Football: The season ahead: Joe Lovejoy, Football Correspondent, assesses the prospects of the 22 Premier League clubs

Click to follow
The Independent Online

THE Crazy Gang are long gone, but enough of the gung-ho spirit remains to keep a humdrum team out of the mire. John Fashanu is now as much a part of the furniture as 'Corky' once was, and will score goals at one end, while the classy John Scales stops them at the other. They will probably flirt with relegation for a time, if only to get noticed, before staying up with something to spare. Mediocrity will suffice.

IN: Gary Blissett, pounds 350,000 (Brentford); Alan Kimble, pounds 175,000 (Cambridge United).

OUT: Steve Cotterill, pounds 80,000 (Bournemouth).

Forecast: 15th


POOR old Hammers. If it wasn't for bad luck, they'd have no luck at all. Simon Webster (Charlton) was to be their new centre-half and captain, yet no sooner had he met Julian Dicks than he suffered a double fracture of the leg. Dale Gordon, from Rangers, has the look of a typical West Ham winger and only the poverty of others will spare them a third relegation in five seasons.

IN: Dale Gordon, pounds 750,000 (Rangers); Simon Webster, pounds 525,000 (Charlton); Keith Rowland, pounds 110,000 (Bournemouth); Paul Mitchell, pounds 40,000 (Bournemouth); Gerry Peyton, free, (Brentford).

OUT: Kevin Keen, pounds 600,000 (Wolves); Steve Banks, free (Hereford).

Forecast: 19th


HAVING ditched Terry Venables, who could be the best manager England never had, Spurs are unlikely to fulfill the potential. Neil Ruddock, their best centre-half since Mike England, followed Venables out of White Hart Lane, and will be a hard act for Colin Calderwood to follow. Unlikely to challenge for the title, but Darren Anderton, Nick Barmby and Teddy Sheringham are good enough to add to a proud cup tradition.

IN: Colin Calderwood, pounds 1.25m (Swindon); Jason Dozzell, tribunal (Ipswich).

OUT: Neil Ruddock, pounds 2.5m (Liverpool); Nayim, pounds 500,000 (Real Zaragoza), Ian Hendon, pounds 50,000 (Leyton Orient).

Forecast: 11th


JOE ROYLE'S can't-look expression as his team cheated the grave is one of the abiding memories of last season, but now they have to do it all over again. Lacking the wherewithal to compete at the highest level, they are bound to succumb eventually. Probably sooner rather than later after the loss of Ian Marshall's versatility. A heavy burden will again fall on Paul Gerrard, an excellent young goalkeeper, and Norway's Gunnar Halle, whose talents merit a more salubrious setting.

IN: None.

OUT: Ian Marshall, pounds 750,000 (Ipswich); John Keeley, free (Colchester).

Forecast: 20th


THE disaffection of Dave Phillips, an unsung hero, would be a worry to most teams with such limited resources, but Norwich are the masters of make do and mend. Good players come and go, always at a profit, and somehow their pleasing, progressive football never seems to suffer. Ian Crook, that most underrated of playmakers, and the pace of Ruel Fox will continue to embarrass the very best opposition on the break.

IN: Scott Howie, pounds 350,000 (Clyde), Spencer Prior, pounds 200,000 (Southend).

OUT: Glyn Roberts, free (Rotherham), Jason Minett, free (Exeter).

Forecast: 8th


ONE thing is certain: No club will have better support. The team has a flimsy look about it - long on exciting potential, short on solid experience - but they can be relied upon to play the game the right way. They passed their way to promotion and are unlikely to start hoofing it now. A striker to partner Andy Cole and a centre-half are priorities.

INS: Peter Beardsley, pounds 1.5m (Everton); Nicky Papavasiliou, pounds 125,000 (OFI Crete); Alex Mathie, pounds 285,000 (Morton).

OUTS: David Kelly, pounds 750,000 (Wolves); Gavin Peacock, pounds 1.25m (Chelsea); Alan Thompson, tribunal (Bolton); Mark Stimson, pounds 100,000 (Portsmouth), John Watson, free (Scunthorpe).

Forecast: 12th


THE best team, and strongest squad, in the country has been improved by the acquisition of Roy Keane, but retaining the championship is even harder than winning it, as Arsenal and Leeds will testify. Players' appetites are sated by success, and then, of course, there is the glittering distraction of the European Cup. It will not be easy, but in picking champions the overriding criterion is ability, and United have it in fullest measure.

IN: Roy Keane, pounds 3.75m (Nottm Forest).

OUT: Brian Carey, pounds 250,000 (Leicester City); Russell Beardsmore, free (Bournemouth).

Forecast: Champions


TO the delight of the purist, the shortcomings of the long ball were exposed in March, when Spurs went to Maine Road for an FA Cup tie, and showed City how the game was meant to be played. Punting up and unders in the vicinity of Niall Quinn's forehead may meet with limited success, but it is no route to equality with Manchester's other half. Garry Flitcroft and Fitzroy Simpson are good, young midfield players. There lies the path to real progress and prosperity.

IN: Alfons Groenendijk, pounds 500,000 (Ajax).

OUT: None.

Forecast: 10th


WITH Brian Deane gone, it will take all Dave Bassett's ingenuity and powers of motivation to keep an ordinary team afloat. The question is: Is Harry's heart in it? He is not a man to stay where he is not wanted, and there is ominous talk of dissension between the manager and his employer, Reg Brealey. If Bassett stays put, so will United - probably. If he goes, bye-bye Blades.

IN: David Tuttle, pounds 350,000 (Tottenham), Jonas Wirmola, pounds 50,000 (Sparvagens, Swe), Willie Falconer, tribunal (Middlesbrough).

OUT: Brian Deane, pounds 2.5m (Leeds), Phil Kite, free (Cardiff).

Forecast: 18th


BRIAN DEANE for Lee Chapman should rejuvenate the attack, but that alone will not be enough. Cracks appeared as the champions' defence of their title fell apart, and recurring problems at the back are unlikely to be solved by the arrival of 35-year-old David O'Leary. The makings are still there: Dorigo, McAllister, Speed, Batty and Wallace. Defensive cement may be all that is needed.

IN: Brian Deane, pounds 2.9m (Sheffield Utd), David O'Leary, free (Arsenal).

OUT: Lee Chapman, pounds 250,000 (Portsmouth), Chris Whyte, pounds 250,000 (Birmingham), Mervyn Day, free (Carlisle), Dylan Kerr, pounds 75,000 (Reading).

Forecast: 7th


THE great under-achievers of the last two seasons could reassert themselves at any time - provided Graeme Souness has repaired managerial relations with his senior players. Grobbelaar, Wright, Barnes and Rush have all been at odds with him. The combative Neil Ruddock will shore up a suspect defence, and Nigel Clough has the ideal stage for his clever distributive skills. Ronnie Whelan, fit, would complete the renaissance, but is he?

IN: Nigel Clough, pounds 2.275m (Nottingham Forest), Neil Ruddock, pounds 2.5m (Tottenham).

OUT: Istvan Kozma, free (Ujpest, Hung).

Forecast: 5th


SELLING Peter Beardsley, their most accomplished footballer, and signing no-one of note hardly inspires confidence in a revival after last season's 13th place. Money is in short supply, which accounts for the failure to sign the target-type striker Howard Kendall has identified as his priority. Again, the defensive excellence of Dave Watson and Neville Southall and the goals of Tony Cottee should be enough to keep them up. Just.

IN: None.

OUT: Peter Beardsley, pounds 1.5m (Newcastle); Iain Jenkins, free (Chester).

Forecast: 17th


BOBBY GOULD has few peers as an alchemist, but shopping in the bargain basement will eventually leave you there. At 34, Mick Harford's time has probably passed and if he and Mick Quinn give defences a few sleepless nights, it will be due to muscle rather than mobility. An important defensive pillar went with the departure of Andy Pearce.

IN: Mick Harford, pounds 200,000 (Sunderland), Steve Morgan, pounds 110,000 (Plymouth), Lee Hirst, free (Scarborough), Jason Smith, free (Tiverton).

OUT: Andy Pearce, pounds 500,000 (Sheffield Wednesday), Peter Billing, pounds 50,000 (Port Vale), Mick Gynn, fee (Stoke), Terry Fleming, free (Northampton).

Forecast: 16th


GLENN HODDLE'S return, even as a 35-year-old libero, can only enhance the Premiership. If he can make the sweeper system work here, and modernise English tactics, the country as a whole will have reason to be grateful. The sale of Andy Townsend was hardly a progressive move, but Gavin Peacock, from Newcastle, was a good signing, and more are promised. Success demands a more incisive centre-forward than Tony Cascarino.

IN: Gavin Peacock, pounds 1.25m (Newcastle), Glenn Hoddle, pounds 175,000 (Swindon), Andy Dow, tribunal (Dundee).

OUT: Andy Townsend, pounds 2.1m (A Villa).

Forecast: 13th


IN THE big time at last, after a couple of false starts, they promptly lose their manager and most influential player, who were one and the same, needless to say. Glenn Hoddle has not been the only departure. His predecessor, Ossie Ardiles, has snapped up Colin Calderwood to leave the barn door yawning open at the back.

IN: Adrian Whitbread, pounds 500,000 (Leyton Orient), Jan Age Fjortoft, pounds 500,000 (Rapid Vienna), Luc Nijholt, pounds 175,000 (Motherwell).

OUT: Colin Calderwood, pounds 1.25m (Tottenham), Glenn Hoddle, pounds 75,000 minimum (Chelsea), David Mitchell, pounds 20,000 (Altay, Turk).

Forecast: 22nd


ON their day, no team played better football last season, and losing two finals at Wembley did scant justice to the quality of their contribution. Paul Warhurst has lost the element of surprise, but David Hirst's recovery should compensate for that. The old dirge, 'You'll never beat Des Walker' has had a hollow ring to it of late, but the defender should prove an excellent acquisition. Unlikely to finish empty handed this time.

IN: Des Walker, pounds 2.7m (Sampdoria); Andy Pearce, pounds 500,000 (Coventry).

OUT: Peter Shirtliff, pounds 250,000 (Wolves); Danny Wilson, pounds 200,000 (Barnsley); Viv Anderson, free (Barnsley).

Forecast: 4th


EVEN in the days of Ruddock, Shearer and Wallace, the Saints rarely marched in higher than half-way, and it is difficult to envisage them doing much more than making up the numbers this time. Matthew Le Tissier will win a game or two when the mood takes him, which is not often enough, and Tim Flowers could be England's goalkeeper before the season is out, but it all adds up to bottom-half anonymity.

IN: Simon Charlton pounds 250,000, (Huddersfield), Colin Cramb, pounds 75,000 (Hamilton), Paul McDonald, pounds 75,000 (Hamilton).

OUT: David Speedie, free (Leicester).

Forecast: 14th


ALAN SHEARER'S scoring return last weekend was a welcome fillip for club and country after a Gazza- type knee injury ended his season at Christmas. With Shearer back to supply aggressive line-leadership, and Uncle Jack again ready to spend, spend, spend, Blackburn should be among the contenders. Their prospects would be better if they could acquire an effective replacement for that muddied Methuselah, Kevin Moran.

IN: Andy Morrison, pounds 150,000 plus Wayne Burnett (Plymouth).

OUT: Wayne Burnett, part-exchange (Plymouth), Gordon Cowans, free, (Aston Villa), Darren Collier, free (Darlington).

Forecast: 6th


ANDY TOWNSEND is not quite the force of a couple of years ago, when he was the best midfield player in the country, but he is still good enough to improve what was already a strong suit. Paul McGrath's fitness and apparent mental turmoil must be a cause for concern. Lack of goals cost Villa during the run in last time - hence the recruitment of Guy Whittingham, who should be a good foil for Dean Saunders.

IN: Andy Townsend, pounds 2.1m (Chelsea), Guy Whittingham, pounds 1.2m (Portsmouth), Gordon Cowans, free (Blackburn).

OUT: Cyrille Regis, free (Wolves), Mark Blake, pounds 400,000 (Portsmouth), Martin Carruthers, tribunal (Stoke).

Forecast: 3rd


TITLE favourites 12 months ago, they were undermined by two weaknesses, neither of which appear to have been rectified. The midfield is too predictable when Route One fails, and no one, apart from Ian Wright, puts the ball in the net with any regularity. Paul Davis should add a welcome touch of craft, but goals are likely to remain a problem. In the absence of a major signing (and Eddie McGoldrick is not the answer) George Graham may have to use Paul Merson as a striker.

IN: Eddie McGoldrick, pounds 1m (C Palace).

OUT: David O'Leary, free (Leeds); Colin Pates, free (Brighton).

Forecast: 2nd


TIPPING them for relegation last season was a cause of embarrassment second only to predicting the demise of their East Anglian neighbours. It took a long time for others to unravel Ipswich's defensive web, and they acquired a reputation as the most difficult team to beat. They did not win too many, though, and once their tactics were tumbled, they disintegrated. Jason Dozzell's move to Tottenham may well have extinguished the spark of creativity.

IN: Ian Marshall, pounds 750,000 (Oldham), Paul Mason, pounds 400,000 (Aberdeen).

OUT: Jason Dozzell, tribunal (Tottenham).

Forecast: 21st


GERRY FRANCIS' ability to fashion silk purses from Miss Piggy's ears is second to none, but Andy Sinton's departure, touted almost every day, would set back Rangers' development a long way. Neat, tidy and intelligent, Sinton would be hard to replace - even for a manager with Francis' encyclopaedic knowledge of the lower divisions. With or without the England midfielder, a top half finish is assured. Barsdley, McDonald, Wilkins and Ferdinand will see to that.

IN: None.

OUT: Garry Thompson, free (Cardiff).

Forecast: 9th