Premier League team-by-team guide to the 2012/2013 season
A look ahead to the new season
Last season 3rd
Transfers in Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Lukas Podolski (Cologne). Out: Manuel Almunia (Watford), Denilson (Sao Paulo, loan), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad).
Form Arsène Wenger has learned the lesson of last season's disastrous start by doing his transfer business earlier and more impressively this summer. Santi Cazorla is potentially a world-class midfielder, while Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski should ensure that the attack is no longer a one-man show, especially since the one man – Robin van Persie – wants to leave. But it may be the defence that decides if they can progress further up the table.
Key player Thomas Vermaelen.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Any non-Jamaican sprinter – third place is the best they can hope for.
Prediction Just out of the medals – yet again.
Last season 16th
Transfers in Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Matt Lowton (Sheffield Utd), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord). Out: James Collins (West Ham), Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland), Emile Heskey (released).
Form What on earth made Villa think that a former Birmingham City manager with a recent relegation on his CV would be the man to take charge? The drop was avoided, Alex McLeish was sacked and a degree of sanity has been restored – Paul Lambert arrives with far better credentials, including the ability to build attractive teams on a tight budget, which goes down well in the boardroom. Villa won't win anything, but will be worth watching again.
Key player Darren Bent.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Eric the Eel – will just about manage to stay afloat.
Prediction Unlikely to be among the pace-setters.
Last season 6th
Transfers in Eden Hazard (Lille), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Oscar (Internacional). Out: Jose Bosingwa (released), Didier Drogba (Shanghai), Salomon Kalou (Lille).
Form Roberto Di Matteo inherits from Andre Villas-Boas the task of rejuvenating an ageing squad, but will even delivering the Champions' League trophy, for so long the owner's main ambition, buy him time from Roman Abramovich and support in the dressing room? He hopes to make the football more attractive with the new signings of Hazard, Marin and Oscar, but with Drogba gone, Fernando Torres must justify his enormous contract if they are to win consistently enough to challenge. Good luck with that.
Key player Fernando Torres.
If they were an Olympian they'd be the GB showjumpers – medallists, but half the team is over 50.
Last season 7th
Transfers in Steven Naismith (Rangers), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham). Out: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Marcus Hahnemann (released), James McFadden (released), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce).
Form Will this be the season that breaks the Everton mould of sluggish start and dynamic finish? Probably not – although, unusually, the team has been strengthened with no major players sold. So with Naismith slotting in behind his old Rangers team-mate Nikica Jelavic there could be plenty of goals and even regular glimpses of Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley, the young players who fans hope represent the future at Goodison – rather than Old Trafford.
Key player Leighton Baines.
If they were an Olympian they'd be A sprint cyclist – slow at first but accelerating in the closing stages.
Prediction May have to come from the back of the pack again.
Last season 9th
Transfers in Mladen Petric (Hamburg), Sascha Riether (Cologne, loan), Hugo Rodallega (Wigan). Out: Dickson Etuhu (Blackburn), Andrew Johnson (QPR), Danny Murphy (Blackburn).
Form: The team began to change last season under Martin Jol but the evolution did not prevent the club's second highest top-level points haul. Murphy, Johnson and others have left but Jol faces a battle to hold on to 23-goal Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembélé, both coveted by clubs offering European football. If Dempsey satisfies his desire to sign for Liverpool, Jol will need more than the talented but profligate Hugo Rodallega to put the ball in the net.
Key player Clint Dempsey(if he stays).
If they were an Olympian they'd be Slovakia's canoe-slalom twins the Hochschorners – negotiating choppy waters for many years.
Prediction Respectability again, but unlikely to threaten the podium.
Last season 8th
Transfers in Joe Allen (Swansea), Fabio Borini (Roma). Out: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Fabio Aurelio (Gremio), Craig Bellamy (Cardiff), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys).
Form New manager Brendan Rodgers won admirers with Swansea City last season, but the Anfield faithful demand success in the form of silverware (or at least a victory or two over Manchester United) as well as football that is easy on the eye. Key players have given the appointment of Rodgers a cautious thumbs-up, but early success will be vital if the wailings from a chorus of former legends are not to be repeated.
Key player Steven Gerrard.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Daley Thompson, winning everything in sight – in the 1980s.
Prediction Out of the medals again, but with promise for the future.
Last season 1st
Transfers in None (yet). Out: Wayne Bridge (Brighton, loan), Owen Hargreaves (released).
Form The last time City won the League – and those under pensionable age will just have to trust me on this – they crashed out of Europe at the first hurdle. But anyone hoping the desire to do better this time will distract their attention from domestic business is ignoring the strength and depth of a squad in which Joe Hart may be the only irreplaceable member. Even with no new signings, the team will be stronger if Carlos Tevez plays a full season and Mario Balotelli cuts down the cards. So now we'll see if Manchester trams are like London buses – you wait ages for one...
Key player Vincent Kompany.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Triathlon gold medallist Alistair Brownlee – it was long and gruelling, but finally...
Last season 2nd
Transfers in Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Nick Powell (Crewe).Out: Ji-Sung Park (QPR), Fabio (QPR, loan), Tomasz Kuszczak (Brighton), Ritchie de Laet (Leicester), Michael Owen (released), Paul Pogba (Juventus).
Form The return of Nemanja Vidic from injury will feel like a new signing, which is just as well since there haven't been many of the real thing. If Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young can shake off a European Championship hangover without delay, United will terrorise the League's lesser lights as usual. But with the imminent twilight of those footballing gods Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley and the next generation may have to shine.
Key player Wayne Rooney.
If they were an Olympian they'd be The US basketball team – still capable of overrunning opponents, but no longer the Dream Team.
Last season 5th
Transfers in Gael Bigirimana (Coventry), Romain Amalfitano (Reims). Out: Leon Best (Blackburn), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Danny Guthrie (Reading), Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Alan Smith (MK Dons).
Form A relegation contender a year ago, Newcastle will compete in the Europa League this season thanks to a series of shrewd, good-value signings that proved the value of intelligent scouting, and the calm direction of manager of the year Alan Pardew. The downside was that envious eyes began to be cast at Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tioté. Expectation and European demands will be a new test for Pardew.
Key player Papiss Cissé.
If they were an Olympian they'd be GB hurdler Lawrence Clarke – outstripped all predictions and was just short of a podium finish.
Prediction May be stretched by participation in an extra event.
Last season 12th
Transfers in Michael Turner (Sunderland), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Jacob Butterfield (Barnsley). Out: Zak Whitbread (Leicester), Adam Drury (Leeds), Aaron Wilbraham (C Palace).
Form Loan repayments after financial restructuring in 2009 mean an already small budget by Premier League standards will be stretched still further, but new manager Chris Hughton is used to that, and returns to the top flight with a point to prove after his dismissal at Newcastle. He must maintain team spirit, keep Grant Holt – one of the few Canaries known outside Norfolk – and hope to reproduce last season's form.
Key player John Ruddy.
If they were an Olympian they'd be The Australia team, who downgraded expectations early on. And who also wear yellow and green.
Prediction Could struggle to match earlier performances.
Queens Park Rangers
Last season 17th
Transfers in Samba Diakite (Nancy), Fabio (Manchester United, loan), Robert Green (West Ham), Junior Hoilett (Blackburn), Andrew Johnson (Fulham), Ryan Nelsen (Tottenham), Ji-Sung Park (Manchester United). Out: Patrick Agyemang (released), Akos Buzsaky (released), Danny Gabbidon (released), Fitz Hall (Watford), Heidar Helguson (Cardiff), Paddy Kenny (Leeds).
Form Mark Hughes promised they would not be in relegation trouble again, and he has spent quite a lot of owner Tony Fernandes' wealth on mid-table players. Adel Taarabt will be expected to provide the flair.
Key player Adel Taarabt.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Micronesian weightlifter Manuel Minginfel, the smallest man at London 2012 but not the weakest.
Prediction Will live up the Olympic ideal – it's the taking part that counts.
Last season 1st in Championship
Transfers in Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham), Nicky Shorey (West Bromwich), Garath McCleary, Chris Gunter (both Nottingham Forest), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Stuart Taylor (Manchester City). Out: Andy Griffin, Brian Howard, Tomasz Cywka (all released).
Form They were promoted thanks to an unstoppable run of 15 wins in 17 games at the end of last season. With the backing of the new Russian majority owner, manager Brian McDermott has invested in "young, hungry players." Although most are unproven at this level, Pavel Pogrebnyak showed an eye for goal with Fulham last season.
Key player Adam Federici.
If they were an Olympian they'd be South Africa's lightweight men's four – came from nowhere to sprint home.
Prediction Could hit the wall in the Premier League marathon.
Last season 2nd in Championship
Transfers in Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace), Steven Davis (Rangers), Jay Rodriguez (Burnley). Out: Dan Harding (Nottingham Forest), David Connolly, Radhi Jaidi (both released).
Form Saints will hope to emulate Norwich by staying up after back-to-back promotions and in top scorer Rickie Lambert they have this season's Grant Holt, or so they hope – a late bloomer who thrives in his first taste of the top flight. The club is financially stable and its academy will guarantee the long term, but squad and staff alike lack top level experience. With last year's top three among their first four fixtures, it could all go very wrong very quickly.
Key player Rickie Lambert.
If they were an Olympian they'd be US swimmer Anthony Ervin – back in the big time after many years away.
Prediction Expected to limp home in last place, but could surprise.
Last season 14th
Transfers in Michael Kightly (Wolves), Jamie Ness (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston). Out: Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough), Danny Collins (Nottingham Forest), Tom Soares, Ricardo Fuller, Salif Diao (all released).
Form It is a tribute to Tony Pulis's achievements that Stoke are now more or less seen as an established Premier League club, and if their ground has retained its reputation for rather too long as the one that visitors least relish, where a 90-minute hail of set-plays and long throws can be anticipated, then that only works to the Potters' advantage and will again leave the opposition unprepared for the odd touch of class when they least expect it.
Key player Peter Crouch.
If they were an Olympian they'd be A cross between a basketball player and a hammer-thrower.
Prediction Faster, higher, stronger – and that's just the throw-ins.
Last season 13th
Transfers in Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa). Out: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Craig Gordon (released), George McCartney (West Ham).
Form Six successive seasons in the top division represents stability unknown on Wearside since the 1960s, but whether Sunderland can become more than a team aiming for mid-table remains uncertain, even under the great motivator – and boyhood Black Cats fan – Martin O'Neill. Facilities and fanbase are all in place, but to fill the Stadium of Light on a regular basis, O'Neill needs to make more imaginative signings than the collection of Manchester United retreads brought in by his predecessor Steve Bruce.
Key player Sebastian Larsson.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Andy Murray – there are big hopes that a change of coach will transform their fortunes.
Prediction Hoping for a personal best.
Last season 11th
Transfers in Chico (Genoa), Jonathan de Guzman (Villarreal, loan), Michu (Rayo Vallecano). Out: Ferrie Bodde (released), Joe Allen (Liverpool).
Form Duplicating last season's 11th place, never mind improving on it, will be a Herculean task. Swansea no longer have the element of surprise on their side – unless new manager Michael Laudrup makes major changes. But he was brought in on the understanding that the Swans would continue to play like a Welsh Barcelona in Real Madrid's kit. The major problem is that Joe Allen, their Iniesta or Xavi, has been tempted away by Liverpool.
Key player Leon Britton.
If they were an Olympian they'd be The GB fencing team – white-clad, with some sharp attacking, but not among the medals.
Prediction May struggle to keep up this season.
Last season 4th
Transfers in Gylfi Sigurdsson (Hoffenheim), Jan Vertonghen (Ajax). Out: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Ledley King (retired), Niko Kranjcar (Dinamo Kiev), Ryan Nelsen (QPR), Steven Pienaar (Everton).
Form Humiliated at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas takes his idiosyncratic touchline shape-throwing to north London for another attempt to duplicate his success in Portugal. Harry Redknapp will be a hard act to follow after supervising a memorable Champions' League campaign and twice finishing fourth but AVB has the tactical know-how to do it. Gareth Bale has committed himself but Luka Modric will not be happy if nobody wants to pay Spurs' asking price, and forward reinforcements are essential.
Key player Scott Parker.
If they were an Olympian they'd be Paula Radcliffe – so much promise, so much disappointment.
Prediction Still short of the podium.
West Bromwich Albion
Last season 10th
Transfers in Ben Foster (Birmingham), Claudio Yacob (Avellanda), Yassine El Ghanassy (Ghent, loan). Out: Keith Andrews (Bolton), Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wed), Marton Fulop (Asteras Tripolis), Nicky Shorey (Reading), Somen Tchoyi, Paul Scharner (both released).
Form Steve Clarke may be the most experienced first-time manager ever, having been assistant at Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham. He follows a class act in Roy Hodgson, under whom the Baggies never looked like being relegated. For a club with their yo-yo reputation, that was some feat, and duplicating it will be Clarke's first target, if not an easy one.
Key player Peter Odemwingie.
If they were an Olympian they'd be A retired trampolinist – hoping the ups and downs are a thing of the past.
Prediction Will need to be fast out of the blocks to build confidence in the new coach.
West Ham United
Last season 3rd in Championship, won play-off final
Transfers in James Collins (Aston Villa), Mohamed Diamé (Wigan), Stephen Henderson (Portsmouth), Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton), Modibo Maiga (Sochaux), George McCartney (Sunderland). Out: Pablo Barrera (Real Zaragoza), Robert Green (QPR), Frank Nouble (Wolves), Freddie Sears (Colchester).
Form Big Sam's back in the top flight, but can Upton Park be as vibrant as that other stadium just up the road, on which the club has designs? There were mutterings from the purists about the direct style last season, but it delivered promotion at the first attempt. The squad has depth but does it have enough quality?
Key player Kevin Nolan.
If they were an Olympian they'd be US skater Tonya Harding – there's more to winning than artistic impression.
Prediction Inspired by Olympic fever, will finish in the middle of the pack.
Last season 15th
Transfers in Fraser Fyvie (Aberdeen), Ivan Ramis (Real Mallorca). Out: Mohamed Diamé (West Ham), Chris Kirkland (Sheffield Wed), Hugo Rodallega (Fulham).
Form The perennial top-flight relegation strugglers were widely expected to be looking for a new manager this summer, but Roberto Martinez is somehow still in place at the DW Stadium despite being linked with Liverpool and Aston Villa. Whether he has the appetite for dragging more remarkable performances from a selection of bargain-basement signings in front of rows of empty seats will determine the Latics' chances of defying gravity once again.
Key player Ali Al-Habsi.
If they were an Olympian they'd be The Grenada squad – outperforming far bigger teams.
Prediction May finally find the bar is set too high this season.
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