Premier League Preview: Manchester United - Stoke City

PART 3: Manchester United, Newcastle United, QPR, Southampton, Stoke,

Manchester United

Club Nickname: The Red Devils
Founded: 1878
Ground: Old Trafford
Manager: Louis van Gaal 
Captain: Wayne Rooney 
Last Season: 7th

Can anyone really tell you conclusively how you go from 1st to 7th? To put this into context, the last time United missed out on European football was 1990, a year before I was born and that was only due to the ban that expelled English clubs from Europe for half a decade due to the dreadful Heysel disaster. In any case there isn't just one answer to that question; there are several and that means even King Louis has his work cut out for him. Despite all the talk of challenging for the title that will be a step too far for United and van Gaal would do well to secure a top four finish. 1st to 7th is one thing but the reverse is almost unfathomable, and don't let any Liverpool fan tell you otherwise. 
King Louis will be hoping he has something to smile about come May, unlike Moyes
United's pre season couldn't have gone much better winning all but one of their six fixtures and van Gaal trying a few different formations. Promising stuff but still nobody knows quite how United are going to make it back into the Champions League with the league beginning to resemble the Championship in terms on unpredictability at both ends. The 'top four' have spent impressively but only Chelsea and perhaps City are finished. United themselves have only bought Shaw and Herrera and they were previously earmarked by Moyes. He has by no means finished his summer spending and in fact if truth be told he hasn't started. It seems he has been more concerned with deciding who has become unworthy of the jersey rather than adding to his squad list. Still progress has been made with several players heading for the exit door and  the announcement that Rooney will captain the side. 
Rooney will lead the team this season
There are still gaping holes in the middle of the team and if the Iron Tulip is going to limit the club's Champions League holiday to just one season then he needs to get a move on. Three, perhaps four real quality signings are needed in order to be competitive throughout the season in defence and midfield and the club are looking in the right areas too. Di Maria, Hummels (however unlikely after being named Dortmund captain) and Vidal are names that have been circulated in the media and are the kind of players United need. The amount of truth in these stories is questionable but we'll know one way or another come 1st September. 

ONE TO WATCH:  For me, Juan Mata. Despite being signed in January, he'll be their biggest signing of the year and I firmly believe if van Gaal can get the best out of him, in his best position then come next September his players will be back amongst Europe's elite. His performances for Chelsea were at least as impressive as his Spanish counterpart on the other side of the city and if he finds that kind of form with RVP and Rooney around then United may well be back in business. If not then my prediction will be wrong and it'll be a long way back to the top for one of the world's biggest Clubs.

Transfers (In): Luke Shaw (Southampton, £30m rising to £31m), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £28.8m), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, Undisclosed).

Transfers (Out): Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow, £4.4m rising to £5.6m), Patrice Evra (Juventus, £1.2m rising to £1.5m), Bebe (Benfica, £2.25m), Jack Barmby (Leicester City), Feredrico Macheda (Cardiff City), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan), Louis Rowley (Leicester City), Rio Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, Loan), Angelo Henriquez (Dynamo Zagreb, Loan).

VERDICT: Personally the most difficult to call as Liverpool play some are scintillating stuff, but I just can't see United being out of the Champions League for two successive seasons (not that I saw them finishing 7th mind!) so they'll take the 4th spot for me. Regardless of what people may say, their lack of European football will ensure that they are well rested and amply motivated; a mean combination especially with van Gaal in charge. Their apparent lack of defensive quality (and current injury crisis) is why I don't see them finishing any higher than 4th and also why they could still finish 6/7th. I may regret this one! Ben - 5th, Gareth - 5th, Christian - 4th, Huw - 5th

Newcastle United

Club Nickname: The Magpies
Founded: 1892
Ground: St James' Park 
Manager: Alan Pardew 
Captain: Fabricio Coloccini 
Last Season: 10th

Well talk about perennial underachievers, this time last year Newcastle fans were looking forward to challenging for a European place and they would have been right had the season ended at Christmas. What is going on at St James' Park is anybody's guess and for such a big club they simply have to be knocking on Europe's door if not breaking it down. A series of mismanagements on pretty much every level imaginable saw their season fall apart and culminated in six defeats on the trot and 14 losses in 19 games, their worst run in the top flight since January 1987.
Unhappy fans last season
So which will we have this season, Jekyll or Hyde, or perhaps both? Hopefully for the fans on Tyneside the club it'll be more of the former. There is some respite in the fact that the club will at, after much deliberation, have some new signings to get excited about and some good ones at that. Cabella, de Jong and Colback are probably the three that will standout and with Janmaat too it has been a good summer for business. I'd like to think they're in the market for another striker and if they get one it'll turn a good summer into a very good one. 

Newcastle need this kind of passion back in the team!
On paper this team should definitely be finishing higher than where I've predicted but as we all know football's played on a green surface and not a white one. In any case I believe their season will hinge on the management of both the club and the team. They've had what seems to be a good summer but the antics have already begun with rumours in the media stating Alan Pardew's backroom staff will stop receiving complimentary tickets. Unnecessary, unneeded and generally unhelpful. It is as simple as this; if managed well Newcastle will push both Spurs and Everton for those Europa League places and if not, well I'm afraid it's more frustration for Newcastle fans with glimpses of brilliance here and there.

The new boy on the block
ONE TO WATCH: So I've basically just said the management of the team will decide where they end up. However the players still have to do the business on the pitch and I believe it's one of the new boys who will play an important role. At 12m, Rémy Cabella was a decent piece of business (decent as Cabaye cost them around 5m!) and he'll attempt to fill the crater sized hole left by Cabaye following his departure. Cabella was impressive last year and boasts technique, creativity, composure and an eye for goal, essentially what you'd expect from an attacking Frenchman. He will however need to adjust quickly to the demands of the English games and if he does this he'll be well on his way to becoming a fan favourite.

Transfers (In): Rémy Cabella (Montpellier, £12m), Karl Darlow, Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest, £7m combined), Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco, £6.3m), Siem de Jong (Ajax, £6m), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord, £5m), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife, £1.5m), Jack Colback (Sunderland), Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar Donetsk, Loan)

Transfers (Out): Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal, £12m), James Tavernier (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed), Dan Gosling (AFC Bournemouth), Jonathan Mitchell (Derby County), Conor Newton (Rotherham United), Romain Amalfitano (Dijon), Shola Ameobi (Gaziantep), Adam Campbell (Fleetwood Town, Loan), Sylvain Marveaux (Guingcamp, Loan), Karl Darlow, Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest, Loans).

Released: Steven Logan, Brandon Miele, Jonathan Mitchell, Michael Richardson

VERDICT: I've already made my position known, if they're managed well and the new signings are integrated into the squad quickly then you can be pretty certain they'll be on the tails of Everton and Tottenham. My issue is that after things went so badly so quickly, I just can't see the opposite happening so it's mid-table mediocrity for me in 9th place. Ben - 8th, Gareth - 8th, Christian - 9th, Huw - 8th

Queen's Park Rangers

Club Nickname: The Hoops
Founded: 1882
Ground: Loftus Road
Manager: Harry Redknapp 
Captain: Clint Hill
Last Season: 4th (promoted via playoffs)

So, probably the favourites to win the championship before the season started the hoops would have been disappointed with where they ended up but in all honesty nobody will remember how they got up, if they stay up especially given their strong financial position for a club just promoted from the Championship. In all honesty if we're going by talent they never should have been relegated but I've said it again and I will of course continue to say it, this is a team sport played on grass and not paper. Last time they were back in the big league they finished 18th with the likes of Julio Caesar, Loïc Remy, Christopher Samba, Taarabt et al. Most of which are capable of playing Champions League football.  
Joy as the team gained promotion in May 
This time around they will have to show some real mettle and their aims must be realistically set. I'm not an avid watcher of the Championship but it seemed to me as if QPR merely did what they had to to gain promotion but that will not be enough now they're back in the big time. Suring up the defence and not getting beaten whilst taking your chances at the other end should be the philosophy. Sounds simple but clearly a lot more difficult in practice. If executed well though there are major benefits, just ask Mile Jedinak and his team. I don't feel as if Harry's position should be under threat despite the pressures and love him or hate him he seems to be able to get the best out of his players and with Glenn Hoddle becoming first team coach you can at least guarantee they will be a lot more prepared this time around.
This off the field partnership will be interesting to observe
The amount of knowledge on the English game currently held by the coaching staff is incredible. If a coaching team consisting of Harry Redknapp, Joe Jordan and Glenn Hoddle can't help you then who can? And perhaps the better question is should you even be playing in the Premier League? Harry will be aware of the pressure he and his team will be under but he has done it before and can do it again. He is, after all the only manager in recent times to actually deliver Champions League football for Spurs and is the man who supervised the transformation of Bale into the superstar he is today. The Portsmouth team he assembled wasn't too shabby either with stars like James, Johnson, Boateng, Muntari, Diarra etc all part of  their FA Cup triumph in 2008. Those players moved on to clubs like Real, AC Milan and Liverpool. If QPR avoid imploding financially then I wouldn't bet against Harry building another successful Premier League team.

ONE TO WATCH: Whilst he is still a QPR player, it simply has to be Loic Remy. He may have many after his signature but he is a mercurial talent who has proved his worth over the last two seasons. In my opinion he still needs to add a bit more consistency to his game but even if he equals last year’s tally of 14 in 26 it will go a long way to securing survival and more especially if the likes of Caulker, Ferdinand and Isla and co can keep the goals out.

Transfers (In):  Steven Caulker (Cardiff City, £8.5m), Jordan Mutch (Cardiff City, £6m), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Mauricio Isla (Juventus, Loan).
Transfers (Out): Yossi Benayoun (Maccabi Haifa, Undisclosed), Esteban Granero (Real Sociedad, Undisclosed), Tom Hitchcock (MK Dons), Aaron Hughes (Brighton & Hove Albion), Mo Shariff (Bradford City), Gary O'Neil (Norwich City).
Released: Angelo Balanta, Hogan Ephraim, Aaron Hughes, Andrew Johnson, Stéphane Mbia
VERDICT: Truth be told I was a bit lost when it came to predicting where QPR would finish as I see them as a bit of an unknown quantity. They could realistically finish anywhere from 12th to 18th, possibly even higher. However at the time of writing I was yet to be convinced about their defensive qualities hence my prediction. The Glen Hoddle story was also not about and if they can make a successful transition to the 3-5-2 formation with the experience of Ferdinand and quality of Caulker then they will definitely finish higher than my prediction. Ben - 16th, G Man - 15th, Christian - 17th, Huw - 10th

Southampton FC

Club Nickname: The Saints
Founded: 1885
Ground: St Mary's Stadium
Manager: Ronald Koemam
Captain: Jose Fonte
Last Season: 8th

Maybe you should just take a look at the transfers in and out and we can be done with this? Well unfortunately I still have a job to do and so does Ronald Koeman. Their first season back in the Premier League saw them finish 14th, the following season 8th and in some style too. In any one of Europe's top leagues they would have lost a couple of players but if I was 6 again and supported Southampton and 3/4 of my favourite starting 11 players left I'd have considered switching alliances and yes I did just type that.  I am being particularly harsh, the Saints still have a good team but this time around more teams will believe they will be able to get three points when they face them as opposed to last season where any opposition knew they'd have to be at the top of their game to overcome an energetic footballing side. 
Southampton enjoyed a wonderful season last year
As a result of this mini-exodus however, Southampton have received around the £90m mark and there are still several clubs a lot worse off than they currently are both financially and in terms of player resources. In spite of this many have questioned both Southampton's and Katharina's ambitions but you can never tell whether good or bad decisions are being made until a lengthy amount of time has passed, just ask Arsenal fans. Nobody like to see their best players leave but there will always be another best player, another Walcott, another Bale, Chamberlain, Lallana; you get the picture. Southampton fans will hope the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of talent that is their youth academy continues to produce such wonderfully gifted players. 
Southampton will need to cope without some key players
Whilst they may have lost their spark and yet more talent Koeman still has a good core of players to work with and providing Schneiderlin remains a Southampton player they will still be able to compete. The squad will have to pick themselves up mentally and whilst they may put on a front and say all the right things everybody knows how hard it will be for them to follow up last season's displays. Pelle will have to adjust quickly too as Lambert was a big part of this team and it's hard to see how they're going to replace the link up play and finishing that Lambert possessed. Koeman will have to stick to his word regarding player sales and will have to add one or two more I feel with a replacement for Lovren, who left in somewhat acrimonious circumstances, still needed.

ONE TO WATCH: Dusan Tadic just beats the all action Algerian midfielder Saphir Taider to this one. Tadic put in some impressive performances for FC Twente and 16 goals to boot. On the face of it, he is essentially Lallana's replacement and he will need to hit the ground running if he is to come anywhere near to emulating his predecessor's success. He does have the ability that much isn't in question but will need to make what has been known to be the difficult step up from the Dutch league. Suarez or Alves? Watch the space.

Transfers (In):  Dusan Tadic (FC Twente, £10.9m), Fraser Forster (Celtic, £10m), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord, £9m), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan, Swap), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, Loan), Shane Lone (Hull City, £12m), Florin Gardos (Steaua Bucharest, £6m).

Transfers (Out): Luke Shaw (Manchester United, £30m rising to £31m), Adam Lallana (Liverpool, £25m), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool, £20m), Calum Chambers (Arsenal, £16m), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, £4m), Tom Leggett, Isaac Nehemie (Both Aston Villa, Undisclosed), Danny Fox (Nottingham Forest), Andy Robinson (Bolton), Lee Barnard (Southend United), Matt Young (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Forte (Oldham Athletic), Dani Osvaldo (Inter Milan, Swap), Jordan Turnbull (Swindon Town, Loan). 

Released: Lee Barnard, Joe Curtis, Guily Do Prado, Andreas Sony.

VERDICT: It will be intriguing to see how Koeman sets up the team up and how different, or not they will play. I don't believe Southampton will be dragged into a relegation battle but I do think they will find it hard to replicate last season's form. They should still play with the same energy and fervour and a mid table finish will represent a successful campaign in his first season. Ben - 12th, Gareth - 14th, Christian - 13th, Huw - 13th

Stoke City

Club Nickname: The Potters
Founded: 1863
Ground: The Britannia Stadium
Manager: Mark Hughes
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Last Season: 9th

I don't think anyone would have anticipated the season Stoke had and the fairly expansive, yes expansive football being played on a cold Tuesday evenings 'up north' in the Britannia. The job Pulis did (who by the way has just been dismissed) cannot be understated and it was probably his success that called time on his time at Stoke and part of the reason Hughes has done so well. The fans were indifferent to the appointment of Mark Hughes and chairman Bryan Shaw of the supporter's club himself admitted at the time "From all the people available, he would not have been my first choice, although he has a reasonable record apart from at QPR,". Not exactly a glowing reference but I imagine he would have changed his mind by now.
A shrewd appointment
After leading the club t their highest ever Premier League points tally and surviving a questionable Christmas Hughes has won over  many unsure fans and relieved a lot of pressure on himself in the process. Still though this is the Premier League and he will not need to be told he can't rest on his laurels. These days on top of success must be further success otherwise the road unfortunately begins to narrow until it disappears altogether. I'm fairly sure Hughes will still be the Stoke manager come May but he will have to keep the team in a mid table position to ward off the boo-boys and with the squad at his disposal and no major disruptions  in terms of transfers he will feel he can do that and I do too.
Stoke beat Chelsea last season following a dramatic winner
In Begovic they have a keeper who could be playing Champions league football and in front of him are Huth and Shawcross, two seasoned Premier League centre backs and Ryan should actually be looking to break into the England set up this year. Further forward are N'Zonzi, Ireland and Adam who provide a bit of everything in the engine room and Arnautović and Odemwingie were impressive additions to the first team. This year Diouf, Sidwell and Bojan have been added and altogether you have a team  you can be quite optimistic about. If I was a Stoke fan I'd be quietly confident about the season ahead and would be looking forward to watching some entertaining football too. Now who'd have thought we'd be saying that this time last year!

Will Hughes be able to get the best out of his multi-talented forward?
ONE TO WATCH: How could it be anyone but Bojan, or Krkic or Bojan Krkic. Whatever you wish to call him the amount of talent he has is unreal and it's easy to remember that he drew warranted comparisons to Messi himself. What is also undeniable is that his career has gone backwards. No offense to Stoke fans but at 18 the message coming out from Barca was that he'd be mixing it with Iniesta and co for years but things haven't turned out that way. This is a massive coup for Stoke as he is still just 23 and Mark Hughes would be well advised to employ the necessary methods in order to get the best out of him.

Transfers (In): Bojan Krkic (Barcelona, £3m), Dionatan Teixeira (Banska Bystrica, Undisclosed), Mame Biram Diouf (Hannover 96), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), Steve Sidwell (Fulham).

Transfers (Out): Michael Kightly (Burnley, Undisclosed), Jordan Keane (Alfreton Town), Ed Sanders (Sheffield Wednesday), Karim Rossi (Hull City), James Alabi (Accrington Stanley, Loan). 

Released: Juan Agudelo, Lucas Dawson, Matthew Etherington, Kevin Gomez-Nieto, Ben Heneghan, Jordan Richardson.

VERDICT: Mark Hughes has done a magnificent job with Stoke and will be looking to pick up where he left off last time around. I see no signs to suggest a shift in their fortunes or performances for that matter as they have pretty much the same squad from last season minus deadwood, a few more attacking options and Bojan. It's for this reason that I'm of the belief that a similar season will follow. Ben - 13th, Gareth - 12th, Christian - 10th, Huw - 9th

By Christian AYANDOKUN (guest writer) - Follow my personal account @cayandokun

A big thanks for Christian for his contribution to our Premier League previews, here is part 1 & part 2. Why not follow us on Twitter: @TFHBs or 'Like' our Facebook?

(Of course another thanks to those whose pictures we have borrowed for this!)


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