Premier League Preview 2008/9 [Part 2]

I'm not racist.
I'm not racist.

It’s part 2 – the part that contains Newcastle.

11th Manchester City

Last season: 9th

Transfers in: Jo (CSKA Moscow, £18m), Tal Ben-Haim (Chelsea, undisclosed)

Transfers out: Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven, undisclosed), Sun Jihai (Sheff Utd, free), Geovanni (Hull City, free), Georgios Samaras (Celtic, undisclosed), Matthew Mills (Doncaster, £300,000), Paul Dickov (Leicester, free)

While Manchster United top the top half of my league predictions, Manchester City fittingly top the bottom half.  They’ve paid out huge for Jo, an imposing but largely untested striker who nevertheless has an impressive 30 goals in 53 games for previous club CSKA Moscow.  With Tal Ben-Haim the only other arrival, it’s not a squad that has been improved hugely.  New manager Mark Hughes has had to fend off interest in Richard Dunne and Vedran Corluka although the latter still seems to be angling for a move.

However the core of the side is unchanged; Martin Petrov (a player I don’t rate as highly as some pundits), Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Elano and Benjani remain at the club; all capable players who performed at some point last season (just not all at the same time).  It’ll be a tough start for Hughes though.  Leaving aside the political and legal farce surrounding owner Thaksin Shinawatra, the manager will be missing Jo, Benjani, Darius Vassell (a solid performer last season) and Valeri Bojinov.

Key to their success: Elano has to recover last season’s early-season form and hope that Jo clicks in to place with City’s impressive array of attacking talent.  He must also keep Corluka who was arguably City’s best player during their solid run before Christmas.

12th Middlesbrough

Last season: 13th

Transfers in: Marvin Emnes (Sparta Rotterdam, £3.2m), Didier Digard (Paris St-G, £4m)

Transfers out: George Boateng (Hull City, £1m), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, free), Lee Cattermole (Wigan, £3.5m), Luke Young (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Lee Dong-Gook, Gaizka Mendieta, Fabio Rochemback (all released)

I get the impression that a large proportion of Miiddlesbrough fans expect very little of Gareth Southgate and his squad this year outside of mid-table security.  Marvin Emnes, a 20 year old midfielder, has arrived from Sparta Rotterdam, while Didier Digard is a £4m capture from PSG – he signed from Le Harve for £2m twelve months ago and played just 16 times.  Going the other way are three first team regulars; Schwarzer, Boateng, Young, and two further players in Rochemback and Cattermole who played more than 20 league games each.

Their squad really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny with the inexperienced Ross Turnbull and Brad Jones to fight it out over the important goalkeeper slot, a very uninspiring midfield (unless you really buy in to this whole Stewart Downing thing) and only two fine strikers in Tuncay and Alvez to look to for salvation.  Oh, there is Mido and Aliadiere if you are so inclined.  Actually I’m being cruel on Mido who did a fine job at Spurs when fit but he just so rarely is.

Key to their success: Boro are borderline relegation dogfight contenders but I think in the end they will pull out some of those mega-performances (see recent years against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea for evidence) that will ensure they stay clear.  Alvez could be key.  He cost big money but looked to be quality as his fitness improved towards the end of last season.

13th Fulham

Last season: 17th

Transfers in: Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough, free), Bobby Zamora (W Ham, £4.8m), John Pantsil (W Ham, £1.5m), Pascal Zuberbuhler (Neuc. Xamax, free), Andrew Johnson (Everton, £10.5m), Zoltan Gera (West Brom, free), Toni Kallio (Young Boys, free), David Stockdale (Darlington, undisclosed), Fredrik Stoor (Rosenborg, undisclosed), Andranik Teymourian (Bolton, free)

Transfers out: Hameur Bouazza (Charlton, loan, Nathan Ashton (Wycombe, undisclosed), Dejan Stefanovic (Norwich, undisclosed), Tony Warner (Hull, free)

Who didn’t get a kick out of Fulham’s great escape last season?  They were dead and buried with about 6 games to go – even with two and a half games to go and 0-2 down to Man City before bouncing back to win that game 3-2.  But they survived and deserved it, playing lovely football without the type of panic that usually runs rampant around relegation contenders.

Roy Hodgson – who is half way to leaving a decent legacy in British footall following “The Blackburn Debacle” – has bought very, very well.  Mark Schwarzer is a quality challenger to Antti Niemi, Fredrik Stoor had a decent Euro 2008 for Sweden, Andranik Teymourian and Zoltan Gera are very capable midfielders and the addition of Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson could make for a successful front pair.  I know people have a go at Bobby Z but I was loathe for Spurs to release him as part of the deal that took Jermaine Defoe to White Hart Lane.  At West Ham he proved himself in the run that took West Ham from the jaws of relegation in the 2006/7 season.  Carlos Tevez got the headlines, Zamora was outstanding in his hold up and link play.

Key to their success: Blending the new players will be the key but I think Hodgson can do it to ensure Fulham have a very good season.  Danny Murphy, Jimmy Bullard and Gera are an exciting attacking unit in midfield and with Zamora/Johnson up front there are plenty of positive signs for Fulham.

14th Newcastle

Last season: 12th

Transfers in: Jonas Gutierrez (Mallorca, undisclosed), Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, £2.5m)

Transfers out: Emre (Fenerbahce, undisclosed), David Rozehnal (Lazio, £2.9m)

Not exactly the most inspiring pre-season for Kevin Keegan and Newcastle despite a strong finish to 2007/8.  Danny Guthrie is a bustling midfielder who played for Bolton last season; decent player but not the type to allow you to make huge bounds up the league.  Six foot winger Jonas Gutierrez played a lot for Mallorca but with no Premier League experience it’s hard to know what to expect of him.  The loss of Emre (although perenially injured) is a blow.  The loss of David Rozenhal is not.

With reports of the club being in huge debt and the whole Dennis Wise thing hanging over Keegan, some think the white-haired legend won’t last the distance this year.  They may be right.

Key to their success: The team is essentially ok if everyone is fit although they are short in defence.  Why they can’t just buy a good center back I don’t know.  They need someone solid and dependable but have fumbled around with loose cannons for too long.  Stephen Taylor is a fine player but not so good that you can build a defence around him.  Guthrie might bring some grit to their midfield with Nicky Butt although the latter must be nearing his sell-by date.

15th Blackburn

Last season: 7th

Transfers in: Robbie Fowler (Cardiff, free), Paul Robinson (Tottenham, £3.5m), Julio Santa Cruz (Cerro Porteno, undisclosed), Danny Simpson (Manchester United, loan), Carlos Villanueva (Audax Italiano, loan)

Transfers out: Peter Enckelman (Cardiff, free), Brad Friedel (A Villa, £2m), David Bentley (Spurs, £15m)

Ooh, I just have a bad feeling about this.  All we’ve heard about for years is the dearth of black managers in the game.  Now that one who has performed admirably in the lower leagues has been given the “big job” is it too much, too soon?  You know, it might just be.  The transfers in range from players with something to prove (Robinson), a young player with little Premiership experience (Simpson), a has-been (Fowler) and an unknown quantity in the brother of star striker Roque Santa Cruz (if it’s the carrot to get Santa Cruz to stay around for 12 months it might be worth it).  Carlos Villanueva might be an interesting addition with 50 goals from midfield in 125 Chilean top flight games.

Key to their success: The re-birth of Benni McCarthy is needed as the squad really hasn’t been improved, especially with the loss of Brad Friedel and David Bentley.  Bentley – as over-priced as he was – will be a loss to Blackburn and it is slightly worrying that the money has not been re-invested.  Maybe the two or three quality players can lift the club above my projected position of 15th but I think it has more to do with Ince’s top flight managerial inexperience here.

16th Bolton

Last season: 16th

Transfers in: Mustapha Riga (Levante, undisclosed), Dan Shittu (Watford, £2m), Johan Elmander (Toulouse, £10m), Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham, £5m)

Transfers out: El-Hadji Diouf (Sunderland, £2.5m), Andranik Teymourian (Fulham, free)

Going unbeaten for the final five games of the season effectively sealed survival against the odds for Gary Megson.  The maligned manager (not exactly the most popular figure at West Brom or Nottingham Forest) has a series of sackings to his name and he may very well be on the cusp of another here given that the Bolton crowd don’t exactly seem convinced yet.

Given his ineffective performances at Euro 2008 the £10m spent on Swedish striker John Elmander seems absurbd but with 11 international goals and 44 league goals in the last four seasons (Nicolas Anekla was the only player to – twice – reach double figures for the club in the last four seasons), it could be that the Anelka replacement could be key.

Key to their success: I’ve kind of covered this already but 10-15 league goals from Elmander with able support from the always affable Kevin Davies and Kevin Nolan might be enough to just about keep them up.  I also really like Grétar Steinsson who is a very talented right-back – the sort of reliable and whole-hearted player that clubs need in situations like they find themselves.

17th Hull City

Last season: Promoted from Championship

Transfers in: Craig Fagan (Derby, £750,000), Geovanni (Man City, free), Bernard Mendy (Paris SG, free), George Boateng (M’bro, £1m), Tony Warner (Fulham, free), Peter Halmosi (Plymouth, £2m)

Transfers out: Dave Livermore (Brighton, free)

I’m showing a lot of faith in Hull, based really on my belief that Phil Brown is a marvellous manager and the addition of Geovanni, Bendy Mendy and George Boateng brings some much-needed Premier League experience.  Dean Windass, who’s 11 goals in 29 starts last season compared favourably to £28m-rated striker Dimitar Berbatov’s 15 in 36, has been there before as has Nicky Barmby.  Oh and Dean Marney, the former Spurs starlet who once scored two crackers in a 5-2 win on TV against Everton to suggest a top flight career was a strong possibility.

Key to their success: The squad is weak so it will be all about Brown managing to get the best out of his charges.  Goals look unlikely but if Windass scores 10 winners in 38 games then they will stay up.

18th West Ham

Last season: 10th

Transfers in: Balint Bajner (Liberty Salonta, undisclosed), Valon Behrami (Lazio, £5m), Orn Eyjolfsson (HK Kopavogur, free), Jan Lastuvka (Shakhtar Donetsk, loan)

Transfers out: Bobby Zamora (Fulham, £4.8m), John Pantsil (Fulham, £1.5m), Richard Wright (Ipswich, undisclosed)

Is this controversial?  Not as controversial as the Hammers staying up two seasons ago on the basis of fielding an influential player who had no right to play for them.  But Carlos Tevez is long gone (even if his permanent transfer to Man Utd for £35m looks set to strengthen the legal case brought by Sheffield United against the Hammers) and since then a long line of big money signings have failed to make many appearances in claret and blue: Dean Ashton, Freddie Ljungberg, Kieron Dyer, Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy.

That they finished 10th last season was mainly due to their early season form (they won just five league games in 2008 including losing three 0-4 games in a row).  Ok, so with the return of Bellamy and Ashton there are goals in this team and there will be less reliance on the useless Luis Boa Morte and committed, but limited, Carlton Cole.  But for how long will their best players be out there?  The squad is poor beyond the starting XI and another freefall situation may prove more serious this time than last.  Ok, this is the worst-case scenario but Curbishley does not fill me with confidence – and I don’t think he does much for the fans or board either.  There is usually at least one Premiership team underperforming every season – this year I think it will be the Hammers.

Key to their success: Clearly it’s the return of Ashton, Dyer, Parker and Bellamy (Ljungberg is gone) and if the defence performs (Ferdinand, Neill and Upton can play) then they have a good chance of being competitive.

19th West Brom

Last season: Promoted from Championship

Transfers in: Roman Bednar (Hearts, £2.3m), Scott Carson (Liverpool, £3.25m), Marek Cech (FC Porto, £1.4m), Graham Dorrans (Livingston, £100,000), Kim Do-Heon (Seongnam, £550,000), Luke Moore (Aston Villa, £3m), Gianni Zuiverloon (Heerenveen, £2.3m), Abdoulaye Méïté (Botlon, £2m)

Transfers out: Martin Albrechtsen (Derby, free), Curtis Davies (Aston Villa, £8m), Kevin Phillips (Birmingham, free), Zoltan Gera (Fulham, free)

West Brom are the ultimate yo-yo club given that this is their 3rd promotion in seven years.  I think it’s unlikely they will stay up this season either.  Out goes Kevin Phillips (24 goals last season) and Zoltan Gera.  In comes Luke Moore (14 Premiership goals in five seasons), South Korean midfield Kim Do-Heon and some unproven defenders in Cech and Zuiverloon.  The capture of Scott Carson from Liverpool for a deflated fee (Aston Villa, where he had been on loan, had been quoted a figure more than double) looks good on the surface but whether he’s anymore reliable than Dean Kiely is a debatable point.

Key to their success: I do rate their manager Tony Mowbray who has turned the club around after the Bryan Robson era.  I actually think with some luck they could pull something out of the bag here but it will take surprisingly good seasons from Moore, Roman Bednar and Ishmael Miller – a player so rough that even a Sky commentator had to contextualise his FA Cup hat-trick against Bristol Rovers with some dampening praise about how “frustrating” he usually is as a player.

20th Stoke City

Last season: Promoted from Championship

Transfers in: Dave Kitson (Reading, £5.5m), Seyi Olofinjana (Wolves, £3m), Thomas Sorenson (Aston Villa, free).

Transfers out: Russell Hoult (Notts County, free), Marlon Broomes (Blackpool, free)

Great to see Stoke back in the top flight for the first time since 1985.  Tony Pulis – enjoying his second spell as manager – has had to fend off criticism for the team’s style of play which has been kindly describled as “uncouth”.  With the uncompromising Seyi Olofinjana (highly rated in the Championship for Wolves last season), Dave Kitson, Ricardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibe to aim at it is unlikely that tactics won’t include the words “route” and “one”.  And, to be honest, who would blame them?

Key to their success: It’s easy to predict the demise of Stoke – which I have.  But to be fair to them there is some talent in the squad: Salif Diao and Rory Delap (albeit on the wrong side of 30), Liam Lawrence (crowd favourite), Danny Pugh and the determined Richard Creswell.  Stoke probably won’t survive but I don’t see them being of Derby proportions either.

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