Preview and Predictions for the Premier League 2011/2012 Season
After a summer dominated by transfer speculations, the Premiership finally returns for its 20th season and promises to be as spectacular as ever.
There have been big changes at the countries elite clubs this year. Manchester United veterans Edwin Van Der Saar and Paul Scholes have retired and versatile stalwart defenders Wes Brown and John O'Shea have been sold to Sunderland. Replacing Van Der Saar between the sticks is Spanish prodigy David De Gea and Sir Alex Ferguson has also improved his squad with the talented English pair Phil Jones and Ashley Young.
Speculation has raged all summer about Ferguson's pursuit of a replacement for Scholes, but given his failure to sign one so far and Tom Cleverely's star turn in the recent Community Shield, the young midfielder may emerge as a regular for United.
Chelsea have been looking to the future this summer, signing teenagers Thibaut Courtois and Oriol Romeu with Romelu Lukaku also expected to arrive soon. Luka Modric is another target, but Tottenham have so far resisted the advances of their London rivals.
The biggest change, of course, has come in the arrival of talented young manager Andre Villas-Boas, a treble winner with Porto last season and one of the hottest managerial properties in Europe right now. He will be hoping to impress as soon as possible, given owner Roman Abramovich's notorious reputation for lacking patience with his managers.
It has been a relatively quiet summer by Manchester City's standards, with just three signings so far—Sergio Aguero, Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic . Aguero is expected to replace outgoing captain Carlos Tevez and it remains to be seen how City will cope without their talisman. Either Aguero will have to step up or misfiring strikers Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli will have to start finding the target on a consistent basis if City are to mount their long awaited title challenge.
It has been a tumultuous summer for Arsenal with star midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Nasri linked with moves away from the Emirates constantly and Clichy already gone. The only arrivals so far are Gervinho and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, both of whom are unproven in the Premiership. There will surely be more to come, but Arsene Wenger's side could struggle this season. Dropping out of the top four would be a disaster for the club, widening the gap between them and the new top three even farther.
Tottenham have so far managed to hang on to Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, despite speculation to the contrary. Brad Friedel is their only signing so far and there must be worries that they will also fall off the pace. A top striker is needed if they are to have any hope of returning to the champions league, as Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko are all too inconsistent for a team challenging at the top of the table.
Anfield has seen just under £50 million splashed out so far and the expected signing of Jose Enrique should take it beyond that mark. Plus, a center back is still needed to complete Liverpool's squad. With Stewart Downing arriving to provide service to Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez—who is returning from the Copa America after being crowned the tournaments best player—it seems like there are exciting times ahead at Anfield.
Things couldn't be more different on the other side of Stanley Park. It has been another frustrating summer for Everton with not a penny spent so far to bring players in. The lack of funding available must surely be getting to David Moyes who continues to perform miracles despite his sides shoestring budget. Fortunately for Moyes, Everton have so far managed to hold onto their top players, with the likes of Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Marouane Fellaini still at the club.
After the surprise departure of Mark Hughes, Fulham moved fast to replace him with former Spurs boss Martin Jol. Fulham finished in an impressive eighth place last season and a similar performance this season would be considered a success for new boss Jol. The Europa League provides a potential distraction, and perhaps dreams of a repeat of the clubs incredible run to the final under Roy Hodgson in 2010.
The appointment of Alex McLeish as Aston Villa manager didn't receive a particularly positive response from the supporters and after Ashley Young and Stewart Downing departed, the doom mongers were soon talking of relegation.
However, with experienced shot stopper Shay Given plucked from Manchester City's bench and highly rated winger Charles N'Zogbia arriving from Wigan, the mood at the club has picked up somewhat and fears of relegation now seem unfounded.
The changes at Sunderland this summer have been widespread, with Steve Bruce signing virtually an entire new team after allowing academy graduate Jordan Henderson to leave for Liverpool in a big money move.
With so many new arrivals, there have to be worries about how these players will gel together and Sunderland may continue to struggle for goals after Darren Bent's departure. This could be a big season for Asamoah Gyan.
After his Liverpool disaster, Roy Hodgson returned to management at West Brom last season to do what he does best—guide the team to mid-table safety. With Hodgson in charge and the likes of Chris Brunt, Youssuf Mulumbu and Peter Odemwingie on the roster, West Brom should be fine and may finally shed their tag of being a 'yo-yo' club.
Just when things looked to be going so well for Newcastle, they did what they do best—self destructed.
With Andy Carroll already gone, captain Kevin Nolan was allowed to leave for West Ham, one of last seasons best players Joey Barton was made available for free and Jose Enrique, is on the verge of leaving for Liverpool. Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba are shrewd acquisitions, but more is needed if they are to improve on last season's performance.
Reaching the final meant that the club qualified for the Europa League, so perhaps we'll now finally get to see how foreign teams do on a wet, windy night at the Britanna, which pundits seem so obsessed with claiming they couldn't handle.
Jonathan Woodgate has signed on a free and if kept fit could prove a wonderful signing—fellow centre back Matthew Upson less so. Bids for Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch are also promising and show the pedigree of player the club is now after.
With key midfielder Stuart Holden still injured and new signing Tyrone Mears joining Chung-Yong Lee in breaking his leg in preseason, the squad at the Reebok is looking very thin indeed. With a tough start to the season which sees them face both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in their first seven games, Bolton could struggle, but the return of Holden should help drag them to safety.
Blackburn struggled after the surprise sacking of Sam Allardyce last season and replacing him with the inexperienced Steven Kean was an odd move on Blackburn's part. With Phil Jones already gone and Chris Samba rumoured to be following him out the door, plus a lack of firepower up front, Blackburn could really struggle this season. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them go down.
Survival specialists Wigan Athletic seem to be tipped to go down at the start of every season, yet come August they're always still there. This will be their seventh season in the top flight and though star man N'Zogbia has left, Wigan will still fight until the very end.
This is a huge season for young players like James McCarthy and Victor Moses, who must perform if the club are to maintain their Premier League status.
It went down to the wire for Wolves last season, but despite being in the relegation zone at one point on the last day they managed to scrape survival by one point. With the likes of Jamie O'Hara and Roger Johnson signed, Mick McCarthy will be hoping for a big improvement this time around and with three relatively weak teams coming up the Wolves should survive once again.
Coming up as champions, much was expected this summer of Queens Park Rangers who were once dubbed "The richest club in the world." However, the anticipated investment hasn't arrived, leaving experienced boss Neil Warnock frustrated.
With a squad made up largely of Championship quality players, QPR will need Adel Taarabt to perform in the top division if they're to have a chance of anything other than a swift return to the Championship.
Few sides in England can have as much momentum as Norwich CIty right now. After being relegated to league one, they opened their 2009/10 campaign with a 7-1 humbling at the hands of Colchester United. The club reacted fast to this humiliation, sacking boss Bryan Gunn and poaching Colchester boss Paul Lambert as his replacement.
They never looked back, storming league one and winning promotion as champions then finishing second in the championship last season to seal two successive promotions. The Premier League will be much tougher, but if Grant Holt can continue to be as prolific as he has been in recent seasons, they have every chance of survival.
Following their playoff victory last season, Swansea City will become the first Welsh club ever to play in the Premier League. The club have some talented young players such as Nathan Dyer, Scott Sinclair and Steven Caulker who is on loan from Tottenham. However, they lack Premiership experience and this naivety could cost them.
They are known for playing good football, but whether they will be capable of doing this against this against the higher quality teams of the Premiership remains to be seen.
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