Part III: Sunderland, Swansea, Spurs, WBA and West Ham
Club Nickname: The Black Cats
Founded: 1879, as ‘Sunderland and District Teachers’
Ground: Stadium of Light
Manager: Gustavo Poyet
Captain: John O’Shea
Last Season: 14th
It was a topsy-turvy season for Sunderland last year, to say the least. They started the season with unorthodox Italian, Paolo DiCanio, at the helm, having opted to stick with the former Swindon boss after he successfully kept them in the Premier League the previous season, a 0-3 win over rivals, Newcastle, the highlight. However, come October, DiCanio was gone and former Brighton manager and Chelsea hero, Gustavo Poyet took charge. Summer signings weren’t proving particularly successful, Altidore and Giaccherini struggling to make an impact and, while performances improved under Poyet, Sunderland were still bottom at Christmas.
|Could Fabio Borini be signing this summer?|
Post-New Year, however, as with the performances, results improved. Liverpool loanee, Fabio Borini, hit form and Vito Mannone drastically improved his ‘keeping game (both were rewarded at the end of the season with the Young Player and Player of the Year awards, respectively. A gradual rise up the table leading to a 14th place finish plus a Capital One Cup final loss against Manchester City saw what could have been a disastrous season for the Black Cats turn into a relatively successful one.
So can they improve upon Poyet’s first season in charge? Despite the disappointing loss of Jack Colback to Newcastle, the signings of Costel Pantilimon, Jordi Gomez and Billy Jones are all very astute – Premier League-proven players such as these could prove vital should Sunderland be involved in another relegation scrap. Patrick van Aanholt for an undisclosed fee from Chelsea could also prove an impressive addition to the squad, highly rated by the Vitesse management he played under on loan last season. The most recent edition of Jack Rodwell could also be a fantastic signing – Sunderland will hope that his injuries are far less often than they were during his spell in Manchester.
|FA Cup victory in 1973|
I doubt Sunderland can do much better than manager Gus Poyet. His chance finally came in the Premier League after a successful stint in the Championship with Brighton & Hove Albion came to an unfortunately bitter end, and he’s done as good a job as he, the Sunderland board and Sunderland fans could have imagined.
ONE TO WATCH: If Fabio Borini does in fact arrive, he could well prove a valuable asset, so too Rodwell and Steven Fletcher if they stay fit but I’m going to say Connor Wickham (should he stay – he’s been subject to a £5M bid from West Ham in recent days). Scintillating goal-scoring form towards the back end of last season showed why he was so highly rated at Ipswich. The young Englishman will have an eye on the England set-up after a World Cup lacking in goals for England.
Ins: Costel Pantilimon (Man City, Free); Billy Jones (West Bromwich Albion, Free); Jordi Gomez (Wigan, Free); Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea, Undisclosed); Jack Rodwell (Manchester City, £10M)
Outs: Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday, Free); David Vaughan (Nottingham Forrest, Free); Nacho Scocco (Newells Old Boys, Undisclosed); Jordan Pickford (Carlisle United, Loan); Craig Lynch (Rochdale, Free); Louis Laing (Nottingham Forest, Free); Billy Knott (Bradford City, Free); Scott Harrison (Hartlepool United, Loan); Craig Gardner (West Bromwich Albion, Free); John Egan (Southend United, Loan); Jack Colback (Newcastle United, Free); Phil Bardsley (Stoke City, Free)
VERDICT: A couple of more summer signings – including the almost inevitable arrival of Fabio Borini on a permanent deal from Liverpool for £14M – should stand Sunderland in good stead to reach midtable this year and, at a push, maybe compete for a domestic trophy or a Europa League spot. It’s hard to guess where exactly a midtable team will finish, but I’m going for 11th.. Ben - 15th, Gareth - 13th, Christian - 16th, Huw - 11th
SWANSEA CITY AFC
Club Nickname: The Jacks/The Swans
Founded: 1912 as ‘Swansea Town’
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Manager: Gary Monk
Captain: Ashley Williams
Last Season: 12th
There’s not much to say about Swansea’s campaign in the 2013/14 season: they dropped one place from Christmas to the final day and sacked the first manager to win them silverware in their 102-year history. For the fans, it probably took a little too long to confirm their place in the Premier League for the following season. Reaction was mixed to the appointment of Gary Monk in place of Michael Laudrup, but it was seen as a reasonably sensible choice: we will see how sensible as this season progresses.
|Swansea had the occasional good moment last season|
The loss of Vorm and Davies could prove problematic for the Swans – while Neil Taylor is an apt-enough replacement for the latter, Vorm’s exceptional shot-stopping ability and his wonderful control and distribution was suited perfectly to Swansea’s game – Łukasz Fabiański seems set to replace Vorm in the starting XI, but whether he’ll be able to make the step up from back-up ‘keeper to regular starter is another matter. Formerly of Cardiff City, now of Celtic, fullback Adam Matthews has been linked as a potential Ben Davies replacement: this could be a very shrewd signing, as Matthews is still young and was seen as an excellent talent at Cardiff.
Former Swan Gylfi Sigurdsson has returned from Tottenham and I see this as a very good signing for Gary Monk’s men. Jonathon de Guzmán’s return after his second loan spell leaves a gaping hole in midfield – a Sigurdsson-sized hole. His balance, control and ability to bring the play forward from any position across the midfield could be vital for Swansea next year, with the likes of Routledge and Dyer also proving important in providing new signing Bafetimbi Gomis and, should he stay, Wilfried Bony, with the assists they require.
|Toshack's Swans c.1980|
The one position that needs strengthening, especially as it seems Chico Flores could be leaving the club to join Michael Laudrup in Qatar, is the centre back role next to captain, Ashley Williams. Someone like Michael Dawson, whom Tottenham seem happy to sell, could make a good partner for Williams, and provide a decent balance to an ever-changing Swansea back four.
ONE TO WATCH: I was a big fan of Bafetimbi Gomis at Lyon – he came into his own after the loss of Karim Benzema to Real Madrid 2009, but his form has dropped in the last season or two. A move on a free to Swansea could see his career revitalised – Swansea fans will certainly hope so, especially if Wilfried Bony is on his way out. Gylfi Sigurdsson is also sure to make a positive impact in his second spell at the Liberty Stadium – I expect him to slip smoothly back into the side and help Swansea stay in the Premier League for their fifth consecutive season.
Ins: Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough, Loan); Łukasz Fabianski (Arsenal, Free); Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon, Free); Raheem Hanley (Blackburn Rovers, Undisclosed); Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed)
Outs: Daniel Alfei (Northampton Town, Loan); Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur, £10M); Gwion Edwards (Crawley Town, Loan); Curtis Obeng (Stevenage, Loan); Alejandro Pozuelo (Rayo Vallecano, Undisclosed); Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur, £5M)
VERDICT: I wouldn’t say I rate Gary Monk particularly highly managerial-wise, but clearly no one at the club felt Michael Laudrup was succeeding and Monk has instilled a sense of passion at the club once more. With a stable squad and solid new signings, Swansea should be fine in terms of relegation – I see this being a season where they just try and finish as high as possible, and to hope for some upsets against the bigger sides: 14th. Ben - 9th, Gareth - 10th, Christian - 12th, Huw - 14th
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FC
Club Nickname: Spurs
Founded: 1882 as ‘Hotspur FC’
Ground: White Hart Lane
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Captain: Michael Dawson
Last Season: 6th
Last season simply wasn’t good enough for Tottenham’s high standards, and especially after the amount of money they spent. Gareth Bale’s £85M exit initiated a buying frenzy reaching £100M on the likes of Eric Lamela from Roma, Christian Eriksen from Ajax and Roberto Soldado from Valencia. It’s fair to say most of the signings disappointed – Christian Eriksen was the exception; £10M seems a bargain given the goals, assists and all round creativity he provided for Spurs’ midfield. Spurs will be hoping that the players that disappointed so much last season under Andre Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood can perform under Mauricio Pochettino, and that the integration of new signings might be slightly more successful.
|Sometimes the new signings worked...|
In Pochettino, Tottenham have a talented, young manager who has proven himself at his two high-profile clubs so far, in Espanyol and Southampton. More importantly, however, his achievements at Southampton – exceeding all expectations by finishing 8th last season – make him Premier League-proven. His free-flowing, attacking style should suit the likes of Eriksen and, Tottenham fans will hope, the likes of Lamela who failed to impress last year. In fact, Eric Lamela only played in the Premier League on three occasions, with no goals and just one assist to his name – something Pochettino will surely seek to improve.
|Spurs were the first non-league team to win the FA Cup|
Spurs’ lack of success in competitions besides the Premier League in recent years must bother fans. Their 5-1 semi-final loss to Chelsea in 2011/12 in the FA Cup is the furthest they’ve reached since, having been beaten in the fourth and third rounds in following years, and their attempts in the Europa League and the Capital One Cup have been similarly unsuccessful – could Pochettino be thinking about attempting a cup run in order to win over Spurs fans? I should think that, after such a dismal season last year, a Europa League finish and a trophy would be seen as a successful season under the new boss.
ONE TO WATCH: I’m intrigued by a number of players in the Spurs squad this year: after Hugo Lloris signed a new, long-term contract at the start of the summer, where does new signing Michel Vorm fit in? How will last year’s flops perform this year? However, my one to watch in the Spurs team is their star performer from last season, Christian Eriksen. He should thrive under Pochettino’s playing style and could reach double figures in terms of goals and assists this year. His performances will be crucial if Spurs are to succeed this season.
Ins: Ben Davies (Swansea City, £10M); Michael Vorm (Swansea City, £5M); Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, £4M); DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders, Undisc)
Outs: Kevin Stewart (Liverpool, Free); Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City, Undisclosed); Alex Pritchard (Brentford, Loan); Jonathon Obika (Charlton Athletic, Loan); Kenny McEvoy (Peterborough United, Loan); Jake Livermore (Hull City, Undisclosed); Grant Hall (Birmingham City, Loan); Heurelho Gomes (Watford, Free); Shaquile Coulthirst (Torquay United, Loan)
VERDICT: It should be a happier season for Spurs fans this year; they seem far more settled with Pochettino and, should they bring in a new centre back (Villarreal’s Mateo Musacchio has been heavily linked) and a versatile striker to compliment Soldado and Adebayor (Jay Rodriguez of Southampton is a possibility), they should give teams are harder time than last year. I can see them competing with Everton for a Europa League spot, but I expect them to do well in Europe and in domestic competitions this year. 7th. Ben - 7th, Gareth - 7th, Christian - 6th, Huw - 7th
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Club Nickname: The Baggies
Founded: 1878 as ‘West Bromwich Strollers’
Ground: The Hawthorns
Manager: Alan Irvine
Captain: Chris Brunt
Last Season: 17th
I should start by saying that I do have a slight agenda against the West Brom board. Firstly, Steve Clarke was doing a reasonable job – if a little nervy, hovering two points above relegation – at the helm and was sacked because, while they “[had] not had the rub of the green in certain games this season… that does not cloud the generally disappointing points return during this calendar year.”
|Beating United at Old Trafford was 2013/14's high point|
Personally, this was a panic decision after four poor results in a row, which led to them hiring a manager completely unproven in the Premier League in Pepe Mel. Here’s the second part of my agenda: I love Pepe Mel, he’s not only adorable, but he did improve West Brom and kept them in the Premier League by three clear points. West Brom’s official statement claims that the parting of manager and club was “mutual,” but I still very much feel like Mel had something to offer. Now, here they are stranded with another unproven manager in an attempt to keep them in the toughest league in the world. Hmm.
They have, however, made a few very shrewd signings. Young Liverpool fullback, Andre Wisdom, should provide them with a strong, attacking outlet from the back as well as a solid defender. Joleon Lescott will also do the latter, as well as providing experience and leadership – possibly something West Brom have lacked in previous years. Chris Baird and Craig Gardner have experience of English football and are solid signings, while Brown Ideye adds an unfamiliar presence going forward for opposition defenders to deal with.
|Relegation battles have become usual practice at The Hawthorns|
Next season will be the Baggies’ 9th season in the Premier League since 2002, with their reputation as a ‘yoyo club’ marring this generally successful period in their history, but I feel like this ‘yoyo’ nature could affect them once again this year, depending on Irvine’s tactics and how his squad gels.
ONE TO WATCH: New signings Andre Wisdom and Brown Ideye are the two I’m particularly interested in. The former had a very successful loan spell at Derby County in the Championship last year and this season could have a huge impact on his future at Liverpool. Brown Ideye is my man to watch, however. Manager, Alan Irvine, admitted that he hadn’t ever watched Ideye before breaking the club’s record transfer fee, so it’ll be interesting to see if it was £10M well spent for the Baggies.
Ins: Chris Baird (Burnley, Free); Craig Gardner (Sunderland, Free); Brown Ideye (Dynamo Kiev, £10M); Joleon Lescott (Manchester City, Free); Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover 96, Undisclosed); Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, Loan)
Outs: Donervon Daniels (Blackpool, Loan); Cameron Gayle (Shrewsbury Town, Free); Billy Jones (Sunderland, Free); Steven Reid (Burnley, Free); Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers, Free); Markus Rosenberg (Malmo FF, Undisclosed); George Thorne (Derby County, Undisclosed)
VERDICT: Unfortunately for the Baggies, I see this as a season too far. Their slightly absurd decision to sack Steve Clarke while he was doing a decent job, plus the fact that they obviously weren’t the biggest fans of replacement Pepe Mel, has led them to selling a whole load of players and hiring a relatively inexperienced manager. Relegation beckons: 18th. Ben - 18th, Gareth - 18th, Christian - 20th, Huw - 18th
WEST HAM UNITED
Club Nickname: The Hammers/The Irons
Founded: 1895 as ‘Thames Ironworks’
Ground: Upton Park (The Boleyn Ground)
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Captain: Kevin Nolan
Last Season: 13th
Given that West Ham came under a lot of criticism last season, 13th isn’t too shabby. Second from bottom at Christmas, Sam Allardyce turned the season around successfully. For this reason, I’m torn as to whether I think sacking Big Sam would be a good idea. While his football is insufferable and, quite frankly, dismal to witness, his ability to grind out draws and nick wins is proven and successfully keeps teams in the Premier League. Some say that if West Ham were to sack Big Sam, they would struggle to stay up – which I tend to agree with.
|This season could go either way for the Hammers|
However, last season provided an alternative argument in Mark Hughes and his Stoke team. Many (including me) thought that the lack of Tony Pulis’ hard-to-beat, defensive style of play, could prove a huge disadvantage for Stoke and they might fail to stay in the league. However, while not their most successful season, Hughes got them playing nice football and kept them in the league. This season they’ve signed well (Bojan in particular) and I expect them to push for a top-half finish. Might West Ham flourish similarly if they sacked Big Sam and hired a fresh, new manager?
Either way, West Ham are a team I see struggling. Andy Carroll is a very important player for them: when he’s fully fit and on form, he’s ruthless for the Hammers. However, he is – to put it lightly – injury prone and injured for the first few months of the season. Enner Valencia has been brought in for £12M in an attempt to ease the blow, and Connor Wickham is being chased as another option, with a £5M bid having already been turned down. Should Valencia settle in well and attain 10-15 Premier League goals, he could go along way in helping the Hammers retain their Premier League status.
|West Ham would love to return to the glory of '75|
Retaining club regulars – captain, Kevin Nolan, as well as the likes of Mark Noble and James Tomkins – is important for West Ham in their attempts to finish as high as possible, too. While new signings can help to make an impact, a strong, regular spine to the team will be crucial.
ONE TO WATCH: Enner Valencia. Scorer of all of Ecuador’s goals at the World Cup, if he makes the transition to English football as smoothly as compatriot and namesake, Antonio, did in 2006, Enner Valencia could prove a very shrewd buy for a West Ham team that struggled for goals last season – especially given the lack of Andy Carroll for such a long period of time.
Ins: Aaron Creswell (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed); Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, Loan); Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht, Undisclosed); Diego Poyet (Charlton Athletic, Free); Enner Valencia (Pachuca, £12M); Mauro Zarate (Velez Sarsfield, Undisclosed)
Outs: Joe Cole (Aston Villa, Free); Jack Collison (Wigan, Loan); Stephen Henderson (Charlton Athletic, Free); Sean Maguire (Sligo Rovers, Loan); Raphael Spiegel (Crawley Town, Loan); Matthew Taylor (Burnley, Undisclosed); Blair Turgott (Dagenham & Redbridge, Loan)
VERDICT: This season could be a struggle for the Hammers. While they’ve signed reasonably well, I feel like the fans and the board could get sick of Big Sam’s playing style and decide to end his tenure: and I’m sure they’ll regret this by the end of the season. I do, however, think they might just get away with it: 17th. Ben - 10th, Gareth - 9th, Christian - 8th, Huw - 17th