By Greg Hudson
MANCHESTER UNITED F.C.
Nickname: The Red Devils
Kit Colors: Red/White/Black; White
Home: Old Trafford
The Red Devils have been the dominant force in English football in the past quarter century, but when legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, United’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. David Moyes took the helm last season, but seemed to immediately run into trouble getting results from the team considered by many to be the most fearsome in England.
So it was of little surprise when David Moyes was sacked towards the end of last season, when United finished a lowly 7th. He was replaced by Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal, who guided the Dutch to the World Cup Final in 2010 and to a third place finish this past summer in Brazil. Van Gaal comes in with a highly touted tactical understanding of the game, something which cannot always be said of his predecessor, and with some money to spend on new players.
But that money has been invested in attacking midfielder Ander Herrera and left back Luke Shaw, a 20-year-old phenom who impressed last season with Southampton. It isn’t to say that these are bad signings, but the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, and captain Nemanja Vidic have left an already shaky defense even more vulnerable. Their attack looks strong, so they shouldn’t struggle to score against the lesser clubs, but they’ll struggle to keep the likes of City, Liverpool, and Arsenal out of the net, and that will hurt their finish in the end. But make no mistake, United are a Champions’ League calibre side.
Predicted Finish: 4th
NEWCASTLE UNITED F.C.
Nickname: The Magpies
Kit Colors: Black/White; Grey
Home: St. James’ Park
Newcastle are a unusual outfit. A side comprised mostly by French players or African players from French-speaking countries, the Magpies have had a volatile combination of intensity and class, but a tendency towards inconsistent play has kept them from reaching their full potential, as they lost 19 of their 38 matches last season en route to a 10th place finish.
Looking to improve their inconsistent attack, Alan Pardew has made several additions to his side this summer. After the departure of fullback Matthew Debuchy to Arsenal, defenders Jack Colback and Daryl Janmaat have moved to St. James’ Park, while new attacking midfielders Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere and strikers Ayoze Perez and Siem de Jong will help the Magpies score the goals they need to convert narrow defeats into draws, and turn close matches into wins.
They aren’t a top team, not yet, but the signings they’ve made this summer show intent to develop young up-and-comers into star talents who can challenge the top teams for a place in Europe in the coming years.
Predicted Finish: 8th
QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS F.C.
Nickname: The Hoops
Kit Colors: Blue/White; Red/Black
Home: Loftus Road
Rangers make their return to the Premier League after a year in the Championship, having won the playoff final with a last-gasp goal over favourites Derby County. The Hoops had spent the previous two seasons in the top flight, and their squad leaves little doubt why. They’ve got several Premier League regulars in their ranks, and while they have no star power, the likes of Loic Remy, Junior Hoilett and Adel Taarabt all have potential to become household names throughout English football as top attacking options.
But it was QPR’s porous defense which doomed them to relegation in 2012-13 and with that in mind, two of the three new additions to the Hoop’s back line are defenders Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker. Ferdinand, the 34-year-old veteran who won several titles with Manchester United, will no doubt serve largely as a mentor and advisor to the young Caulker and the other Rangers defenders as they look to keep opponents off the score sheet and give their club the best opportunity to survive. Should they succeed in tightening the defense, they should survive comfortably, but if they remain a porous unit, they’ll struggle to stay afloat in a league where you either sink or swim.
Predicted Finish: 17th
Nickname: The Saints
Kit Colors: Red/White; Navy
Home: St. Mary’s Stadium
Saints exceeded expectations in 2013-14, sitting in the top five for much of the season in just their second season since promotion in 2012-13. But with time Mauricio Pochettino’s men returned to earth and settled for and eighth place finish, which is still well above their fans’ expectations.
But as is often the case, a mid-table side with standout players often has trouble keeping them, and most of Saints’ side from last season have left for pastures new. Defenders Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, and Dejan Lovren have all left the club, as have midfielder Adam Lallana and strikers Rickie Lambert and Dani Osvaldo. These big-name sales left Saints fans feeling broken and many pundits have picked them to be sent down.
But new manager Ronald Koeman has dipped into the transfer market with the hopes of finding players capable of saving Saints, and he’s done quite well. New ‘keeper Fraser Forster and new defender Ryan Bertrand, both highly underrated players, will look to keep what remains of the Southampton defense in good shape to keep opponents off the sheet, while Dusan Tadic will attempt to fill the shoes vacated by Lallana. But this shouldn’t be as difficult as one might think; last season for FC Twente, Tadic created over 120 goal-scoring opportunities – over fifty more than the next man behind him. Meanwhile, bargain-priced Shane Long replaces Lambert, and when Jay Rodriguez returns from knee injury, these two should help the Saints produce the goals they’ll need to survive. It won’t be a comfortable ordeal and there will be hard moments, but Saints remain a Premiership-quality side.
Predicted Finish: 16th
STOKE CITY F.C.
Nickname: The Potters
Kit Colors: Red/White; SkyBlue/Navy
Home: The Brittania Stadium
In their sixth season in the top flight since their promotion in 2008, the Potters secured their first top-half finish last year when they ended the season ninth. But it was also a season of transformation for Stoke, who had earned a reputation as a side that did everything except play football during their time under Tony Pulis, when they were known more for a hard-tackling, foul-committing side that played simply to disrupt opponents’ strategy and win the game with physical play and expert set piece work. But last season under new manager Mark Hughes, the Potters showed that they can do more than just tackle, clear, and head the ball – they are a legitimate footballing side that can entertain crowds like the best teams in England.
While the quality of the squad at Stoke is below that of the elite teams, the Potters are a solid mid-table side with a variety of attacking options with slight and spry striker Peter Odemwingie offering an entirely different skillset of his giant strike partner, the 6-foot 8-inch Peter Crouch. But the two Peters represent what makes Stoke who they are – a unique blend of physical muscle and finesse that can both bully an opponent and create quality scoring chances.
New acquisitions reflect this unique combination. Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell represent the physical side of the Stoke way, while highly-rated young attacker Bojan Krkic is the embodiment of style and flair. This combination certainly isn’t typical of a side capable of winning silverware, but it’s effective, certainly enough so to earn the Potters another mid-table finish and perhaps a decent run in one of the domestic cups.
Predicted Finish: 11th