In the second of a series of articles, Sports Editor James Beeson casts his eye on the Premier League sides whose ambitions are high, but who will most likely fall short of glory this coming season…
6th – Tottenham Hotspur
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Key arrival: Ben Davies
Key departure: Glyfi Sigurdsson
In comparison with last summer’s antics, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has had a rather quiet transfer window. However, arguably his best piece of business has been the recruitment of former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino on a five year contract, bringing the diabolical 6 month reign of Tim ‘Arry Redknapp-lite’ Sherwood to an end. Given Levy’s willingness to dispense of managers following a run of poor results, a five year contract represents a statement of intent from the penny-pinching Spurs boss, and should help to stabilise the club after a turbulent few seasons.
Pochettino has already outlined his commitment to the kind of swashbuckling and flamboyant style of football which Spurs fans so clearly desire, and he received an early boost in July, when star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris committed his future to the club, signing a new five year deal. The Argentine will hope that defender Jan Vertonghen will follow suit following the signing of Welsh left-back Ben Davies from Swansea, which will allow the Belgian to move back into his favoured centre-half role for the coming season. Goalkeeper Michel Vorm and young centre-back Eric Dier have also signed, but Pochettino still hopes to recruit Morgan Schneiderlin and one more attacking player to ensure his squad have sufficient depth to combine an onslaught on the top four with success in the Europa league this coming season.
Much of how Tottenham perform this season is likely to be dependant upon whether Pochettino can get expensive misfits Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela to show the premier league why Spurs were so keen to secure their services last summer in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure from the club. Lamela, in particular, will be expected to perform to a much higher standard, having struggled to adapt to the demands of the English game last season. Luckily for Spurs, Pochettino may be the man to help him do just that. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think the squad is quite strong enough to compete with the very best sides in the division, and I think they will fall short of their top four ambitions once again this season.
7th – Everton
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Key arrival: Romelu Lukaku
Key departure: Gerard Deulofeu (End of loan)
Everton could hardly have had a better season under new manager Roberto Martinez last season. Following the departure of David Moyes to Manchester United, many of us (myself included), harboured doubts about whether new manager Martinez would be able to uphold the high standards achieved by Moyes on a small budget. However, Martinez’s side took the league by storm, only narrowly missing out on a Champions League place and finishing with their highest points tally since 1987.
Going into the new season, optimism could hardly be higher at Goodison Park. The toffee’s have smashed their transfer record to re-sign Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal, and will hope a repetition of his 15 goal haul from last year can help fire them into Champions league contention once again. Also resigning on a permanent deal is Gareth Barry, who was a rock infront of the Everton back four throughout last season, and Martinez can also afford to be pleased with himself for securing talented young Bosnian Muhamed Besic for under £5million.
Unfortunately however, many Everton fans have overlooked the additional Europa league commitments they must endure this season, which will put strain on an already small squad. It is difficult to escape the fact that this is essentially the same Everton squad from last season, without Gerard Deulofeu, who has returned to Barcelona. The Europa league represents potentially an additional 15-20 games a season, not to mention reduced recovery times and higher potential for injuries. As talented a manager Martinez is, I think his side will struggle to match the incredible feats they achieved last season, and their fans will probably end up disappointed come next May.
8th – Stoke City
Manager: Mark Hughes
Key arrival: Bojan Krkic
Key departure: N/A
After Stoke City dispensed of the services of long standing manager Tony Pulis last summer, I was not alone in fearing the worst for the Staffordshire side. My fears were only increased by the decision to appoint former QPR and Fulham boss Mark Hughes as Pulis’ successor. What followed, however, was something quite remarkable. Stoke initially struggled as Hughes attempted to transform the Potters’ style of football, whilst also picking up enough points to steer clear of relegation. But suddenly, after the arrival of Peter Odwinigie in the January transfer window, something clicked, and Stoke suddenly appeared unbeatable, going four matches unbeaten in March and finishing the season in 9th position with 50 points their best finish since the 1974–75 season.
This summer has been a productive one for Hughes, who has brought in two solid acquisitions in the form of Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell on free transfers from Sunderland and Fulham respectively. However, it is in the attacking department which Stoke fans should be most excited about for the coming season. Mame Biram Diouf has signed on a free, and if he is able to replicate his goalscoring form from the Bundesliga, where he scored 26 goals in 57 games for Hannover, then Stoke have made an excellent signing. More exciting still, however, is the arrival of former Barcelona prodigy Bojan Krkic for a reported fee of around £4million. Once compared to Leonel Messi, Bojan has the potential to flourish in Hughes’ new look Stoke side, and I’m backing him to be a success for the Potters.
On the whole, Stoke have had an excellent summer of dealings, and I fully expect them to push on under Hughes and secure another impressive top ten finish.
9th – Newcastle United
Manager: Alan Pardew
Key arrival: Siem de Jong
Key departure: Mathieu Debuchy
In comparison to last summer, where their only signing was Loic Remy on a season long loan, Newcastle have had a hectic summer as owner Mike Ashley has finally decided to get his wallet out in a bid to make Newcastle competitive in the league once more. A disappointing end to last season had many fans calling for manager Alan Pardew’s head, but instead Ashley has backed his man in the transfer market and will hope to reap the benefits.
The most high profile of the magpies arrivals is that of Ajax forward and captain Siem de Jong, who signed for a reported £6million. This represents an excellent piece of business by Newcastle, securing one of Europe’s most promising attacking prospects for such a small fee. de Jong has also been joined in the north east by French forwards Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere, as well as Facundo Ferreyra of Shakhtar Donetsk on loan, as Pardew looks to revamp his forward line up. Add to this the capture of Jack Colback from rivals Sunderland on a free transfer, and Feyenoord right back Daryl Janmaat, and its clear Newcastle have made some astute additions in this summer’s window.
Pardew will have been disappointed at losing Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal, who looks likely to be followed out the exit door at St James’ Park by outcast yet fan favourite Hatem Ben Afra, but on the whole he now possesses a far more balanced and stronger squad going into the season ahead. Whether or not he remains the best man to lead them, remains to be seen.
10th – Queens Park Rangers
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Key arrival: Steven Caulker
Key departure: N/A
At the end of the 2012/13 season, not many people would have predicted that come August 2014 Harry Redknapp would still be manager of Queens Park Rangers, or indeed that they would be playing Premier League football again. However, Redknapp deserves credit for sticking by his QPR side and negotiating the quagmire that is the Championship to lead his team to play-off victory and back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Despite having one of the biggest budgets in the Championship, QPR have not made massive changes to their playing squad ahead of their opening fixture against Hull City next weekend. Granted, they already possess a number of experienced Premier League players such as Joey Barton, Bobby Zamora and Robert Green. However, one would imagine that Harry ‘wheeler dealer’ Redknapp has some more aces up his sleeve before the transfer window shuts. The arrival of former England captain Rio Ferdinand on a free transfer will grab the headlines, but it is the signing of former Cardiff and Tottenham defender Steven Caulker that impresses me the most. Caulker is an authoritative, powerful and commanding defender, and a fantastic signing for a side who were somewhat lacking in defensive organisation last time they graced the Premier League. Midfielder Jordon Mutch, also of Cardiff, is another solid signing who will shore up QPR’s midfield alongside Barton and Karl Henry.
There will undoubtedly be more ins and outs in the QPR camp in the weeks to come. The future’s of Adel Tarabt and Loic Remy are still up in the air, whilst Redknapp needs to add a goalscorer of proven Premier League quality, but QPR have the foundations of a very solid outfit for the season to come, and if their star players perform and their attitude is right, relegation wont even be a topic of conversation at Loftus Road this season.
(Tomorrow, Part Three: The Strugglers 11th-15th)