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: 7th
New arrivals: Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto & Kolo Toure
Departures: Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina, Andy Carroll & Jonjo Shelvey
Brendan Rodgers had a difficult start to his reign as Liverpool manager last season.
After only three wins in the first three months of the season and with many players under-performing, the pressure was beginning to grow.
But as the season went on, the Anfield giants started to get their act together - their confidence began to grow and they ended their season with only one defeat in their last 12 games.
So they should be going into this season with a great deal of confidence and optimism. Yet the only thing people talk about when Liverpool is mentioned is a certain Luis Suarez.
There is no denying that the Uruguayan is world class, but his attitude doesn’t match his unquestionable talent and he seems to thrive on controversy.
Maybe you could forgive him if an incident like his bite on Branislav Ivanovic was a one off, but there seems to have been an incident every season and Rodgers really needs to ask himself, is he really worth it?
Yes, he is a match winner, but he’s not the only star player Liverpool have on their books. Steven Gerrard will be carrying the team yet again this season, maybe from a deeper position, but his influence and skill is irreplaceable.
Daniel Sturridge is still a little raw, but he has pace to burn and has proven himself to be a Premier League goalscorer.
Philippe Coutinho arrived in January and had a huge impact while Suarez was suspended towards the end of last season. For Liverpool to have only paid £8.5 million for a player of such quality was an absolute bargain and he will only get better.
Rodgers' has already been busy in the transfer window. Pepe Reina’s questionable form last season has prompted Rodgers to let the Spaniard leave, replacing him with Simon Mignolet - one of the best 'keepers in the league.
After Jamie Carragher's retirement, Kolo Toure has been brought in to add some experience and influence to the defence. While on the pitch he remains a steady defender, he may have more impact off it, nurturing the talents of Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly, as they both look very good prospects for the future.
Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto will add some Spanish flair to the midfield department, although I don’t expect Alberto to feature too often. Aspas could be a good first-team player, but they still lack a few big name signings.
With Suarez set on leaving, the Reds would be set to pocket over £40 million pounds for him and will be looking to re-invest this straight back into the playing squad.
They have been strongly linked with Valencia’s goal-machine Roberto Soldado to fill the Suarez void, but both they and Tottenham are reluctant to match the £26 million asking price, so they will need to look for a cheaper alternative.
Although the performances of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson picked up towards the end of last season, Gerrard needs a quality player next to him.
I don’t rate Lucas Leiva at all and he seems to be injured most of the time anyway, so if they can get rid of him and bring in someone else, like Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, Cagliari’s Belgian midfielder Radja Nainogolan or even Mohamed Diame from West Ham, it would have a massive impact on the team.
If they can strengthen in key areas and sort out the problem with Suarez, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see a much stronger Liverpool next season.
The top six will be their primary objective, but a 4th place finish could be a real possibility.
Last season: 2nd
New arrivals: Manuel Pellegrini, Fernandinho, Alvaro Negrado, Jesus Navas & Stevan Jovetic
Departures: Roberto Mancini, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz & Maicon
After failing to record a single victory in the Champions League and ultimately finishing second in the title race last season, Roberto Mancini was sacked.
Manuel Pellegrini is his replacement, as the board believe he is the man to restore team spirit and make the team more competitive in Europe, after he led cash-strapped Malaga to the semi-finals last season.
The new boss has been very busy in the transfer window already, splashing out over £90 million on new players, including Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic, Sevilla duo Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo, plus spending £30 million on Shakthar's Brazilian midfielder, Fernandinho.
Fernandinho has been the Ukrainian team's best player for a few years now and his style is very similar to that of his international compatriot, Ramires. But he isn’t the type of midfielder that City are really in need of.
Since they sold Nigel de Jong last summer, they have lacked that bit of bite in midfield. In the season they won the league, de Jong's aggression was crucial to the team and it was his steadying presence that allowed Yaya Toure to get forward and cause damage in the opposition penalty area.
Neither Gareth Barry nor Javi Garcia have been able to fill his void - Fernandinho likes to roam around the pitch so he and Toure will have to take it in turns going forward, so for me they really need a holding midfielder.
So far they have only strengthened in the attacking third of the pitch. They have let an ageing Carlos Tevez join Juventus and spent big money on proven performers like Jovetic, Navas and Negredo.
Add these to Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and the other attacking talents they have at their disposal, they will score a lot of goals next season. However, where they still have problems is in defence.
Pablo Zabaleta was outstanding at right-back last season and when Vincent Kompany is fit and in form, he is the best centre-back in the world. Yet they cannot seem to find a consistent partner for him.
Joleon Lescott was in poor form last year which led to him being dropped and Matija Nastasic is going to be a brilliant centre-back, but he is not world class yet.
They could go out and spend even more money on top players like Matts Hummels or Giorgio Chiellini, but they should just look to who they already have.
Micah Richards has all the attributes to be a top centre-back. He’s strong, aggressive and very, very quick. If he can stay fit and get his head down on the training pitch, he could form a brilliant partnership with Kompany.
There is no question that City will be up in the top three come May. Their title challenge may depends on how much pressure the owners have put on Pellegrini to bring them Champions League success, but surely for a new manager the domestic title should be the main priority and if that is the case, I would consider them favourites for the title.
Last season: 1st
New arrivals: David Moyes & Guillermo Varela
Departures: Sir Alex Ferguson
For the majority of you reading this article, this will be the first season that Sir Alex Ferguson has not been manager of Manchester United.
The greatest club manager of all-time has finally called it a day and stepped back into the boardroom. He was given the chance to hand pick his successor and has given fellow scot, David Moyes, the opportunity to take up the hot seat at Old Trafford.
It would be impossible to replace Sir Alex, yet there will be a lot of pressure on Moyes to bring immediate success to a club that has only had 3 three trophy-less seasons in the last 20 years.
To help with this transition, he has brought in a lot of his own staff, including Steve Round as his assistant and Phil Neville, who has returned to United as a first-team coach.
His first pre-season as manager has not been as smooth as he would like, due to the rumours surrounding the future of Wayne Rooney, but he is steadily getting to know his players.
Moyes needs to stamp his own presence on the squad and he can do this by getting rid of the players who just aren’t good enough.
Anderson has shown in flashes that he can be a good midfielder, but he is injury-prone and too inconsistent. Javier Hernandez is a great goalscorer, but he wants to be first-choice and has three better candidates ahead of him. Nani is a top quality player for one, maybe even half a game per season, the rest of the time he is useless and he has to be shipped out.
Players like Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling are crucial to the future of both club and country so they need a lot of playing time. But it is clear that United lack a real quality central midfielder.
Michael Carrick carried the team in that position last season, but this time round, with all the other championship contenders adding to their squad, United will be looking to do the same.
So far they have had short shrift from Barcelona in their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, so that isn’t looking like a genuine possibility.
They could do with a real physical presence in there, another Roy Keane if you will. I know Everton's Marouane Fellaini has been strongly linked with the club after a good season playing as a deep-lying target man, but as a proper central midfielder, he is nowhere near good enough.
Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is probably the outstanding candidate. Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan or PSG’s Marco Verratti wouldn’t be bad choices either as all three have the attributes to be top class Premier League midfielders.
The United back four is ageing rapidly too. Although they can all still perform to the highest level, you worry that they could pick up injuries at any time.
Rafael was brilliant last season, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Smalling are not only good prospects for the future, but provide great back-up to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
The left-back area is the real problem though. Patrice Evra was one of United players of the season last campaign, but a return to France next summer is looking very likely.
Leighton Baines would be the perfect replacement, but his arrival may have to wait until Evra departs, as neither would be happy on the bench.
Southampton's Luke Shaw looks like a future England left-back in the making, and if United could sign him now, before one of their other rivals jump in, it could prove to be an astute piece of business.
Although you can never write United off, I would be surprised if they retained their title this season. Man City and Chelsea have the edge over them this season, but Moyes is cut from the same cloth as Sir Alex and if he is given time, he will bring success to a club that doesn’t know how to survive without it.
Last season: 16th
New arrivals: Olivier Kemen
Departures: Danny Simpson, James Perch & Steve Harper
The 2011/12 season was so good for Newcastle fans, it was always going to be tough to live up to it again, but I don’t think any Geordie would have expected to have been in a relegation battle the following season.
They lost Demba Ba to Chelsea, speculation about the future of captain Fabricio Coloccini and injuries to key midfield duo Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye meant that they couldn’t find any real consistency.
Alan Pardew shipped in a wave of French players in January and they just about managed to pull away from the relegation zone.
This season hasn’t started off too well either. Former manager Joe Kinnear is now dealing with all transfer activity, which can’t sit well with Pardew, especially as Kinnear has failed to sign any significant players so far.
I really don’t understand why Mike Ashley has appointed Kinnear to this position - he can’t really be doing much good to the club. Plus it’s not as if Pardew and the Newcastle scouts weren’t finding and signing good enough players.
Moussa Sissoko looks like a fantastic player - he is strong, quick, direct, he can defend and loves to get into goalscoring positions. Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran also look like good additions to the squad, but last season they clearly lacked stability and defensive organisation.
A new centre-back would be greatly appreciated. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was signed in January, but they need a player of higher quality and Premier League experience.
Someone like Ryan Shawcross or even a shock swoop for Martin Skrtel, who seems to be out of favour at Liverpool, could be perfect for that position.
Newcastle do rely a little too much on Papiss Cisse. Although he has proven to be a great striker and deadly finisher, he can drift in and out of games.
Shola Ameobi is very much a back-up option so you can expect to see Newcastle bring in another striker very soon.
Both Darren Bent and Lyons’ Bafetimbi Gomis have been linked with the club, but Kinnear is yet to agree a fee for either of them, but it won’t be long before he has to open the chequebook a little wider.
Pardew’s main priority will be to get Hatem Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Tiote fully fit and playing every week. Along with Sissoko they could form a formidable midfield quartet and I would be very surprised if they were languishing in the bottom five for a second consecutive season. A top half finish is a much more probable outcome.
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