Sergio Aguero’s novelistic, dream-like last-gasp goal to claim the title for Manchester City in May seems an incredibly long time ago. In a season befitting of the ultimate climax which Aguero thankfully provided at the Etihad stadium to send the sky blue half of Manchester delirious, countless controversial, heart-stopping, wondrous, dramatic occurrences left every fan of the Premier League craving for more of the same; or better, if that is even possible.
We do not need to go over last season, as it is one which will forever fondly remain in the memories of many; what we can do, however, is attempt to predict (or just mainly have an excuse to get excited about) how the upcoming season will plan out.
Firstly, as we work from bottom up, the three promoted clubs will look to replicate the success of QPR, Swansea and Norwich. Sam Allardyce’s West Ham, Brian McDermott’s Reading and Nigel Adkins’ Southampton (who finished top of last year’s Championship) will hope to re-establish themselves as top-flight clubs, giving a much-needed new look to the Premier League whilst doing so.
Allardyce’s infamous long ball tactic can only go so far for West Ham United; however, ‘Big Sam’ more often than not unattractively guarantees survival for the club he is in charge of. The question is whether the quality is there for the Hammers to do it: seeing as a strong basis of the squad still exists from the 2010/2011 season in which the club was relegated, plus the influential captain, Kevin Nolan, and Ricardo Vaz Te, the experience and flare of the players and Allardyce himself may well keep the ship afloat, possibly becoming next season’s surprise package in the process.
Both Southampton and Reading will aim to continue their attractive styles of play that earned them promotion. With talisman Ricky Lambert leading the Saints’ attack, many predict the Liverpudlian’s form may well extend in to this season, especially with exceptional playmaker Adam Lallana in the midfield. Reading enjoyed their own promotion push in the second half of the season after a far from ideal opening half. McDermott’s men became ruthless, winning game after game, especially after the experienced Jason Roberts joined them from Blackburn Rovers in the January Transfer window, Reading were unstoppable, eventually cementing their place in the Premier League. If the Royals can survive, a stable future appears on the horizon due to Russian millionaire, Anton Zingarevich, being on the verge of taking over from John Madejski.
Whilst the future looks bright for the above, can teams like Wigan and QPR (despite the latter’s frequency to spend) stay up again? Rangers would certainly look the more likely, as the team at Loftus Road slowly gels. Add Mark Hughes’ ability and experience to the equation, and QPR could well go on to finish strongly this season. On the other hand, Wigan Athletic, despite Roberto Martinez’s loyalty, are poor for a significant section of the season until a dramatic turnaround of form sees them miraculously escaping relegation. If this trend is going to repeat itself, Wigan will find themselves is increasing peril due to teams strengthening at the foot of the table.
Predictably, under new management, Norwich, Swansea and Aston Villa will bring something new to the Premier League. Under Michael Laudrup, Swansea’s tiki-taka may well have been swapped for a new system; when Brendan Rodgers was experimenting with three at the back to flood the midfield at the tail-end of last season, ‘Swanselona’ looked to be bringing a successful continental twist on the English game for the long term. However, things could well be about to change. An uplifting pre-season, plus the money from Joe Allen’s sale available for re-investment, Swansea look set for the exerting year ahead.
After Paul Lambert moved to Aston Villa in an understandable yet somewhat confusing move, the dull football that Alex McLeish became renown for will, inevitably, have disappeared and transformed in to flowing, attacking football heavily based on goals from midfield and a target man; in this case, Darren Bent. Villa fans will be thankful for the change and with Lambert’s powers of motivation; their young squad should aim for at least a mid-table finish to improve upon last term.
Norwich, on the other hand, may well suffer from Lambert’s departure and lose momentum, despite the appointment of Chris Hughton. The 53 year-old led Birmingham City to a very respectable 4th in the Championship, during a campaign in which they were heavily involved in the Europa League. With this in mind, Hughton’s steadiness and experience with Newcastle in the Premier League is perfect for a club who, ideally, would do no wrong with acting like they have been promoted again and repeating last season.