Does Raheem Sterling answer all of Manchester City’s issues?
There are plenty of problems that Raheem Sterling has solved for Manchester City simply by signing for them: namely their lack of pace, youth, and English players. That is why they paid £49m for him and gave him a £47m contract. He will certainly improve City quickly. But other questions are left unanswered: who is the best partner for Vincent Kompany in defence? Where is the incision from out wide when all four full-backs are in their thirties? What is Fernando meant to be doing? Sterling is good but he can’t do everything.
Can Arsenal win the title with Olivier Giroud up front?
When Thierry Henry said last season that Arsenal needed a “top, top striker” to win the league, he reopened the longest-running debate in north London: can you win the title with a striker who is good but not great? Giroud has been an admirable servant over the past three years, and a bargain at £10m. But his big-game record suggests that he will never be on the level of strikers who win you titles: Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero, Robin van Persie. Arsenal are an efficient, experienced unit. It remains to be seen if their spearhead is sharp enough.
Have Manchester United finally found their centre?
The empty space in United’s midfield has been the difference between them and the very best of England and Europe for the past few years.
They have been too old and too slow for too long, overtaken by Manchester City and Chelsea. This may now have changed. The same-day deals for Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger – both experienced, powerful, authoritative players – should fill that gap. Combined with Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera, they should finally have the numbers and the quality to control games against the best. The onus is on manager Louis van Gaal to find a way to make it work.
Can anything stop Chelsea?
After the drama of 2013-14, last season’s title race was one of the weakest in years. Chelsea were so far ahead of the competition in every meaningful way that it was barely a contest. Unless Arsenal or the Manchester teams improve beyond expectation, the likeliest challenge to Chelsea retaining the title will be internal. What if John Terry’s age catches up with his body? Even pairing Gary Cahill and John Stones would not be the same. What if Diego Costa’s hamstrings and temperament cost him games – very plausibly – and Radamel Falcao is no sharper than he was last season?
Club-by-club guide to the 2015-16 season
Club-by-club guide to the 2015-16 season
Position last year: 3rd Players in: Petr Cech (Chelsea). Players out: Ryo Miyaichi (St Pauli), Abou Diaby (Marseille), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham, loan), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma, loan). Missing link: A world-class centre forward perhaps, although some claim Alexis Sanchez will fit that bill. Prospects: Only four points off second place last time, as well as FA Cup winners again. With the attacking players free of injury and Petr Cech at the back, this could see Arsenal’s best title challenge for a while. Key man: Alexis Sanchez. Prediction: 2nd
2/19 Aston Villa
Position last year: 17th Players in: Rudy Gestede (Blackburn), Scott Sinclair, Micah Richards (both Man C), Mark Bunn (Norwich), Idrissa Gueye (Lille), Jordan Amavi (Nice), Jordan Ayew (Orient), Jose Crespo (Cordoba), Jordan Veretout (Nantes). Players out: Fabian Delph (MC), Christian Benteke (Liv), Darren Bent, Andreas Weimann (both Derby), Ron Vlaar (unatt), Matt Lowton (Burnley), Antonio Luna (Eibar), Shay Given (Stoke). Missing link: Benteke’s goals, Delph’s creativity. Prospects: Tim Sherwood needs all his ability to lift them any higher. Key man: Gabriel Agbonlahor. Prediction: 16th
Position last year: 1st [Championship]. Players in: Artur Boruc (S’hampton), Adam Federici (Reading), Josh King (Blackburn), Tyrone Mings (Ipswich), Sylvain Distin (Everton), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, loan). Players out: Ian Harte (unatt), Ryan Fraser, Brett Pitman (Ipswich, loan). Missing link: Premier League experience, which can be partially offset by the confidence gleaned from success over the last six years. Prospects: Don’t underestimate their quality, bright young manager and financial firepower. Can surprise many people and stay up. Key man: Harry Arter. Prediction: 15th
Position last year:1st Players in: Radamel Falcao (Monaco, loan), Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Nathan (Paranaense). Players out: Didier Drogba (Montreal), Petr Cech (Arsenal), Josh McEachran (Brentford), Filipe Luis (Atletico), Christian Atsu (B’mouth, loan), Gael Kakuta (Sevilla), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke, loan), Patrick Bamford (C Palace, loan). Missing link: Cover in key areas, including defensive midfield. Prospects: Torn between retaining the title and a first Champions League win, Jose Mourinho could fall between two stools if last season’s luck with injuries changes. Key man: Diego Costa. Prediction: 3rd
5/19 Crystal Palace
Position last year: 10th Players in: Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea, loan), Alex McCarthy (Queens Park Rangers), Connor Wickham (Sunderland). Players out: Stephen Dobbie, Jerome Thomas (both unattached). Missing link: They possess lots of strikers but, unlike last season, one of them must hit double figures. Prospects: Both excellent signings, Cabaye and Bamford were just what Crystal Palace needed to maintain the momentum established under Alan Pardew. Further progress is possible. Key man: Yohan Cabaye. Prediction: 8th
Position last year: 11th Players in: Tom Cleverley (Man United), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), David Henen (Olmpiakos). Players out: Antolin Alcaraz (unatt), Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth). Missing link: Some excitement, much missed by supporters who want to believe in Roberto Martinez but often found the football dull. Prospects: Having dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since 2006, Everton have not strengthened sufficiently to convince that they can improve. Things may get worse before they do. Key man: Ross Barkley. Prediction: 13th
7/19 Leicester City
Position last year: 14th Players in: Christian Fuchs (Schalke), Robert Huth (Stoke), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz). Players out: Chris Wood (Leeds United), Esteban Cambiasso (unattached). Missing link: The players they haven’t managed to sign yet after sacking last season’s successful manager rather late in the day. Prospects: A relegation struggle in prospect for Claudio Ranieri on his return to management in England after 11 long years. Unlike Nigel Pearson’s sterling effort, it may not succeed. Key man: Jamie Vardy. Prediction: 17th
Position last year: 6th Players in: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), James Milner (Man City), Danny Ings (Burnley), Adam Bogdan (Bolton), Joe Gomez (Charlton). Players out: Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Glen Johnson (Stoke), Brad Jones (unatt), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland), Raheem Sterling (Man City), Andre Wisdom (Norwich, loan). Missing link: One missing in LA, another in east Manchester. Prospects: Will surely score more goals than last season’s feeble 52. Key man: Christian Benteke. Prediction: 5th
9/19 Manchester City
Position last year: 2nd Players in: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Patrick Roberts (Fulham), David Faupala (Lens). Players out: Scott Sinclair (Villa), James Milner (L’pool), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Stevan Joveitc (Inter, loan) Missing link: None apparent, until Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany or Sergio Aguero are injured. Prospects: Spending another £50million-plus in defiance of those irritating Financial Fair Play rules should help them become top scorers again and quite possibly to regain the title. Key man: Sergio Aguero. Prediction: 1st
10/19 Manchester United
Position last year: 4th Players in: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger (B Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Sergio Romero (Sampdoria). Players out: Tom Cleverley (Everton), Nani, Robin van Persie (both Fenerbahce), Ben Amos (Bolton), Will Keane (Preston, loan). Missing link: A settled squad with clearly defined first-team and tactics. Prospects: Having been fourth in such an uneven campaign under a new manager, should be able to hold off Liverpool and do the same again. Key man: Too many to name. Prediction: 4th
11/19 Newcastle United
Position last year: 15th Players in: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht), Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht). Players out: Davide Santon (Internazionale),Jonas Gutierrez (unatt), Ryan Taylor (Hull), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff, loan). Missing link: Confidence, initially, after winning two games out of 15 from the end of January onwards. Quality will take longer. Prospects: A new start under Steve McClaren, who may have pulled out a plum in young Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. Key man: Chieck Tioté. Prediction: 14th
12/19 Norwich City
Position last year: 3rd [Championship]. Players in: Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu (both West Bromwich), Robbie Brady (Hull), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, loan), Jake Kean (Blackburn Rovers). Players out: Mark Bunn (Aston Villa). Missing link: The men who will score the sufficient amount of goals and those who will keep them out. Prospects: Heavy and consistent scorers last season in the Championship, but the fact that they conceded 48 goals at a lower level does not bode well for the newcomers this season. Key man: Bradley Johnson Prediction: 19th
13/19 Stoke City
Position last year: 9th Players in: Jakob Hau-gaard (Midtjylland), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer L), Joselu (Hannover), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea, loan), Shay Given (A Villa), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona). Players out: Thomas Sorensen (retired), Wilson Palacios (unatt), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla), Asmir Begovic (Chelsea). Missing link: Without Mame Biram Diouf’s late flurry of goals, nobody would have managed even 10. Prospects: Will need decent contributions from those new to the League, and could remain top Midlands club. Key man: Jack Butland. Prediction: 11th
Position last year: 16th Players in: Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham). Players out: El-Hadji Ba (Charlton), Santiago Vergini (Getafe, loan). Missing link: Goals, goals, goals. And Connor Wickham, joint top scorer (with five) has left the club. Prospects: Dick Advocaat may have stayed after all but uninspiring signings to add to a team three points off relegation suggest that it may have been only a postponement; like his departure. Key man: Jermain Defoe. Prediction: 18th
15/19 Swansea City
Position last year: 8th Players in: Andre Ayew (Marseille), Franck Tabanou (St Etienne), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Heerenveen), Eder (Braga). Players out: Alan Tate (unattached), Gerhard Tremmel (unattached), Jazz Richards (Fulham). Missing link: A midfield hard-man alongside all the neat footballers. Prospects: Wilfried Bony’s departure in January did not have the feared effect and, if Andre Ayew proves a good foil for Bafetimbi Gomis, they will remain in good shape as well as easy on the eye. Key man: Bafetimbi Gomis. Prediction: 7th
16/19 Tottenham Hotspur
Position last year: 5th Players in: Kevin Wimmer (Cologne), Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid). Players out: Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), Paulinho (Guangzhou E), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Etienne Capoue (Watford), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland), Benjamin Stambouli (PSG). Missing link: Any sort of striking back-up to Harry Kane – and a midfield enforcer. Prospects: Mauricio Pochettino appears to be putting all his eggs in a Kane basket, while jettisoning the bad buys of the past two years. Key man: Harry Kane Prediction: 6th
Position last year: 2nd [Championship]. Players in: Sebastian Prodl (W Bremen), Giedrius Arlauskis (S Bucharest), Jose Holebas (Roma), Matej Vydra (Udinese), Etienne Capoue (Tottenham), Valon Behrami (Hamburg), Allan Nyom (Granada), Miguel Britos (Napoli), Jose Jurado (S Moscow), Steven Berghuis (Alkmaar). Players out: Jonathan Bond (Reading), Lewis McGugan (Sheff Wed), Diego Fabbrini (Middlesbrough, loan). Missing link: Likely to concede too many goals. Prospects: Avoiding an immediate descent would appear the only target. Key man: Heurelho Gomes. Prediction: 20th
18/19 West Bromwich Albion
Position last year: 13th Players in: James McClean (Wigan), James Chester (Hull), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool). Players out: Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu (both Norwich), Chris Baird (Derby), Georgios Samaras (unattached). Missing link: Apart from Saido Berahino, nobody scored more than four league goals, which Rickie Lambert now has to do. Prospects: Having a key man who could yet depart is a concern, even with Lambert on board. As long as Berahino stays, Tony Pulis should keep them steady. Key man: Saido Berahino Prediction: 12th
19/19 West Ham United
Position last year: 11th Players in: Darren Randolph (Birmingham), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan), Manuel Lanzini (Al-Jazira, loan). Players out: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Dan Potts (Luton), Carlton Cole, Guy Demel, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Nene (all unattached). Missing link: Unknown element to signings makes assessment difficult. Prospects: The Europa League has given Slaven Bilic time to assess his squad, but Downing will be missed. Key man: Diafra Sakho. Prediction: 10th
Have Liverpool worked out their route to goal again?
As Brendan Rodgers was not averse to telling people last season, Liverpool had lost almost 60 goals from their side that nearly won the title in 2014. That, in short, explained their slip from thrilling second place to dismal sixth. This summer Liverpool have gone out to buy those goals back.
Roberto Firmino is a talented but expensive attacking midfielder signed for £29m from Hoffenheim. Danny Ings is a lively player who is completely untested at the top level. And Christian Benteke, who scored a wonder-goal on his debut on Sunday and will wear the fabled No 9 shirt, is an excellent battering ram for an average team. Whether he can adjust to lead the line for Liverpool – and whether the team can adjust to him – may decide Rodgers’ future.
Can Everton rediscover their cut and thrust?
The depressing thing watching Everton last season, as they slipped from a side threatening the Champions League spots to one threatened by relegation, was the slowness of it all. The pace and spark of the previous season had dissipated and they were playing boring, sedate, predictable football.
So Roberto Martinez has brought Gerard Deulofeu back from Barcelona, and picked up Tom Cleverley – whom he managed at Wigan Athletic – on a free transfer. Those two should liven up the team, as should the freshness that comes with not having to fly off to play in the Europa League every Thursday evening. But is that the whole solution, or will last year’s defensive problems hold them back?
Will this summer’s new signings fit in quickly?
Stoke City’s growth under Mark Hughes has been a pleasure to watch but they now have the potential for more after signing Ibrahim Afellay, once the most exciting young winger in Europe, from Barcelona.
Afellay came on in the 2011 Champions League final – as did his Stoke team-mate Bojan Krkic – and if he can rediscover the form of his early twenties will be a thrilling purchase.
Swansea City’s recruitment of André Ayew from Marseilles is almost as much of a coup, as is West Ham signing Dimitri Payet from the same club. Premier League TV riches allow mid-table clubs to sign top players, and the league must hope they fit in fast.
Is Palace’s Yohan Cabaye the player he used to be?
The Frenchman was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League during his first two years at Newcastle, before his head was turned by interest from bigger clubs.
It still feels faintly implausible that he should now be playing for Crystal Palace, who were rescued from the brink just five years ago. And yet this season he will be bringing his delightful free-kicks, his incisive passing and his agricultural tackling to Selhurst Park. He could have stayed on the Paris Saint-Germain bench but he is clearly committed to playing football with Euro 2016 on home soil around the corner. If he can reach the level of 2012, Palace could be quite a side this year.
How damaging will the Europa League be?
The evidence is undeniable: participation in the Europa League impedes Premier League form. Look at Everton last year, Newcastle United in 2012-13 or Tottenham Hotspur almost every year. This year there are four English participants – provided West Ham United scrape into the play-off round – which could distort the top half of the league table. For Southampton and West Ham, there is a novelty about being in Europe which should engender more enthusiasm, and they may well accept the rough with the smooth, even if it means it will be difficult for them to qualify again next season. For Spurs, though, the novelty has gone, and it is likely to be another long, hard slog.
Will any of the three promoted teams survive?
The eternal question for promoted teams is whether to stick or twist. Last season, Burnley kept the team that took them out of the Championship but it was not quite enough. Queen’s Park Rangers, over the years, have signed too many players and it has not worked either.
This year, there are competing approaches. Norwich City have stuck with last season’s side – itself not very different from the one that came down the previous year. Watford have signed a whole new team. Bournemouth have made a few clever additions to last year’s miracle workers. But which combination, if any, will scrape together 38 points? We’ll see – that’s what makes this league so much fun to watch.
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