13 August 2014

2014-15 Barclays Premier League Preview, Part 3

Bojan is one of more intriguing
signings of the summer
(Credit: Wikipedia)
With the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League kicking off this Saturday, One Club on Boylston will be previewing each team's chances this season, looking at their performances last season and the business conducted during the transfer window so far. Part 1 went up on Monday, Part 2 was yesterday, and Part 3, featuring Stoke City through West Ham United. Come back tomorrow for the Arsenal season preview - the one we actually care about - when Andy will join me for our regular Thursday Throwdown column.

Incidentally, this is One Club on Boylston's 100th post. Thanks for sticking with us and giving our writers an audience to share their thoughts with, and for making them feel important because they have an audience. Here's to the next 100 posts. Thank you, Boston Gooners!

Stoke City: Stoke are coming off their highest ever finish in the Premier League era, after ending the season ninth in Mark Hughes’ first season as manager. The Potters have had a relatively successful summer, signing Mame Biram Diouf, Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley on frees, while agreeing undisclosed deals for Dionatan Teixeira (Google tells me he’s a Brazilian-born Slovak U21 defender from a club called Dukla Banská Bystrica - OK!) and former Barcelona striker Bojan Krkić. The Bojan signing is interesting: for Stoke, it something of a coup to sign a player who has played for Barca, Roma, AC Milan and Ajax; for the player himself, though, it says a lot about the direction his career has taken after exploding on to the scene not long after his 17th birthday. If Bojan can revitalize his career just a bit, then Stoke have a good chance of improving on their ninth-placed finish of last season. One of our regulars has them finishing as high as 6th; OCoB can’t see them qualifying for Europe, so has Stoke a more realistic 8th.

Sunderland: The Black Cats started last season under the management of controversial figure Paulo Di Canio, before firing him 5 matches into the season. Under new manager Gus Poyet, Sunderland embarked on the definition of a roller-coaster season; after initially improving their form, and even taking them to the League Cup final (in which they would lose 3-1 against Man City, despite leading 1-0 at half-time), they suffered a horrendous slump in form, falling to bottom with 6 games remaining before turning it round again and finally finishing 14th. Poyet’s first aim this season is surely to bring some stability to the Stadium of Light after a turbulent few seasons. However, a large number of players have left or been released, with five (as of writing) new signings coming in. Costel Pantilimon has joined to compete with former Arsenal player Vito Mannone for the goalkeeper’s position, while Jack Rodwell also makes the move from Manchester after a disappointing few years with City. Patrick van Aanholt left Chelsea for first-team football, with Jordi Gomez and Billy Jones joining on frees. Sunderland should have enough to extend their stay in to the top division to nine seasons, especially if American forward Jozy Altidore can finally start scoring in England’s top-flight.

Swansea City: Swansea dropped from 9th to 12th in the final league standings last season, but solidified their position as Premier League team. This slight fall in the rankings may have had something to do with distractions from European football, as well as uncertainty surrounding Michael Laudrup’s position as manager at the start of the season. He was replaced by club captain Garry Monk in February, and Monk impressed many by steering the Swans to a respectable final position. Monk has been active in the transfer window, signing forwards Bafetimbi Gomis, Marvin Emnes and Jefferson Montero (I’ve always been a fan of his on FM - let’s see if he actually has the goods) to bolster his attacking options after loaning Michu to Napoli (and possibly as replacements for Wilfried Bony, who is being linked with a move to a bigger club). Fan favorite Gylfi Sigurdsson returns to the Liberty Stadium as part of a swap deal for Michel Vorm and Ben Davies with Tottenham, while Vorm’s replacement is most likely to be former Arsenal ‘keeper Lukasz Fabianski, who left the Gunners on a free after helping win the FA Cup. Under Monk’s calm and steady management, as well as the decent transfer business conducted so far, Swansea look well placed to continue their stay in the Premier League; OCoB predicts a lower-mid-table finish.

T*******m H*****r: OCoB was inclined not to write anything about the scum from Middlesex, but feels it has to due to professional obligation. Once again, the club and their fans entered last season proclaiming they would finally overcome their neighbors and qualify for the Champions League; this despite selling their best player and throwing the resulting money in random amounts at any club that would take it and accepting whatever those clubs sent back to them. All of this lead them to finishing one place lower than the season before, replacing Andre Villas-Boas with Tim Sherwood (wh o gave Gooners one of their favorite memories of last season with his gilet tantrum), who only lasted until the end of the season himself, being replaced by former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino. So far, Sp*rs have signed only three players: Michel Vorm, presumably as Hugo Lloris’ back-up; and defenders Ben Davies and Eric Dier. Pochettino is interested in bringing his former charges Schneiderlin and Rodriguez to Shite Hart Lane, but the Saints are loathe to sell any more first-team players. With a lack of true strengthening, added to the improvements made by others around them, OCoB thinks they will finish another spot down from last year in 7th.

West Bromwich Albion: The upcoming season could be a real struggle for the Baggies. They enter the season with their third different manager in a calendar year, after Alan Irvine (who is in his first ever Premier League management role) replaced Pepe Mel at the end of last season. Mel was supposed to turn around a squad that was struggling, but failed to click with his players or ownership, contributing to their 17th-placed finish. There has also been a lot of squad turnover this season, with 6 first-team players leaving and 8 coming in. Probably the best-known of those players is former England international Joleon Lescott, though £10m was spent on Nigerian forward Brown Ideye in an attempt to improve their strike force. West Brom’s squad features some established Premier League players, but combining the squad turnover, Irvine’s lack of top-flight experience and improvements of clubs who finished near them, leads OCoB to believe that the Baggies will end the upcoming season in the bottom three.

West Ham United: Sam Allardyce came under a lot of pressure last season from fans and ownership, after blowing his wad on Andy Carroll (who spent the first half of last season injured), playing ugly football and suffering heavy defeats in the cups. The Hammers, however, finished a fairly respectable 13th, with owners David Gold and David Sullivan deciding to stick with Big Sam, and even provide him some money - and an “attacking coach” to make the side more entertaining - to improve his squad. On paper, it looks like he has done so, spending £12m on Enner Valencia, scorer of 3 goals for Ecuador at the World Cup, £7m on Cheikhou Kouyaté, a Senegalese center-back who played for Anderlecht last season, and agreeing an undisclosed fee for Mauro Zarate, who once appeared for Birmingham in the Premier League (and is another of OCoB’s favorite FM players). There will be some intrigue in East London for Gooners this year, as banter-loving Carl Jenkinson has left the Emirates on loan for first team football, with Wenger hoping he’ll return ready to challenge for the right-back slot. Big Sam has also signed promising England youth international (and Sunderland manager Gus’ son) Diego Poyet and Aaron Cresswell to help compensate for the losses of Joe Cole, Jack Collison and Matt Taylor. If the Hammer’s attacking coach can balance Big Sam’s usual long ball tendencies, and the new signings, Valencia especially, perform well, then West Ham could be an interesting team this season. They are unlikely to compete for European spots, but should finish mid-table, and even have a shot at the top-half.

OCoB's 14/15 Season Predictions

2014/15 EPL Champions: Chelsea

Champions League qualifiers: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United

Europa League qualifiers: Everton, Liverpool, Sp*rs

Relegation: Burnley, Aston Villa, West Brom

This post was edited to reflect that the author actually thinks QPR have a good chance of staying up.

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