Premier League Preview: Sunderland to West Ham

SUNDERLAND



Club Nickname: The Black Cats
Founded: 1879
Ground: Stadium of Light
Manager: Paolo Di Canio
Captain: John O'Shea
Last Season: 17th

Last season was definitely one to forget for Mackem fans. The squad wallowed in the lower half of the Premier League table for the majority of the campaign, eventually crossing the line in  a below-par position of 17th. As the season began to enter its final months Martin O'Neil was sacked and replaced by Paolo Di Canio, a man that needs little introduction thanks to his enigmatic personality, his somewhat controversial political views and his incredible passion for the game and the club he's representing, whether it be in the shirt of a player or the suit of the manager. Di Canio managed to steer the Black Cats away from the drop, and managed to bag a win in the Tyne-Wear derby but it was a stuttering escape from relegation, with the derby victory being one of only two wins in the final run-in.
Di Canio celebrating his team's victory in the Tyne-Wear derby,
Sunderland's first win at St. James' Park since 2000
It didn't take long for Di Canio to make his mark on proceedings at Sunderland. After bringing in his own backroom staff the Italian disciplinarian enforced new fitness and diet regimes at the club, a move no doubt influenced by the Italian game that he had once embraced. He has also radically overhauled the look of the side in the off-season, parting with just-shy of £20 million in order to bring in some new faces. Accomplished internationals Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore will be the poster boys of Di Canio's first full season in charge, the former expected to put the ball on a plate for the latter and ease the creative burden off of Stephane Sessegnon, easily Sunderland's best player. The Simon Mignolet-shaped hole was quickly filled with Di Canio trusting the No. 1 shirt to former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who will no doubt be delighted with the chance to be the first name on the team sheet.. Free signings such as Modibo Diakite, Cabral and Valentin Roberge add defensive steel to a side that was prone to leaking goals last season, converting wins into draws and losses.
Sunderland will look to emulate the days of Kevin Phillips, 2000
With a full pre-season under his belt and a plethora of new signings, Di Canio will be relishing the prospect of truly putting his stamp on the team and the club.

ONE TO WATCH: Emanuele Giaccherini - After an impressive showing in the 2013 Confederations Cup for Italy, it wasn't a surprise that interest from other clubs began to grow, with Sunderland lodging the bid to take him away from Juventus. The midfielder boasts a great versatility; he can play all across midfield and will look to seal a place on the plane to Rio.

Transfers (In):
Jozy Altidore - AZ Alkmaar - £8,800,000, Emanuele Giaccherini - Juventus - £6,500,000, Vito Mannone - Arsenal - £2,000,000, David Moberg Karlsson - IFK Goteborg - £1,500,000, El Hadji Ba - Le Havre, £380,000, Duncan Whatmore - Altrincham - Undisc., Modibo Diakite - Lazio - Free, Cabral - FC Basel, Free, Valentin Roberge - CS Maritimo - Free, Ondrej Celustka - Trabzonspor - Loan

Transfers (Out):
Simon Mignolet - Liverpool - £9,000,000, Ahmed Elmohamady - Hull - £2,000,000, James McClean - Wigan - £1,500,000, Alred N'Diaye - Eskisehirspor - Loan, Matt Kilgallon - Blackburn - Free, Titus Bramble, Wade Joyce, Ryan Noble, Adam Reed, Ben Wilson - Released

VERDICT: Ollie - 14th, Ben - 17th, James - 17th, Gareth - 16th




SWANSEA CITY

Club Nickname: The Swans
Founded: 1912
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Captain: Ashley Williams
Last Season: 9th

Swansea have been a breath of fresh air since their promotion to the Premier League. Brendan Rogers installed a positive attacking philosophy into the team that was promoted and Michael Laudrup has impressed since becoming Swansea boss culminating in a 9th place league finish and the Carling Cup. Not only have they impressed through their successes but also through their attractive style of play.
(Read about the rise of Swansea here...)


However, Swansea did fade slightly towards the end of the season, arguably after their Carling Cup win. Laudrup will need to keep his team fit and motivated right to the end of their Premier League campaign if they are to improve upon last season’s 9th place finish. I believe that Swansea are capable of bettering their final position in the table, especially considering the signings they’ve made so far this summer. On top of this they have managed to keep hold of their coveted manager, Michael Laudrup despite speculation linking him with a move away.
Returning to the glory days of Anfield, 1964
Laudrup has delved into the transfer market to reinforce his team for the coming season. He has made a couple of astute signings in the form of Jonjo Shelvey and record signing Wilfried Bony. Other defensive reinforcements include Jose Alberto Canas and Jordi Amat. With the promotion of Cardiff City into the Premier League, Swansea will be spurred on to prove themselves as the best Welsh team in the league and could even push for a European spot. 

ONE TO WATCH: Wilfried Bony. Signed for a reported record £12.5million from Dutch side Vitesse, he scored 37 goals in 36 appearances last season, including 31 in 30 league appearances and was voted Dutch footballer of the year. A powerful player, Bony will give Swansea something different upfront and should provide goals to help take the weight off Michu’s shoulders. 

Transfers (In): José Cañas - Real Betis, Free, Jordi Amat - Espanyol, £2,500,000, Alejandro Pozuelo - Real Betis, Undisclosed, Gregor Zabret - NK Domžale, Undisclosed, Alex Gogic - Olympiacos, Free, Jonjo Shelvey - Liverpool, £5,000,000, Wilfried Bony - Vitesse, £12,000,000, Jernade Meade - Arsenal, Free, Jonathan De Guzman - Villarreal, Loan

Transfers (Out): Kemy Agustien - Brighton, Free, Kyle Bartley - Birmingham, Loan, Gwion Edwards - St Johnstone, Loan, David Cornell - St Mirren, Loan, Alan Tate - Yeovil, Loan

VERDICT: Ollie - 7th, James - 12th, Ben - 8th, Gareth - 7th



TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS


Club Nickname: Spurs
Founded: 1882
Ground: White Hart Lane
Manager: Andre Villas-Boas
Captain: Michael Dawson
Last Season: 5th

Gareth Bale. PFA young player of the year and PFA player of the year. ‘The Welsh Wizard’ who scored 21 league goals last season and is reported to be the subject of a world record transfer to Real Madrid, which is rumoured could be over £100million. Oh yeah, he also plays for a club called Tottenham who kick off their premier league campaign this weekend against newly promoted Crystal Palace.


Tottenham, under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, made a strong push for fourth spot all the way to the end of last season and missed out to local rivals Arsenal by a single point. They have bought well in the transfer market with marquee signings such as Roberto Soldado, a Spanish international, and Paulinho, a Brazilian international.
Looking to draw inspiration from 1961
However, they struggled during their pre season matches and they still have one big issue to sort out – Gareth Bale. It has been one of the transfer sagas of the summer and the numbers being talked about, £80-100 million, are astronomical. Tottenham’s entire season could depend on Bale, if they sell him, how they’ll replace him and if they’ll have time to bring in sufficient replacements for their star man. With the signings they’ve made and if Bale stays Tottenham will be a force this season and could well break into the top four. Villas-Boas will have his work cut out but if he can get his players to improve on last season then they’ll be one of the teams to watch.

ONE TO WATCH: If they keep Gareth Bale then obviously the Welsh winger will be the one to watch. It remains to be seen if he can improve on last season’s impressive performances. However, I’m going to go for Roberto Soldado. He scored a total of 30 goals last season for Valencia, including 24 in the league and with the World Cup just around the corner he will have a point to prove to become Spain’s main striker for the tournament. Tottenham will be hoping he will hit the ground running for them.

Transfers (In): Paulinho - Corinthians, £17,000,000, Roberto Soldado - Valencia, £26,000,000, Nacer Chadli - FC Twente, £7,000,000, Etienne Capoue - Toulouse, £10,000,000

Transfers (Out): William Gallas, Released, David Bentley Released, John Bostock - Royal Antwerp, Free, Jack Barthram - Swindon Town, Free, Jack Munns - Birmingham City, Free, Jake Nicholson - Crystal Palace, Free, Dean Parrett, Released, Nathan Byrne - Swindon Town, Free, Steven Caulker - Cardiff City £9,000,000, Clint Dempsey - Seattle Sounders £6,000,000,  Tom Huddlestone - Hull City, £4,000,000

VERDICT: Ollie - 4th, James - 4th, Gareth - 5th, Ben - 6th



WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Club Nickname: The Baggies
Founded: 1878
Ground: The Hawthorns
Manager: Steve Clarke
Captain: Chris Brunt
Last Season: 8th

 West Brom endured a very good season last season as shown by their 8th placed finish in their third successive year in the top-flight division. Steve Clarke had the team well drilled and they put in a number of impressive performances including a double over Liverpool, a 2-1 victory over Chelsea and that entertaining 5-5 draw against Manchester United on the last day of the season. 


Clark will be looking to replicate those sorts of performances but will have to cope without one of their star performers, Romelu Lukaku, who was on loan from Chelsea. However, they have brought in the experienced Nicolas Anelka to help replace Lukaku’s goals as well as Diego Lugano at center back. Apart from a young forward by the name of Matej Vydra, most of West Brom’s transfers have been outgoings.
FA Cup victory, 1968
Steve Clarke will find it tough to better last season’s performances and looking at their transfer dealings they could do with a couple more reinforcements to ensure a top ten finish. Steve Clark has done a very good job since taking over but will have to dig deep to increase the level of last season. 

ONE TO WATCH: Nicolas Anelka. There isn’t much more to say here. Despite possessing an ageing pair of legs he is a proven goal scorer and will bring some valuable experience to the dressing room. He may not be as exciting to West Brom fans as Lukaku was last season but expect to see a bit of French flair up top for the Baggies this campaign. 
Transfers (In): Matej Vydra – Udinese – loan Diego Lugano – PSG – free Nicolas Anelka – Juventus – free 

Transfers (Out): Shane Lewis – Walsall FC, undisclosed, Romaine Sawyers – Walsall FC, Free Scott Allen – Birmingham City, loan, Jerome Thomas – Crystal Palace, free, Marc-Antoine Fortune – Wigan Athletic, Free, Gonzalo Jara – Nottingham Forest, Free

VERDICT: Ollie - 12th, Ben - 9th, James - 14th, Gareth - 10th




WEST HAM UNITED
Club Nickname: The Hammers
Founded: 1895
Ground: Upton Park
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Captain: Kevin Nolan
Last Season: 10th


West Ham had a good season finishing right in the middle of the table. Sam Allardyce following up the Hammer’s promotion with a fine first season back in the Premiership. Notable performances include a 3-1 win over Chelsea, a 2-2 draw with Manchester United and a 0-0 draw with former champions Manchester City. West Ham were particularly strong at home and normally gave their fans something to cheer about when playing at Upton Park. 

West Ham provide a team of fighters
West Ham have seen a few players leave this summer, including Carlton Cole, but have made some important signings themselves. Andy Carroll was an important figure for them last season and has begun to rediscover some form. Question marks have been raised about the capture of Stewart Downing, one joke saying that Allardyce had undergone a medical at Upton Park after he had agreed to sign the player. But in all seriousness Downing should prove to be a good acquisition for the Hammers, he had a much better season at Liverpool last season and if he improves on that in the new campaign then Allardyce will have snapped up a bargain. 
Will West Ham return to the days of Moore, Hurst and co?
West Ham should improve on last season’s performances and I can see them breaking into the top 10 come the end of the season. They have a good squad and if they can keep their form at home then they should be able to match that 10th placed finish.

ONE TO WATCH: Stewart Downing. Yes you read correctly, Downing showed signs of much improved performances for Liverpool last season (he couldn’t be any worse) but with regular game time and continued progression I think he could prove to be an astute acquisition.

Transfers (In): Stewart Downing - Liverpool, £5,000,000, Andy Carroll - Liverpool, £15,500,500, Adrian - Real Betis, Free, Razvan Rat - Shakhtar, Free, Danny Whitehead - Stockport, Undisclosed

Transfers (Out): Gary O'Neill - QPR, Free, Carlton Cole, Eoin Wearen, Declan Hunt, Jack Powell - All Released, Robert Hall - Bolton, Compensation

VERDICT: Ollie - 10th, Ben - 11th, James - 10th, Gareth - 13th

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