Part two of my Premier League predictions. Yawn, etc.
Last season: 7th
Transfers in: Stephen Kelly (free, Birmingham), Bjorn Helge Riise (£2m, Lillestrom)
Transfers out: Moritz Volz, Julian Gray (both released)
I enjoyed Fulham’s charge to the UEFA Cup last season – even as a Tottenham fan who saw his team pipped at the post. Brede Hangeland was the towering presence at the centre of Fulham’s defence last year and his retention might be Roy Hodgson’s best signing.
With goals hard to come by last season one might have thought Hodgson would recruit another striker in pre-season. But Bobby Zamora has been on-form in the last month and Hodgson is banking on him and Andy Johnson netting more than the 9 goals they got last season.
New signings are midfielder Bjorn Helge Riise (brother of John Arne Riise) and Irish full-back Stephen Kelly who can play on either side.
Key to their success: I don’t think they’ll be able to compete for the top seven like they did last year but players such as Danny Murphy and Mark Schwarzer really delivered last season and if they do so again then Fulham will comfortably hover around mid-table.
12th West Ham
Last season: 9th
Transfers in: Herita Illunga (£2.75m, Toulouse), Luis Jiménez (loan, Internazionale,), Frank Nouble (tribunal,
Chelsea), Fabio Daprelà (undisclosed, Grasshoppers), Peter Kurucz (undisclosed, Ujpest), Jack Lampe (undisclosed, Harlow)
Transfers out: Lee Bowyer (free, Birmingham City), Kyel Reid (free, Sheffield United), Diego Tristán, Lucas Neill (both released)
These are strange times for West Ham who lucked out with the impressive Gianfranco Zola last season. Their goals came from Carlton Cole who finally realised his potential with 10 league goals and a few England appearances. Robert Green was ever-present in goals and a stable defensive unit including Matthew Upson, handball professional Herita Illunga and the now-departed Lucas Neill helped the Hammers to 9th.
Key to their success: The closing months of the season were very indifferent and Zola will be pinning his hopes on the talented Mark Noble and Jack Collison given the relative unknowns that have been brought in. Luis Jiménez might be the best known but the Chilean forward made little impact at Inter. The football will be good to watch and Zola will continue to be an delightful presence in the obnoxious world of football management.
Last season: 11th
Transfers in: Jason Scotland (£2m, Swansea), Jordi Gómez (£1.7m, Espanyol,), James McCarthy (undisclosed, Hamilton), Hendry Thomas (free, Deportivo Olimpia).
Transfers out: Antonio Valencia (£16m, Manchester United), Antoine Sibierski, Henri Camara (both released)
Last season Wigan were happy to let their best players go for oodles of money. Without Palacios, Valencia and Heskey it’s a very different side that will line up under new manager Roberto Martinez this year who has graduated from a successful stint in the lower leagues with Swansea. But will Martinez be more Moyes than Ince?
Wigan were solid last season even if post-Christmas results suffered from the losses in the January transfer window. Amir Zaki, whose unprofessional behaviour annoyed former manager Steve Bruce, scored 10 goals but did not score in 2009. He’s been replaced by Jason Scotland and if Honduran Hendry Thomas is as successful as previous talents from the Americas like Maynor Figueroa, Valencia and Paclacios, then there will be much for the fans to enjoy.
Key to their success: Wigan are a better team than they are given credit for and with Jason Koumas, the on-form Titus Bramble and Paul Scharner, Martinez has the raw materials to comfortably keep Wigan in the Premier League. Additional firepower comes in the shape of Jordi Gómez (who played on loan at Swansea last year and scored 12 in 44 games) and Jason Scotland (45 in 90 games for Swansea).
Last season: 13th
Transfers in: Zat Knight (£4m, Aston Villa), Sam Ricketts (undisclosed, Hull City), Sean Davis (free, Portsmouth), Paul Robinson (loan, West Brom)
Transfers out: Blerim Dzemaili (undisclosed, Torino)
Gary Megson seems to court unpopularity but I’m not entirely sure why. Yeah, he’s a bit gruff and he’s not likely to be an underwear model any time soon but he’s done a good job at Bolton with some canny buys (Matthew Taylor, Gary Cahill). Zat Knight and Sean Davis may be two more intelligent buys. They finished off last season with a series of draws which said more about their tenacity than creativity.
Key to their success: Bolton have tough players all over the pitch but they’re going to need something from their front players. Johan Elmander arrived last year with a big transfer fee but delivered little bar a cracking double at Sunderland at the end of November. He only scored one more goal for the rest of the season. He needs to score as the belligerent and committed Kevin Davies is now 32. Matty Taylor scored 10 last year from midfield but you can’t rely on him to repeat that feat.
Last season: Promoted via Championship play-off
Transfers in: Tyrone Mears (£500k, Derby), Steven Fletcher (£3m, Hibs), David Edgar (undisclosed, Newcastle), Richard Eckersley (undisclosed, Manchester Utd), Brian Easton (£350k, Hamilton)
Transfers out: Alan Mahon (free, Tranmere), Steve Jones (free, Walsall)
Owen Coyle turned down Celtic (reportedly) to have a stab at keeping Burnley in the Premier League. Having seen his team make mugs of Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Fulham in the League Cup last year he might rightfully think that Burnley can be this year’s Stoke. Last year’s top performers were Robbie Blake, Martin Paterson (12 goals), Steven Caldwell, Graham Alexander and the tricky Chris Eagles. They will still be carrying the side this year alongside the new signings – mostly young players
Key to their success: Steven Fletcher and Brian Easton have come from Scotland and question marks remain over how they will adapt to the Premier League. Tyrone Mears is a colourful talent who has struggled since he left Preston in 2006. He had a short spell with West Ham and then Derby before spending a spell with Marseille. He’ll be looking to make his mark in the Premier League along with former Manchester United reserve Richard Eckersley. I think a combination of these hungry young players and Coyle’s wily management will keep Burnley up.
16th Hull City
Last season: 17th
Transfers in: Steven Mouyokolo (undisclosed, Boulogne), Seyi Olofinjana (£3m, Stoke), Jozy Altidore (loan, Villarreal), Stephen Hunt (£3m, Reading)
Transfers out: Sam Ricketts (undisclosed, Bolton), Wayne Brown (free, Leicester), Dean Windass (free, Darlington), John Welsh (free, Tranmere)
Phil Brown is another who raises the ire of many in the footballing world. The rights and wrongs of him making his players sit on the pitch during half time of a defeat at Manchester City has been long-debated. I fully agreed with it in the context of making a statement to both the fans and the players. Sadly for him the continuing run of defeats in the Premier League meant that the move was met with widespread derision.
Players like Geovanni, Michael Turner and Andy Dawson came out of last season with a lot of credit. But the limitations of Caleb Folan, and Daniel Cousin up front meant that there weren’t a lot of goals. While George Boateng and Bernard Mendy are quality midfielders, there’s still a lack of creativity in the side.
Key to their success: Seyi Olofinjana will be a muscular presence in midfield but Hull will look to new signing Stephen Hunt to create chances for Folan and Cousin. Jimmy Bullard’s return will help but he’s been injured since his big money move last January from Fulham. After missing out on a string of striking targets, Brown will want to secure a goalscorer before the end of the month. Without that striker Hull will struggle.
Last season: 2nd in Championship
Transfers in: Christian Benítez (£7.7m, Santos Laguna), Scott Dann (£3.5m. Coventry City), Joe Hart (loan, Manchester City), Lee Bowyer (free, West Ham United), Roger Johnson (£5m, Cardiff City), Barry Ferguson (£1.5m, Rangers), Giovanny Espinoza (free, Barcelona Sporting Club), Stephen Carr (unattached)
Transfers out: Stephen Kelly (free, Fulham)
They were too good for the Championship last year even if a poor run of form mid-season threatened to derail their promotion charge. Kevin Phillips netted 14 times as he continued to defy his ageing body and Cameron Jermoe may not have the goalscoring nous of Phillips but he managed nine. James McFadden and Lee Carsley are Premier League players and with the recruitment of the (multi-time retired) Stephen Carr, Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson, Alex McLeish won’t want for experienced veterans.
Key to their success: Who knows what Christian Benitez, Scott Dann or Roger Johnson will turn out like. Dann and Johnson performed well for Coventry and Cardiff last season but the Premier League is a big step up. Benitez has scored a lot of goals in South America and internationally for Ecuador but, as ever with South American strikers, he’s a gamble. Phillips could be the difference between 17th and 18th place for Birmingham this year and I think they’ll stay up.
Last season: Won the Championship
Transfers in: Ronald Zubar (£1.5m, Marseille), Greg Halford (£2m, Sunderland), Nenad Milijas (£2.7m, Red Star),
Marcus Hahnemann (free, Reading), Andrew Surman (£1.2m, Southampton), Kevin Doyle (£6.5m, Reading), Michael Mancienne (loan, Chelsea)
Transfers out: Darren Potter (undisclosed, Sheffield Wednesday); Stephen Gleeson (undisclosed, MK Dons)
Mick McCarthy was doubted by many Wolves fans before the start of last season but he and his team delivered the Championship title to the surprise of perhaps even himself. His squad was made up of young, cheap players. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (£1.5m buy from Plymouth) scored 25 times while Chris Iwelumo scored 14. The performances of Michael Kightly – who came from Grays Athletic – saw him linked with a move away this summer but thankfully for Wolves, he remains with the club.
Key to their success: Kightly and Iwelumo are out of the opening games so it will be important that new signings like Milijas and Doyle make an impact. Milijas is a highly rated Serbian midfielder who could be Wolves’ answer to Portsmouth’s Niko Kranjcar. So expect the links with “bigger” Premier League clubs to come thick and fast. Doyle is a good striker who doesn’t score enough but if Wolves manage to get 10-15 goals out of him then they’re in with a fighting chance. However, the midfield are going to have to create to help out the front men.
19th Stoke City
Last season: 12th
Transfers in: Dean Whitehead (£3m, Sunderland)
Transfers out: Seyi Olofinjana (£3m, Hull)
Silly me, eh? I tipped Stoke for rock-bottom last season and I’m doing it again. Last year they comfortably avoided relegation in a campaign that was strengthened by the January capture of seven-goal James Beattie. Their most memorable moments came in a 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Britannia and two scoreless draws with Liverpool.
Keys to their success: If Stoke can be as committed this season as last then they probably will stay up. But I just wonder if the hard-working, uncompromising approach which owed a percentage of their points directly to Rory Delap’s long throws can possibly pull off the same trick again. Beattie and Fuller scored 18 goals between them last season but they will need a helping hand from Dave Kitson who has returned after a successful loan spell at former club Reading.
Last season: 14th
Transfers in: Steve Finnan (free, Espanyol), Aaron Mokoena, (free, Blackburn), Antti Niemi (free), Frederic
Piquionne (loan, Lyon)
Transfers out: Glen Johnson (£17.5m, Liverpool), Peter Crouch (£9m, Tottenham,), Sean Davis (free, Bolton), Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo (free, Standard Liège), Noe Pamarot, Jerome Thomas, Lauren, Djimi Traore, Glen Little (all released).
All the signs point to doomsday for Portsmouth. Heavily in debt and in the middle of a protracted takeover, most of their decent players have left the roost and it may not be long before the likes of David James and the above-mentioned Kranjcar. They stumbled through last season with much credit laid at the door of Paul Hart who did his level best in difficult circumstances.
Key to their success: Without Crouch, Defoe, Johnson and Davis you would have to be concerned for Pompey. Frederic Piquionne is an unknown quantity but if he plays like this then there may be much entertainment for everyone outside the confines of Fratton Park.
Steve Finann may be a solid buy but he’s effectively the opposite of the attacking full-back he replaced. They need two or three more players but one fears that Paul Hart won’t last the season and morale will continue to sink.