Continuation from Part 1.
17 Stoke City
I kind of enjoyed Stoke sticking it to everyone on their first season back in the top-tier. But now I’m kind of over them and manager Tony Pulis’ baseball cap. They finished the season badly with one win in eleven games and the only incoming personnel changes so far are former Rangers midfielder Jamie Ness and former Wolves winger Michael Kightly, who is actually a decent player for 15-20 minutes a game. Salif Diao, Ricardo Fuller, Danny Collins and Jonathan Woodgate have been released or left on Bosmans. But Stoke need to find a new gear and a new direction that extends beyond … yes, a direct style and Rory Delap.
Fans of promoted clubs are often full of optimism based on being used to seeing their side win the majority of their games, scoring a lot of goals, and their perception that the bottom six or seven teams in the Premier League are fairly crap. Considering that they lost most of their best players over the past few seasons, it’s been a quick bounce back for Reading and their manager Brian McDermott. A quick look through their pretty big squad shows a few familiar names: Noel Hunt, Mikele Leigertwood, Ian Harte (where have you been??) and Jobi McAnuff. Danny Guthrie, Chris Gunter, Jason Roberts and Pavel Pogrebnyak (last season’s loan sensation at Fulham) are all solid 2012 signings with Premier League experience. So all in all I think Reading fans should have every confidence that they will get enough points to stay up, perhaps comfortably.
15 Swansea City
I’m probably falling in to that “great player, must be a good manager” trap when it comes to Swansea’s flashy new head honcho, Michael Laudrup. But his managerial record at Getafe and Mallorca is unspectacular and there is no evidence that he will bring much beyond the panache that Swansea stand for and he exhibited as a player. However, pre-season has been fun with Swansea scoring a hatful against Blackpool and Stuttgart in recent games, Danny Graham scoring six times. It might be that the new Swansea are much like the (new Liverpool manager) Brendan Rodgers Swansea, which were much like the (now-Wigan manager) Roberto Martinez Swansea. Watching Swansea last year, they were the best footballing team outside the top four, based around the attacking axis of wingers Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, tidy passing of Leon Britton, drive of Joe Allen, and creativity of Gylfi Sigurdsson (the latter two now making their money at Liverpool and Spurs respectively). With two players added for small fees – midfielder Michu and defender Chico (who played under Laudrup at Mallorca) – Swansea look like they are following the already-established blueprint under previous managers. I think they will be fine this season but Allen and Sigurdsson are definitely losses.
14 Norwich City
Is Hughton one of the rare breed who are better as a number one than a number two? At Spurs, Newcastle and Ireland there was little success under his secondary tutelage but when given the reigns at Newcastle and Birmingham he achieved respectable levels of success albeit with the caveat that he did not spend very long in charge of either club. He’ll find it hard at Norwich, a club who gained back-to-back promotions under former manager Paul Lambert and comfortably thrived in the Premier League. They are spending wisely, making modest acquisitions such as second tier goalscorer Robert Snodgrass. Norwich fans are probably quietly confident that they can achieve similarly to last season (12 wins).
Spurs fans still hold a fondness for Martin Jol, officially the joint-nicest bald man in the world alongside Duncan Goodhew. Jol did a solid if unspectacular job at Craven Cottage last season. With his resources, it’s unlikely he’ll make the sort of inroads he did at Spurs, Hamburg and Ajax. What it all adds up to is a manager who may eventually get bored, fans who may become apathetic and a board who are happy to settle for the status quo of surviving in the Premier League. Think Alan Curbishley at Charlton and you might get where I’m going with this. Danny Murphy is gone, Hugo Rodallega has come in. Give a little, take a little. Not much to see here.
Part 3 to be posted tomorrow.