11 August 2014

2014-15 Barclays Premier League Preview, Part 1

A new season begins, and this
is what everyone is playing for
(Credit: Neil Turner)
With the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League kicking off this Saturday, One Club on Boylston (OCoB) 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 features Aston Villa through Leicester, Part 2 comes tomorrow and Part 3 will go up Wednesday. Andy and I will discuss Arsenal in a more in-depth preview as part of our regular Thursday Throwdown column.
Aston Villa: The Villains enter the new season under some uncertainty; owner Randy Lerner put the club up for sale in May, though there have been no bids so far. Lerner claims that he and the management team - including new assistant manager Roy Keane - are fully focused on the upcoming, and not the sale. Villa have added former Arsenal defender Philippe Senderos and Joe Cole on free transfers, as well as Kieran Richardson from Fulham, and will hope that last summer’s signing Jores Okore can make a contribution after rupturing knee ligaments in just his 4th match for the club and missing the whole season. Christian Benteke’s services have been retained, and manager Paul Lambert will hope that the Belgian can return to the form of a few seasons ago, rather than last season’s lackluster performances. If he can rediscover his goal-scoring form, the Villains will be confident of improving on last season’s 15th-place finish.

Burnley: The first of the newly-promoted clubs, Burnley finished 2nd in the Championship to earn automatic qualification to the Premier League, led by the goalscoring exploits of Danny Ings, who netted 21 times in the league. Sean Dyche has strengthened his squad and Ings will be supported by Lukas Jutkiewicz up front, Marvin Sordell will provide another attacking option and Michael Kightly makes the move from Stoke to provide width and supply. While The Clarets have also signed EPL veterans Matt Taylor and Steven Reid, they are one of the favorites to be relegated and may struggle to give their fans any highlights this season. However, all of these signings are typical newly-promoted signings: bringing in players who will help you survive in the Championship when you inevitably get immediately relegated. OCoB reckon they'll finish dead last.

Chelsea: Jose Mourinho’s side enter the new season as favorites to win the title, and for good reason. The Blues have strengthened an already formidable squad with Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, former player Didier Drogba, and former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, all while somehow convincing PSG that Sideshow Luiz was worth £50m. Club legend and record scorer Frank Lampard was allowed to leave at the end of his contract, while several other contributors have left the club. Jose Mourinho will have to get his squad to perform better against lower-ranked sides, as they dropped points several times against the bttom half, and the style of play was heavily criticized in some quarters. Questions abound regarding Mourinho’s decision to opt for Torres and one year of Didier Drogba - who injured his ankle just before the start of the season - over Romelu Lukaku, but should Costa perform well and Hazard and Schürrle continue their good form from the end of last season, Chelsea fans have a very strong chance of celebrating a trophy win of some kind in 2015.

Crystal Palace: The Eagles started the season miserably last year, but after Tony Pulis came in as manager mid-season, their form improved dramatically and Pulis reinvented his rugby manager image, culminating in Palace finishing an impressive 11th - also the first time in Palace’s history that they’ve stayed in the Premier League after gaining promotion there. The Eagles also played a major role in deciding the location of the league trophy, beating Chelsea and drawing with Liverpool during the run-in to allow Man City to clinch the title. There hasn’t been a lot of business done in the transfer market, with Brede Hangeland and former Manchester United youngster Fraizer Campbell being the only two signings of note to date. Palace should be fairly confident of finishing outside of the relegation zone come May, but will likely stay in the bottom half and may finish lower than the position they achieved last season.

Everton: The Toffees gave Arsenal a late-season challenge for the final Champions League place during Roberto Martinez’ first season in charge at Goodison, and return much of the same squad as last year, having smashed their transfer record to bring Chelsea’s Belgian star Romelu Lukaku. Gareth Barry, another key player last season, has signed on a permanent deal from Man City, and Everton have also brought in Muhamed Besic, who received good reviews while playing for Bosnia-Herzegovina at the World Cup. Expect another season of attractive play under Martinez’ guidance, but likely improvements from clubs around them may mean the Toffees will only challenge for Europa League places.

Hull City: After their best season ever, and a first major cup final appearance, the Tigers are looking to build on their successes and seem set for a relatively-long spell in the top division. Manager Steve Bruce has spent almost £20m strengthening his squad, with notable signings including Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore. The highly-rated Tom Ince also signed on at the KC Stadium on a free, a major coup for a small-ish club as Ince was earlier linked with a move to Monaco and several major Italian clubs. Hull’s first ever foray into European competition - should they get through the qualification stages - could provide a distraction for a club that finished 16th last year. However, with the likes of Ince and Snodgrass playing behind Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, the Tigers should be confident that they have enough to stay in the Premier League for another season.

Leicester City: Last season’s convincing winners of the Championship return to the top flight of English football for the first time since 2004. The Foxes’s owners have previously stated that they are willing to spend to build a squad capable of survival in the Premier League, but so far the only money spent has been on former Brighton striker Leonardo Ulloa. Ulloa add more scoring to a front-line that was lead by top-scorer David Nugent last season, while at the back, former-Arsenal defender Matthew Upson has been signed on a free transfer. The only other ‘big’ signing was another free deal for Marc Albrighton, formerly of Aston Villa. All of these have been added to a core that features Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Wes Morgan at the back and Danny Drinkwater in midfield - a typical Championship-level squad, but not much worse than some Premiership sides. The Foxes will go from dominating matches to be being overwhelmed, so it will be interesting to see how Nigel Pearson and his players adapt; in four of their first five fixtures they will face Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. As with most newly-promoted sides, Leicester are among the favorites to get relegated, however your humble writer thinks they have enough quality, depth and a good enough manager to survive, as well as a determined ownership who could fund more incoming transfers.

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