Moha El Ouriachi (Barcelona, undisclosed), Sergio Molina (Real Madrid, undisclosed), Shay Given (Aston Villa, free), Glen Johnson (Liverpool, free), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, free), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea, loan)

Out: Asmir Begovic (Chelsea, £8m), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla, £7m), Robert Huth (Leicester City, £3m), Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United, free), Andy Wilkinson (released), Thomas Sorensen (released), Wilson Palacios (released)

Manager – Mark Hughes

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Stoke parted company with Tony Pulis in 2013 because the club were stuck in mid-table, going up nor down – if anything the latter. In came Mark Hughes, who has rejuvenated the Potters and guided them to two successive ninth place finishes – their best in the top flight, whilst also breaking their record points total each campaign. A 6-1 win over Liverpool on the last day of 2014-15 meant they finished on 54 points. He’s made some impressive signings this summer, hoping to go even higher.

Star Player – Bojan

Stoke City's Bojan Krkic

He may not have turned out to be the player that Barcelona wanted him to be, but Bojan showed that he is still an exciting player to watch as Stoke fans found out last season. He was a standout player at the Britannia, getting four goals and one assist in 16 league games out wide before injuring his knee in January which ruled him out for the season. If the 24 year old had stayed fit, The Potters would not doubt have finished higher. He is just getting back to full fitness now, so should be raring to go in the opening months of the campaign.

One to Watch – Jack Butland

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At the end of last season, Jack Butland claimed that young English players need more first opportunities, perhaps hinting towards himself, and this season he should get just that following the departure of Asmir Begovic to Chelsea. The 22 year old kept clean sheets against Burnley and and Tottenham at the end of last season, proving he is more than capable of replacing the Bosnian. Perhaps even some impressive performances will give him a chance to add to his one England senior cap.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 5th August)

  • Stoke City to finish in the top six in the league – 11/1
  • Stoke City to finish in the top half of the league – 11/10
  • Stoke City to finish as the top Midlands club – evens

Fan’s View – Trouserdog, a Stoke fan for 30 years and writer for The Oatcake Fanzine (@TrouserdogSCFC)

1. Which player is a ‘one to watch’ at Stoke this season?
Everyone is most excited about the return to fitness of Bojan. It took him a while to get going after arriving last summer, but once he found his feet the man was simply incredible for a few months. He was that good I actually felt sexually aroused watching him play! You never know whether players are likely to recover fully from ACL injuries though, so we’ll all be crossing our fingers that the little man still possesses the magic touch.
2. Are you happy with the club’s transfer activity so far?
Reasonably, as although we haven’t spent much money the players arriving all have decent CVs. Van Ginkel’s had a difficult time with injuries but was highly rated when Chelsea signed him, while Glen Johnson and Ibrahim Afellay both have serious pedigree if, admittedly, a few question marks over their current physical state. Shay Given will be a very capable deputy for Jack Butland, and Joselu at £5.75m should prove decent competition for Mame Biram Diouf. We’re still in the market for another winger but the most pressing concern is the need to sign a top quality centre-half as Ryan Shawcross looks like he may be struggling with a serious back injury.  That’s a massive concern considering our back-up players in this area are not the best.
3. Which one ex player would you love to have back at the Britannia Stadium?
From players who are still active, I’d have Stephen N’Zonzi back in a heartbeat even though he’s only just left. He was immense for us last season and we’re going to miss him. If I had access to a time machine then the 2007/08 version of Ricardo Fuller would be arriving back at The Brit.
4. Best away ground to visit in the league?
I don’t tend to go to many away games these days as I have family commitments, but West Brom’s always been a favourite trip- mainly because it’s close and we always seem to win there!
5. Who do you think will win the Premier League title and who will get relegated?
There are question marks hanging over all the main contenders but I think Chelsea will just about grind it out over the course of the season. They’ll need Costa and Hazard to stay fit though as I’m not convinced they have backup of sufficient quality to account for any injuries to those two. Relegation is always a nightmare to call and I never seem to get it right, but I think Leicester look like they’re in massive danger without Pearson. Sunderland have been stinking the place out for years and need to go, and although they’ve signed a lot of players and could thrive, I’m going to say Watford are probably the most vulnerable of the promoted teams. I’d love to say that Tony Pulis will take West Brom down but we all know it’s never going to happen!
6. Predicted Stoke finish?
A lot of people are tipping us to be as high as 7th but without N’Zonzi, Begovic and probably Shawcross I think somewhere around 12th is more likely this time.
My Prediction
Mark Hughes has kept on improving Stoke ever since he took over at the Britannia Stadium, and with the signings he has made this summer, that is continuing. I don’t think the losses of Begovic and N’Zonzi will hit Stoke that hard considering the replacements they have, whilst when Bojan returns to full fitness, he will be a major threat, along with the multiple other attacking options the Potters have. 8th

Sunderland

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  • Last Season: 16th
  • Most Goals: Connor Wickham & Steven Fletcher (5)
  • Most Assists: Patrick van Aanholt (5)
  • Stadium: The Stadium of Light
  • Nickname: The Black Cats

Transfers (as of 5th August)

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In: Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev, £8m), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham, £3m), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool, £2m), Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2m)

Out: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9m), El Hadji Ba (Charlton, undisclosed), Anthony Reveillere (released), Santiago Vergini (Getafe, loan)

Manager – Dick Advocaat

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Dick Advocaat found his way into every Sunderland fan’s heart after he was seen crying tears of joy following their survival from relegation last season. The Dutchman then said he would be leaving the club before doing a u-turn and staying, increasing his popularity even more. At 67 years old, he is the Premier League’s oldest boss and although he’s more used to competing nearer the top of the league (Advocaat has won five titles in his managerial career), he’ll probably be content with a mid-table finish in 2015-16.

Star Player – Jeremain Lens

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Sunderland needed to add some attacking quality to their squad this summer, and Jeremain Lens for £8 million from Dynamo Kiev fits the bill. Having been part of the Holland side that finished third at the 2014 World Cup, Lens is quick and versatile forward, being able to play as a winger or a striker. The 27 year old won the Ukrainian league and cup double last season, helping Kiev to not lose a single game in either competition.

One to Watch – Adam Matthews

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Having played in Wales with Cardiff, and in Scotland with Celtic where he won four successive league titles, Matthews will now play in England with Sunderland after a £2 million transfer. It’s a move that has gone somewhat under the radar, but could turn out to be a canny buy. The 23 year old right-back chipped in with an impressive eights assists for the Bhoys last season, and will be eager to have another campaign to remember as he aims to end the campaign with a place in Wales’ Euro 2016 squad.

Betting Odds (courtesy of Paddy Power as of 5th August)

  • Sunderland to finish in the bottom half of the league – 1/10
  • Sunderland to be relegated – 15/8
  • Sunderland to be the lowest scoring team – 7/2

Fan’s View – Pete Sixsmith from Salut Sunderland (@salutsunderland)

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

The obvious answer is Jeremain Lens, the Dutch international we have signed from Dinamo Kyiv. In his own words, he is quick, sharp and scores goals, something that Sunderland have lacked for quite a while. I would suggest two other players who could make names for themselves this season; Jack Rodwell needs to put three disappointing years behind him and show what a good player he is. If he can recapture that Everton form, he will be a huge player for us and will create a solid central midfield with Cattermole and Larsson. It is also an important season for Duncan Watmore, an under the radar signing from Altrincham two years ago. He has done well for the Development Squad and was dangerous for England Under 20’s in Toulon. He may need a good loan spell in the Championship, but he could equally play a part in the first team.

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

The transfer activity has gone well and appears to have been well thought out. After the scatter gun approach of Di Fanti and Di Canio and the strange obsessions of Gus Poyet, there seems to be some planning. Another couple would not go amiss, particularly a clever 20 goal a season striker (the problem there is that there are just too many to choose from) and we also need to move players on. We are not a particularly attractive club due to persistent relegation campaigns, persistent turnover of managers/head coaches and a reputation for playing dreary football. So we have to look for those who want a challenge.

3. Were you pleased that Dick Advocaat decided to stay on, or would you have preferred a change?

It was important that he remained and gave the club some stability and credence. He has bought into the ethos of Sunderland AFC which is important. It also gives us 12 months to find a long term replacement that will enable the club to move on. The reason for the (relative) success of Stoke City and Swansea City is longevity and continuation. We have had neither since Peter Reid’s time.

4. Best away ground to visit in the league?

I am tempted to say The Sports Direct Arena because we always seem to win there. But I like Ashburton Grove and I always enjoy the time warp that is Goodison Park.

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

Manchester City will win it followed by the usual three. Those to go down? I suppose Watford and Bournemouth will be favourites and we will be in the minds of many. I think Aston Villa and Leicester City will have difficult seasons.

6. Predicted Sunderland finish?

Let’s live dangerously and say between Stoke and Swansea and above Southampton. That should be about 10th. S Teams To Dominate Mid Table!!!!

My Prediction

Other than the newly promoted trio, Sunderland are the favourites for relegation, and I have to agree. Jeremain Lens is a good signing, although he can’t do it all by himself, and there’s not much other quality in the squad in my opinion. Connor Wickham has gone, Jermaine Defoe is ageing and Steven Fletcher is injury prone. Another relegation battle is in store, but I think the Black Cats may have run out of lives. 18th


Part Four is being published later today featuring Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. Let me know your opinions on my predictions and anything else you have read in part 1, 2 or 3 of my Premier League previews. Many thanks to all the fans that contributed and gave their views

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