West Ham were one of those sides last season, recording their best finish since they’d returned to the League, and everything seems set for even more of the same this time around. The fantastic deal to gain ownership of the Olympic Stadium – described not incorrectly by Arsene Wenger as ‘winning the lottery’ – should propel the club to bigger heights through the next few years. In Italy many clubs have gotten the best out of new stadiums – indeed a number of Serie A clubs are trying to follow in the footsteps of Juventus, who transformed their fortunes after moving.
On the player front the evidence is there that they’re a top half side that should be making a similar challenge to last season. And last season they won at Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool on their way to seventh and the only major departure from a personnel sense has been James Tonkins to Palace.
Dimitri Payet, outstanding for France at the Euros, was only beaten by Christian Eriksen and Mesut Ozil in the assists table last season and the impressive Manuel Lanzini (recovering from inury) is there for keeps now following a nearly £10m move. More interesting still is the arrival of Gokhan Tore and Sofiane Feghouli. That Tore comes with a view to making a permanent move is no surprise given that Bilic will know him from his days in Turkey and he made a big impact in just a short space of time last season. Sofiane Feghouli has the ability to stretch defences but his time at Valencia also showed that he can score enough with 30 goals in five seasons there and the two are interesting additions.
Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid make for a decent pairing at the back whilst Aaron Creswell should made an England bid once again once he’s back from his injury in November. Cheikou Kouyate is an energetic midfield presence that sums up the team well and Mark Noble is exactly the same too. The return to form of Liverpool and Chelsea, along with the Europa League, may mean they don’t finish seventh but they can be est of the rest.
Everton have finally changed hands to the new owner and the signs about billionaire investor Farhad Moshiri are good. He has acted swiftly in bringing in Ronald Koeman as manager and Leicester’s highly-rated former head of recruitment Steve Walsh as director of football.
The action has taken a long time to come but after the sale of John Stones to City Ashley Williams has come in straight away and looks to be a solid replacement for him even if he’s not like for like.
In midfield Idrissa Geuye is a hard-nosed and combative player who is not of the soft type some fans may have complained about in the past and he’s surely not the last to join.
Sunderland are holding out for an awful lot for Lamine Kone so it remains to be seen if he does move and Yannick Bolasie is being rumoured to cost an awful lot for someone who averages three Premier League goals a season. However more will come and there’s the core of a very good team there – the one that manged to finish fifth two seasons back.
Romelu Lukaku looks likely to stay and leads the line whilst Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Gerard Delofeu is one of the most threatening attacking trios in the league and the key for Ronald Koeman is working around that.
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman provide and attacking platform that we’re all familiar with now and James McCarthy and Gareth Barry are experienced, if nothing else, although they didn’t perform at their best for parts of last season.
Southampton keep on bouncing back again and again from a large outgoing so it would be foolish to write them off but losing Ronald Koeman may change the equation. Claude Puel has never worked outside France and now Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle have gone too.
That said, there were doubts over Pochettino and he lose Clyne, Shaw, Chambers, Lovren, Lallana, Schneiderlin and Lambert and the task ahead of him is certainly a lot easier than the one he has in taking Nice to two top four finishes in Ligue 1 – and Lyon to the semi-finals of the Champions league to boot. He has plenty to work with from the back going forward, with Fraser Forster having set a club record by going 708 minutes without conceding last season.
Virgil Van Dijk was an inspired signing last season and his partnership with Jose Fonte is a solid foundation, Ryan Bertrand is one of the league’s better left backs and Cedric has competition with Jeremy Pied having arrived. Wanyama is gone in midfield but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a fascinating arrival from Bayern Munich who comes with high recommendation from many good places and if the word is right he can make a huge impact.
The worry for them would be that bar Nathan Redmond there’s not a whole lot going forward as Shane Long scored 10 last season so the goals will need to be spread around plenty, but apart from that they look to have plenty in their favour and they should finish top 10 once again with the handicaps an interesting option.
If you look at the past few seasons then Stoke have been the easiest side to predict. Since being promoted Stoke have only ever finished between ninth and 14th and three of those have been ninth placed finished with 50-54 points being the marker every single time. It’s either brilliant or boring – most likely for the former – for the home fans it should be the same once again for Mark Hughes’ men.
There’s a hope that they can improve considering that during the last few weeks of last year Jack Butland was injured and Ryan Shawcross played just 20 times that season. Where fortune gives with one hand, it has taken with the other as Ibrahim afellay is out until Christmas and that’s a major blow for their attacking prospects.
Despite having a lot of technical ability in Xherdan Shaquiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic they scored just 41 goals last season, a light return considering the talent those three hold between them, and they will hope to do better this time around (they also mustered fewer shots than any other team except the relegated trio).
There will surely be more from Giannelli Imbula, who replaced Steven N’Zonzi in January but will have the full campaign this time around with all the potential that he holds to take the midfield by storm and the signing of Joe Allen, a steady operator who had a strong European Championships, should give a platform for them to build off whilst Glen Johnson and Eric Pieters make for solid wingbacks. Stoke should be top half once again this season.
Crystal Palace threatened to do a little better than just make the top half through last season but the second half slump again has to be a concern for those taking an outright position. Alan Pardew’s GIF-worthy dance was about the best thing that happened through the second half of last season for them as they won just twice past Boxing Day in the second half of a season where the FA Cup was their saving grace even if they did lose the final to Manchester United.
There can be many factors behind a slump in the second half of the season but goals would appear to be the main factor in that. All it took was five to be join top scorer – and even Scott Dann manged to notch up that amount – and their total of 39 was the same as relegated Norwich (the home fans didn’t get much change of that either whilst we’re at it).
The ownership are under no illusions about what has to be done and several attempts have been made at singing a striker, with Michy Batshuayi so nearly convince before Chelsea came in with more more and opportunity although he’s not the only one who so nearly joined the Eagles. Of those who have come, Andros Townsend has joined from Newcastle with Dwight Gayle going the other way and that has the feel of a reasonable addition who can spread play wide along with Wilfred Zaha. That is Palace at their best; When their opponents are on the stretch and midfield runners are bearing down from the centre. Thankfully nobody has yet a manged to tempt Yohan Cabaye and whilst his is running things in midfield there’s always going to be creativity from open play of tr the dead ball.
At the back Palace aren’t too shabby and the addition of Steve Mandanada was a ridiculously good purchase for nothing at all and James Tomkins did a solid job for West Ham at the back so a partnership with Scott Dann should build solid foundations. It remains to be seen what goes forward from then, however.
Bournemouth will be on some people’s relegation lists after they eventually slumped badly at the end of last season but safety was assured by then and this year they look capable of rebuking the second season regression theory. Eddie Howe sticks to his guns of having young, quick players able to use their technique perfectly in the Premier League and what had been a dire start was quickly arrested by a strong mid-season rally which included an unbeaten December.
However injury put paid their any chances of a real strong campaign and if Tyrone Mings (played just 12 minutes), Harry Arter, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson all come back from long term injuries with the same verve they showed before then the core of an exciting team is ready to go.
The £15m signing of Jordan Ibe is a fascinating one but he screams Howe all over and the potential that he showed at Liverpool can be put to use in a side like this and Nathan Ake, Watford’s young player of the year, has been recruited from Chelsea. Lewis Cook is another Howe prototype in a side full of movement and quality and the top half should be their aim.
Watford were odds on to be relegated last year but ended up as FA Cup semi-finalists with a 13thplaced finish so anyone who wouldn’t be familiar with the Pozzo family and their ways would have been shocked to see the sacking of Quite Sanchez Flores. At face value it seemed a crazy call but only four wins after Christmas – two of which came against Newcastle and Aston Villa – had a great deal of influence on that decision and tactics went awry in the beginning of 2016 and big-time too.
Walter Mazzari, the new man, took a Napoli side to the edge of the Scudetto, won the Coppa Itaia and got European football whilst doing it and he kept Regina in the top flight for three years, so he can do both big and small and maybe this suits him more than Inter ever did there.
There’s been a flurry of outgoing players but no major departures and the arrivals that will be of interest will come at the back as Mazzari makes every attempt to work in a three man defence which has served him so well. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo scored 28 of Watford’s 40 last year and their roles should be similar this season, playing off each other whilst Etienne Capoue runs the midfield. Patience, which is not always in great supply, will be needed for what is a nightmare start.
2 pts West Ham without “the big seven” (9/4 Betfred)