August 29, 2009

La Liga kicks off

After all the drama witnessed in the off-season over their transfer deals, the player parades, the gazillions spent, it is time for the on-field action to begin in earnest for Real Madrid.
All eyes will be set on the 80 million man Cristiano Ronaldo as he looks to justify his world-record price tag. Giving him company will be Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso as the Madristas look to take Spain by storm. Thier first opponents: Deportivo La Coruna. Madrid have beaten Deportivo 3 times out of the previous 5 times these 2 teams have played each other, but suffered 2 losses as well. The world is watching, and so are their rivals.
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Gameweek Predictions

Blackburn Vs. West Ham

It’s been a tough time on and off the pitch for West Ham going into this one. And expect Blackburn to give them no quarter. Allardyce’s men will be tough to break down, and I can see this petering out into a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Bolton Vs. Liverpool

Liverpool, one of the favourites to lift the title this season, have seen a poor start to the season, slumping to 2 defeats in 3 games. In some ways, then, this is a must win match for The Reds. I believe they will rise to the challenge. Bolton might score a goal, but Liverpool to come out on top eventually.

Prediction: 1-3

Chelsea Vs. Burnley

Burnley have begun strongly after being promoted, scalping Manchester United and Everton. Now, they come up against Chelsea, a team that has a 100% record this season. Can Burnley claim another gigantic scalp?

I don’t think so. Even last season, when Chelsea weren’t at their best, they had the least conceded goals in the entire league. Chelsea to win by 2 goals.

Prediction: 2-0

Manchester United Vs. Arsenal

The two heavyweights come into this match with differing mindsets. United are rested, hungry and off the pace after their loss to Burnley; while Arsenal have been involved in Europe in midweek, are on the top of their game in the EPL, and raring to go. I’m going to sit on the fence for this one, albeit it is a high scoring fence.

Prediction: 2-2

Stoke Vs. Sunderland

Sunderland seem to be the most improved team in the EPL this season, with astute signings on and off the field. This has seen them sit comfortably in the top half, though it is very early in the season. With the attacking options available to them, I believe the Black Cats should be able to break open the Stoke defence once at least.

Prediction: 0-1

Tottenham Vs. Birmingham

Spurs are on a high currently, sitting pretty top of the table. Will they be top even after this gameweek? Probably. Expect them to notch up another win, with the Blues unable to resist their charge.

Prediction: 3-1

Wolves Vs. Hull

Two of the teams favourites for going down battle in an early season 6 pointer. Of the two, Hull look in better shape currently, with the injured Kevin Doyle yet to feature for the Wolves. With Jozy Altidore performing well on his debut, expect Hull to take 3 points in a scrap fest.

Prediction: 1-2

Portsmouth Vs. ManchesterCity

The much-debated takeover by Dr. Al-Fahim completed, Pompey can finally concentrate on matters on the pitch. It will need time for them to hit their groove though, and this match comes too early for their revival. City to win in this battle of the Arab owners.

Prediction: 1-3

Everton Vs. Wigan

Everton have had a torrid start to the season, failing to land a single point, or keep hold of Joleon Lescott. The only silver lining has been their run in the Europa league. Wigan, on the other hand, started extremely well under new boss Roberto Martinez. But they have run into troubled waters ever since. They come into this match having been dumped out of the Carling Cup. Expect Everton to be marginally better.

Prediction: 2-1

Aston Villa Vs. Fulham

Villa have seen mixed fortunes this season, with failure in the Europa League, which is good for them in the long run to be honest, with the thin squad they have. They have also managed to defeat Liverpool at Anfield in quite some time. Fulham on the other hand, are doing well in the European stage, but will need to step it up domestically. This game will be a keenly contested affair, and Villa should come out on top narrowly.

Prediction: 2-1

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EPL Season Preview 2009-2010

How do we start? Well, how about a season preview of the English Premier League season 2009-2010, even if it’s around 2 weeks late. Will the big 4 survive the new forces? Who will go down? How will the new boys fare?

I’ve decided to split up the teams into 4 groups, based on the level of challenge that they will pose this season. 5 teams inhabit each group, and we’ll go group by group.

The four groups are:

1. The Contenders

2. The Challengers

3. The Survivors

4. The Strugglers

1. The Contenders: These are the teams who will look to get in on the action at the top end of the table and fight for the top honours. Who are in this group?

2. The Challengers: The teams that challenge the top teams for supremacy, and make efforts towards breaking into the elite bracket, make up the Challengers.

3. The Survivors: Blood and Iron is what I like to call these teams. They are not as glamorous as some of the teams in the top half, but they do manage to get the job done.

4. The Strugglers: A season full of hard work to try and ensure survival in the top flight looms ahead for these teams. A struggle, that unfortunately, will result in failure for a majority of them.

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The Strugglers

Birmingham City FC

Manager: Alex McLeish

Ground: St. Andrews (Capacity: 30,009)

Last season: 2nd in Championship

Key Player: Christian Benitez

Star-in-waiting: Joe Hart


INs: Christian Benitez (Santos Laguna, up to £9 million), Joe Hart (Manchester City, loan), Giovanny Espinoza (Barcelona Sporting Club, undisclosed), Roger Johnson (Cardiff City, £5 million), Lee Bowyer (West Ham United, free), Barry Ferguson (Glasgow Rangers, £1.25 million), Gregory Vignal (Lens, undisclosed)

OUTs: Mehdi Nafti (Aris, free), Stephen Kelly (Fulham, undisclosed), Radhi Jaidi (released)

Birmingham are like Bolton in way of functioning, having played effective football to achieve success in the Championship. But to achieve success in the Premier League, there needs to be infusion of new players, capable of mixing it at the biggest stage.

How Christian Benitez fares is going to be the key to survival for the Blues, with up to 9 million pounds on the line to bring him to St. Andrews. Barry Ferguson will be looking to restart his career after a bad phase in the past year.

Final Verdict: Expect The Blues to survive, but not before their share of hiccups. 17th spot.

Burnley FC

Manager: Owen Coyle

Ground: Turf Moor (Capacity: 22,619)

Last season: 5th in Championship

Key Player: Wade Elliot

Star-in-waiting: Steven Fletcher


INs: Steven Fletcher (Hibernian, £3 million), David Edgar (Newcastle United, free), Tyrone Mears (Derby County, £500,000), Richard Eckersley (Manchester United, to be decided), Brian Easton (Hamilton Academical, £350,000), Fernando Guerrero (Independiente del Valle, loan), Andre Bikey (Reading, undisclosed)

OUTs: Chris Mahon (Tranmere Rovers, free)

Burnley are the success story in English Football right now, and Owen Coyle is the mastermind behind it. Having taken a team with such humble financial backing to the Premier League; Coyle was offered the Celtic job, which he turned down to focus on the Burnley challenge.

Coyle believes in the power of youth, and that has been reinforced by the signings he has made. Steven Fletcher, Andre Bikey, Tyrone Mears are all part of this Burnley experiment.

Final Verdict: Burnley are a hard-working team. They should be able to survive the Premier League rigours. The path will be hard, but they should be able to handle it. 16th spot for Coyle’s men.

Hull City AFC

Manager: Phil Brown

Ground: KC Stadium (Capacity: 25,404)

Last season: 17th

Key Player: Michael Turner

Star-in-waiting: Jozy Altidore


INs: Steven Mouyokolo (Boulogne, undisclosed), Seyi Olofinjana (Stoke City, £3m), Jozy Altidore (Villarreal, loan), Stephen Hunt (Reading, undisclosed), Kamel Ghilas (Celta Vigo, undisclosed)

OUTs: Dean Windass (released), Ryan France (released), Michael Bridges (released), John Welsh (released), Sam Ricketts (Bolton Wanderers, undisclosed)

Hull barely made it past the post of survival last season, with a frightening lack of form marking the second half for the team. Phil Brown has failed to capture players who he feels would help in the survival bid this season.

This creates a problematic scenario for Hull. With most of the players at the club the same as last year, better fortunes than last year will be tough to find. A lot will depend if Brown can keep hold of Michael Turner, and how Jozy Altidore adapts to the English League.

Final Verdict: A long, hard season lies ahead at the KC Stadium. A season that will unfortunately see their downfall from the top flight. 20th place and relegation.

Portsmouth FC

Manager: Paul Hart

Ground: Fratton Park (Capacity: 20,688)

Last season: 14th

Key Player: Niko Kranjcar

Star-in-waiting: Anthony Van Den Borre


INs: Aaron Mokoena (Blackburn Rovers, free), Steve Finnan (Espanyol, free), Frederic Piquionne (Lyon, loan), Anthony Vanden Borre (Genoa, loan), Antti Niemi (free agent)

OUTs: Djimi Traore (Monaco, undisclosed), Glen Johnson (Liverpool, undisclosed), Sean Davis (Bolton, free), Noe Pamarot (released), Lauren (released), Jerome Thomas (released), Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo (Standard Liege, free), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur, undisclosed), Arnold Mvuemba (released)

Portsmouth have become the symbol for recession in the top-flight of football. Problems off the pitch have contributed to trouble on the pitch with the club having to sell many of its important players to stay afloat.

Suleiman Al Fahim’s long-protracted takeover of the club will be a boost for the club’s finances, and may allow them to keep their players. On current paper strength, getting out a squad for every match is turning out to be tough for the Pompey manager.

Final Verdict: Al Fahim’s takeover comes too late for Portsmouth, and I believe that this season shall see Pompey go down. And that too not entirely due to their fault. 19th spot.

Wolverhampton Wanderers FC

Manager: Mick McCarthy

Ground: Molineux Stadium (Capacity: 29,303)

Last season: 1st in the Championship

Key Player: Kevin Doyle

Star-in-waiting: Michael Mancienne


INs: Nenad Milijas (Red Star Belgrade, undisclosed), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading, free), Kevin Doyle (Reading, £6.5 million), Andrew Surman (Southampton, undisclosed), Ronald Zubar (Marseille, undisclosed), Greg Halford (Sunderland, undisclosed), Michael Mancienne (Chelsea, loan)


Wolves make a return to the big stage after having conquered the Championship. Mick McCarthy will be looking to all his Championship stars, along with the major signings he’s made, including Doyle, Mancienne, Zubar, Surman among others to step up and make their mark.

The squad looks excellent: but for the Championship. In the Premier League, there needs to be some more. And McCarthy will be looking to bolster his squad, I am sure.

Final Verdict: Wolves will fight hard, and only after a vicious fight, will they go down. 18th spot to the Wolves.

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The Survivors

Blackburn Rovers FC

Manager: Sam Allardyce

Ground: Ewood Park (Capacity: 31,367)

Last season: 15th

Key Player: Morten Gamst Pederson

Star-in-waiting: Franco Di Santo


INs: Gael Givet (Marseille, undisclosed), Lars Jacobsen (Everton, free), Franco Di Santo (Chelsea, loan), Nikola Kalinic (Hajduk Split, £6 million), Michel Salgado (Real Madrid, free)

OUTs: Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City, £16 million), Matt Derbyshire (Olympiakos, undisclosed) Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth, free)

Sam Allardyce managed safety for Blackburn with a few games remaining last season. This season should see Big Sam continue to build his team in the same way.

Roque Santa Cruz has been replaced by Franco Di Santo, and the youngster, along with Benny McCarthy and Jason Roberts, will shoulder the responsibility for attacking with Morten Gamst Pederson pulling the strings. Expect the defence to be strong and stingy, not to give away any freebies.

Final Verdict: The Rovers should finish 12th, safely mid-table.

Bolton Wanderers FC

Manager: Gary Megson

Ground: Reebok Stadium (Capacity: 28,101)

Last season: 13th

Key Player: Kevin Davies

Star-in-waiting: Gary Cahill


INs: Sean Davis (Portsmouth, free transfer), Paul Robinson (West Bromwich Albion, loan), Zat Knight (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Sam Ricketts (Hull City, undisclosed)

OUTs: Blerim Dzemaili (Torino, undisclosed)

Gary Megson’s side play some of the most unattractive, yet effective football. Effective in the sense that it ensures them mid-table existence, and this seems to be Megson’s primary target.

Sean Davies’ capture will bolster the midfield, while Zat Knight should be able to shoulder the responsibility of shoring up the defence with Gary Cahill. Kevin Davies will look to latch on to the balls into the box to fire in the goals.

Final Verdict: Another season of mid-table existence beckons for Megson’s men: 15th.

Stoke City FC

Manager: Tony Pulis

Ground: Britannia Stadium (Capacity: 28,383)

Last season: 12th

Key Player: James Beattie

Star-in-waiting: Ryan Shawcross


INs: Dean Whitehead (Sunderland, undisclosed)

OUTs: Seyi Olofinjana (Hull City, £3 million)

Stoke were one of the unlikely survivors of last season, and they had achieved this success with quite a few games left to play. Tony Pulis has built a team that is tough to beat at home, and the support of the Stoke fans has helped with that.

On the pitch, Rory Delap, James Beattie and Thomas Sorenson will be key components if Pulis’ men have to taste success again. Ryan Shawcross is developing well in defence for the Potters.

Final Verdict: Another successful season should see the Potters finish 13th.

West Ham United FC

Manager: Gianfranco Zola

Ground: Upton Park (Capacity: 35,303)

Last season: 9th

Key Player: Carlton Cole

Star-in-waiting: Junior Stanislas


INs: Luis Jimenez (Inter Milan, loan) Jack Lampe (Harlow Town, free), Fabio Daprela (Grasshoppers Zurich, undisclosed)

OUTs: Lee Bowyer (Birmingham City, free), Lucas Neill (free agent), Freddie Sears (Crystal Palace, loan)

Gianfranco Zola had a decent introduction to managing in England last season, with the Hammers performing creditably. The second season, however, sees him tackle many different problems. With cash at a premium, getting in new players, especially strikers, seems to be a major problem for the Italian, who has brought in many young players from the academy.

The players at the club will have to make a major step up to improve upon last year in this scarcity of resources. This seems unlikely to happen though.

Final Verdict: Zola’s youngsters should finish 11th. With some new signings, they have the chance of breaking into the top half though.

Wigan Athletic FC

Manager: Roberto Martinez

Ground: DW Stadium (Capacity: 25,135)

Last season: 11th

Key Player: Jordi Gomez

Star-in-waiting: James McCarthy


INs: Jordi Gomez (Espanyol, £1.7 million), Hendry Thomas (Deportivo Olimpia, undisclosed), Jason Scotland (Swansea City, £2 million), Scott Sinclair (Chelsea, loan)

OUTs: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, undisclosed), Lee Cattermole (Sunderland, £6 million)

Wigan are an all-new look team this season, with a new manager, new stadium name, and new players. With the star of last season, Antonio Valencia having trotted off to Old Trafford, the onus is on Roberto Martinez to not only prove himself at the highest level, but also bring in players he thinks could substitute his losses.

Last season’s position is nowhere in sight this season though, and if Martinez can ensure survival without too many hiccups, I believe Wigan fans should be happy.

Final Verdict: The Latics will survive, not too easily, but they will. A 14th place finish for them.

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The Contenders

Arsenal FC

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Ground: Emirates Stadium (Capacity: 60,355)

Last season: 4th

Key Player: Cesc Fabregas

Star-in-waiting: Jack Wilshere


INs: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax, £10 million)

OUTs: Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City, £25 million), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, £16 million)

I’ll stick my neck out and say that Arsenal is the team that plays the most beautiful game in the league. Their passing rhythm at its best is a joy to behold, even if you are a supporter of the opposing team. At times, every player in the team looks like a forward! The fluid movement and style of play could probably be a reason why Arsene Wenger has not invested in a forward this summer.

The problems for Wenger lie in a shaky centre of defence and a lack of a holding midfielder. Ever since Matthieu Flamini left for Milan, there has been no able replacement for that position. Wenger has so far kept faith in players like Song and Diaby, but so far there has not been enough on display to suggest that the concerns have been addressed fully.

Final Verdict: On current side strength, Arsenal can be expected to start out all guns blazing, demolishing one and all. The lack of depth however, will see them start running out of steam around the Christmas period. Unless they bring in more players, I don’t see them improving upon last season’s performance, and in a rare scenario, could even finish out of the Champions League spots. 4th spot again to the Gunners.

Chelsea FC

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

Ground: Stamford Bridge (Capacity: 42,055)

Last season: 3rd

Key Player: Frank Lampard

Star-in-waiting: Daniel Sturridge


INs: Yury Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow, £18 million), Daniel Sturridge (Manchester City, undisclosed)

OUTs: Ben Sahar (Espanyol, undisclosed), Franco Di Santo (Blackburn Rovers, loan), Scott Sinclair (Wigan Athletic, loan), Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen, undisclosed)

Chelsea’s off-season has been dominated by two things: their new manager and their captain. Will he, won’t he: the John Terry saga stretched close to the start of the new season, with Manchester City finally failing in their quest to land the England skipper.

Ancelotti arrives at the Bridge to deliver the elusive Champions League title to the Blues, and improve upon the 3rd place from last season in the league. Should he fail to do any of these two, a Roman sack could be in line. A 3rd manager in 2 seasons has derailed Chelsea a bit, hence the need for stability. This could be a reason for only minor tweaking the squad. This continuity with the world-class players at Stamford Bridge makes them a deadly opponent.

Final Verdict: This season, with Ancelotti at the helm with his new formation, Chelsea will look to be rejuvenated with vigor. I’ll plump for Chelsea to finish the season as Champions.

Liverpool FC

Manager: Rafa Benitez

Ground: Anfield (Capacity: 45,276)

Last season: 2nd

Key Player: Fernando Torres

Star-in-waiting: Emiliano Insua


INs: Glen Johnson (Portsmouth, £18 million), Alberto Aquilani (Roma, £19 million)

OUTs: Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid, £30 million), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid, €4 million)

With their best ever showing in 20 years, Liverpool came mighty close to stopping Manchester United’s bid in winning a third straight title, but ultimately lost out narrowly. Benitez’s decision to sell Xabi Alonso, who was one of the stars in last season’s campaign, in the previous summer came back to haunt him, as the Spaniard left to join the new galacticos at the Bernabeu. Benitez has moved quickly to replace him with Alberto Aquilani. But the Italian is a long-time injury-prone character. Till he is fit, Liverpool will miss the excellence of Alonso in the centre of the park.

Torres and captain Steven Gerrard will be looked at to provide the goals, and if the two can stay fit and firing for most of the season, Liverpool will be a worthy opponent to any team.

Final Verdict: The missing midfield maestro at Anfield threatens to derail Liverpool’s bid to land the elusive league title. To me, it looks like the tile bid depends on how well Aquilani can fill in Alonso’s boots. Right now, I’m going for a 3rd position for the runners-up.

Manchester City FC

Manager: Mark Hughes

Ground: City Of Manchester Stadium (Capacity: 48,000)

Last season: 10th

Key Player: Gareth Barry

Star-in-waiting: Stephen Ireland


INs: Gareth Barry (Aston Villa, £12 million), Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers, £17.5 million), Carlos Tevez (MSI, £25.5 million), Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal, £25 million), Kolo Toure (Arsenal, £16 million), Joleon Lescott (Everton, £24 million)

OUTs: Joe Hart (Birmingham City, loan), Jo (Everton, loan), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea, undisclosed), Elano (Galatasaray, €8 million), Valeri Bojinov (Parma, loan)

The biggest story of the summer in the English league was the big spending of Manchester City. The Eastlands club has spent over 100 million pounds in their bid to challenge the top 4’s supremacy of the English league. Mark Hughes, backed by Sheik Mansour’s millions, has assembled a squad which he feels is ready to take on the very best.

With the huge number of forwards at City’s disposal, a problem of attacking prowess will be Mark Hughes’ last concern. His real concerns are two-fold: getting his defence sorted out, something that troubled him last season as well; and getting the team to gel quickly to get results, before the owners’ sword starts hanging over his head.

Final Verdict: The squad looks good and should be able to compete at the highest level. To gel as a team however, City need time, and a top-6 finish this year should be the aim. Also, the defence needs to be reinforced some more, before they can be considered true contenders. The new revolution in English football will finish 5th.

Manchester United FC

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Ground: Old Trafford (Capacity: 76,212)

Last season: 1st

Key Player: Wayne Rooney

Star-in-waiting: Federico Macheda


INs: Antonio Valencia (Wigan Athletic, £17 million), Michael Owen (Newcastle United, free), Gabriel Obertan (Bordeaux, £3 million)

OUTs: Carlos Tevez (released), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, £80 million), Fraizer Campbell (Sunderland, £3.5 million rising up to £6 million)

The champions were involved in the biggest transfer in history, with Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Real Madrid for a whopping £80 million in the summer. The Portugese winger has been the biggest star in English football for the past 2-3 years, and his absence in the lineup will be a big gap to fill for the Red Devils.

Wayne Rooney will be expected to step up to the goal-scoring mantle left by Rooney, while Valencia needs to perform excellently on the wing. Michael Owen will be exposed to a huge amount of media scrutiny throughout the season following his shock move to Old Trafford, and will need to be at the top of his game to provide able backup to Rooney and Berbatov. The defence is as good as last year though, and should prove just as miserly.

Final Verdict: With Ronaldo missing, the sheen seems to have been taken off the United team. Though most of the team is still at Old Trafford, the talisman’s absence will see them taking a hit and drop down to 2nd place.

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The Challengers

Aston Villa FC

Manager: Martin O’Neill

Ground: Villa Park (Capacity: 42,640)

Last season: 6th

Key Player: Ashley Young

Star-in-waiting: Fabian Delph


INs: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough, £10 million), Fabian Delph (Leeds United, undisclosed), Habib Beye (Newcastle United, undisclosed)

OUTs: Gareth Barry (Manchester City, £12 million), Zat Knight (Bolton, undisclosed)

Under Martin O’Neill, Aston Villa have been slowly but steadily building up into a team that can challenge the top teams consistently. Here, I must add that Villa are still a work-in-progress and it will take them another 3-4 years before they can be considered bonafide title contenders, if they continue on this path.

Having managed to keep star winger Ashley Young at Villa Park, Martin O’Neill is looking to strengthening the defence. With captain Gareth Barry no longer cleaning up in front of them, the Villa defence will be put to the test this season. How they come out of it, will define how Villa perform this season.

Final Verdict: Habib Beye being the only defender to have signed for Villa this season, the squad still seems thin on defensive options. This could prove their downfall in the long run. O’Neill needs to strengthen his squad. Villa to finish 8th.

Everton FC

Manager: David Moyes

Ground: Goodison Park (Capacity: 40,157)

Last season: 5th

Key Player: Mikel Arteta

Star-in-waiting: Jack Rodwell


INs: Jo (Manchester City, loan), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv Moscow, undisclosed),

OUTs: Joleon Lescott (Manchester City, £24 million)

The Merseysiders have been involved in a long, tortuous transfer saga over Joleon Lescott with Manchester City, ultimately failing to keep their star defender. This leaves Moyes’ men with very few defensive options, and a deal to sign Sylvain Distin from Portsmouth can only be good news.

Everton so far have managed to mount challenges to break the hegemony of the big 4 at the top of the table. But with Manchester City coming in fast, and teams like Tottenham, Aston Villa and Sunderland looming on the horizon as well, Goodison Park could well be in line to losing out.

Final Verdict: Tight budgets, less signings, injuries: all will collude to prevent Moyes from repeating last season’s efforts. Everton’s final finish: 9th.

Fulham FC

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Ground: Craven Cottage (Capacity: 25, 678)

Last season: 7th

Key Player: Danny Murphy

Star-in-waiting: Brede Hangeland


INs: Stephen Kelly (Birmingham City, undisclosed), Bjorn Helge Riise (Lillestrom, £2 million), Damien Duff (Newcastle United, undisclosed), Jonathan Greening (West Bromwich Albion, loan)

OUTs: Moritz Voltz (released), Collins John (released)

Roy Hodgson has brought in his vast experience to Craven Cottage, and living within meager means, Fulham have developed into a hard-to-beat team. Solid defending at the back, led by Brede Hangeland, coupled with incisive breakaways, has contributed majorly to the success of the London outfit.

Participation in the Europa league will be an added incentive for the Cottagers’ squad, but this could hamper their chances of success domestically. The added pressure of Europe requires a bigger squad, and currently Fulham do not have as many back up players as is needed.

Final Verdict: Fulham shall continue to perform as well as they did last season, with an odd upset thrown in the midst. But the emergence of other teams, will see them slipping from last year’s position into 10th spot.

Sunderland AFC

Manager: Steve Bruce

Ground: Stadium of Light (Capacity: 49,000)

Last season: 16th

Key Player: Darren Bent

Star-in-waiting: Fraizer Campbell


INs: Fraizer Campbell (Manchester United, £3.5 million rising up to £6 million), Paulo Da Silva (Toluca, undisclosed), Lorik Cana (Marseille, £5 million), Darren Bent (Tottenham Hotspur, up to £16.5 million), Lee Cattermole (Wigan, £6 million)

OUTs: Greg Halford (Wolverhampton Wanderers, undisclosed), Michael Chopra (Cardiff City, undisclosed), Dean Whitehead (Stoke City, undisclosed)

Sunderland have spent, and spent well, in the off-season. Strengthening their midfield, and attack, they are looking a much more threatening force than last season.

With new boss Steve Bruce in charge at the Stadium of Light, Chairman Niall O’Quinn can be assured that strong, confident performances will be delivered from team that barely escaped relegation last season. In fact, it is testimony to the shrewd buys, and renewed confidence in the team that most pundits are looking to Sunderland to be the most improved team for this season.

Final Verdict: With all the new talent at his disposal, I am going with a 7th place finish for Bruce’s men.

Tottenham Hotspurs FC

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Ground: White Hart Lane (Capacity: 36,236)

Last season: 8th

Key Player: Luka Modric

Star-in-waiting: Giovani Dos Santos


INs: Kyle Naughton (Sheffield United, undisclosed), Kyle Walker (Sheffield United, undisclosed), Peter Crouch (Portsmouth, undisclosed), Sebastien Bassong (Newcastle United, £8 million)

OUTs: Didier Zokora (Sevilla, undisclosed), Darren Bent (Sunderland, up to £16.5 million), Kyle Walker (Sheffield United, loan back)

When Harry Redknapp took over last season, Spurs were in utter shambles. Not only were they in the relegation zone, but the morale in the squad was pretty low as well. Redknapp worked wonders though, taking the team to the top half of the table, bringing in players like Jermaine Defoe, Robbie Keane among others.

This season, Harry will look to continuing the good work he had set the foundations for last season. The squad is strong with a great attacking lineup, and with only minor kinks left in the defence, Spurs look set to fight it out in the top half of the table.

Final Verdict: The defence not being as strong as needed, Spurs won’t be able to break into the Champions league spots. But a 6th place seems well within their reach.

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