After a summer spend pondering the meaning of life, fans across the world can breathe a sigh of relief as the new Premiership season kicks off. This season like many before is being widely tipped as the most exciting yet with high-profile arrivals, changes and new faces coming into the league. Every club has strengthened in some sort or another in anticipation for 38 games ahead. But who has had the best summer, who has failed to strengthen accordingly and ultimately who will finish first and last when the season concludes next May.
Best Buyer in Transfer market: Many would suggest that Manchester United have had the best window with the arrival of several key signings but credit where it is due has to go to Stoke. The Premiership mainstays may not be everyone’s cup of tea but since Mark Hughes arrived have been slowly building a team capable of challenging for greater honours. Despite letting Asmir Begovic leave for Chelsea, Hughes has added a good balance of experience and potential to his ever improving squad. Shay Given’s arrival should provide adequate cover for new No.1 Jack Butland whilst Glen Johnson and Phillip Wollscheid will add steel to the back line. Hughes has also raided Barcelona’s closet once more by snatching former Nou Camp winger Ibrahim Afellay on a free. Along with Chelsea loanee Marco Van Ginkel, Afellay will be tasked with providing chances for the returning Bojan and new boy Joselu.
Worst Buyer in Transfer Market: Strangely the award goes to Tottenham who yet again have failed to really strengthen in the areas that they needed. Manager Mauricio Pochettino seems obsessed with defenders dipping into the market again to bring in three new faces to his back line. In come Kevin Wimmer, Kieran Tripper and Toby Alderweireld meaning that since Pochettino took over, he has signed ten players in total, seven of which have been defenders (eight if you include goalkeeper Michel Vorm into that equation). With only three recognised strikers in his squad including the extremely disappointing Roberto Soldado and the want away Emmanuel Adebayor, the Spurs faithful must be wondering why they haven’t yet seen a new front man walk through the doors.
Best signing: Arguable at this stage as various new signings could take this honour including James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Peter Cech (Arsenal), Memphis Depay (Manchester United) or Andre Ayew (Swansea) but the award should go to Crystal Palace and their signing of Yohan Cabaye. The French midfielder shocked us all by joining Palace from PSG but its a sensational show of trust by the player who must believe that Palace are going places under Alan Pardew. This is a player who only three years ago was wanted by most of the top clubs in Europe so a move to the Eagles comes as a shock. But its a massive coup for the club and one that they should be applauded for. Hopefully he can deliver.
Worst signing: Planning for the season ahead usually starts towards the tail end of the last season, with budgets being carefully worked out and potential new additions scouted. But over the course of the summer, things can shift dramatically. Take Aston Villa as an example. Tim Sherwood had anticipated a move for his star striker Christian Benteke but he was probably not expecting to lose his captain Fabian Delph as well. Adjustments will have been made post sale and with it replacement signings made. However unless it was pre-planned some clubs rush into this and end up buying based on instinct rather than hard evidence. As a result, sense often departs and clubs end up overpaying for a player they believe is the right choice. Take Crystal Palace’s move for Connor Wickham. The ex Sunderland striker joined Palace for just over £7 million despite being less than prolific at the Stadium of Light. In fact in four years and over 75 appearances, Wickham only scored 11 times or 14% depending on how you look at it. He did have a strong finish to last year which may have helped his cause but for a Premiership striker his return hardly warrants the fee paid. But in this day and age, astronomical fees are part and part of the course. Look at Raheem Sterling, a 20-year-old who over the last three years has impressed for Liverpool but not to the extent that someone has to pay £44 million for him. Sterling has promise and more importantly for City is British which helps their home-grown quota but still its a lot of money for promise.
Team to watch: Funny as it may sound, I am tipping Aston Villa as a team to watch this season. Despite losing two of their best players, manager Tim Sherwood has strengthened well by taking a leaf out of Newcastle’s books by raiding the French Ligue 1. In has come the exciting trio of Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Ayew to add depth to the squad alongside fellow newbies Rudy Gestede and Micah Richards. Sherwood is looking to add Adebayor as well to increase his striking options whilst is also expected to dip into the clubs flourishing youth team and will give more playing time this year to the likes of Andre Green, Callum Robinson, Jack Grealish and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy. Also keep an eye out for Bournemouth who are many people’s favourites to go straight back down. Under manager Eddie Howe, Bournemouth have achieved the impossible and the young English boss will not have spent a single moment since winning promotion not deep in thought about how to stay in the Premiership. He has extensively studied past promoted teams, how they fared, what went right and what went wrong in an attempt to unlock the secret code. Whether he has found that code is to be seen but one thing will be for certain that Howe will have his team highly organized and playing as one which could be the difference between survival and relegation.
Strugglers: It’s never easy coming into the Premiership from the Championship. For new boys Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich, the Premiership will test their squads to the max. Whilst all three have superb managers at the helm, a lack of real established fire power up front may ultimately be their downfall. Expect all three to be in the bottom half of the table although any of the three could surprise with some early season form that sees them climb to safety. Last year Leicester and Sunderland fans chewed through their fingernails almost to the bone itself as their sides struggled in the league. Unfortunately it doesn’t look good for either side despite hiring experienced managers in Ranieri and Advocaat. Ranieri, a surprise replacement for the “media friendly” Nigel Pearson has already admitted that last season was quite incredible and that it will be difficult for his side to replicate that going forward. Sunderland have added some new faces but the lack of belief that they can continue to avoid the drop may be their undoing in the end.
Victors: Based on squad depth alone, its hard to look past the top four of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United and Man City as title challengers. Liverpool have done well to strengthen and will be in the running but exactly how long it takes for their new look squad to blend is still a question. Added into that Brendan Rodgers inability to adapt his tactics to fit the rhythm of the game will also lead to Liverpool dropping points and falling behind. Manchester United have added further quality at the back and in midfield but their lack of firepower up front is concerning especially if Rooney picks up yet another injury. Van Gaal still has another trick up his sleeve which hopefully means a quality striker is walking through the doors at Old Trafford but until that happens United will struggle to win the league. The same goes for City who have sold most of their striking rotational options leaving only Bony and Aguero plus a handful of untested kids to fire them to the title. Further additions are needed but Pellegrini seems more interested in adding midfielders rather than frontmen. That leaves Chelsea and Arsenal, separated by 12 points last year that gap should be less this season. Chelsea have added a few faces although whether Mourinho can get the best out of Falcao is still to be seen whilst Arsenal have plugged their problematic goalkeeper slot with a quality stopper in Peter Cech. That should bring the two sides closer together and it will likely be the results they have against the top five sides that will dictate their final placings.