10 August, 2007

Everything you need to know about every team. And some things you don't.

A trophy so bloody fancy it even has its own tiara

The season kicks off at quarter to one tomorrow and the heroes at STT have been beading for weeks. To fill the 19 and a bit hours, here is enough information and opinion on each team to fill your empty, competitive football-less heads.


Arsenal

Ingested: Bacary Sagna (Auxerre, undisclosed), Lukasz Fabianski (Legia Warsaw, £2m), Eduardo da Silva (Dinamo Zagreb, undisclosed), Havard Nordtveit (FK Haugesund, undisclosed).

Excreted: Jeremie Aliadiere (Middlesbrough, £2m), Sebastien Larsson and Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham, undisclosed), Mart Poom (Watford, free), Arturo Lupoli (Fiorentina, free), Thierry Henry (Barcelona, £16.1m), Freddie Ljungberg (West Ham, £3m), Jose Antonio Reyes (Athletico Madrid, undisclosed), Julio Baptista (loan expired – back to Real Madrid).

Prospects: After their worst season in recent memory, Arsenal will be looking to bounce back, but with so few players remaining from their 2004 undefeated season, have they got the ability to still mount a serious challenge for the title? In a word; not-f’ing-likely. But Wenger’s no mug, and showed an impressive collection of young talent in last year’s Carling Cup that might well form the backbone of this season’s new look (i.e. Henry-less) Arsenal. Goals in the one thing they need more than anything this season, and so a lot of their success will rest on the shoulders of new signing da Silva, a Brazilian-born Croatian international averaging almost a goal a game last season for Dynamo Zagreb. Somewhat unproven at this level, it’s gonna be a steep learning curve, but alongside a fit van Persie he could well score a bucketful.

Aston Villa

Ingested: Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham, £8.5m), Harry Forrester (Watford, undisclosed), Marlon Harewood (West Ham, undisclosed), Eric Lichaj (unattached, free).

Excreted: Gavin McCann (Bolton, £1m), Jlloyd Samuel (Bolton, free), Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls, free), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City, free), Aaron Hughes (Fulham, £1m), Lee Hendrie (Sheffield United, released), Steven Davis (Fulham, undisclosed), Liam Ridgewell (Birmingham, £3m) Chris Sutton (retired).

Prospects: I think many people expected more from Aston Villa last year given Martin O’Neill’s sublime track record, yet for one reason or another they didn’t quite fire. On paper they are starting to look like serious European contenders though, with the likes Reo-Coker and Harewood adding to an impressive collection of talent from home and abroad. If the excellent Petrov and Carew hit their stride early this year, Villa could well supersede many peoples’ expectations.

Birmingham

Ingested: Garry O'Connor (Lokomotiv Moscow, £2.7m), Stuart Parnaby (Middlesbrough, free), Sebastien Larsson and Fabrice Muamba (Arsenal, undisclosed), Olivier Kapo (Juventus, £3m), Daniel de Ridder (Celta Vigo, free), Richard Kingston (Antalyaspor, free), Rafael Schmitz (Lille, season-long loan), Liam Ridgewell (Aston Villa, £3m), Frank Quedrue (Fulham, £2m).

Excreted: Bruno N'Gotty (Leicester, free), Stephen Clemence (Leicester, £1m), DJ Campbell (Leicester, £2.1m).

Prospects: And so Birmingham return once more to the top flight, but this time it is with possibly their strongest Premier League team yet. After an irresistible opening to last season, they seemed to ease off after Christmas, almost blowing their instant return to the top division but had just enough in end. Much praise must go to the young trio of loan players from Arsenal, and with Bendtner the only one to have returned to the Emirates, Bruce has a decent base to build on for this season. By buying some decent experience in Queudrue and Ridgewell, Birmingham look pretty solid in all areas, with McSheffrey and Larsson bound to cause problems like they did last year. Avoiding relegation will be the priority, but they could well have a decent cup run too.

Blackburn Rovers

Ingested: Gunnar Nielsen (BK Frem Copenhagen, undisclosed), Maceo Rigters (NAC Breda, undisclosed), Roque Santa Cruz (Bayern Munich, undisclosed).

Excreted: Andy Todd (Derby, undisclosed).

Prospects: No offence to any Rovers fans out there, but its hard get excited in any way about Blackburn. Sure McCarthy’s decent and bagged a nice haul last year, plus Pederson and Bentley have their moments but apart from that? Its hard to see them creating much else. Young Dutch forward Maceo Rigters is pretty unproven at this level but had a stellar European Under 21 Championship in the summer, notably equalizing in the 90th minute against England with a bicycle kick. Why don’t any English players ever score bicycle kicks anymore? Crouch doesn’t count. Mid-table mediocrity through and through methinks.

Bolton Wanderers

Ingested: Gavin McCann (Aston Villa, £1m), Jlloyd Samuel (Aston Villa, free), Gerald Cid (Bordeaux, undisclosed), Blerim Dzemaili (FC Zurich, undisclosed), Zoltan Harsanyi (FC Senec, undisclosed), Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, season-long loan), Mikel Alonso (Real Socieded, loan), Christian Wilhelmsson (Nantes, loan).

Excreted: Tal Ben Haim (Chelsea, free), Henrik Pedersen (released), Quinton Fortune (released), David Thompson (released), Cesar Martin (released).

Prospects: With a solid squad and steady building over the last few years Bolton are undoubtedly a club on the up. Without Allardyce however I can’t help but think that maybe this is the year that the bubble bursts. Pace and power dominates up front but with Stelios injured once more there’s very little creativity in the midfield, something which new signing Blerim Dzemaili is hoping to change. The young Swiss international is tipped for big things after captaining FC Zurich at the age of just 20 and securing him could well be a great parting gift from Big Sam.

Chelsea

Ingested: Florent Malouda (Lyon, undisclosed), Tal Ben Haim (Bolton, free), Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich, free), Steve Sidwell (Reading, free), Danny Philliskirk (Oldham, undisclosed).

Excreted: Khalid Boulahrouz (Sevilla, season-long loan), Yves Makaba-Makalamby (Hibernian, free), Geremi (Newcastle, free), Michael Mancienne (QPR, season-long loan).

Prospects: They basically have to win the Champions League this year or its bye-bye Jose. Even a third Premier League title in four years would be seen as a disappointment by the Chelsea faithful. The manner of their performances over the last couple of seasons have got progressively less inspiring and entertaining for the neutral, and without the vindication of a European jewel in Mourinho’s crown, Abromovich might be getting frustrated too. Obviously on paper the squad is fantastic but how they’ll perform together is anyone’s guess. Lampard does literally nothing these days, leaving Essien as the midfield catalyst, but in terms of attacking options they’re almost too spoiled for choice. The pressure of squad rotation stifled Shevchenko and Ballack last year, will Malouda, Pizarro and Sidwell fare any better?

Derby County

Ingested: Andy Todd (Blackburn, undisclosed), Robert Earnshaw (Norwich City, £3.5m), Tyrone Mears (West Ham, £1m), Andy Griffin (Portsmouth, free).

Excreted: Seth Johnson (released), Paul Peschisolido (Luton, free), Morten Bisgaard (released), Paul Boertien (Walsall, free), Lee Grant (released), Ryan Smith (Millwall, £150,000).

Prospects: I take absolutely no pleasure in saying this but there is literally no way that Derby will not be relegated at the end of the season. Sure Billy Davies has his head screwed on, but the ability of the team simply cannot compete at this level. The experienced additions of Todd and Griffin at the back is a positive no doubt, and Earnshaw will score goals at any level, but with the monetary gulf ever widening between the top two divisions, its gonna take Derby a few more roller-coaster years of collecting parachute payments before immediate return to the Real League is not a certainty.

Everton

Ingested: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield Utd, £4m)

Excreted: Gary Naysmith (Sheffield United, £1m), Richard Wright (West Ham, free), Alessandro Pistone (released), Scott Phelan (Bradford, free).

Prospects: My dad always told me that good teams concentrated on being very strong right down the middle of the pitch, and Everton are certainly that: an excellent goalkeeper, a very solid central defensive partnership (now with Jagielka as an option too), a competitive midfield and a predatory goal poacher up top. Add to that the creative guile of Arteta and Cahill, and Everton will be pushing once again for Europe this season.

Fulham

Ingested: Aaron Hughes (Aston Villa, £1m), Steven Davis (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Diomansy Kamara (West Brom, £6m), Chris Baird (Southampton, £3.025m), Paul Konchesky (West Ham, £3.25m), David Healy (Leeds, £1.5m), Lee Cook (QPR, undisclosed).

Excreted: Claus Jensen (released), Mark Pembridge (released), Tomasz Radzinski (released), Mark Crossley (released, now at Oldham), Michael Brown (Wigan, undisclosed), Frand Queudrue (Birmingham, £2m).

Prospects: I think if you offered Laurie Sanchez a 17th place finish now, he’d take it because Fulham will most likely be nuts-deep in a relegation dogfight most of this season. Looking at their squad there’s little to get excited about, even with the addition of Kamara for a frankly ludicrous sum of money, so scoring goals will most likely continue to be their main problem this year.

Liverpool

Ingested: Andrey Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen, free), Kristian Nemeth & Andras Simon (both MTK Hungariam, undisclosed), Nikolay Mihaylov (Levski Sofia, undisclosed), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid, undisclosed), Yossi Benayoun (West Ham, undisclosed), Ryan Babel (Ajax, £11.5m), Lucas Leiva (Gremio, undisclosed).

Excreted: Bolo Zenden (Marseille, free), Robbie Fowler (Cardiff, free), Florent Sinama Pongolle (Recreativo Huelva, £2.7m), Danny Guthrie (Bolton, season-long loan), Luis Garcia (Athletico Madrid, undisclosed), Craig Bellamy (West Ham, £7.5m), Djibril Cisse (Marseille, £6m), Jerzy Dudek (Real Madrid, released).

Prospects: Following a second Champions League final in three years, Liverpool have clearly decided enough is enough and want their title of ‘biggest club in England’ back from Man U. By jettisoning a lot of dead weight and bringing in proven quality in all areas, Benitez finally has the squad to match last year’s top 2. However, the eternal problem is how will all these nationalities and egos mesh together and deal with squad rotation? Impossible to predict, but in Torres and Babel he has basically the two most exciting young players in the world that aren’t called Messi.

Manchester City

Ingested: Geovanni (Cruzeiro, free), Rolando Bianchi (Reggina, £8.8m), Gelson Fernandes (FC Sion, undisclosed), Javier Garrido (Real Sociedad, £1.5m), Vedran Corluka (Dinamo Zagreb, undisclosed), Elano (Shakhtar Donetsk, £8m).

Excreted: Sylvain Distin (Portsmouth, free), Trevor Sinclair (released), Stephen Jordan (Burnley, free), Hatem Trabelsi (released), Joey Barton (Newcastle, £5.8m), Nicky Weaver (Charlton, free), Danny Mills (released), Paul Dickov (released).

Prospects: Its rare for a whole country to hate you unless, for example, you’ve been committing mass genocide for decades and oppressing a whole nation, but somehow Sven Goran Eriksson managed to achieve that status pretty easily. Everyone’s praying for his failure but to be honest, Man City are looking like a pretty tidy outfit at the moment, on paper anyway. They need a new keeper and I still worry who’s gonna get their goals, but the players they’ve bought in are all intriguing prospects. I’m not saying they’ll be challenging for the title but could well finish in the top 8.

Manchester United

Ingested: Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich, undisclosed), Anderson (FC Porto, undisclosed), Nani (Sporting Lisbon, undisclosed), Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom, undisclosed), Carlos Tevez (West Ham, undisclosed).

Excreted: Kieran Richardson (Sunderland, undisclosed), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal, undisclosed).

Prospects: Well, the best team in the league have just got even better. There’s not much to really say about Man United at the moment, they have a simply incredible squad that is nigh on impossible to improve any further. Admittedly, Anderson and Nani might take some time to adjust to this country from the Portuguese league, but if Nani’s pre-season goal against the mighty Guangdong Pharmaceutical is anything to go by, I think they’ll do just fine. Also, kudos for finally getting rid of Richardson, he is truly awful.

Middlesbrough

Ingested: Tuncay Sanli (Fenerbahce, free), Jeremie Aliadiere (Arsenal, £2m), Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid, £7m), Luke Young (Charlton, £2.5m).

Excreted: Mark Viduka (Newcastle, free), Stuart Parnaby (Birmingham, free), Abel Xavier (LA Galaxy, free), Malcolm Christie (released), Danny Graham (released).

Prospects: With a solid defence marshaled by one of the best British defenders around, Middlesbrough are going to be a tougher prospect than most this season, however with a virtually non-existent midfield and hampered by the signing of Aliadiere up front with the Yak, I can’t see them finishing any higher than halfway.

Newcastle United

Ingested: Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough, free), Joey Barton (Man City, £5.8m), David Rozehnal (Paris St Germain, £2.9m), Geremi (Chelsea, free), Jose Enrique (Villarreal, £6.3m), Alan Smith (Manchester United, £6m).

Excreted: Scott Parker (West Ham, £7m), Titus Bramble (Wigan, free), Antoine Sibierski (Wigan, free), Craig Moore (released), Olivier Bernard (released), Alan O'Brien (released).

Prospects: After a couple of years drifting in the wind, Newcastle now have a very competitive squad again for this upcoming season, and with Big Sam pulling the strings I can see a top 10 finish in store for them at least. Solid everywhere except maybe central defence, if their creative players fire they could well cause even the top 4 some real problems at St James’ Park. Furthermore, in Martins they have one of the most explosive players in Europe and if he continues the form he ended last season in, he could well be a dark horse for this year’s golden boot.

Portsmouth

Ingested: David Nugent (Preston, undisclosed), John Utaka (Rennes, undisclosed), Arnold Mvuemba (Rennes, undisclosed), Sulley Muntari (Udinese, £7m), Sylvain Distin (Manchester City, free), Hermann Hreidarsson (Charlton, free), Martin Cranie (Southampton, undisclosed).

Excreted: Svetoslav Todorov (Charlton, free), Daryl Fordyce (released), Andy Grififin (Derby, free).

Prospects: Following a promising set of pre-season performances, hopes are high around Fratton Park at the moment. Defensively superb last season, Harry Redknapp’s astute summer signings have given Portsmouth quality in every area of the pitch now. In Gary O’Neill and Matty Taylor they also have the two most underrated players in the Premier League, and if the midfield can get the quality of service right, Nugent will score a hatful. One to watch out for, a top 6 finish is not out of the question this year.

Reading

Ingested: Kalifa Cisse (Boavista, £1m), Emerse Fae (Nantes, £2.5m).

Excreted: Steve Sidwell (Chelsea, free), Greg Halford (Sunderland, £2.5m), Curtis Ujah (Yeovil, free).

Prospects: Without the buzz of first-season-in-the-top-flight nerves, I fear for Reading this year. They undoubtedly have quality in all areas but its hard to see guys like Shorey and Doyle being able to keep up the high standards of last season. In Sidwell, they’ve also lost their midfield lynch-pin to the black hole that is Chelsea’s bench, so its hard to see how they will fare this year. Coppell’s experienced nous is worth something undoubtedly, and there are maybe 3 worse teams in the league, so Reading might be spared the drop this year, but if they do not significantly strengthen before the next of next season, they will almost certainly be back down in the Real League before too long.

Sunderland

Ingested: Mido (Tottenham Hotspur, £6m) Dickson Etuhu (Norwich, £1.5m), Kieran Richardson (Manchester United, undisclosed), Greg Halford (Reading, £2.5m), Russell Anderson (Aberdeen, £1m), Michael Chopra (Cardiff City, £5m), Paul McShane (West Brom, £2.5m).

Excreted: Kenny Cunningham (released), Tommy Miller (Ipswich, released).

Prospects: It’s difficult to predict how Sunderland are going to handle the step up this year, but with Keane behind the scenes you know for certain that they’re not going to rollover against anyone. Adding to what was a solid yet unremarkable squad from last season, upfront especially, Sunderland look like they might cause plenty of teams problems, with many possible combinations of pace and power. Whether the defense and midfield can cope with this significant jump in quality however is another matter…

Tottenham Hotspur

Ingested: Gareth Bale (Southampton, £5m), Adel Taarabt (Lens, undisclosed), Yuri Berchiche (Athletic Bilbao, undisclosed), Darren Bent (Charlton £16.5m), Younes Kaboul (Auxerre, £8m), Danny Rose (Leeds, undisclosed), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Hertha Berlin, undisclosed).

Excreted: Emil Hallfredsson (Lyn-Oslo, undisclosed), Reto Ziegler (Sampdoria, undisclosed), Mark Yeates (Colchester, undisclosed).

Prospects: Perhaps the team with the best chance of challenging the ‘big 4’ this year, Spurs have steadily amassed a quality team with plenty of depth in all areas. The signings they’ve made have been promising, and it goes without saying that in Berbatov they have the league’s best player who’s not at Man United. Keen for a couple of seasons to edge Arsenal out of their champions league spot, I think Spurs now have the team to potentially do so.

West Ham United

Ingested: Scott Parker (Newcastle, £7m), Julien Faubert (Bordeaux, £6.1m), Richard Wright (Everton, free), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool, £7.5m), Freddie Ljungberg (West Ham, £3m).

Excreted: Paul Konchesky (Fulham, £3.25m), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa, £8.5m), Tyrone Mears (Derby, £1m), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool, undisclosed), Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa, undisclosed).

Prospects: It’s hard not to like West Ham because they’ve always at least tried to play the right kind of football, and following last year’s close shave they’ll be looking for a consolidating season, free of drama. Having spent an awful lot of money over the summer, the squad is full of experience all over the pitch, and with Ashton hopefully back to his best, they’ll be desperate to start well. Reo-Coker and Harewood are not too great losses to be honest, but they might well miss the flare of Benayoun. However, if Curbishley can get just one more good season out of Ljundberg, and Bellamy can stay out of trouble, West Ham will undoubtedly vanquish all bad memories of last season’s relegation battle.

Wigan Athletic

Ingested: Antoine Sibierski (Newcastle, free), Titus Bramble (Newcastle, free), Mario Melchiot (Rennes, free), Andreas Granqvist (Helsingborg, undisclosed), Carlo Nash (Preston, £300,000), Jason Koumas (West Brom, £5.3m), Michael Brown (Fulham, undisclosed).

Excreted: Lee McCulloch (Rangers, £2.25m), Matt Jackson (Watford, free), Arjan de Zeeuw (released), David Unsworth (released).

Prospects: As with Derby, unfortunately I can’t really see Wigan having any chance of surviving this season. Compared to even the newly promoted teams, their squad looks woefully toothless, even with the impressive Koumas now pulling the strings. At the end of the day, how can any team with both Heskey and Bramble in actually expect to do well?




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