BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE 2012/13 SEASON PREVIEW

The Barclays Premier League kicks off this Saturday, here is Andy Powell with our team-by-team preview…

ARSENAL

INS: Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Lukas Podolski (Cologne)

OUTS: Gavin Hoyte (Dagenham), Manuel Almunia (released), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Denilson (Sao Paulo), Benik Afobe (Bolton), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Alex Song (Barcelona), Kyle Bartley (Swansea City)

Arsenal started the 11/12 season very poorly by their usual high standards, including an 8-2 defeat by bitter rivals Manchester United. However they regrouped and finished the season strongly, ending in third spot with talisman Robin van Persie finishing the league’s top scorer. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans they continued their barren spell of silverware, extending this to more than seven years. Expectations for the coming season with Arsenal are always going to be high, with the supporters demanding a trophy. They appear to have dispensed with their usual transfer policy in search of this, signing up experienced strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud (pictured left) rather than up and coming starlets. However they have been rocked by the announcement by last season’s leading scorer, Robin van Persie, that he will not be extending his contract beyond this season. Arsenal fans must be hoping that manager Arsene Wenger can work his magic and persuade him to stay to aid their quest to win a trophy.

ASTON VILLA

INS: Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Matthew Lowton (Sheffield United), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar)

OUTS: Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland), Emile Heskey (released), James Collins (West Ham)

Villa started the 2011/12 season with a new manager, and the fans hoping to compete at the top end of the table, although a hardcore section of fans bitterly despised the new appointment, for arch-rivals Birmingham City.  They finished it 2 points above relegation, in 16th position, breaking several records in the process, not one of them in the right direction.  The season was marred with the tragedy news that club captain Stilian Petrov had been diagnosed with leukaemia, and sat the last run of games watching Aston Villa struggle.  Throughout the season Villa fans grew more disillusioned with the management, and come the end of the season, they had their wish, manager Alex McLiesh was sacked.  New manager Paul Lambert from Norwich has set about rebuilding their squad, and all Aston Villa fans must be thinking their season cannot be as bad as last… with signings such as Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi, they surely will.

CHELSEA

INS: Oscar (Internacional), Eden Hazard (Lille), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen)

OUTS: Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Jacob Mellis (Barnsley), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Jose Bosingwa (released), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (West Bromwich Albion)

Chelsea’s 11/12 season was a mixed bag.  They started pretty slowly under then manager Andre Villa-Boas and things didn’t really improve from there.  A low league position, and differing moral within the squad, and Villa-Boas paid the ultimate price and was replaced as manager in March by assistant Roberto Di Matteo.  Di Matteo changed the mentality of how they played and promptly went on an unbeaten run at the end of the season which saw them finish 6th winning the FA cup and the ultimate prize, the UEFA Champions League.  If all this was not enough, club captain John Terry was embroiled in a racism row which dragged on from November all the way into the summer months.  Chelsea has added several stars to their team this season, including the capture of Eden Hazard from Lille.  With this revamped squad, Chelsea will hope to finish in a higher position than last season, and retain the Champions League trophy.

EVERTON

INS: Steven Pienaar (Tottenham), Steven Naismith (Rangers)

OUTS: Adam Forshaw (Brentford), James Wallace (Tranmere), Joao Silva (Levski Sofia), James McFadden (released), Marcus Hahnemann (released), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce)

The 2011/2012 season started a week late for Everton due to rioting taking place in London.  They started the season rather slowly, only picking up 10 points from their first 10 games, however they picked their form after Christmas, and together with influential January signing Nikica Jelavic, went on a fantastic run of games, where they finished ahead of city rivals Liverpool, in seventh position, although outside of the European spots.  Everton under David Moyes are always a tough opposition however with no new players other than Steven Naismith and permanently signing Steven Pienaar who they had on loan last season, could find it difficult to match last season’s performance.

FULHAM

INS: Hugo Rodallega (Wigan), Mladen Petric (Hamburg), George Williams (MK Dons), Sascha Riether (Cologne)

OUTS: Dickson Etuhu (Blackburn), Marcel Gecov (AA Gent), Andrew Johnson (QPR), Danny Murphy (Blackburn), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Reading), Bjorn Helge Riise (released), Orlando Sa (released)

Fulham started the season competing in four competitions, the Premier League, League cup, FA cup and the Europa League, and because of which struggled to win a game until October where they trouced London Neighbour QPR 6-0.  An indifferent season followed where they won as much as they lost, mostly as top scorer Clint Dempsey hit form at the correct times.  They were knocked out of all competitions at relatively early stages, however finishing the Premier League in 9th position.  The season to follow looks interesting with signing players such as Hugo Rodellega from Wigan, however constant rumours link Dempsey to Liverpool.  Top Half would be a good achievement.

LIVERPOOL

INS: Fabio Borini (Roma), Joe Allen (Swansea)

OUTS: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahçe), Fabio Aurelio (Gremio), David Amoo (Preston North End), Stephen Darby (Bradford), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Craig Bellamy (Cardiff)

The 11/12 campaign was a season of mixed emotions for Liverpool fans.  They went to the final of both domestic cup competitions, winning the Carling Cup and finishing runners up in the FA Cup; it was their Premier League campaign that let them down, finishing in eighth – one place below city rivals Everton and their joint worst performance in Premier League history.  This was all despite the return of King Kenny as manager, and the addition what is rumoured to be £65M pounds worth of talent.  Due to their poor league form, manager Kenny Dalglish was sacked at the end of the season, replaced by Swansea manager Brendon Rodgers (pictured right), promising a new style of football.  New signing Fabio Borini signed for £10.5M fits into Rodgers mould, coaching him at both Chelsea and Swansea.  This season Rodgers could be the key to unlock some stellar performances from some of their underperforming players from last season, which he must of could face the same fate as his predecessor.

MANCHESTER CITY

INS: Jack Rodwell (Everton)

OUTS: Greg Cunningham (Bristol City), Owen Hargreaves (released), Gunnar Nielsen (released), Stuart Taylor (released), Wayne Bridge (Brighton)

Manchester City done what Sheik Mansour has wanted since buying the club and won the league thanks to a last gasp winner in the final game of the season against QPR.  Manager Roberto Mancini has instilled a belief within the Manchester City team which has been lacking in recent seasons, and the team believe that they can win games, even when they are playing badly.  The Sky Blues must continue their progress if they are to break up fierce rivals and city neighbours Manchester United dominance on the Premier League. Rumours are rife that key playmaker David Silva will not be at the club next season, and Manchester City fans will be hoping that he will remain at the club to help guide them to back to back titles.

MANCHESTER UNITED

INS: Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Nick Powell (Crewe), Robin van Persie (Arsenal)

OUTS: Park Ji-Sung (QPR), Richie De Laet (Leicester), Matty James (Leicester) Paul Pogba (Juventus), Tomasz Kuszczak (Brighton), Michael Owen (released), Fabio (QPR)

A cruel ending to the season ended Manchester United’s hopes of winning an unprecedented 20th league title. However most Manchester United fans would comment that their season was relatively poor by Sir Alex Ferguson’s usual high standards.  Being knocked out the Champions League at the group stages, being dumped out of the Europa League and League Cup by what Manchester Fans would comment as inferior opposition, and knocked out the FA cup by rivals Liverpool.  Having completed some inspired signings to strengthen their squad, with the very fast and very talented Japanese attacker Shinji Kagawa (pictured right) joining from Dortmund.  Most Manchester United fans will be hoping that they can finish above rivals Manchester City, winning their 20th title.  With further signings like Kagawa, then anything will be possible.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

INS: Gael Bigirimana (Coventry), Romain Amalfitano (Reims), Curtis Good (Melbourne Heart), Vurnon Anita (Ajax)

OUTS: Leon Best (Blackburn), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Danny Guthrie (Reading), Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Alan Smith (MK Dons), Ryan Donaldson (released), Tamas Kadar (Roda JC)

Newcastle performed above all expectations in the 11/12 season finishing in fifth. Most believed that as the season progressed The Magpies would fall away, they however benefitted from some inconsistent form of those around them and maintained a strong league position – the highest since the late Sir Bobby Robson was manager.  Free signing Demba Ba was a revelation in the first half of the season, and when his goals dried up, January signing Papiss Cisse took up the goal scoring notching an incredible 13 goals in 14 games.  This put Newcastle into the Europa League for the first time in five years.  Manager Alan Pardew won the Premier League Manager of the season and LMA Manager of the season, becoming the only Newcastle manager in history to do so.  A few key additions to the current squad will bolster their ambitions of trying to match last season’s performance as well as a run in one of the cups.

NORWICH CITY

INS: Michael Turner (Sunderland), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Jacob Butterfield (Barnsley)

OUTS: Andrew Crofts (Brighton), Adam Drury (Leeds), Aaron Wilbraham (Crystal Palace), Zak Whitbread (Leicester), Josh Dawkin (released)

Norwich enjoyed a very good season in the Premier League, finishing 12th following two promotions in a row from League 1 to the Premiership.  Manager Paul Lambert worked wonders with the very limited resources he had, with veteran striker Grant Holt, playing in his first Premier League season, finishing the clubs top scorer.  The end of the season brought turmoil to Norwich, manager Paul Lambert left for Aston Villa, and Grant Holt requested a transfer.  Lambert was quickly replaced by ex-Newcastle boss Chris Houghton, and persuaded Holt to sign a new contract.  Several new signings from the Championship followed Chris Houghton, and a big season awaits all their new signings if they are to replicate last year’s achievements.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

INS: Junior Hoilett (Blackburn), Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United), Samba Diakite (Nancy), Robert Green (West Ham), Ryan Nelsen (Tottenham), Andrew Johnson (Fulham), Fabio (Manchester United), Jose Bosingwa (Chelsea)

OUTS: Heidar Helguson (Cardiff), Paddy Kenny (Leeds), Peter Ramage (released), Danny Gabbidon (released), Danny Shittu (released), Fitz Hall (released), Gary Borrowdale (released), Lee Cook (released), Rowan Vine (released), Patrick Agyemang (released), Akos Buzsaky (released)

The 2011/12 season was QPR’s first season in the Premier League for 15 years, and expectation went through the roof when a new owner took the club on, spending big money on players.  However throughout the first half of the season, QPR found things more difficult than they imagined, and manager Neil Warnock paid the price by being sacked just after Christmas.  Mark Hughes was the man chosen to replace Neil Warnock, and things did not really improve much towards the end of the season, escaping relegation by just 1 point on the final game of the season.  Things look better this season, bringing in experienced players such as Junior Hoilett from Blackburn and Park Ji-Sung from Manchester United, who must perform.  However the strength and depth of the squad looks very good and they must have a better season than last.

READING

INS: Chris Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Pierce Sweeney (Bray Wanderers), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Stuttgart), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle), Garath McCleary (Nottingham Forest), Nicky Shorey (West Brom)

OUTS: Heidar Helguson (Cardiff, undisclosed), Paddy Kenny (Leeds, £400,000), Peter Ramage (released), Danny Gabbidon (released), Danny Shittu (released), Fitz Hall (released), Gary Borrowdale (released), Lee Cook (released), Rowan Vine (released), Patrick Agyemang (released), Akos Buzsaky (released), Harry Cooksley (Aldershot)

Reading won promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship title.  It was not plain sailing however, enduring a terrible start to the season, and at one point were 23rd in the table.  However a great run of form in the second half of the season, winning 17 of the last 23 games propelled them up the table and finished the seasons as champions.  Reading will need to start this season quicker than they did last, otherwise will find it very difficult to avoid relegation.  Signing experienced players such as Danny Guthrie is a shrewd move by boss Brian McDermott, a few more signings like this and Reading may avoid relegation.

SOUTHAMPTON

INS: Jay Rodriguez (Burnley), Paulo Gazzaniga (Gillingham), Steven Davis (Rangers), Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace)

OUTS: Dan Harding (Nottingham Forest), Bartosz Bialkowski (Notts County), Lee Holmes (Preston North End), Ryan Doble (Shrewsbury), David Connolly (released), Radhi Jaidi (retired), Aaron Martin (Crystal Palace), Tommy Forecast (Gillingham)

Southampton won promotion from the Championship last season, and they were seen by many the leagues surprise package, just losing out on the league title by one point.  Manager Nigel Adkins has excelled in the manager’s position, helping the club to two successive promotions.  Southampton will find things very difficult returning to the Premier League.  New signing Jay Rodriguez is not known for his prolific goal scoring abilities, but he will link up well with current hitman Rickey Lambert.  This partnership is vital for Southampton’s fight for survival in the League, however this could be one step too far for them.

STOKE CITY

INS: Michael Kightly (Wolves), Jamie Ness (Rangers)

OUTS: Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough), Andrew Davies (Bradford), Salif Diao (released), Ricardo Fuller (released), Louis Moult (released), Tom Soares (released)

Stoke started the season in the Europa League, for the first time since 1975. They started the season well, qualifying from the Europa League and picking up some good points in the league. However as the amount of league games and cup games increased, their league form began to suffer, only winning four games in the second half of the season, finishing 14th, not good enough to qualify for Europe once again.  Pre-season stoke have went about their business quietly confident, and they possess the quality to outperform last season, without the added burden of the Europa League.

SUNDERLAND

INS: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)

OUTS: Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes), Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain), George McCartney (West Ham), Michael Liddle (Accrington), Jordan Cook (Charlton), Craig Gordon (released), Michael Turner (Norwich)

Sunderland started the season with high expectations, following a number of high profile arrivals.  Things did not go well for Sunderland at the start of the season, and were in the relegation zone at times, before manager Steve Bruce was sacked.  Bruce was replaced with Martin O’Neill, and Sunderland went through a great run of games with help from the emergence of James McClean.  However this run was not to last and Sunderland Fell away finishing in 13th. Key to the new season is a new striker, following the departure of Niklas Bendtner, Which they are still Lacking.  Expect Sunderland to equal last season’s performance, unless a striker comes through the door.

SWANSEA CITY

INS: Michu (Rayo Vallecano), Jose Manuel Flores (Genoa), Jonathan de Guzman (Villarreal), Kyle Bartley (Arsenal)

OUTS: Joe Allen (Liverpool), Ferrie Bodde (released), Casey Thomas (released), Joe Walsh (released), Scott Donnelly (released)

Huge over achievers last season.  Most pundits and fans alike tipped Swansea to be battling relegation due to their relatively unheard of players.  However Manager Brendon Rodgers kept playing tiki-taka football like Barcelona, which not only produced good results, became a pleasure to watch finishing the season in 11th spot, well clear of relegation.  The loss of manager Brendon Rodgers to Liverpool is a massive loss to Swansea, and the continuing link of Joe Allen, Swansea’s main creative influence last season, to Liverpool will be a hindrance.  New manager Michael Laudrup brings with him a wealth of experience from around the best leagues in the world and surely that should be enough to lay the foundations.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

INS: Jan Vertonghen (Ajax), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Hoffenheim)

OUTS: Steven Pienaar (Everton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Niko Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev), Ryan Nelsen (QPR), Ben Alnwick (Barnsley), Louis Saha (released), Bongani Khumalo (PAOK), Massimo Luongo (Ipswich)

Tottenham started the season by getting beat off both Manchester clubs, but then went on a run where they lost two of their next 22 league games, going on to occupy third ahead of local rivals Arsenal.  However a mid-season slump saw them exit the FA cup, and move down to fourth, only securing that position on the last day of the season.  However due to Chelsea winning the Champions League, fourth was only good enough for another season in the Europa League, not what Tottenham had expected going into the season.  After the end of the season a huge shock came when manager Harry Redknapp was sacked, making way for ex Chelsea boss Andre Villa-Boas.  Villa-Boas has set about restructuring the squad, bringing Jan Vertonghen from Ajax and Gylfi Sigurdsson. However a regular goal scorer is still lacking which they desperately needed, which would help them match last season’s dizzy heights.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

INS: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen), Ben Foster (Birmingham), Yassine El Ghanassy (AA Gent), Claudio Yacob (Racing Club de Avellaneda)

OUTS: Keith Andrews (Bolton), Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wednesday), Nicky Shorey (Reading), Marton Fulop (Astera Tripolis), Somen Tchoyi (released), Paul Scharner (released)

Last season West Bromwich Albion continued to build on the previous season under manager Roy Hodgson and finished 10th in the table.  Key signing Shane Long became their highest ever signing, however did not produce the goods, only bagging 8 goals in 32 games.  Towards the end of the season, manager Roy Hodgson decided to take up the vacant England national job, opting to stay at WBA until the end of the season, to complete the season, promising a top 10 finish, which he duly delivered.  Former Chelsea coach Steve Clarke was appointed as manager and has set about rebuilding the WBA squad brining in Ben Foster and Marcus Rosenberg.  Striker Shane Long needs a better season if they are to finish in the top half.

WEST HA

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