The new Premier League season is little over a month away now - the clubs have regrouped for pre-season as they look to bed in new players, get the squad back to full fitness and ultimately build on last season's achievements.
Many clubs have already smashed their transfer records in the pursuit of success and with the transfer window still open for another six weeks, we can be sure that there will be a lot more deals to be done.
This is the second of five articles that will preview the upcoming season, taking a look at all 20 Premier League teams. We will analysis which areas they are strong and some they need to improve upon, potential transfer dealing’s and where we could expect them to finish come the end of the season.
*All transfer fees are based on media and club reports - some may still be undisclosed.
Last season: 5th (Championship)
New arrivals: Dwight Gayle, Jose Campana, Stephen Dobbie, Jerome Thomas, Kevin Phillips.
Key departures: Andre Moritz, Alex Marrow.
I was very pleased to see Crystal Palace win the play-off final in May, mainly because it means Ian Holloway will be on our screens much more often.
His passionate, honest and often comical interviews have been sorely missed from our top division and with Jose Mourinho returning this season as well, we can expect a lot more entertainment off the pitch.
Palace can also be very entertaining on the pitch. They play like the typical attacking Holloway side, very much like Blackpool did under his stewardship when they reached the Premier League in 2010.
They try and score a lot of goals and break quickly on the counter attack, but they also concede a lot of goals too, so I wouldn’t be expecting many bore draws down at Selhurst Park this season.
Wilfried Zaha was one of their stand-out players last year with some exciting performance’s, ultimately securing him a big money move to Manchester United. They have enquired about loaning him back for the season, but it looks like he will be featuring in the United first team, which is a big blow to Palace.
But they do have a number of other players who can make an impact in top division.
Yannick Bolasie has a very similar style to Zaha. He is quick, tricky and love’s running at the full backs.
Glenn Murray was the top scorer in the Championship last season and will be missed as he recovers from a serious knee inquiry. He is a great target man and 30 goals from 42 appearances really highlight’s his quality in front of goal.
Palace’s Player of the Year last season was Mile Jedinak and the Aussie has quickly become a fan’s favourite, due to his combative style in the centre of midfield.
He will be very important this season as he will look to patrol the whole pitch, disrupting the more creative talents in the opposing teams.
One player I’m really excited to see is Jon Williams. The young Welshman made a real impression in the first team last season with some very assured performances, playing either from out wide or in just behind the striker. I just hope he is given plenty of starts next season as he is a real prospect for the future.
They haven’t been as busy in the transfer window as I would expect. They have brought in Spanish Under 20 captain Jose Campana, who guided his team to the final of the Under 20 World Cup this summer.
Jerome Thomas has been added to bring a bit of pace and Premier League experience to a squad that he very little of the latter.
Dwight Gayle’s £4.5 million pound move from Peterborough was a bit of a strange one to me. Yes, he has been progressing very quickly and did put in a lot of good performances last season, but for a club who don’t have a lot of funds to play with, that is a lot of money for a young, unproven striker.
I do worry for Palace though, especially at the back. Their defence looked pretty shaky towards the end of last season and they haven’t added any more quality in that position at all.
Club captain Paddy McCarthy missed the entirety of last season through injury, but they desperately need some more quality and experience in the centre of defence.
Palace will put up a spirited fight next season, which is the least I expect from an Ian Holloway side, but I am not very optimistic about their chances of survival.
Last season: 6th
New arrivals: Roberto Martinez (Manager) Arouna Kone, Joel Robles, Antolin Alcaraz, Gerard Deulofeu.
Key departures: Phil Neville, Thomas Hitzlesperger, Jan Mucha.
The Everton fans will almost certainly have a change in playing style to deal with now Roberto Martinez is the manager.
Martinez loves his team to keep possession and slowly break down opponents with short passing and good movement. Moyes’ Everton played with a structured efficiency, with two solid banks of four when defending and springing seamless counter attacks, using overlapping full backs to utilise the true width of the pitch and stretch the opposing back four.
Martinez has begun his new adventure as Everton manager by signing three of his former players, who shared last season’s success. Antonin Alcaraz will provide good competition for both Everton’s centre backs and Joel Robles will give Tim Howard good back-up in the goalkeeping department.
Local boy Victor Anichebe has always been a fan favourite at Everton, but his career has been blighted with injury, but he managed to keep himself fit for the majority of last season and, after a number of powerful performances, managed to usurp Nikica Jelavic as Everton’s first choice striker.
Jelavic, who was so effective when he first arrived at Goodison Park, was low on form and confidence last season and has been linked with an exit from the club after Martinez splashed out around £6 million on Arouna Kone.
He has also recruited the services of Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu for the season, after Barcelona were said to be impressed with Martinez’s vision for the club.
With Kevin Mirallas looking dangerous last season, Deulofeu would provide great balance and flair to the team, coming in from the opposing wing.
Martinez has inherited a good, experienced squad, but if star players Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini do indeed link up with their former boss at Manchester United, it would be a big blow to his ambitions.
Last season: 12th
New arrivals: Maarten Stekelenburg, Derek Boateng, Fernando Amorebieta, Sacha Reither
Key departures: Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, Mladen Petric, Simon Davies, Mahamadou Diarra.
This season has already seen a big shakeup down at Craven Cottage. Long time owner Mohamed Al-Fayed has decided the step aside and sell the club he has built over the last 15 years.
The new owner Shahid Khan, an America-based Pakistani billionaire, also owns NFL outfit the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He has promised the keep faith with current manager, Martin Jol and continue to help the club progress.
Although a cash injection is inevitable, he has made his immediate goal to ensure the stability of the club, so I don’t expect many big name signing’s and for Fulham to suddenly be challenging for the title.
There has also been a big clear out in that playing staff, with several of last season’s first team like Chris Baird, Mladen Petric and the long serving Mark Schwarzer, being released from the club.
Free transfer signings like the combative midfielder Derek Boateng and calm Spanish centre-back Fernando Amorebieta will help bolster the squad.
Sasha Riether has also signed permanently after a very impressive season while on loan from German side Koln.
The number one goalkeeping jersey has been filled by the giant figure of Dutch international goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenberg. It wasn’t long ago that the Dutchman was a leading candidate to replace countryman, Edwin van der Sar at Manchester United.
Fulham have only splashed out £3 million to recruit him from Roma, representing a really good bit of business. He could prove the be the signing of the season.
Times of change can often bring unrest and inconsistency to a football club, so influential players like captain Brede Hangelaand, the tireless Damien Duff and the mercurial talent that is Dimitar Berbatov, will be more important than ever this season.
Fulham are one of those teams that rely a little too much on their home form to ensure they survive every season.
I feel that they need to improve their away form and the overall consistency of their performances, if they want to guarantee keeping their noses above the relegation zone this season.
Last season: 2nd (Championship)
New arrivals: Curtis Davies, Allan McGregor, George Boyd, Danny Graham, Maynor Figueroa, Ahmed Elmohamady, Steve Harper.
Key departures: Jack Hobbs, Jay Simpson, Andy Dawson, Seyi Olofinjana.
Since being relegated from the Premier League back in 2010, Hull City have spent the last two seasons chasing a play-off spot in the Championship.
But after the club appointed Steve Bruce as manager at the start of last season, the club have gone from strength to strength and secured automatic promotion in May.
This will be the fourth side Bruce has managed in the Premier League and if you compare his action in the transfer market to the other two promoted clubs, you can see how important that experience will be.
Cardiff and Palace have brought in young, inexperienced players, mainly in attacking positions, whereas Bruce’s first priority was the sure up his defence with proven, experienced players.
Allan McGregor has returned to British football, after a spell in Turkey with Besiktas and will be looking to make the number one spot his own.
After his release from Wigan, solid defender Maynor Figueroa, has been reunited with the man who brought him to English football in 2008. He was one of Wigan’s best players during their time in the top division and will add his considerable pace, strength and stamina to the back four.
Bruce has also spent the best part of £3 million pounds to bring in Curtis Davies from Birmingham. Once regarded as a future England international, Davies will be very keen to regain that reputation after proving himself to be one of the best defenders in the Championship over the past few seasons.
Last season’s successful loanees George Boyd and Ahmed Elmohamady have signed permanently for the club, but Bruce desperately wanted to bring in a proven quality striker.
A move for Championship goal machine Charlie Austin fell through and Hull couldn’t agree a fee with Celtic for Gary Hooper. Bruce has signed Sunderland flop Danny Graham on a season long loan.
As a self-confessed Newcastle fan, a move to Sunderland was probably the worst thing he could have done and failed to score a goal in 11 appearances last season.
But Graham has a proven track record as a goal scorer and has a very good scoring ratio during his spells at Carlisle, Watford and in the Premier League with Swansea. So if Bruce can get his confidence up and the fans get behind him, he could prove to be a very good signing.
Where Hull could struggle this season, is in the centre of midfield. In this modern era of possession football, games can be won or lost in the central midfield battle.
Bruce may opt for three players in the middle of the park, Cory Evans is a good prospect for the future, but apart from him they do not have any real quality players in that position.
Lee Cattermole has been told he is surplus to requirements at Sunderland, Bruce has signed him for both Wigan and Sunderland before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed him for a third time as he could add some much needed experience and aggression to a tame Tigers midfield.
Even though Hull have and good, experienced manager and have spent well in the transfer window, I still don’t see them staying up. I’m afraid that the three teams that came up are the clear favourite’s to go straight back down again and I personally wouldn’t bet against that happening.
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