In the third of four articles, Sport’s Editor James Beeson looks further down the table at the sides who won’t have high hopes for the season ahead, but ought to survive the relegation dogfight….
11th – Crystal Palace
Manager: Tony Pulis
Key arrival: Fraizer Campbell
Key departure: N/A
Seemingly doomed for relegation under Ian Holloway last season, Crystal Palace were revitalized by the arrival of Tony Pulis at the club in November, and the Eagles soared to Premier League safety, ending their first season back in the top flight in 11th place with 45 points. Pulis’ organisational skills and never-say-never attitude instilled a strong mentality within his squad, making them incredibly difficult to beat. This was best showcased in May as they fought back from 3-0 down against Liverpool to effectively end the Merseyside club’s title ambitions. Pulis won manager of the season for his efforts in saving Palace from relegation.
It has been a quiet summer at Selhurst Park, however, with just three players signing on and a number of squad players being released. Brede Hangeland will provide a strong commanding presence at the back after signing from Fulham on a free, although Pulis will have been disappointed to have missed out on Steven Caulker to QPR. Fraiser Campbell’s arrival from Cardiff will hopefully add an extra dimension of pace to Palace’s attack, although question marks remain over his consistency and goalscoring ability at the highest level.
Remarkably, Tony Pulis has never been relegated in his entire career as a manager. On the basis of how he has set this Palace team up, I’d say that is unlikely to change this season, and Palace should be safely nestled in mid-table obscurity come May, which should suit their fans just fine.
12th – West Ham United
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Key arrival: Enner Valencia
Key departure: Jack Collison
After finishing 13th in the league last season and reaching the semi-finals of the league cup, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sam Allardyce’s job as West Ham manager would be fairly safe coming into the new season. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fan frustration at the style of football being player at Upton Park, injury after injury to record signing Andy Carroll and twitter PR mishaps from co-owner David Gold have led to the feeling that a poor start to this season could see Allardyce looking for a new job fairly soon.
Regardless of whether or not this criticism is justified, Allardyce has been busy building his squad for the upcoming season. Strikers Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate will help to fill the large Andy Carroll shaped hole in the West Ham forward department, whilst Diego Poyet and Carl Jenkinson have both signed on to help bolster the Hammer’s defence (the latter on loan.) Departing the club are Joe Cole, who has signed for Aston Villa on a free transfer after a disappointing second spell at the club, and academy product Jack Collison, who has been released after an injury ridded few seasons.
I cannot help but feel that the criticism directed towards ‘Big Sam’ is somewhat unfair. Allardyce has a good Premier League record, and whilst he may not be the most glamorous manager, his sides rarely fall foul of relegation. If Allardyce is retained, West Ham should survive comfortably. If he is sacked, who knows where West Ham may end up.
13th – Sunderland
Manager: Gus Poyet
Key arrival: Jack Rodwell
Key departure: Jack Colback
Upon Gus Poyet’s arrival at Sunderland last October, Sunderland could hardly have seemed more doomed for relegation. Paolo Di Canio had torn apart the Black Cats dressing room with his authoritative and confrontational style of management, only to be sacked in September with his side on zero points after five games of the season. The arrival of Poyet, however, didn’t instantly pay off, and Sunderland still looked in grave danger of relegation until late December/early January, when a series of positive results pulled them clear of relegation for another year.
Sunderland have made some fine signings in the market this summer, but have also lost a number of key players, leaving their squad a little threadbare. Losing Jack Colback on a free transfer to fierce rivals will have been a huge blow to the north-east side, but the arrival of Jack Rodwell from Manchester City in a £10million move will excite their fans greatly. Costel Pantilimon is a good signing in goal, and Jordi Gomes should provide goals and flair from midfield after singing from Wigan on a free transfer. Patrick van Aanholt is another decent signing, but if I was a Sunderland fan I would be ever so slightly worried by the long list of players departing the club this summer; a list that includes the likes of Phil Bardsley, Craig Gardner and Carlos Cuellar.
Despite Sunderland’s worrying lack of squad depth going into this season, they should have enough to avoid relegation, as long as the likes of Sebastian Larsson, Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson stay fit and deliver the goods up front.
Manager: Gary Monk
Key arrival: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Key departure: Michu (loaned to Napoli)
In many ways, last season was a bit of a disappointment for Swansea City. Having started the campaign as League Cup holders, playing host to European football and having held onto star striker Michu, few thought the side would end their campaign just 9 points from the relegation places and having sacked their manager Michael Laudrup. The Swans were badly struck by the curse of the Europa league in 2013/14, and should consider themselves fortunate to have avoided relegation, having appointed club captain Gary Monk as their manager, despite his complete lack of managerial experience.
Going into this season’s campaign, Monk’s main worry will be whether or not he can hold onto striker Wilfred Bony, who has been linked with a big money move to Liverpool or Tottenham. Swansea have already lost goalkeeper Michel Vorm and defender Ben Davies to Spurs, but were pleased to welcome former midfielder Glyfi Sigurdsson back in return. Sigurdsson arrives with large expectations, following a successful loan spell in 2012 in which he scored 7 league goals, and will be expected to fill the gap left by the departure of Michu, who has signed for Napoli on loan after an injury ridden second season at the Welsh club. Another key departure comes in the form of long-haired centre-half Chico Flores, who has been reunited with former boss Laudrup at Qatari club Lekhwiya SC. Swansea have, however, signed Lukasz Fabianski and Bafetimbi Gomis on free transfers in order to bolster their squad.
With or without Bony, Swansea still possess an adequate squad to survive in the Premier League. However, doubts remain over the credentials of rookie manager Monk, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them struggle again this season.
Manager: Steve Bruce
Key arrival: Tom Ince
Key departure: N/A
If it weren’t for the actions of pesky owner Assem Allam, attempting to change Hull City’s name to ‘Hull City Tigers’, fans of the Yorkshire club would probably be in dreamland. An FA cup final appearance in May, European football at the club for the first time ever, and Premier League status secured meant that Hull’s first season back in the Premier League could hardly have gone any better.
Manager Steve Bruce has also done some good business in the transfer market in preparation for his Europa League campaign. Signing Tom Ince, previously linked with Inter Milan, on a free transfer, was a real coup, whilst Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass are two excellent midfield acquisitions. However, Hull’s squad still looks a little light on depth for a season that could potentially entail almost 60 games, and I would fully expect Steve Bruce to add at least another couple of names before the window shuts in Spetember.
Many sides look upon the Europa league as a poisoned chalice. Long away fixtures in midweek to Eastern Europe can take their toll on smaller squads, with Swansea almost suffering relegation following their participation in last year’s competition. In Steve Bruce, however, Hull have a manager who is well adjusted to the stresses of Premier League relegation battles, and I think there are other sides in this league who stand a less favourable chance of survival this year.
(Next time, Part Four: The No-Hopers 16th-20th)