12 August 2014

2014-15 Barclays Premier League Preview, Part 2

City fans will be hoping for a repeat of scenes like these
(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 was posted yesterday, Part 2 features Liverpool through the team that Liverpool have mercilessly decimated this summer (Southampton), and Part 3 is coming tomorrow. Come back on Thursday for an in-depth discussion between Andy and I, regarding Arsenal's prospects for the season.

Liverpool: AKA Liverhampton. The Anfield club have made a determined effort to build on their second-placed finish of last season by selling their best player and top-scorer by snatching up most of the core of the squad that impressed many by finishing 8th. It was the right time for the Reds to sell Suarez, and they did well to get £75m for a player who won’t even be able to train with his new club until late October. However, his 31 league goals will be incredibly difficult to replace, so while £4m for Rickie Lambert represents decent business, there is still a gaping hole upfront. Brendan Rodgers will hope that new signings Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Emre Can will create and add goals from midfield, Dejan Lovren will add stability to a back line that conceded a lot of goals last season, while the exciting Belgian talent Divock Origi has been signed from and immediately loaned back to Lille. The full-back position has also been strengthened, with Spaniards Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo moving to Merseyside, and Rodgers is rumored to be interested in Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Liverpool are also being linked with most of the top strikers in Europe to replace Suarez, but nothing has transpired so far. While Liverpool fans will surely enjoy the business that has been done and be glad to see the back of the controversial Suarez, it is hard to see them replicating their success of last season due to the clubs around them doing better business and not losing their best players; a Champions League qualifying finish may even be out of their reach.

Manchester City: Last season’s champions had a rocky start to the summer, with star player Yaya Touré throwing a tantrum after the Citizens didn’t celebrate his birthday to the levels he demanded; Yaya seems to have got over such demeaning treatment and remains at the Etihad Stadium for the time being. Already having a deep squad, and facing Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions, City have made a much smaller foray into the transfer market than usual this summer. Former Arsenal fan favorite Bacary Sagna arrived at the Etihad on a free, Willy Caballero was signed to back up Joe Hart and Fernando joined from Porto, seemingly just to confuse commentators and pundits. Frank Lampard will spend 6 months in Manchester on loan, before officially joining the Citizens’ MLS partner team New York City, leading many to claim that they are trying to circumnavigate FFP rules. There will be high expectations around the Etihad, and barring a major catastrophe, City will be in the title race come late April/early May. Ownership will also want to see an improvement in their Champions League record, but the 21-man squad limit under FFP could be a hindrance.

Manchester United: We all had a good laugh at ManUre last season, but on pre-season form and under a new manager in Louis van Gaal, the Red Devils’ time as a laughing stock may already be over. Van Gaal is seemingly trying to reinvent the tactics used at Old Trafford, believing that a 3-5-2 better suits his squad. It worked well for him in the World Cup as the Netherlands got the semi-finals, but it’s a formation we haven’t seen much of in the Premier League, which could easily work for or against them. An incoming manager always seems to give his club a boost, and while expectations at United are always high, van Gaal is very confident in his abilities to live up to them. Business has been quiet in Salford, though, with only Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw coming in. Shaw’s price tag included the so-called “British player premium”, though when compared with Arsenal’s fee for Calum Chambers, you have to marvel at how exactly Wenger got such a good deal. £32m and £100,000 a week for a left-back is a staggering sum of money, even if you believe that he is England’s future in that position. With Liverpool likely to fall out of the top 4, and Sp*rs being relatively quiet in the transfer market, ManUre have a good chance of returning to the Champions League places this season; a lack of European football helped Liverpool last season, and could be a boost for United this time out.

Newcastle United: Fans of the Magpies will be looking forward to the start of the new season, after a frankly shambolic turn-out last season. Former manager Joe Kinnear came and went as Director of Football, Newcastle sold their best player in Yohan Cabaye to PSG in January and didn’t replace him, and basically stopped playing in February once it became clear they would not be relegated. The ups and downs featured a 4-game win streak and 6 defeats in a row, but this time round there is a (tiny) little bit more optimism around the club; teams around them have been weakened and Alan Pardew has been very busy in the transfer market. Pardew continues to follow the Arsene Wenger in 1998 model of buying up any available French player, with Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Rivière adding to the Francophone at St James’ Park. Also joining are midfielder Siem de Jong, striker Facundo Ferreyra, right back Daryl Janmaat, who impressed for the Netherlands at the World Cup, and well as young Brits Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow from Nottingham Forest. Finally, Jack Colback swapped red and white for black and white stripes by moving from arch-rivals Sunderland on a free. All of this represents some good business by the Magpies, but theirs still looks like a mid-table squad. There is an outside chance that Newcastle could challenge for Europa League places, but with owner Mike Ashley seemingly against playing on Thursday nights, it looks likely that the Magpies will finish mid-table - a position fans are all far too used to by now.

Queens Park Rangers: The third of the newly-promoted sides, Rangers earned promotion via the playoffs, beating heavily-favored Derby County in the final thanks to a last-minute goal from Bobby Zamora. The R’s spent just one season in the Championship under ‘Arry Redknapp’s management (the former Sp*rs manager has said this will be his last season before retirement), helped by the fact that they retained many of their key players when they were relegated. ‘Arry hasn’t done much work in the transfer market, but has a reputation as a wheeler-dealer, so expect to see some free signings before the window closes. He has, however, signed former Manchester Utd captain Rio Ferdinand on a free deal, as well as bolstering his defence with the transfer of Steven Caulker from Cardiff - midfielder Jordon Mutch also joined from the Bluebirds - and a loan deal for Juventus’ Mauricio Isla, part of Chile’s impressive World Cup campaign. A host of established Premier League names have left or been released - including Andy Johnson, Esteban Granero, Yossi Benayoun and Aaron Hughes - but the squad still features (for now) Joey Barton, Adel Taarabt, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Junior Hoilett and Loic Remy, with Julio Cesar returning from his loan spell at Toronto. On paper, QPR have a good enough squad to stay up, though they could probably do with a little more depth. The R’s are among the favorites to be relegated, though if they do stay up they will likely finish just barely above the drop-zone.

Southampton: At least they’ve gone back to red and white stripes on their home kit. That’s about the only good news to have come out of St. Mary’s this summer. After a successful season which saw a young squad with a core of good English players finish 8th under Mauricio Pochettino’s guidance, the squad has been ravaged by transfers. Pochettino left for the open manager’s job at Shite Hart Lane (presumably for the standard 9 months); Liverpool signed Lallana, Lovren and Lambert; Shaw went for insane money to Man Utd; and Arsenal signed promising young defender/midfielder Chambers. On top of all of this, the futures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez remain unclear. New manager Ronald Koeman is hardly a downgrade at the position, and takes over a squad that still has a lot of Premier League quality, to which has been added Graziano Pellè and Dušan Tadić, and Ryan Bertrand and Saphir Taïder on loan. However, Koeman will surely want some stability at the club if he is to have any chance of guiding the Saints to another top-half finish. With all the turmoil going on at St Mary’s they will likely struggle; OCoB predicts a bottom half finish.

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