Football: Club-by-club guide to the Premiership

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THE Double, the World Cup, now the Champions' League at Wembley and dreams of a European Super League, ho-hum; a lot of people at Highbury are going to have to keep their feet firmly on the ground over the next eight months. Dennis Bergkamp, still refusing to fly anywhere, will find that easier than most but, like Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars, has had a draining summer. He will miss Ian Wright's physical presence and must hope that Nicolas Anelka continues to develop. Arsene Wenger admits he is probably one striker short, bearing in mind the demands of European competition. can be grateful Ray Parlour was not involved in France after a spectacular season. Stephen Hughes, another English midfielder, has even greater potential and it will be depressing if his opportunities are limited by more imports. Tony Adams's recently acquired joie de vivre should keep him going for at least another season, though the full- backs have to believe that each season will be their last, especially with Nelson Vivas signing. The European Cup will be a distraction, and the title defence is likely to suffer.

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Assistant: Pat Rice

In: David Grondin (St Etienne) pounds 500,000, Nelson Vivas (Lugano) pounds 1.5m

Out: Ian Wright (West Ham) pounds 750,000, Scott Marshall (Southampton) free, David Platt (retired), Matthew Wicks (Crewe) pounds 100,000, Richard Hughes (Bournemouth) loan, Vince Bartram (Bournemouth) free, Gavin McGowan (Luton) free, Peter Clark (Carlisle) free

Last season: 1st

Odds: 7-4 Prediction: 4th

Bete noire (the loved and the loathed): Emmanuel Petit. Nothing irritates like success

Aston Villa

BEARING in mind that Villa were in the bottom six of the Premiership at the end of February, when Brian Little resigned, qualifying for the Uefa Cup was a terrific achievement by his successor, the under-rated John Gregory, whose dry sense of humour has been severely tested since by Stan Collymore's antics, David Unsworth's wife and endless telephone calls about Dwight Yorke. "Yorke for United" is taking on the air of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which must have unsettled even such a phlegmatic character: after all, wouldn't you be unsettled if Manchester United wanted to sign you? Alan Thompson from Bolton, with that fearsome left foot, will be an excellent asset - why on earth didn't Liverpool grab him? They did grab Steve Staunton, without a fee, so Villa may now suffer at both ends of the pitch. Gregory, like some of the fans, appears to have a love-hate relationship with Collymore: "He's wasted the last two years of his life. He's played crap and he knows how I feel." Even if Stanley is fit for Saturday (and picked ahead of Julian Joachim), another fine mess early on, like last season's, must be avoided. Villa badly need Yorke to stay and Collymore to play.

Manager: John Gregory

Assistant: Steve Harrison

In: Alan Thompson (Bolton) pounds 4.5m, Fabrizio Ferrerasi (Cesena) free, David Unsworth (West Ham) pounds 3m from West Ham

Out: Savo Milosevic (Real Zaragoza) pounds 3.5m, Steve Staunton (Liverpool) free, Fernando Nelson (Porto) pounds 1.5m

Last season: 7th

Odds: 40-1 Prediction: 8th

Bete noire: Stan Collymore. It is not only Ulrika's fans who will be giving him the bird

Blackburn Rovers

ANOTHER club unsettled at the wrong time, in their case by Colin Hendry's departure, and now Marlon Broomes' injury, before Darren Peacock and Sebastien Perez from Bastia have had a chance to settle in. Even with Hendry in defence and Tim Flowers in goal, they were prone to concede threes and fours last season (52 in total). So it required plenty at the other end from Chris Sutton and Kevin Gallacher to earn a European place, after lying second for much of the campaign. Now the attack has been augmented by Southampton's Kevin Davies (manager Roy Hodgson doing his bit for inflation by paying pounds 7.5m), which will presumably mean Gallacher playing wider and deeper. The lack of a real playmaker is a concern. The young Irishman Damien Duff could become one, when fit, though his main instincts are attacking ones. Hodgson should know enough tricks to make Blackburn difficult opponents in Europe and ought to have learnt at least a few more about the Premiership last season. Even if last season's flying start (top after five games) is not repeated, they look strong enough for the upper echelons.

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Assistant: Tony Parkes

In: Kevin Davies (Southampton) pounds 7.25m, Sebastien Perez (Bastia) pounds 3m, Jim Corbett (Gillingham) pounds 525,000, Darren Peacock (Newcastle) free

Out: Stuart Ripley (Southampton) pounds 1.5m, James Beattie (Southampton) pounds 800,000, Patrick Valery (Bastia) pounds 800,000, Adam Reed (Darlington) free, Colin Hendry (Rangers) pounds 4m, Per Pedersen (Strasbourg) pounds 750,000

Last season: 6th

Odds: 25-1 Prediction: 7th

Bete noire: Chris Sutton. Scores too many goals (and was too good for England B)

Charlton Athletic

HAVING won Sky's multi-million roll-over in the lottery of that epic penalty shoot-out in the play-off at Wembley in May, Charlton soon realised that their new neighbours are all rolling in it as well. Like a newly enriched couple who still insist on caravan holidays at Margate, they have spent with restraint and, in their case, bought British, to the extent of being accused of xenophobia. No unknown Bulgarians or temperamental Latins here: Alan Curbishley has chosen solid British stock to strengthen each area of the squad, with midfielder Neil Redfearn at pounds 1.1m the pick. Redfearn, from Barnsley, and Derby's Chris Powell should have plenty of wisdom to impart about adjusting to life at the top. Cup-ties in recent seasons against Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester United will have given the rest a taste, which is just as well, since by mid-September they must visit St James', Highbury, Anfield and Old Trafford. Ouch. Clive Mendonca (28 goals last season, including a stunning Wembley hat-trick) and the Irish international Mark Kinsella should add to their growing reputations and the keeper Sasa Ilic will have his tested. Like Barnsley and Swindon before them, Charlton would be a popular choice to survive, but it will be close.

Manager: Alan Curbishley

Assistant: Keith Peacock

In: Neil Redfearn (Barnsley) pounds 1.1m, Chris Powell (Derby) pounds 850,000, Emeka Ifejiagwa (Lagos) pounds 20,000, Simon Royce (Southend) free, Andy Hunt (WBA)

Out: Phil Chapple (Peterborough) free

Last season: 4th (First Div)

Odds: 500-1 Prediction: 20th

Bete noire: Clive Mendonca. But only flint-hearted will take a pop at the red, red Robins


WELL, it should be exciting again, as well it might be at Stamford Bridge prices. Nobody will be counting the cost, of course, if Chelsea can put together the first serious championship challenge in almost 30 years. Last season didn't count, once January was out, Manchester United's two victories at the Bridge in quick succession emphasising how far there was to go. In between times, the Gullit affair blew up and the club was fortunate that the shock-waves did not do more damage. The defence remained vulnerable: in the Premiership, Chelsea scored more away goals than anyone, yet still lost 11 of their 19 matches. But the signing of Marcel Desailly, one of the World Cup's outstanding performers, and Spain's Albert Ferrer should offer Alan Hansen less scope for apoplexy. After Rangers, Brian Laudrup will be used to the pace of British football, though not the Premiership's week-in, week-out pressures (or, in Chelsea's case, one week you're in, the next you're out). Gianluca Vialli will mix and match the rest, including himself and Pierluigi Casiraghi. So championship prospects depend on how quickly any sort of blend is achieved.

Manager: Gianluca Vialli

Assistant: Graham Rix

In: Pierluigi Casiraghi (Lazio) pounds 5.4m, Brian Laudrup (Rangers) free, Marcel Desailly (Milan) pounds 4.6m, Albert Ferrer (Barcelona) pounds 2.2m, Gianluca Percassi (Atalanta), Mikael Forsell (HJK Helsinki) free

Out: Mark Hughes (Southampton) pounds 650,000, Danny Granville (Leeds) pounds 1.5m, Mark Stein, Nicky Colgan and Jason Tindall (all Bournemouth) free

Last season: 4th

Odds: 4-1 Prediction: 2nd

Bete noire: Dennis Wise. An international incident just waiting to happen

Coventry City

ENSURING survival on the last day of February, rather than the last day of the season, made it a most untypical Coventry campaign. By the spring, they had set a new club record of seven successive wins, should have reached the FA Cup semi-final, and then finished with one defeat in 20 games. All this with Gary McAllister and the accident-prone Noel Whelan often missing, and Dion Dublin, alternately the main man in attack and defence, embroiled in negotiations about his future. Now that future is sky-blue. Captain, part-time centre-half and even England player, Dublin eloquently backed up his wage demands with 23 goals. Only Blackburn's Sutton and Gallacher scored more in tandem than Dublin and the irrepressible Darren Huckerby. Buying Viorel Moldovan for pounds 3.25m soon looked unnecessary, and unloading him at a healthy profit was worth an export award. George Boateng was, at pounds 250,000, one of the buys of the season, encouraging Gordon Strachan - whose demented touchline antics should again provide enjoyable entertainment - to shop abroad again. The success of his latest imports, including the Croatian Robert Jarni, will help determine whether Coventry progress, or slip back into the bad old ways.

Manager: Gordon Strachan

Assistant: Gary Pendry

In: Jean-Guy Wallemme (Lens) pounds 700,000, Ian Brightwell (Manchester City) free, Philippe Clement (Genk) undisclosed

Out: Viorel Moldovan (Fenerbahce) pounds 4m, John Salako (Fulham) free

Last season: 11th

Odds: 125-1 Prediction: 12th

Bete noire: Dion Dublin. `If you can play for England, then so can I'

Derby County

AN ALARMING slump at the end of the season, including home defeats by Leeds (5-0) and Leicester (4-0, all scored in the first 15 minutes), cost Derby a place in Europe, dented the splendid Pride Park's reputation as an intimidating venue and raised questions about how far the team can actually progress. Ninth place was in fact a good effort after consolidating the previous season, but nevertheless seemed an anti-climax given what Jim Smith's cosmopolitan entertainers had looked capable of at Christmas. Home or away, they should again be a good outfit to watch, especially if the Bald Eagle remains committed to taking flight with three attackers out of Paulo Wanchope, Francesco Baiano, Dean Sturridge and Deon Burton. Of those, Baiano began with a flourish at the start of last season, but only Wanchope scored regularly enough thereafter. Igor Stimac, who looked formidably strong in the World Cup, will have an Argentine, Horacio Carbonari, alongside him at the back, with the Hamburger Stefan Schnoor at left wing- back, now that Chris Powell has gone. It is a shame, though, that Stimac's compatriot Aljosa Asanovic, fell out of favour. Unless Lars Bohinen can match his excellent passing skills, Derby may regress a little this season.

Manager: Jim Smith

Assistant: Steve McClaren

In: Horacio Carbonari (Rosario Central) pounds 2.7m, Stefan Schnoor (Hamburg) free

Out: Chris Powell (Charlton) pounds 850,000, Robin Van Der Laan (Barnsley) pounds 325,000, Dean Yates (Watford) free

Last season: 10th

Odds: 100-1 Prediction: 14th

Bete noire: Igor Stimac. Truly a hard, hard man. Every side should have one


HOW will Duncan Ferguson fare under his former manager Walter Smith? Just one of many questions to be answered as another regime takes over at Goodison Park. Football's least interviewed player had only 14 games for Smith at Rangers before being off-loaded to Everton, where his career has been interrupted by suspensions, injuries and six weeks in Barlinnie prison. The big striker, who was made captain by Howard Kendall, has been both a strength and a weakness to the team, his aerial power frequently a threat, while too often rendering Everton's tactics entirely predictable. John Collins, another Scot, is a noble man to forsake living in Monaco for Merseyside, and he cannot have been bought just to hump high balls towards his 6ft 3in compatriot. It will be important that Collins develops a relationship with Nicky Barmby to prevent the latter's career declining into obscurity, though the whole team would be better served in every sense, with a couple of decent wide players as well. It is possible to envisage days, perhaps early on, when Collins makes the team tick and the crowd purr; and just as many when Goodison's abuse rings around the ears of the beleaguered chairman Peter Johnson.

Manager: Walter Smith

Assistant: Archie Knox

In: Marco Materazzi (Perugia) pounds 2.75m, John Spencer (QPR) pounds 1.5m, Olivier Dacourt (Strasbourg) pounds 3.8m, John Collins (Monaco) pounds 2.5m, Alex Cleland (Rangers) free

Out: Mark Quayle (Notts County) free

Last season: 17th

Odds: 150-1 Prediction: 13th

Bete noire: Duncan Ferguson. A target man for Everton - and rival fans

Leeds United

NO BIG spending from George Graham, to the disappointment, though not surprise, of the Elland Road club's followers. Having lost Rodney Wallace to Rangers on a free as a result of the Bosman ruling, they might have liked a higher-profile replacement than the Dutchman Clyde Wijnhard at pounds 1.5m - especially with European competition in the shape of the Uefa Cup beckoning. Wijnhard will at least speak the same language as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who improved on a modest start to finish with 22 goals and a place in Holland's World Cup squad. Lee Bowyer, more effective further forward, and Harry Kewell offer goals potential and David Hopkin can hardly score fewer than last season. At the back, Graham will be annoyed with himself at having to pay even pounds 1.6m for Chelsea's Danny Granville, recommended to him two years ago when Cambridge wanted a pittance. But he should solve a problem at left-back. However much it may go against the grain, Graham might need to test his employers' oft-stated ambition and their willingness to invest, in order to take the next big step forward, which has to be competing with last season's top four on a more even footing and progressing to the later stages of the Uefa Cup.

Manager: George Graham

Assistant: David O'Leary

In: Clyde Wijnhard (Willem II) pounds 1.5m, Danny Granville (Chelsea) pounds 1.5m

Out: Rodney Wallace (Rangers) free, Jason Blunt (Blackpool) free

Last season: 5th

Odds: 14-1 Prediction: 9th

Bete noire: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Cartwheeling his way to another good season

Leicester City

THE second season up can be harder than the first, as the adrenalin slows a little, but Leicester, like neighbouring Derby, took it in their stride admirably to finish in the top half for the second year running. That was done without really replacing Steve Claridge, the previous season's leading scorer. Yet instead of pressing on this summer, there was division and confusion before Martin O'Neill, from a position of considerable strength, reasserted his cherished independence and decided to stay on. It was surprising, though, that of all those World Cup players they watched, none has found his way to Filbert Street. Gerry Taggart from Bolton will be yet another solid central defender. The midfield has some clever players - Neil Lennon, Garry Parker, Steve Guppy - who do not score enough goals, so with old warhorse Ian Marshall, now 32, and thoroughbred Tony Cottee, from the West Ham stud, only a year younger, too much of a burden may fall on Emile Heskey's admittedly broad shoulders. Even he only just reached double figures last season, so the centre-half Matt Elliott's seven, mostly from Leicester's carefully planned set-pieces, were invaluable. They remain an inspiration to the rest, especially those newly promoted or hoping to be. But, like Leeds, further progress is difficult to imagine without more investment.

Manager: Martin O'Neill

Assistant: John Robertson

In: Gerry Taggart (Bolton) free

Out: Julian Watts (Bristol City) free

Last season: 10th

Odds: 100-1 Prediction: 16th

Bete noire: Matt Elliott. A Scot from Roehampton who will clatter a few heroes again


THE last time Steve Staunton turned out in a Liverpool shirt, they were champions and had been in the top two for an astonishing 10 seasons. They have never been there subsequently, managing nothing better than last season's third since the Premier League began. Staunton's return will improve the most deficient area of the team, a defence still lacking a dominant centre-half. Phil Babb does not look like one and nor, on the evidence so far, does the Norwegian Vegard Heggem. Hence the continuing interest in Internazionale's Taribo West and Bologna's Massimo Paganin. Jamie Redknapp's injury problems mean the midfield will again be short of full potential, however hard Paul Ince drives them on. Jason McAteer looks like getting his wish to play there in a 4-4-2 and Patrick Berger offers a more attacking option than Oyvind Leonhardsen on the left, though no natural width. With Robbie Fowler out for a while longer, Sean Dundee's physical presence adds a new dimension. So should Gerard Houllier's return to his second home. Oh, and there's a little lad up front who might get a goal or two. Liverpool are getting closer, but they are not quite there yet.

Managers: Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier

In: Sean Dundee (Karlsruhe) pounds 2m, Steve Staunton (Aston Villa) free, Vegard Heggem (Rosenborg) pounds 3.5m

Out: Michael Thomas (Benfica) free, Neil Ruddock (West Ham) pounds 100,000

Last season: 3rd

Odds: 7-1 Prediction: 3rd

Bete noire: Paul Ince. Snarl and the whole world snarls with you

Manchester United

THE consensus is that United still need a striker of the highest class; the sort who would have broken down the defences of (0- 1), Liverpool (1-1) or Newcastle (1-1) in crucial late-season games at Old Trafford when failure to win just one more point cost a championship hat-trick. Alex Ferguson, while annoyed at having secured neither Patrick Kluivert nor Dwight Yorke, believes he may nevertheless have one of the required standard available in Ryan Giggs, whom he plans to use through the middle now that Jesper Blomqvist has arrived to play wide, once he is fit. All the fuss about Mr Posh Spice has obscured the fact that Teddy Sheringham has more to prove following events in France. Even with Giggs and Andy Cole or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (disappointing last season) in the front- line, Sheringham's ability to hold the ball up would still be an asset if he can rediscover form and confidence. Roy Keane's return in midfield must feel like signing a new player and Jaap Stam looks well suited to the English game. Becoming over- obsessed with the European Cup is the factor most likely to prevent a fifth title in seven years.

Manager: Alex Ferguson

Assistant: Brian Kidd

In: Jaap Stam (PSV Eindhoven) pounds 10.5m, Jesper Blomqvist (Parma) pounds 4.4m

Out: Gary Pallister (Middlesbrough) pounds 2.5m, Brian McClair (Motherwell) free, Ben Thornley (Huddersfield) tribunal fee, Robert Trees (Bristol Rovers) free, Graeme Tomlinson (Macclesfield) undisclosed, Grant Brebner (Reading) pounds 100,000, Leon Mills (Wigan) free, David Brown (Hull) free, Michael Twiss (Sheffield Utd) free

Last season: 2nd

Odds: 2-1 Prediction: 1st

Bete noire: David Beckham. But you could take your pick from a squad of 35


INJURIES, suspensions and late transfer activity mean that the Boro may be slow getting into what should be a steady stride. At the very least they are much the best equipped of the three promoted clubs and should have no trouble consolidating. More than that might be on if Paul Gascoigne could manage a last hurrah in his first Premiership season: expect an occasional flourish rather than sustained consistency, however much he has to prove to Mr Hoddle and others. When they were last in the Premiership two years ago there was little wrong with the attack or midfield and 51 goals should have been enough (Leeds finished halfway up while scoring 28). Two cup finals, a three-point deduction after the Blackburn fiasco and a defence somewhere between poor and porous did for them then. Gary Pallister and Gianluca Festa, a combination of British grit and Italian stealth, ought to keep the back-door much more firmly secured this time and Dean Gordon, with his thunderous shooting, is a good signing. Marco Branca's goals got the momentum going again at a crucial stage last season, and if the GNER doesn't let Paul Merson down too often, the Riverside should be an exciting place.

Manager: Bryan Robson

Assistant: Viv Anderson

In: Gary Pallister (Manchester Utd) pounds 2.5m, Dean Gordon (Crystal Palace) pounds 900,000, Gustavo Lombardi (River Plate) on loan

Out: Nigel Pearson (retired) Craig Hignett (Aberdeen) free, Craig Liddle (Darlington) free

Last season: 2nd (First Div)

Odds: 66-1 Prediction: 10th

Bete noire: Paul Gascoigne. Who ate all the pies - and drank all the beer?

Newcastle United

WHILE the re-emergence of slumbering giants is generally to be welcomed, as Newcastle's was under Kevin Keegan, seeing them quickly cut down to size again provides neutrals with much enjoyment. Was there a more popular goal last season than Stevenage's equaliser in the FA Cup? The club's peevish reaction before and after that tie won as few friends as those mature reflections on shirt prices and Tyneside womanhood by Messrs Hall and Shepherd. Alan Shearer's absence had a more devastating effect than might have been expected when Faustino Asprilla smacked three goals past Barcelona in September, but now better things beckon. England's Under-21 left-back Carl Serrant should prove an excellent acquisition, Laurent Charvet and a rare German import, Dietmar Hamman, will add to an impressive midfield and the retention of Keith Gillespie, who seemed bound for Middlesbrough, is a bonus. If Stephane Guivarc'h can improve on the finishing he demonstrated in France's attack, some of the weight will be taken off Shearer's shoulders too.

Manager: Kenny Dalglish

Assistant: Terry McDermott

In: Stephane Guivarc'h (Auxerre) pounds 3.5m, Laurence Charvet (Cannes) pounds 520,000, Yorgos Yoryadis (Panathinaikos) pounds 420,000, Garry Brady (Tottenham) free, Lionel Perez (Sunderland) free, Carl Serrant (Oldham) pounds 600,000, Dietmar Hamann (Bayern Munich) pounds 5m, Stephen Glass (Aberdeen) free

Out: Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord) pounds 2m, Shaka Hislop (West Ham) free, Darren Peacock (Blackburn) free, Ian Millburn (Scarborough) free, Brian Pinas (Feyenoord) undisclosed, Ian Rush (Wrexham) free.

Last season: 13th

Odds: 20-1 Prediction: 5th

Bete noire: Alan Shearer. At least until David Batty finishes his suspension

Nottingham Forest

ONE of the troubles with foreign footballers is that they tend to say what they think. The Dutch World Cup striker Pierre van Hooijdonk thinks that Nottingham Forest should not have let Kevin Campbell, his partner in last season's hugely prolific goal- scoring partnership, leave the club, that they should have signed his mate Wim Jonk and that they are not good enough to stay in the Premiership. Now he may force Forest to cut their losses and sell him, since managers as quintessentially British as Dave Bassett do not tend to tolerate any lack of commitment to the cause. Bassett accused the local supporters of that at one stage last season, even though the team were leading from the front in the First Division and kept on going when Middlesbrough faltered. The extent of their dependence on Van Hooijdonk (he scored 34 goals in all last season) may be clear only if he either goes, or sulks in his tent. The previous season both he and Bassett arrived too late to save them, after a woeful fall from Uefa Cup distinction 12 months earlier. Now Steve Stone is back, but Scot Gemmill is unhappy and although Chris Bart-Williams is reaching maturity, the midfield still looks below par. A hard grind beckons.

Manager: Dave Bassett

Assistant: Micky Adams

In: Jean Claude Darcheville (Rennes) pounds 700,000

Out: John Finnigan (Lincoln) free, Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) free, Ian Moore (Stockport) pounds 800,000, Kevin Campbell (Trabzonspor) pounds 2.5m

Last season: 1st (First Div)

Odds: 200-1 Prediction: 19th

Bete noire: Pierre van Hooijdonk. If he decides to turn up, that is

Sheffield Wednesday

HEAVY defeats by Blackburn, Derby and then Manchester United early on last season undermined the then manager David Pleat, whereupon Ron Atkinson came in to do his fireman's act - but without receiving the expected reward of a new contract. Now that Barnsley have departed from the Premiership, Danny Wilson gets a deserved opportunity to stay there, though a 4-0 drubbing in a pre- season friendly at Birmingham last week emphasised how much work he has still to do. Solving the conundrum of the two Italians is a priority; is it over-egging the pasta to use both Benito Carbone and Paolo di Canio in the same line-up? Whether both of them play or not, a strong striker like Andy Booth at the best of his form is a necessity. The Italians scored 21 goals between them last season, to Booth's meagre seven, but a lack of genuine striking power was evident as the team fell away again towards the end of what was a generally disappointing league campaign. Hillsborough, though noticeably vocal, was in fact rarely full last season. Significantly, when it was, the team managed to rouse themselves to produce stirring performances against , Liverpool and Manchester United. But even if Wilson can inject some Barnsley spirit into a squad of greater talent, and Wim Jonk settles quickly in midfield, few trees will be torn up.

Manager: Danny Wilson

Assistant: Peter Shreeves

In: Wim Jonk (PSV Eindhoven) pounds 2.5m

Out: Mark Pembridge (Benfica) free

Last season: 16th

Odds: 150-1 Prediction: 17th

Bete noire: Paolo di Canio. White boots were tacky in 1970 - and they still are


WITH the smallest stadium in the Premier League, funds are tight and the opportunity to turn a tenfold profit on Kevin Davies in only 12 months was too good to resist. Credit to Dave Jones for spotting potential there in the first place, and in his former Stockport goalkeeper Paul Jones, who was one of the finds of the season. Carlton Palmer and David Hirst were also sound, if short-term, acquisitions, though Hirst's bizarre injury last week was a blow. His presence alongside the equally physical Mark Hughes would have made life most uncomfortable for any defender. Hughes, who found a rotating squad system at Chelsea difficult to accept, still has plenty to offer. Egil Ostenstad will make a good partner and, assuming Matt Le Tissier's heart is still in it, goals should come. Le Tissier will be part of a reshaped midfield, with Stuart Ripley out wide and David Howells a willing worker in the engine room. There will be just as many goals at the other end, and back-up is weak, so last season's 12th position will be hard to match.

Manager: Dave Jones

Assistant: Terry Cooper

In: Stuart Ripley (Blackburn) pounds 1.5m, James Beattie (Blackburn) pounds 800,000, Mark Hughes (Chelsea) pounds 650,000, David Howells (Tottenham) free, Scott Marshall () free, Mark Paul (King's Lynn) pounds 75,000

Out: Kevin Davies (Blackburn Rovers) pounds 7.5m, Kevin Richardson (Barnsley) pounds 50,000, Duncan Spedding (Northampton) pounds 100,000, Lee Todd (Bradford) pounds 250,000

Last season: 12th

Odds: 150-1 Prediction: 15th

Bete noire: Mark Hughes. `Sparky' can spark a row any time, any place

Tottenham Hotspur

ARSENAL'S success made Tottenham's wretched under-achievement all the harder to bear and there is still little optimism at the eastern end of Seven Sisters Road. The signing of one little-known Italian full- back, Paolo Tramezzani, is rather less than the sum of what supporters were hoping for at the end of a World Cup summer.

The only consolations were seeing Sol Campbell and Darren Anderton, fit at last, doing their bit for England in some style. Watching Jurgen Klinsmann knocking in goals for Germany was an unwanted reminder that the important late victories in the Premiership all came on the back of his eight strikes in the final nine games. Now they are dependent on the fitness of Les Ferdinand and Chris Armstrong, and, with Stefan Iversen still lame, short of cover once either succumbs. In fact, with David Ginola itching to go after watching France's success, and Nicola Berti back on a one-year contract, the front six are more than adequate - until injuries bite. Once again, the key man at the club might be the physiotherapist. The opening fixtures are quite kind, but a good start should not lead to delusions about a new era.

Manager: Christian Gross

Assistant: Chris Hughton

In: Paolo Tramezzani (Piacenza) pounds 1.4m

Out: Frode Grodas (Schalke) pounds 150,000, Paul Mahorn (Port Vale) free, Stuart Nethercott (Millwall) free, David Howells (Southampton) free, Garry Brady (Newcastle) free, Jurgen Klinsmann (released), Dean Austin (Crystal Palace) free, Gary Mabbutt (released)

Last season:11th

Odds: 66-1 Prediction: 11th

Bete noire: David Ginola. They come over here and steal our women's hearts...

West Ham United

THE feel-good factor here is such that the club's managing director, Peter Storrie, has predicted a serious challenge. Listen for the guffaws from Anfield, where the southern softies were drubbed 5-0 in April. Plenty of reasons to be cheerful, however, and to believe that this time the dreams will not fade and die as emphatically as normal. Neil Ruddock will stiffen the defence and offer valuable experience to Rio Ferdinand, while Ian Wright is determined to prove that let him go too soon. He and John Hartson are both excited about renewing their Highbury partnership, which produced a remarkable 49 goals in 49 games. Paul Kitson may spend a lot of time sitting on the bench, waiting for the inevitable suspensions to one or the other. Service will be provided by an impressive- looking combination of Eyal Berkovitch, Trevor Sinclair, Lampard the Younger, Stan Lazaridis, Steve Lomas and John Moncur. By the end of the season, we should also see the first of Joe Cole, a teenager described by Trevor Brooking - biased as he is - as "the most exciting player I've seen come through in the last 10 years".

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Assistant: Frank Lampard

In: Ian Wright () pounds 750,000, Marc Keller (Karlsruhe) free, Shaka Hislop (Newcastle) free, Neil Ruddock (Liverpool) pounds 100,000, Javier Margas (Universidad Catolica) pounds 2m

Out: Bernard Lama (Paris St Germain) free, Mohammed Berthe (Bournemouth) free, Simon Livett (Southend) free, David Unsworth (Aston Villa) pounds 3m

Last season: 8th

Odds: 66-1 Prediction: 6th

Bete noire: Ian Wright, Wright, Wright. Old habits die hard, even in a new shirt


A WEEK ago even Wimbledon's manager Joe Kinnear appeared to be talking down the club's prospects this season, the years of struggling against the odds getting to him at last, as was an inability to afford the sort of wages and signing-on fees demanded these days. Now a counter- offensive has been launched, with Kinnear, in an expletive-filled interview on Clubcall, denying the quotes and owner Sam Hammam thundering that any journalist tipping Wimbledon for relegation is a footballing illiterate.That is the sort of spirit that has kept them afloat at this level for 12 years, of course, but even if Kinnear is now looking on the bright side once again, last season's evidence on the pitch was that there is insufficient quality in attack for the club to prosper. Marcus Gayle and Efan Ekoku have not progressed enough, Carl Cort is still raw and Carl Leaburn will not hit the back of the net often enough. Much of the burden, post-Vinnie Jones, will therefore fall on Robbie Earle and Michael Hughes, to get the goals as well as run the midfield, while Kinnear must hope for a significant contribution from Mark Kennedy, his most expensive signing at pounds 1.5m last season.

Manager: Joe Kinnear

Assistants: Lawrie Sanchez, David Kemp

In: None

Out: None

Last season: 15th

Odds: 250-1 Prediction: 18th

Bete noire: Joe Kinnear. Big enough to take it, and then give it back