English Premier League: Club-by-Club Guide to the 2012-13 Season
The new English Premier League season is nearly upon us. Time for a crash course on all 20 clubs.
Manchester City won the title last season, edging rivals Manchester United on a dramatic final day. City only recently made their first summer signing, but United, Chelsea and others have strengthened with big-money signings.
Elsewhere, the league is full of interesting stories ahead of the new season. Here's a rundown of all 20 teams, big and small, title contenders and relegation fodder.
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Last season: 3rd
In—Lukas Podolski (FC Köln), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Santi Cazorla (Malaga)
Out—Manuel Almunia (Watford), Denilson (Sao Paulo, loan), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)
Outlook: The Robin van Persie saga still hangs over North London, but as each day passes, it becomes a little more likely that the Dutch striker will call Arsenal home this coming season.
If he does stay, RvP would probably enjoy the company of three exciting new attacking talents in Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla.
Last summer, manager Arsene Wenger's hesitance in the transfer market led to a poor start, intense criticism and an uncharacteristic flurry of activity at the transfer deadline. Considering the signings he has already brought in this summer, we probably won't see a repeat.
All is not perfect, though. The defense, which was a clear weakness last season, has not been strengthened. And three signings likely won't be enough for the Gunners to catch the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Still, optimism abounds in North London ahead of the season—especially compared to this time last year.
-Best-case scenario: All the new signings gel quickly, van Persie sticks around, and Arsenal make a run at silverware. In one form or another.
-Worst-case scenario: Another poor start turns into a season of upper-mid-table mediocrity. Wenger finally hears the bells tolling for him.
-Prediction: Somewhere in between. They probably won't win the league, but don't be surprised if Arsenal make a push—and maybe even collect silverware somewhere this season.
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Last season: 16th
In—Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Matt Lowton (Sheffield Utd), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord)
Out—James Collins (West Ham United), Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland), Emile Heskey (released)
Outlook: Last season was a disaster. Aston Villa's young squad stuttered and sputtered to 16th place, and manager Alex McLeish got the sack after only one season on the job.
Paul Lambert replaced him, and that should mean a return to respectability.
-Best-case scenario: Lambert inspires the troops and leads Villa to a top-half finish.
-Worst-case scenario: Lambert is no more effective than McLeish and another relegation scrap ensues.
-Prediction: Villa will be better, but they won't light up the table. This time, they'll finish around mid-table and, after last season, they'll be proud of it.
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Last season: 6th
In—Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Oscar (Internacional), Eden Hazard (Lille)
Out—Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Salomon Kalou (Lille)
Outlook: Chelsea's final league position last season was a disappointment, but the rest was immensely gratifying. The Blues hoisted the FA Cup at Wembley and then beat Bayern Munich in Munich in the UEFA Champions League final.
That unlikely run earned Roberto Di Matteo the manager's job full time. He had previously managed on an interim basis following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas.
Chelsea were arguably Europe's most successful club last season, but that shouldn't gloss over some of the issues in this squad. Like last season, the team is still aging, but unlike last season, talismanic striker Didier Drogba is gone to China.
Three big new signings will make Chelsea fearsome again, but even with all the new talent on hand, it will take time for the new faces to settle in. Furthermore, the defense caused genuine concern in the preseason.
The question is, will Roman Abramovich have patience with his manager this time?
-Best-case scenario: Champions. The talent is there.
-Worst-case scenario: Another disappointing league run and another sacking.
-Prediction: Title challengers throughout the season, but maybe a year away from winning the league.
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Last season: 7th
In—Steven Naismith (Rangers), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham Hotspur)
Out—Jack Rodwell (Manchester City), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Marcus Hahnemann (released), James McFadden (released)
Outlook: Last season, the budget was as tight as ever; and last season, Everton turned in their usual strong finish.
That strong finish put Everton higher than Liverpool in the final table, and that's always an important measuring stick.
This season, the budget will be tight again, as always. But Everton have the pieces for a top-half finish again. Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell are gone, but Steven Pienaar is back from Tottenham on a permanent deal.
Meanwhile, Tim Howard remains solid in goal, Leighton Baines is still with the club despite heavy transfer speculation, and Landon Donovan can almost be counted on for his annual winter loan.
So can David Moyes work his magic once again?
-Best-case scenario: Pushing for Europe
-Worst-case scenario: A slow start is too much to overcome, and the team slips into mid-table or worse.
-Prediction: More of the same. The Toffees will finish in the top seven or eight again—maybe even sixth this time?—and give nightmares to contending teams down the stretch.
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Last season: 9th
In—Hugo Rodallega (Wigan), Mladen Petric (Hamburg), Sascha Riether (FC Köln, loan)
Out—Danny Murphy (Blackburn), Dickson Etuhu (Blackburn), Andrew Johnson (QPR)
Outlook: The absence of Murphy and Johnson will be felt, but not as much as Clint Dempsey—if the American does indeed leave between now and the closing of the transfer window.
Another important player remains in playmaker Moussa Dembele, and if manager Martin Jol can keep his squad together, they'll probably be an exciting team again this season.
They'll have to work on their away form, though (four wins, five draws and 10 losses last season). And Rodallega will have to show better form than he did most recently with Wigan.
-Best-case scenario: All the right pieces stick around, and the Cottagers make a push for Europe.
-Worst-case scenario: They all leave and the team plummets down the table.
-Prediction: Dempsey and Dembele will stick around and Fulham will finish in the top half again.
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Last season: 8th
In—Fabio Borini (AS Roma), Joe Allen (Swansea City)
Out—Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Fabio Aurelio (Gremio), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys)
Outlook: Liverpool's expensively assembled team flopped last season, finishing a wildly disappointing eighth (behind Everton). Manager Kenny Dalglish was shown the door and Brendan Rodgers was invited to kick-start an Anfield revolution.
That revolution will likely include a style more reliant on short, quick passes and skillful, technical players. Allen, who previously worked with Rodgers at Swansea, should thus be a good fit.
Another name not on the incoming transfer list is Joe Cole, who is returning from a season-long loan spell with Lille. The return of Cole should boost Liverpool with another skillful midfielder and veteran presence.
It might take time for the revolution to fully kick in, but now is an exciting time to be a Liverpool supporter.
-Best-case scenario: The revolution takes hold immediately and Liverpool stay in the top four all season.
-Worst-case scenario: Dalglish's pricey flops drag down the team even after his departure. Another disappointing season beckons.
-Prediction: Liverpool play better football. Steven Gerrard has a vintage season. Andy Carroll hardly features. The Reds challenge for a Champions League spot but fall short in the end.
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Last season: Champions
Transfers: In—Jack Rodwell (Everton)
Out—Wayne Bridge (Brighton, loan), Owen Hargreaves (released)
Outlook: City have been quiet all summer, and disturbingly so for fans and haters alike. That's because the lack of transfer activity could be interpreted either as a sign of profligacy or an ominous warning.
In other words, either City are that good already, or teams have grown tired of dealing with them.
The truth, as ever, is probably somewhere in between. Rodwell will be a solid addition, but at this point of his career, he's not a world-class signing.
No matter. City made plenty of those the last few years. Even without extensive squad strengthening, Roberto Mancini's team will be formidable.
-Best-case scenario: Champions again, maybe with an FA Cup title or Champions League run.
-Worst-case scenario: United and Chelsea overtake City, who have to settle for third or—gasp!—even fourth.
-Prediction: A bare-knuckles bout with United for the title. Again. Maybe even more last-day drama.
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Last season: 2nd
In—Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Nick Powell (Crewe Alexandra)
Out—Park Ji-Sung (Queens Park Rangers), Fabio (Queens Park Rangers, loan), Tomasz Kuszczak (Brighton), Ritchie De Laet (Leicester City), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Michael Owen (released)
Outlook: United finished second last season by the narrowest of margins, and the expected shakeup has followed this summer.
Park Ji-Sung is out. Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell are in. Almost more importantly, Nemanja Vidic is set to return from a long-term injury.
After last season's disappointment, this team will be hungry, and Wayne Rooney is approaching the age at which players reach their peak.
It will be interesting—to say the least—to see how United respond to City's title win.
-Best-case scenario: Champions, and a couple wins over City in the Manchester Derby.
-Worst-case scenario: City repeat as champions, and Chelsea overtake United, too.
-Prediction: Another tight title race, one that could go either way. If anything, though, United should have extra motivation this time.
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Last season: 5th
In—Romain Amalfitano (Reims), Gael Bigirimana (Coventry City)
Out—Danny Guthrie (Reading), Leon Best (Blackburn Rovers), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Alan Smith (MK Dons)
Outlook: Newcastle United were the Premier League's surprise package last season. Only a couple years removed from the Championship, the Magpies challenged for a Champions League spot until the end of the season.
This summer, manager Alan Pardew and Newcastle have mostly stood pat, consolidating what they have and trimming some fat. Most importantly, they've managed to hold onto vital players like Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa—a string of great signings that made them contenders last season.
There's still time for another addition or two before the transfer deadline (with the Vurnon Anita transfer all but complete with Ajax), and there's still reason to believe Newcastle can challenge for Europe again.
Best-case scenario: Third or fourth place and Champions League qualification.
Worst-case scenario: With the surprise-factor long gone, the super-signings struggle and Newcastle fall back to the chasing pack.
Prediction: This season, Newcastle won't sneak up on anyone. Fortunately, though, the team is packed with underrated talent. With a little luck and some vital results in big matches, they could challenge for Europe again.
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Last season: 12th
In—Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Jacob Butterfield (Barnsley), Michael Turner (Sunderland)
Out—Zak Whitbread (Leicester City), Adam Drury (Leeds United), Aaron Wilbraham (Crystal Palace).
Outlook: Paul Lambert is gone, off to Aston Villa along with his knack for building strong teams on tight budgets. In steps Chris Hughton, formerly of Birmingham City and Newcastle.
The budget will again be tight, but goalkeeper John Ruddy and forward Grant Holt are still around.
Hughton, however, inspires less optimism.
-Best-case scenario: Hughton outdoes Lambert and guides the Canaries to a top-half finish.
-Worst-case scenario: Hughton and Norwich struggle, maybe even falling into relegation purgatory.
-Prediction: The top half is probably out of reach for Norwich, but a comfortable finish should be a realistic team goal.
Queens Park Rangers
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Last season: 17th
In—Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United), Samba Diakite (Nancy), Fabio (Manchester United, loan), Robert Green (West Ham United), Junior Hoilett (Blackburn Rovers), Andrew Johnson (Fulham), Ryan Nelsen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Out—Fitz Hall (Watford), Heidar Helguson (Cardiff City), Paddy Kenny (Leeds United), Patrick Agyemang (released), Akos Buzsaky (released), Danny Gabbidon (released)
Outlook: Look at all those names! QPR boss Mark Hughes is clearly trying to make good on his promise.
Just after last season's run-in, when QPR narrowly avoided relegation, Hughes said QPR would never be in such a situation again while he serves as manager. All the comings and goings at Loftus Road would suggest he was quite serious.
Park Ji-Sung will no doubt prove a useful addition to the midfield, and Adel Taarabt is still around to provide the creativity.
-Best-case scenario: A stunning run to the top half.
-Worst-case scenario: Another relegation fight.
-Prediction: Mid-table. Hughes' signings aren't world-beaters, but they should keep Rangers out of the relegation scrap.
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Last season: 1st in Championship
Transfers: In—Danny Guthrie (Newcastle United), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham), Nicky Shorey (West Bromwich Albion), Garath McCleary (Nottingham Forest), Chris Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Stuart Taylor (Manchester City)
Out—Brian Howard (released), Andy Griffin (released), Tomasz Cywka (released)
Outlook: Reading earned promotion back to the EPL with 15 wins in their final 17 matches last season. Now the real test begins.
The Royals were last seen in the Premiership in 2007-08, when they were relegated after a two-season spell. To stay up that long again, they'll need solid performances from new signings like Pogrebnyak (who impressed at times for Fulham last season).
This time they have new money from new Russian owners. But will new money be enough?
Best-case scenario: Survival. Simply.
Worst-case scenario: The Championship.
Prediction: This will be a fight all season. Only time will tell if they have enough quality to avoid an immediate return to the championship.
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Last season: 2nd in Championship (automatic promotion)
In—Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace), Steven Davis (Rangers), Jay Rodriguez (Burnley)
Out—Dan Harding (Nottingham Forest), Radhi Jaidi (released), David Connolly (released).
Outlook: Southampton achieved promotion from the Championship in their first season after being promoted from League One. Staying in the top flight would be the Saints' most impressive trick yet.
Buying up-and-coming defender Nathaniel Clyne could prove a tidy bit of business, and fans of Scottish football will know of Steven Davis' work with the Rangers.
Still, the cupboard seems alarmingly bare. Rickie Lambert—who scored 27 goals last year to lead the Championship—will have to find his scoring touch again. Repeatedly.
-Best-case scenario: Survival.
-Worst-case scenario: Relegation.
-Prediction: It's all about survival for promoted teams. Norwich accomplished it last year after being promoted in consecutive seasons. Somehow, Southampton don't seem quite as well equipped.
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Last season: 14th
In—Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Michael Kightly (Wolves), Jamie Ness (Rangers)
Out—Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough), Danny Collins (Nottingham Forest), Salif Diao (released), Ricardo Fuller (released), Tom Soares (released)
Outlook: Tony Pulis has turned Stoke City into Premiership stalwarts, if not aestheticians or even just plain stylists.
As ever, the goal will be to play the ball forward via Route 1 to a big target man, preferably Peter Crouch. And, as ever, the Potters will probably pull their share of upsets.
Apart from that, meh.
-Best-case scenario: Top-half finish.
-Worst-case scenario: The long balls fall short, and a relegation scrap ensues.
-Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity—or bliss, depending on your outlook.
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Last season: 13th
In—Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
Out—George McCartney (West Ham United), Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Craig Gordon (released)
Outlook: With players like Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon, manager Martin O'Neill has the skilled, creative attackers needed to take on some of the Premiership's top sides.
But even after O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce in the middle of the last campaign, the Black Cats still couldn't escape the middle of the table.
Will they improve their fortunes this time around?
-Best-case scenario: A top-half finish with the outside chance of challenging for Europe.
-Worst-case scenario: Mid-table again, or worse.
-Prediction: Sunderland (now in their sixth straight season in the top flight) will keep improving, but not enough to challenge the status quo.
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Last season: 11th
In—Michu (Rayo Vallecano), Chico (Genoa), Jonathan de Guzman (Villarreal, loan)
Out—Joe Allen (Liverpool).
Outlook: Last season, Premiership newcomers Swansea City thrilled neutrals with flowing football under the guidance of manager Brendan Rodgers.
This season, Rodgers is the manager of Liverpool, and midfielder Joe Allen has followed him to Anfield.
Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson—who had seemed at least somewhat likely to sign permanently with Swansea as long as Rodgers was around—has joined Tottenham on a permanent deal after starring on loan with the Swans during the second half of last season.
So, some big names are gone. Others remain, though.
Scott Sinclair is emerging as a top young talent, and Leon Britton is a key in the midfield.
Two-time former Danish player of the year Michael Laudrup has replaced Rodgers as manager, so there's reason to hope the Swans will play attractive football again.
-Best-case scenario: More flowing football, and another mid-table finish right around the fringes of the top half.
-Worst-case scenario: The Swans surprise no one, play less attractive football, suffer poor form and slip into the relegation mess.
-Prediction: The new additions aren't terribly impressive, and the Swans lost a lot, but they could still outperform expectations. Regardless, Laudrup deserves a chance to show what he can do.
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Last season: 4th
Transfers: In—Jan Vertonghen (Ajax), Gylfi Sigurdsson (TSG Hoffenheim)
Out—Ledley King (retired), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Niko Kranjcar (Dinamo Kiev), Ryan Nelsen (QPR), Steven Pienaar (Everton)
Outlook: It's hard not to feel for Spurs. After finishing fourth last season, Tottenham found themselves knocked out of this season's Champions League after Chelsea's unlikely run to European glory.
Just don't let the sympathy linger. Spurs have a new manager in Portuguese wonderboy (still only 34) and Chelsea outcast Andre Villas-Boas, and they have two big signings to bolster the squad.
Sigurdsson was one of the Premiership's top performers last season in the second half (while on loan with Swansea), and Jan Vertonghen should help steady a defense that just lost the retired Ledley King.
More signings could be on the way, and if so, Spurs are looking like a team to reckon with. Gareth Bale has been convinced to stick around, and Scott Parker is the midfield's little engine that could.
-Best-case scenario: Flirtation with a title challenge through Christmas, followed by a tooth-and-nail fight (again) for Champions League places.
-Worst-case scenario: Outside the top four.
-Prediction: Expect Spurs to start well, buoyed by their new manager and high-profile signings. Even without Luka Modric, they could challenge for a time. But finishing third or fourth seems the more realistic goal.
West Bromwich Albion
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Last season: 10th
In—Ben Foster (Birmingham), Claudio Yacob (Avellanda), Yassine El Ghanassy (Ghent, loan)
Out—Keith Andrews (Bolton), Nicky Shorey (Reading), Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wednesday), Marton Fulop (Asteras Tripolis)
Outlook: West Brom finished 10th last season under Roy Hodgson. Now, though, Hodgson is England manager and the Baggies are managed by Steve Clarke.
Clarke has no previous full-time managerial experience, but he has served as an assistant at Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham and Newcastle.
Still, Clarke seems a decent tip for the bookies' sack race, and it will take a gargantuan effort to keep West Brom out of the relegation scrap.
-Best-case scenario: Mid-table security.
-Worst-case scenario: Relegation fight.
-Prediction: Are the Baggies bound for yo-yo status again?
West Ham United
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Last season: 3rd in Championship (promoted via playoffs)
In—Modibo Maiga (Sochaux), George McCartney (Sunderland), Mohamed Diamé (Wigan Athletic), Stephen Henderson (Portsmouth), Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton Wanderers), James Collins (Aston Villa)
Out—Pablo Barrera (Real Zaragoza), Robert Green (Queens Park Rangers), Frank Nouble (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Freddie Sears (Colchester United).
Outlook: Manager Sam Allardyce was dumped by Blackburn Rovers in 2010, and he clearly hasn't forgotten. Now that he's back in the Premiership, Big Sam looks ready to mount a run at survival.
They also made a run at signing Andy Carroll on loan from Liverpool, but it's looking like the Hammers will have make do with their current strikeforce.
Some fans grumbled last season about West Ham's style, but they won't be complaining if Big Sam delivers multiple seasons in the Premiership.
-Best-case scenario: Survival.
-Worst-case scenario: The Championship.
-Prediction: Looking past all the new names for a moment, it's clear Allardyce will face a massive challenge indeed. Anything other than relegation must be considered an achievement worthy of high praise.
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Last season: 15th
In—Fraser Fyvie (Aberdeen), Ivan Ramis (Real Mallorca)
Out—Chris Kirkland (Sheffield Wed), Hugo Rodallega (Fulham), Mohamed Diamé (West Ham United)
Outlook: Wigan pulled off a thrilling escape last season, avoiding relegation with a string of positive results against much bigger clubs.
The thrilling run-in seemed to presage the departure of manager Roberto Martinez, but Martinez remains.
Unfortunately for Martinez and Wigan, last season's relegation-averting results don't carry over to the new campaign. Staying up will require more than a change in formation—and more than another set of excellent performances from goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.
-Best-case scenario: Survival again, hopefully with similarly dramatic flair.
-Worst-case scenario: Relegation.
-Prediction: This might be the season Martinez's magic runs out. Then again, he could have much more in store.