The Biggest Concerns Still Facing Each English Premier League Side

Dan FitchFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

The Biggest Concerns Still Facing Each English Premier League Side

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    There's just 15 games left in the Premier League season, and every team still has something to play for. 

    Whether it's the Premier League title, Champions League qualification, the Europa League, a mid-table finish or to merely avoid relegation, each and every club has a goal to achieve between now and the end of the season.

    In some cases it's merely a matter of getting the results they need, while for others, things are decidedly more complicated.

Will Arsenal Win Their 'Trophy' Again?

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    Arsene Wenger has likened finishing fourth to winning a trophy, and despite still being in the Champions League knockout stages and the FA Cup, that top-four spot remains Arsenal's most realistic priority.

    The Gunners are just four points away from fourth-place Tottenham and will be confident of overtaking their rivals after having made up a larger deficit last season. However, Arsenal will have to improve on their patchy form to achieve this. Only once this season have they managed to win more than two games in a row.

Can Paul Lambert Get Aston Villa out of This Mess He Got Them Into?

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    Paul Lambert made either a very brave or very foolhardy decision when he jettisoned Aston Villa's most experienced stars and replaced them mainly with young players with no Premier League experience.

    Whether he was right or wrong, you sense that only Lambert is going to be able to get the squad he's assembled out of this mess. Relegation is a real threat, and this Villa side are not too good to go down. 

    Can Lambert instill confidence back into a squad of players that have become a walking punchline?

Can Chelsea Attract a Better Manager Than Rafa Benitez?

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    Roman Abramovich has put himself into a tough position. He's sacked manager after manager and now finds himself with one in Rafa Benitez that the Chelsea fans hate, and he isn't really delivering results either.

    With Chelsea's number one choice, Pep Guardiola, joining Bayern Munich next season, Abramovich must reevaluate his targets. The issue he will have is that many of the world's best managers will be put off by the fact that they could win a "Double" or the Champions League and still get sacked.

    If Abramovich wants to be able to attract another top-name manager, then Champions League qualification is a must. Can Benitez deliver?

Will Everton Make the Next Leap Forward to Keep Their Star Performers?

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    You have to feel for David Moyes. Just when he starts to build a good team, the rug is pulled from under him, as his best players are sold. With little money to spend in the transfer market, Moyes has to go about unearthing bargains all over again.

    His star players right now are Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. It is surely only a matter of time before a richer club makes a move for one or both of these players. The only way that Everton might be able to hang onto them for another season is to qualify for the Champions League.

    With the much richer Arsenal and Tottenham also competing for fourth place, it is a very difficult task for Moyes' slim squad. Everton's real problems will of course come when a richer club comes calling for Moyes himself.

How Do Fulham Get the Best out of Dimitar Berbatov?

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    With Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele having been sold to Tottenham, Fulham's star performer is indisputably the Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov.

    Berbatov has been a success at Craven Cottage this season, but the goals have only flowed in patches. Much comes down to who Berbatov is partnered with in attack. When it's Bryan Ruiz, Berbatov spearheads the forward line, and that is when he's scored most of his goals.

    When it's Hugo Rodallega or Mladen Petric, Berbatov is forced to drop deeper and becomes less of a goal threat. Perhaps Martin Jol should sign some backup to the oft-injured Ruiz, because Berbatov's goals could be the difference between a mid-table finish and a brush with relegation.

Is Daniel Sturridge the Man to Make the Difference at Liverpool?

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    Liverpool have taken a gamble in paying £12 million for a player with undoubted promise but not too much in the way of tangible experience. So far though, it seems that Daniel Sturridge could be an inspired signing.

    Brendan Rodgers has lacked options up front all season, but with Fabio Borini returning from injury and the signing of Sturridge to accompany Luis Suarez, he now has three versatile strikers that can play across the front three.

    Sturridge has half a season to prove that he's as good as he clearly thinks he is and can be the man to spearhead the Liverpool attack during the Rodgers era. 

Can Manchester City Overtake United Again?

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    Last season, Manchester City left it until the last possible moment to overtake deadly rivals Manchester United and secure their first Premier League title.

    This season, they once again find themselves trailing United. There is a five-point gap right now, which is less than City overcame last season, so they have every reason to be confident.

    However, City have simply not played with the sort of fluency or assurance this season that earmarks a title-winning side. With 15 games left, Roberto Mancini's team badly need to rediscover their mojo.

Is Manchester United's Midfield Strong Enough to Achieve Their Aims?

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    Manchester United are five points clear at the top of the Premier League and still in the Champions League and FA Cup. Alex Ferguson has talked about the possibility of winning another "Treble."

    This seems a major ask when the team is so dangerously reliant on Michael Carrick in midfield. Carrick is the only defensively minded midfielder that United possess, other than if Phil Jones is played out of position.

    United have been linked with a move for Celtic's physically imposing midfielder Victor Wanyama. If they don't get him or someone of his ilk, then they had better pray that Carrick doesn't pick up an injury this season.

Can Newcastle Get Papiss Cisse Scoring Again?

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    After joining Newcastle in last season's January transfer window, Papiss Cisse scored 13 goals in 14 games. This season, however, he has scored just four goals in 21 appearances.

    There are reasons for this, of course. Last season saw Cisse employed in a central role, while Demba Ba played wide. This season, Alan Pardew tried to keep Ba happy by playing him centrally, either alongside Cisse or with Cisse out wide. Cisse struggled while Ba flourished, and the latter left for Chelsea anyway.

    So with Ba safely out of the way, the stage is set for Cisse to rediscover his form. He missed a lot of chances in Reading's 2-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday, but he kept getting himself into goal-scoring positions. If he can find his touch again, Newcastle will easily avoid relegation.

Who Will Score the Goals to Keep Norwich in the Premier League?

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    Norwich City surprised everyone in the Premier League last season, and it was due in large part to the contribution of their striker Grant Holt, who scored 15 goals.

    The Canaries managed to keep hold of their captain in the summer, with Holt having been persuaded by new manager Chris Hughton. However, despite the fact that Norwich have managed to rise above the relegation scrap, Holt has only contributed four goals this season.

    No one else is doing much better. Norwich's three leading scorers each have just four goals. It is a concern that Hughton is obviously keen to address, as he recently made a move for Celtic's Gary Hooper

    So will it be Holt who steps up, or will Hughton find someone from outside the club to solve the problem? If Norwich don't find someone to score the goals regularly, then they could find themselves dragged into a relegation dogfight.

Can Harry Perform Another Houdini Act at QPR?

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    It is wrong to compare the position Harry Redknapp was in when he took over at Spurs to what he has to deal with at QPR. He took over at Tottenham early on in the season and inherited a squad that had finished fifth just two seasons before. 

    In contrast, QPR left it late to make their move for Redknapp, and he inherited a squad of disparate individuals, rather than a team. With the signing of Loic Remy and recent results against Chelsea and Spurs, the signs are that Redknapp is slowly turning things around.

    Will it be all too late though? QPR remain five points from their safety. They need to start winning games and fast if Harry is to perform another escape act from the relegation zone.

Will Brian McDermott and Reading Upset All the Odds?

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    Of all the promoted sides this season, it is Reading who look least prepared to stay in the Premier League. While West Ham and Southampton have found the finances to improve their squad, Reading have largely had to make do with players recruited from the lower divisions.

    They also have to compete with free-spending QPR, a talented Newcastle squad and established Premier League outfits like Aston Villa and Wigan. It's little wonder then that Reading remain the bookmakers' favourites to finish bottom.

    Yet there are signs that Reading could get themselves out of trouble. They have only lost one out of their last five games, beating West Ham, West Brom and Newcastle. If they can stay up, then Brian McDermott will be a genuine contender for any Manager of the Season award.

Can Mauricio Pochettino Win over the Southampton Players?

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    Things seemed to be going so well for Southampton. After a rocky start to Premier League life, Nigel Adkins' team had gone on a run of form in which they had lost only two out of the last 12 games and had just drawn at the ground of the reigning European champions.

    Bizarrely, that was the moment when Southampton decided to sack their manager and replace him with Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine left his former club, Espanyol, when they were rock bottom of La Liga. Saints fans will hope that he fares better in the Premier League.

    The next couple of weeks will be very important to Pochettino. A couple of bad results could see an embittered squad quickly lose morale. 

Will Stoke Ever Build Upon Their Mid-Table Status?

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    Stoke are currently 10th in the Premier League. They're not going to get relegated, but they're also not likely to win a place in Europe. 

    They seem to finish 10th every season, but since winning promotion to the Premier League for the 2008-09 season, they have actually yet to finish in the top half, despite always avoiding a relegation scrap.

    Unlike other mid-table sides, Stoke have invested money into their squad. For a club of their size, they are clearly not underachieving, but eventually their fans would surely like to see some signs of progress. A top-half finish this season would be a brilliant start.

Do Sunderland Move Forward or Backward This Season?

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    Last season, Sunderland finished 13th after Martin O'Neill rejuvenated Steve Bruce's struggling side. They were expected to build upon the promising start to O'Neill's reign, but they have struggled at times this season.

    At one point, it looked as if Sunderland might get drawn into a relegation battle. They have since recovered and risen to 11th position in the table, with players like Adam Johnson beginning to show some form and Steven Fletcher continuing to score goals.

    Given the investment they've made in the squad this season and the size of the club, Sunderland should be aiming for a top-half finish. That would amount to progress and prove that O'Neill's team is heading in the right direction.

Will Wembley and Europe Be Enough to Keep Michael Laudrup at Swansea?

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    The trouble when a small club constantly surpasses everyone's expectations is that bigger, struggling clubs take notice and wonder how it has been achieved.

    After the refreshing debut season of Swansea in the Premier League, Liverpool swooped to take Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. Now Swansea find that Rodgers' replacement, Michael Laudrup, is being suggested as a contender to become the next Chelsea manager

    Perhaps it's no surprise considering that Laudrup has carried on where Rodgers left off and has just beaten Chelsea to progress to Swansea's first major cup final. Will a trip to Wembley and a possible place in Europe be enough to convince Laudrup that more can be achieved at Swansea?

Can AVB Live Up to Redknapp's Standards?

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    Whatever you might think of Harry Redknapp's reign as Tottenham manager, the stark facts are that he managed to finish fourth in two of his three full seasons at the club before being sacked.

    Therefore, for Andre Villas-Boas, finishing fourth is the minimum requirement. Yet he is expected to achieve this with a squad that is weaker than the one that Redknapp had at his disposal, following the departures of important players like Ledley King, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

    So far, the signs are good that AVB can achieve his objectives. The results are promising, Spurs are currently in fourth place, and perhaps crucially, Villas-Boas is rotating the team in a way that might see Tottenham avoid the burnout that characterized Redknapp's last two season's at the club. 

Was West Brom's Early Form Just a Flash in the Pan?

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    West Brom started this season in scintillating form under new manager Steve Clarke, and for a while it even looked as if they could be surprise contenders to qualify for the Champions League.

    The Baggies have since slipped down the table to eighth position. They'll be happy enough with that, but perhaps not with their form. West Brom have not won in their last six games in all competitions, which has seen them slide down the league and be eliminated from the FA Cup by bottom-placed QPR.

    Having done the hard work already, Clarke will surely be determined that his side remain in the top half of the table at the very least. Can his West Brom side prove that they are a Premier League force to be reckoned with?

Just How Good Can Joe Cole Be Again for West Ham?

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    West Ham will not entirely consider themselves out of relegation danger, but teams managed by Sam Allardyce rarely seem to get themselves in those types of predicaments.

    So with nothing much more exciting than a mid-table finish to play for, the fans' focus will fall on their returning hero, Joe Cole. The Hammers' supporters haven't always been happy with their style of play under Allardyce, but in Cole they have a player rich in the club's traditions who can make them smile again.

    The question is, just how good can Cole be again? He's made an impressive start to his second spell at West Ham considering his lack of football this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can get back to anywhere near his best form and how he will be utilised by Allardyce.

How Many Times Can Wigan Beat the Drop?

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    Wigan survived relegation last season against all odds, as they went on a brilliant end-of-season run that saw Roberto Martinez's team climb to safety.

    Currently mired in the relegation zone, it looks like a similar feat will be needed again this season. Given their resources, it's no surprise that Wigan consistently struggle in the Premier League. This is Wigan's eighth season in the Premier League now, yet they look no nearer to becoming the sort of established outfit that doesn't have to worry about relegation.

    How many times can Wigan pull off a miracle? Logic says that their luck will eventually run out. It would only taken an injury crisis at the wrong time to ruin everything.