Premier League Preview: Everton - Man City

PART 2: Everton, Hull, Leicester, Liverpool, Man City


EVERTON

Club Nickname: The Toffees
Founded: 1878
Ground: Goodison Park
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Captain: Phil Jagielka
Last Season: 5th

Last year I wrote that the 2013/14 season would be one of transition, with the Merseyside club perhaps struggling to cope with the loss of David Moyes to Manchester United. While to some extent this was true, the way in which Roberto Martinez took to the job at Everton was somewhat inspiring. The Spaniard was in no way overawed by expectations and managed to deliver a marvelous 5th place finish ahead of Moyes' United. Goodison Park was turned into a fortress and the Toffees began to deliver football of the highest aesthetic merits, earning the respect of many neutral supporters.

Could Seamus Coleman and co mount a serious push for the Champions League?
But what about this season? Much of the club's expectations rest on new signing Romelu Lukaku. After a highly successful loan-spell last season in which the Belgian scored 16 goals in all competitions, supporters will hope he can continue his good form and fire the side even closer to potential Champions League qualification. Alongside Lukaku are England internationals Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley. For both these players lies another massive season with the former looking to rebuild his reputation after a below-par World Cup and the latter seeking to cement his place as one of Europe's best young talents.

Everton's last great era - 1980s
I expect Everton to finish above Spurs this year as I feel under Martinez they have a greater stability and togetherness in the squad. It is always evident that the club enjoys a sound dressing room and a decent level of quality despite at time limited resources. However, a few more astute signings could see Everton seriously contend for a Champions League place which at times even seemed possible last season. Muhamed Besic looks to be the bargain of the summer so far at just £4m after an impressive World Cup and the permanent signing of Gareth Barry makes their central-midfield one of the league's finest. Quite frankly it has been too long since the Merseyside club won a trophy and came close to the heights of the 1980s. Can they end their barren run? Quite possibly!

ONE TO WATCH: So who to watch? Last year I chose loanee Gerard Deulofeu and to be fair, the young Spaniard was at times one the leagues most exciting talents. This season I am going to chose James McCarthy. McCarthy may not get the plaudits of Barkley, Baines and Lukaku but was one of the club's most consistent performers in 2013/14. Still only 23, the Irish international will only improve as the season continues and under the stewardship of Martinez will be one to watch. If he can score some more goals he could become one of the Premier League's best midfielders.

Transfers (In): Romelu Lukaku - Chelsea, £28m, Gareth Barry - Man Ciy, £2m, Muhamed Besic - Ferencvaros, £4m,

Transfers (Out): 
Magaya Gueye - Milwall, Free, Apostolos Vellios - Lierse, Free,

VERDICT: I am going to put Everton in 6th this season. I think the side will retain the consistency of the past two seasons and will finish above Spurs for the first time since 2009. However, with Manchester United's potential resurgence under Louis Van Gaal I feel that Everton may just fall short of their elusive Champions League ambitions. I wouldn't be surprised to see Martinez's men lift the Capital One or FA Cup though come May. Ben -6th, Gareth -6th, Christian - 7th, Huw - 6th

HULL CITY


Club Nickname: The Tigers
Founded: 1904
Ground: KC Stadium
Manager: Steve Bruce
Captain: Curtis Davies
Last Season: 16th

Last season I predicted Hull would finish bottom of the Premier League. How wrong I was! Steve Bruce's men comfortably beat the drop last season finishing 16th, maybe even higher if focus hadn't shifted towards the FA Cup by May. The Tigers even led Arsenal 2-0 at Wembley before succumbing to a heartbreaking extra-time defeat. The silver lining is a place in the Europa League for the first time. It could provide the financial security and experience for the side to once more finish outside the bottom three, or prove to be their downfall as a slim squad could falter.

Hull have potential. Will they fulfill it?
No doubt much of Hull's fortunes will rest on their home form which was so impressive last season. The KC stadium became somewhat a fortress and they culminated 26 of their 37 points at home. They even destroyed Fulham 6-0 and expertly beat title contenders Liverpool 3-1 in December. The squad boasts of a number of key players like Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and proven strike duo Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic. No douby Steven Bruce will be looking for Jelavic and Long to be firing regularly before the end of the season in order to attain another season in the top flight.

Any repeat of 2008/09?
As for this season's transfer market, Hull have been fairly busy, signing Norwich City midfielder Robert Snodgrass, Jake Livermore (on a permanent) and exciting talent Tom Ince. Ince even came close to signing for Inter Milan this summer, so his capture could be one of the best this season. The outgoings have outnumbered those coming in, but mainly represent the deadwood at the club. It will be a very interesting season on Humberside with Hull City arguably the most difficult for me to predict - could be a successful season for The Tigers or quite easily one of failure.

ONE TO WATCH: It is goals which Hull have found hard to come by in past seasons so this year I am going to pick Shane Long as my player to watch. Long is experienced in the Premier League and has the talent to score 12-15 goals comfortably this season. Alongside Nikica Jelavic the duo have the potential to fire The Tigers to safety once more! The Irish international could arguably have signed for a wealth of Premier League clubs but Hull did well to sign him up before anyone else got the chance!

Transfers (In): Robert Snodgrass - Norwich, Undisclosed, Jake Livermore - Tottenham, £8,000,000, Tom Ince - Blackpool, Free, Harry Maguire - Sheffield United, £2,500,000, Andy Robertson - Dundee United, £2,850,000

Transfers (Out): James Armstrong, Robert Koren, Abdoulaye Faye (All Released), Matty Fryatt - Notts Forest, Free, Nick Proschwitz - Brentford, Free, Cameron Stewart - Ipswich Town, Free

VERDICT: Last year I thought Hull would get relegated and this year I'm afraid it is no different. The added pressure of Europe (should they qualify) could provide too much especially if they progress to the knockout phase which could take the majority of their focus. I said earlier that it could easily go the other way, so despite predicting them to finish 18th - don't be surprised to see them finish anywhere from 12th-20th! Ben - 18th Gareth - 16th, Christian - 15th, Huw - 15th


LEICESTER CITY

Club Nickname: The Foxes
Founded: 1884
Ground: Walkers Stadium
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Captain: Wes Morgan
Last Season: 1st (Championship)

Last season was one of huge success for Leicester in the Championship, achieving promotion and a place back in the top flight for the first time since 2003/4. Under manager Nigel Pearson, the club managed to cruise their way to the top of the league and finish with a staggering 102 points, rarely seen in any league around the globe. Leicester were a club which, when I was growing up, were always in the Premier League and even often winning the League Cup (1997&2000), so it is great to seem back with the big-hitters after a ten year hiatus.
Survival is the new aim!
Much of this season's hopes will rest on a fairly light squad. Pearson has recruited former England international Matthew Upson, for some much need top flight experience and Aston Villa;s Marc Albrighton, a player who in his earlier days was tipped to play for his national side. This could be a big year for the 24-year-old as he looks to salvage a career which has continued to decline at Villa Park. Finally, the £8m signing of Leonardo Ulloa could provide the necessary firepower up front to help the foxes beat the drop.
Lineker would come in handy now!

This could be a funny old season for Leicester, as in terms of a first XI, their team is rather impressive, with strength in most key areas. However if a series of injuries were to take place it could prove to be cataclysmic for Pearson's men. A good start could see Leicester do what Wigan (2006) and Hull (2009) have done before them, attaining a wealth of points before Christmas, proving to be enough despite the possible post-holiday dip in form. For me, it is all about how they start the season.


ONE TO WATCH: My Leicester City one to watch has to be goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. After a promising start to his career at Manchester City, the son of Danish giant Peter has taken the long road back the Premier League, playing for Notts County and Leeds before signing for Leicester in 2011. I feel that with Schmeichel in goal (already capped 4 times for Denmark) Leicester could be difficult to score against, like with others in the squad it is all about keeping him fit! 

Transfers (In): Marc Albrighton - Aston Villa, Free, Matthew Upson - Ipswich Town, Free, Leonardo Ulloa - Brighton, £8,000,000, Ben Hamer - Charlton, Free

Transfers (Out): Sean St Ledger, Zak Whitbread, George Taft, Neil Danns, Lloyd Dyer (All released).

VERDICT: As I wrote earlier, I believe that the key to Leicester's fortunes will be a good start due to their decent first XI, without injuries, safety is a real possibility and one which I think will happen. The Foxes are my dark-horses to surprise a lot of people, especially if the Walkers Stadium can become a fortress once again, leading to tricky away trips even for the league's title contenders. A 17th place finish awaits! Ben - 17th, G Man - 18th, Christian - 19th, Huw - 19th



LIVERPOOL


Club Nickname: The Reds
Founded: 1892
Ground: Anfield
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Captain: Steven Gerrard
Vice Captain: Daniel Agger
Last Season: 2nd

2013/14 was a watershed season for Liverpool. Prior to a ball being kicked last summer most fans (including their own) had low expectations predicting only slight improvement from the season before. How wrong we all were! Under Brendan Rodgers the club has thrived, scoring goals for fun and breeding an exciting array of youthful talent. It was the side's SAS partnership which provided entertainment for the entire league and made Liverpool into one of England's most feared teams again. Despite finishing second and 5 positions better than the season before, it also became a season of near-misses. Just two points separated Liverpool from Manchester City in May after the Anfield side won 12 of their last 14 matches.

Hands up who thought this was the title?
I wrote last year that hopes rested on one man - Luis Suarez. To some extent I was correct, the Uruguayan international scored 31 times in the Premier League and took a clean sweep of the awards. After a mixed World Cup, Barcelona have taken a £75m gamble on El Pistolero and lured him away from Anfield, taking many Liverpool fans hopes of a Premier League title with them. However, it is naive to think that last season was all about Suarez. The side scored 101 goals in the league in 2013/14 with English international Daniel Sturridge also coming second in the race for the Golden Boot. Captain Steven Gerrard scored 13, Raheem Sterling 10 and even centre-half Martin Skrtel chipped in with 7 goals proving that even without Suarez, goals shouldn't be too hard to come by.

Are Liverpool on their way back to the glory days?
It is fairly obvious why Liverpool didn't win the title last season - their defence. The back four shipped a staggering 51 goals through them over the course of the season with Brendan Rodgers never knowing for sure who was his best men for the job. This summer's transfer window has seen Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo and (all but certainly) Alberto Moreno join the club all hopefully ready to form new partnerships and defensive solidity. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and the impressive Emre Can have all also been signed to strengthen the squad further with the return of the Champions League to Anfield calling for more strength in depth. However, if there is one thing Reds fans will want to see before the season starts.....a new striker.

ONE TO WATCH: Last year I picked Jordan Henderson as my 'one to watch' and can feel pretty smug after the brilliant season he had, but this time around I'm going to go for new boy Emre Can. After a promising pre-season it already looks as if he could be a bargain at £10m. Last year he had a positive campaign with Bayer Leverkusen helping the club cement Champions League football and their place among the Bundesliga elite. Though usually deployed in a defensive midfield role, do not be surprised to see Can bursting through the pitch on long powerful runs reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard. Alongside Gerrard, Henderson, Lucas and Allen the club have a great deal of depth in the middle of the park with Emre Can quite possibly the one to really impress in 2014/15! 

Transfers (In): Emre Can - Bayer 04, £10,000,000, Rickie Lambert - So'ton, £4,000,000, Adam Lallana - So'ton, £25,000,000, Dejan Lovren - So'ton, £20,000,000, Javier Manquillo - Atletico, Loan, Divock Origi - Lille, £12,000,000, Lazar Markovic - Benfica, £19,000,000

Transfers (Out): Pepe Reina - Bayern, £2,500,000, Conor Coady - Huddersfield, £500,000, Iago Aspas - Sevilla, Luis Alberto - Malaga, Divock Origi - Lille, (All Loans)

VERDICT: This season Liverpool will be in the mix for the title, with a much stronger squad it would appear that the side should cope with the longevity of such campaigns reasonably well. Luis Suarez will no doubt be missed but in Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho etc. this side still has a wealth of goals in them. Defensive frailties will also hopefully be eradicated with the new signings but without a marquee Suarez standard signing I feel the club will just lack the spark when it matters most, leaving Liverpool once more just falling short of the Premier League title. A nice Champions League run wouldn't go amiss either! Ben - 2nd, Gareth - 3rd, Christian - 5th, Huw - 3rd


MAN CITY

Club Nickname: The Citizens
Founded: 1894
Ground: Eastlands
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Vice Captain: Pablo Zabaleta
Last Season: 1st

2013/14 was perhaps the Premier League's greatest ever season, and Man City won it! Despite only sitting on top of the table for the least time of the top four. They were the most consistent team in the title race, and never dropped form for too long, unlike their rivals who all suffered dips in their 38-game run. City manged to score a massive 102 goals as well as win the League Cup after defeating Sunderland at Wembley. It was glossed over that it was Manuel Pelligrini's first season at the club, with the double the achieved one of the most impressive in my memory, especially after seemingly falling away from Man United the year before.

2012, 2014, 2015?
Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, David Silva etc, the list goes on of World Class talents at Eastlands. Last season saw some of these players fulfill their potential, but others play a level below what we had come to expect. Toure was arguably the league's finest midfielder and Aguero the most exciting forward after Liverpool's SAS of Suarez and Sturridge. For me, David Silva must do a little better, I'll probably get a bit of stick for saying that, but it always seems that the Spaniard starts the season strong but falters towards the latter end of the campaign.

City have come a long way since the days of Kinkladze and co!
There is no doubt this season that City will once more be strong, but perhaps need to be a bit more prolific in the transfer window. The signings of Bacary Sagna, Fernando and Frank Lampard do not offer much cause for excitement, with the trio more likely to be sitting on the substitute bench rather than competing for a place in the starting XI. Willy Caballero however will offer some real competition for Joe Hart in goal, with the English keeper often falling below standards last season, even replaced with Costel Pantillimon for a run of matches. Unless a few more signings are added to the squad I feel City could fall behind Chelsea and Liverpool, the latter already running out winners in a pre-season encounter.

ONE TO WATCH: My one to watch for Man City this season is Scott Sinclair....only joking, in fact it is Aleksander Kolarov. The Serbian international was at times unplayable last season, making marauding runs for left-back and scoring 4 goals for the third season in a row. Alongside Gael Clichy, City have a fairly strong left-side of defence, but I feel Kolarov is one of the most underrated players in the division. He was my personal choice for the position in the 2013/14 team of the season and I feel this season could be one in which people really start to take notice of what he can really do! 

Transfers (In): Fernando - Porto, £12,000,000, Willy Caballero - Malaga, £4,400,000, Bacary Sagna - Arsenal, Free, Frank Lampard - New York City FC, Loan, Bruno Zuculini - Racing Club, £1,500,000

Transfers (Out): Joleon Lescott - West Brom, Free, Gareth Barry - Everton, £2,000,000, Costel Pantillimon - Sunderland, Free, Jack Rodwell - Sunderland, £10,000,000

VERDICT: For Man City, they could literally finish anywhere between 1st-4th. For once I feel that the Champions League could become the side's main point of focus as they look to improve on years of below-par performances. However, the squad is still one of the best in Europe so don't be surprised to see them lift a third league in four years, For me though, without any major marquee investment City will fall behind both Chelsea and Liverpool, but only just! Ben - 3rd, Gareth - 2nd, Christian - 2nd, Huw - 1st


By Ben Jones - Follow me on Twitter @Benny_J or @TFHBTop250! 

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