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 third 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: 11th
New arrivals: Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper, Leroy Fer, Nathan Redmond, Martin Olsson & Javier Garrido
Departures: Grant Holt, James Vaughan, Andrew Surman, Simeon Jackson, Lee Camp, Chris Martin, Mark Tierney & Elliot Ward
Before the start of last season, I was tipping Norwich to be in the relegation battle. But Chris Hughton had a very good first season in charge and led the Canaries to a solid mid table finish.
Their pre-season has been a lot busier than anyone could have expected, Hughton has spent around £20 million already and has let go of a number of familiar faces that have helped Norwich through the divisions, players like Ward, Tierney and fans favourite Holt have all been allowed to leave.
When Norwich announced in January that Dutch striker Van Wolfswinkel would be joining the club this summer for a club record fee, I thought this may just be a one of bit if business, but Hughton has gone on to sign a number of players, who have been linked with much bigger clubs than Norwich in the last few years.
Tenacious Dutch midfielder Fer, Celtic striker Hooper, Blackburn’s Norwegian wing-back Martin Olsson and England Under-21 winger Redmond have all been added to the squad, which now has a very different look to the side Hughton inherited from Paul Lambert.
With the right supply, Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper will score goals, they have already proved that with their previous clubs.
If this fresh new talent can combine well with Norwich’s key player from last season, like Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington, then we could see a new attacking force in the Premier League next season.
However, you do worry that they will concede too many goals.
John Ruddy and Sebastien Bassong are both very good Premier League performers, but they don’t have too much quality around them, so if the bank isn’t completely empty, they should look at strengthening that defence.
I won’t be tipping Norwich for the drop this season as they have spent well this summer, but with the other teams around them doing the same, I think it will be difficult for them to improve on last season’s performance.
Another mid-table finish would be a successful season.
Last season: 14th
New arrivals: Dejan Lovren & Victor Wanyama
Departures: Vegard Forren, Frazer Richardson, Danny Butterfield & Richard Chaplow
Southampton had a good, but fairly inconsistent first season back in England's top division last season.
Changing manager halfway through the season, when they were already doing pretty well, could easily have backfired, but Mauricio Pochettino settled in well, despite not being able to speak English.
Southampton are a team I always like to see doing well, as their academy is a breeding ground for many of British football's top talents.
Players like Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all came through the Saints youth system and have gone on to become top European performers.
The current crop of Southampton youngsters also looks to have a bright future. James Ward-Prowse had some impressive performances in the first-team last season, the likes of Calum Chambers and Jack Stephens have been implemented into the first-team set up and will be hoping for an opportunity to make an impact.
Luke Shaw is probably their outstanding youth product at the moment. At just 17, he established himself as a first-choice Premier division left-back last season.
He and Nathaniel Clyne, who had a great season after joining from Crystal Palace, both look like future England full-backs in the making, so hopefully they can build upon last season good form.
Like Norwich, Southampton have also spent big this summer, but where Norwich have spread the money on five or so players, the Saints have splashed out on two big signings.
Croatian centre-back Lovren has joined from Lyon. After failing to hold down a regular first-team spot in his three season there, he was allowed to leave but his talent has never been questioned so he could shine in the Premier League.
The bulk of Southampton’s transfer fund was spent on Celtic’s Victor Wanyama.
After some eye-catching performances in both the SPL and in the Champions League, Celtic decided to cash in on their star player.
He is strong, quick and technically very solid, he will be an integral presence in the centre of that Saints midfield, alongside the talented Morgan Schneiderlin.
Add these two new players to the talent they already have at their disposal, like Gaston Ramirez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, I think Southampton will be one of the teams to watch next season.
Although they would be happy with a mid-table finish, I don’t think a European spot would be too far out of their reach, come the end of the season.
Last season: 13th
New arrivals: Mark Hughes, Erik Pieters & Marc Muniesa
Departures: Dean Whitehead, Rory Delap & Matthew Upson
With Tony Pulis at the helm, Stoke City have survived for five years in the Premier League. But with fans clambering for a change in style and approach, Pulis left the club at the end of last season.
Mark Hughes has been given the top job, which hasn’t gone down well with the fans, who were hoping for a more stylish manager to bring attractive football to the Britannia.
Hughes hasn’t been given much money to spend. Young Spanish centre-back Marc Muniesa has been brought in from Barcelona on a free, after being told he was no longer needed.
Another defender, Pieters has come in to try and solidify a leaky defence, but apart from these two, there has been no other business.
Stoke are barely ever linked with anyone in the gossip columns either, which is very worrying for the Potters faithful.
Stoke only won nine games last season, their worst total since getting promoted. Their home form too, which has kept them up in previous seasons, wasn’t as solid as it should be, the Britannia clearly isn’t the fortress it once was.
They need some changes, in both playing staff and style. They cannot rely on pure physicality to get results now, they need to use the width of the pitch and play a bit more football.
Pulis himself noticed this and tried to get his players to use the ball more efficiently, but it didn’t really suit his style.
Hughes’ experience managing and playing at big clubs could prove vital, especially if he gets players like Michael Kightly and Matthew Etherington running at the opposition full-backs and providing good service for Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch.
But they clearly lack flair and creativity in midfield, Charlie Adam is supposed to supply that but since leaving Blackpool he has completely lost his spark.
If they don’t have much money to spend then they may need to look to the Championship for new recruits.
Players like Anthony Knockaert or Chris Eagles would be good midfield recruits and add some creativity to a squad which clearly lacks it.
I do worry for Stoke this season. If they get off to a poor start and the fans get on Hughes’ back then it could be a long hard season for the Potters.
I’ve said in previous articles that I think the three promoted clubs will go back down, but if Stoke don’t get their act together, they could find themselves in a serious relegation battle.
Last season: 17th
New arrivals: Jozy Altidore, Emanuele Giaccherini, Vito Mannone, Cabral, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge, David Moberg Karlsson & El Hadji Ba
Departures: Simon Mignolet, James McClean, Titus Bramble & Matthew Kilgallon
After bringing in Paolo Di Canio towards the end of last season, Sunderland survived by the skin of their teeth.
The Italian had a massive impact on the team, injecting some much needed drive, passion and confidence to a squad that were really struggling under Martin O’Neill.
He has been very busy this transfer window, bringing in new recruits from all over Europe, including American striker Altidore, who had been scoring lots of goals in Holland with AZ Alkmaar and Italian winger Giaccherini, who was one of Italy’s stand-out players in the recent Confederations Cup.
It was a big blow to lose Mignolet to Liverpool, as he had been one of the best ‘keepers in the Division last season.
Mannone has come in from Arsenal and will be looking to beat off competition from Kieren Westwood and make the number one jersey his own.
There has been a lot of speculation about the future of Stephane Sessegnon this summer, it has been rumoured that he wants to leave but he is such an important player for Sunderland, it would be a big blow to lose him.
Although they have spent a lot of money already, they could do with some new defensive recruits, especially in the full-back positions.
Midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback played there often last season and Danny Rose has returned to Tottenham, after an impressive season on loan.
The Black Cats have been linked with Valencia’s French left-back Aly Cissokho, but a loan move for him is looking unlikely.
Maybe some players closer to home would fit the bill. Charlton’s Chris Solly or Leeds’ Sam Byram, would be great young, English additions, but something tells me that Di Canio is looking at bringing a more continental style to the Stadium of Light this season.
If the new players can gel together quickly then he may start to look towards the top half of the table next season, but I don’t think they have enough quality for that.
As long as they stay clear of the relegation zone, then I don’t think the Sunderland faithful will have much to complain about, come the end of the season.
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