Premier League Preview 18: West Ham United
Gianfranco Zola proved a revelation as he took control of the Hammers last season, guiding them out of the relegation zone and to a respectable ninth place finish.
He unquestionably benefited from the experience of his assistant Steve Clarke who guided the Italian through his first season at the cash-strapped East London club. Zola and his predecessors have been forced to part with many of the club’s top stars such as Welsh striker Craig Bellamy.
However, Zola is blessed with a rich assortment of young British talent. Mark Noble has established himself as a regular for the club he has held dear since he was a boy, partnering Scott Parker in midfield. In addition Welsh international Jack Collison broke onto the scene at Upton Park with a number of assured performances. Zola has added Luis Jimanez from Inter Milan and the Chilean will be a source of creativity for the Hammers.
Robert Green will look to cement his place as England’s number one and is arguably the best English keeper in the Premier League. In front of Green there is the reliable Matthew Upson who has been a rock at the heart of the West Ham defence. He has been ever-present as Daniel Gabbidon, Jonathon Spector, James Collins and Calum Davenport have all fought for the other centre back slot. Captain Lucas Neill has left for Sunderland and leaves a vacancy for one of West Ham’s young guns to fill at right back.
Carlton Cole top scored for the club last season with 12 goals in all competitions. He is a real force up front, with a big frame and a sublime touch, he can be a nightmare to defend against. Dean Ashton has been riddled with injuries in his time at West Ham and Zola will be looking to keep Ashton fit and back scoring goals like he was in the 2005-06 season. The fitness and form of Ashton and Cole will be crucial to an otherwise threadbare attack for the Upton Park outfit.
Zola and Clarke should build on a positive start to their West Ham career’s last term and aim for another mid-table finish. They will find it difficult to compete with Aston Villa, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur for a Europa League place. A good cup run could provide an alternative route into Europe.
In: Herita Illunga (Toulouse, £2.75m), Luis Jiménez (Internazionale, loan), Frank Nouble (Chelsea, tribunal), Fabio Daprelà (Grasshopper, undisclosed), Peter Kurucz (Ujpest, undisclosed), Jack Lampe (Harlow, undisclosed)
Out: Lee Bowyer (Birmingham City, free), Kyel Reid (Sheffield United, free), Joe Widdowson (Grimsby Town, free), Freddie Sears (Crystal Palace, loan), Diego Tristán, Walter López, Jimmy Walker, Tony Stokes, Lucas Neill (released)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 11th
Premier League Preview 19: Wigan Athletic
Online betting companies place Wigan at 4/1 to drop down to the Championship this season, but their Premier League status should be secure under a promising young manager.
Last season’s impressive 11th place finish – Wigan’s fourth consecutive term in the top-flight – has helped to cement the club’s status in a league in which they must now feel they truly belong.
Taking over from Steve Bruce in June of this year, 36-year-old Roberto Martínez is an emerging highly-rated young manager and he took the Latics job on the back of a successful two-year spell at Swansea – a club at which he made 122 appearances as a player.
Martinez’s challenge this season will be to build on the Premier League stability that Wigan have constructed over the last four years. This summer’s only notable loss is that of Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia to Manchester United for £16 million.
The young manager shelled out £2 million this summer to bring experienced striker Jason Scotland with him to the DW Stadium from Swansea. The club are also expected to confirm the captures of Spanish defender Antonio Amaya plus French midfielder Mohamed Diame, the latter of which Martinez says must undergo a major heart check before he is allowed to sign.
Under Bruce, Wigan developed into team that was increasingly difficult to beat, and Martinez will be looking to continue that trend with another mid-table finish a realistic possibility. And With just hours until kick-off, Betfred football betting has odds of 1/7 for the Latics to stay up.
Martinez’s men face a testing trip to Villa Park tomorrow ahead of their first home fixture against newly-promoted Wolves on Tuesday.
In: Jason Scotland (Swansea, £2m); Jordi Gómez (Espanyol, £1.7m); James McCarthy (Hamilton, undisclosed); Hendry Thomas (Deportivo Olimpia, free); Scott Sinclair (Chelsea, loan).
Out: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, £16m); Lewis Montrose (Wycombe, free); Antoine Sibierski (released); Henri Camara (released).
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 12th
Premier League Preview 20: Wolverhampton Wanderers
Mick McCarthy has spent relatively big this summer in an attempt to avoid relegation back to the Championship. Many lessons could be learnt from their neighbours West Brom who failed to avoid the drop last season. The Baggies struggled to score goals managing only 36 in 38 games. Wolves have brought in Irish hit man Kevin Doyle for £6 million.
Doyle impressed in his debut season in the Premier League in 2006-07 with Reading, and should do well once again upon his return to the top-flight. Add this to the firepower at the club already (Wolves hit the net on 80 occasions last year), like Ebanks-Blake and Chris Iweulmo and Wolves shouldn’t struggle on the goal front.
It has been five years since Wolves competed amongst England’s elite and the investment Steve Morgan has pumped into the club for summer signings has highlighted his ambition to take the side forward. The signing of Marcus Hanneman will provide first choice keeper Wayne Hennessy with tough competition for a place between the sticks. Jody Craddock will spearhead the back four. The exciting prospect Michael Mancienne joins on loan from Chelsea and will hope to prove his credentials in the Premiership after he has been touted as a possible England star for the future.
Serbian captain Nenad Milijas has arrived from Red Star Belgrade and has a big reputation in his home country, scoring 22 goals from midfield last season. He is a midfielder who will be looking to make a name for himself in England. Ronald Zubar joins from French runners up Marseille and brings a wealth of experience to the Wolves squad having played in the Champions League with his former employers. He is prone to costly mistakes so represents a small gamble for McCarthy who paid €3 million for the defensive midfielder, who can also revert to centre back. Hopefully he won’t turn out to be another Jean-Alain Boumsoung.
One of Wolves’ most exciting summer signings is the highly-rated Andrew Surman who is a product of the much-acclaimed Southampton youth academy. The South African born Surman has been trailed by numerous top flight clubs in recent years and his signature could prove a real coup for McCarthy, and will add to the flair already in the squad at Molineaux.
The attacking style of Wolves should see them score plenty of goals. In defence they look solid but whether the likes of Craddock can cope with the potent strike force lingering in the league remains to be seen.
McCarthy suffered disappointment with Sunderland a few years ago but this time his Wolves side have enough quality in their squad to survive. Avoiding any of the big four until the beginning of November could prove crucial as McCarthy will look to have a healthy amount of points on the board before a difficult winter period.
In: Ronald Zubar (Marseille, £1.5m), Greg Halford (Sunderland, £2m), Nenad Milijas (Red Star, £2.7m), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading, free), Andrew Surman (Southampton, £1.2m), Kevin Doyle (Reading, £6.5m), Michael Mancienne (Chelsea, loan)
Out: Lewis Gobern (MK Dons, free); Darren Potter (Sheffield Wednesday, undisclosed); Stephen Gleeson (MK Dons, undisclosed)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 16th