England outclass Sweden to sail into the semis

Before this tournament, the British press was strangely subdued. For 50 years, they had proclaimed England champions-in-waiting at every major tournament. For some reason, this young and inexperienced team didn’t receive such lofty pre-tournament support. Now, for the first time since 1990, and for only the second time since lifting the trophy in 1966, the Three Lions are in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They did it without breaking a sweat, comfortably outclassing Sweden and announcing themselves as a genuine contender as they cruised into the tournament’s final four.

Perhaps the greatest sign of England’s progress came from the inherent Englishness of the opponents they were playing. Sweden’s footballing development has been influenced heavily by England, and their mostly lifeless and uninspired performance was the kind of effort plenty of talented English sides had served up in the past. Their system was introduced by the English, the kind of simple tactical plan England had gone for in years gone by. Now, England’s young stars dismantled their opponents’ disciplined but ultimately toothless structure with their exciting new brand of play.

The game started slowly, with neither side able to offer any real threat and neither defence looking tested. England, unsurprisingly, began to take the ascendency against Sweden’s previously solid defence, but the Swedish knew their roles and didn’t seem to be too troubled. Then England scored, from one of their main sources: the humble corner kick. Ashley Young delivered the corner in question to where a mass of players awaited the ball’s arrival. There seemed to be plenty of defenders there, and Sweden looked to have set up well. Then Harry Maguire’s header shot into the bottom corner, and it was clear that something hadn’t quite worked. English centre-back Maguire, the second heaviest player at the tournament, was marked by diminutive Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg. Forsberg never stood a chance.

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Harry Maguire (right) scores England’s first goal from Ashley Young’s well-directed corner. The goal came from a defensive breakdown, and it left Sweden chasing the game.

Sweden offered little attacking threat for the rest of the half, and England kept pushing. Raheem Sterling had a series of chances to double the lead in the minutes before the break as he found the ball in behind and began to terrorise the Swedish defence with his pace. A long ball picked him out over the top of the Swedish defence, but Victor Lindelöf was just able to bundle the ball away. Robin Olsen was forced into a good one-on-one save when Sterling slipped through again a couple of minutes later, and Sweden barely survived (he was offside anyway, so the goal wouldn’t have counted). He wasn’t offside when he got in behind again, and this time only a fingertip save from Olsen and a sliding block from Andreas Granqvist stopped him from scoring. It didn’t feel like Sweden would be so lucky if he slipped past them once more, and Sweden’s record in stopping him from slipping through the net wasn’t exactly looking great.

Sweden started the second half more aggressively, and they had their first genuine chance a few minutes after the game restarted. It was a good chance too, as Jordan Pickford was forced into a tough diving save when Marcus Berg rose above Young to head towards the bottom corner. When Forsberg started to get involved, even going so far as to send what was possibly a shot flying fairly close to the bar (it may have been a really bad cross, but it looked vaguely dangerous) the Swedish looked like they had an equaliser in them. That equaliser never came. England began to reassert themselves on the game, controlling possession well and looking increasingly dangerous when they had the chance to deliver a corner. Then, after slowing the game down and steadying the ship after Sweden’s fast second half opening, England got their second and began to professionally kill the game.

Dele Alli scored it, and again it came from a good cross into the box. Jesse Lingard delivered the pass, receiving the ball on the edge of the box and targeting a cluster of teammates on the back post with a delightful looping ball. Alli, having pushed into the box from midfield, rose above the rest as Lingard’s cross hit him perfectly on the forehead. Once he put the header on target, Olsen had no chance of making the save. England were 2-0 up, Sweden had barely threatened, and the Three Lions were almost certainly heading for the dizzy heights of the last four.

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Robin Olsen attempts in vain to save Dele Alli’s close range header. Alli’s goal gave England a 2-0 buffer which Sweden never looked capable of overcoming.

Sweden did threaten when some excellent combination play between Ola Toivonen, Berg and Viktor Claesson provided Claesson with a chance and forced Pickford into another brilliant save, but England survived. They had their third real chance of the game when Pickford made another great save to tip Berg’s very dangerous shot over the bar, but they couldn’t break through. The latter chance even created tension within the English team, as Pickford politely bellowed at his defenders in pursuit of an explanation for the ease with which Berg found space to shoot. Presumably the matter was resolved amicably, as England didn’t look like conceding again.

For the most part, England just sauntered around the pitch doing as they pleased while the Swedish desperately chased them trying to get the ball back. Occasionally they got a corner, and really tested the Swedes. In four previous matches, Sweden’s defence had been extremely solid, especially in the air. Here, every corner seemed likely to pull them apart. Considering this strange effect has happened to all of England’s previous opponents, it may simply be that England are very good at corners. Sweden tried to make use of their height by bombing the ball long at every opportunity, and they even brought on Pontus Jansson, a central defender, solely to control said long balls. It didn’t work, and barely created so much as a half chance.

In the end, England weren’t tested by Sweden, who based their success around organisation and didn’t have the requisite skill or game plan to react to falling behind. As such, England’s cruisy run towards the latter stages of the World Cup continues unhindered, and the claims that the tournament is “coming home” will only intensify in the days to follow. Such statements started as something of a joke, as England weren’t actually expected to get this far. Now, they could well prove to be prophetic. Some will point out that Sweden had just three chances, and it may not be advisable for English fans to get ahead of themselves. After such a comfortable win, however, it seems unlikely that such advice will actually be heeded. Before this tournament began, the British press was strangely subdued. They’re unlikely to be so subdued now.

Samara – Cosmos Arena
Sweden 0
England 2 (Maguire 30, Alli 59)
Referee: Björn Kuipers (Ned)
Sweden (4-4-2): Olsen – Krafth (Jansson 85), Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg (Olsson 65); Berg, Toivonen (Guidetti 65).
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Lingard, Henderson (Dier 84), Alli (Delph 77), Young; Kane, Sterling (Rashford 90+1).

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Jordan Pickford makes a diving save to keep out Marcus Berg’s dangerous header. Pickford wasn’t called into action very often, but he was still required to make some very difficult saves to preserve England’s lead.

Top 5
1. Jordan Pickford (England)
Sweden had three golden opportunities to score in the second half, and just one of them going in could have turned the game on its head. Thankfully for England, Pickford was there to ensure that England’s clean sheet remained intact and that there were no nervous moments. He made three stunning saves, and justified his selection with an excellent performance.
2. Raheem Sterling (England)
Watching Sterling play, it’s hard to see how he has managed just two goals in over 40 English caps. Here, he was too quick for the Swedish defence and he put himself into all the right positions. Somehow, he was still denied. His dynamic runs in behind scattered the previously well-organised Swedish defence, and he was England’s most dangerous attacker by some distance.
3. Harry Maguire (England)
Not for the first time this tournament, Maguire’s attacking exploits outshone his defensive work. The centre-back made good use of his size as he threw himself around in the box, and he managed to find himself a goal and create some chances with his dangerous headers. He is a big part of England’s success at set pieces.
4. Marcus Berg (Sweden)
Berg didn’t give up in his pursuit for a goal, and he was involved in all of Sweden’s dangerous attacking moves. His positioning was good, and he will consider himself unlucky to be leaving the tournament without a goal to his name. Had a lesser goalkeeper than Pickford been present he could have scored a couple.
5. Ashley Young (England)
Young looked dangerous as he moved up and down the left wing, and it was his corner that provided the assist for Maguire’s opener. His influence waned somewhat after that moment, but he continued to threaten and he put in some dangerous crosses. He asked plenty of questions of the Swedish defence.

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2016-17 Premier League Preview – The Relegation Battlers

Bournemouth

Manager: Eddie Howe
Captain: Simon Francis
Ground: Dean Court
Last Season: 16th
Top Scorer: Joshua King (6)
Most Assists: Matt Ritchie (6)
Prediction: 17th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Artur Boruc, 21. Ryan Allsop, 23. Adam Federici.
Defenders:
2. Simon Francis, 3. Steve Cook, 11. Charlie Daniels, 14. Tyrone Mings, 15. Adam Smith, 29. Rhoys Wiggins, 38. Baily Cargill, Nathan Ake, Brad Smith.
Midfielders:
4. Dan Gosling, 6. Andrew Surman, 7. Marc Pugh, 8. Harry Arter, 16. Shaun MacDonald, 17. Joshua King, 18. Lewis Cook, 19. Junior Stanislas, 32. Eunan O’Kane, 33. Jordon Ibe, Ryan Fraser, Emerson Hyndman.
Forwards:
9. Tokelo Rantie, 10. Max Gradel, 13. Callum Wilson, 20. Benik Afobe, 22. Lys Mousset, 28. Lewis Grabban.

Bournemouth were able to stay up last season despite a poor defensive record, with manager Eddie Howe steering his side well clear of the relegation zone in their first season in the Premier League. They recorded victories over Manchester United and Chelsea, and they rose to eleventh place before a late season slump saw them drop to sixteenth on the table. Howe has taken the side to incredible heights by playing attacking football, and he was touted as a possible candidate to take over from Roy Hodgson as the English manager. Callum Wilson (pictured) has recovered from the injury that kept him out of action for six months last season, and the pacey striker is sure to cause plenty of problems for opposition defences. Max Gradel, Joshua King and Junior Stanislas are excellent players who will provide excellent support for Wilson, and Andrew Surman, Dan Gosling and Harry Arter will be solid in the centre of the park.

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Bournemouth have an excellent attack, but the same cannot be said about the defence. Only Aston Villa allowed more goals than them last season, and the back four is full of holes. Artur Boruc is 37, and his failure to perform in goal has left Howe with a dilemma. Neither one of Adam Federici and Ryan Allsop is good enough to take over from the Polish veteran, and if the problem is not fixed then Bournemouth could struggle. Adam Smith, Steve Cook, Simon Francis and Charlie Daniels are all small-time players, and while Nathan Ake and Brad Smith have been brought in to provide cover at left back the defence is still not as strong as it could be. Matt Ritchie has departed for Newcastle United, and the loss of the side’s main playmaker could prove costly come the end of the season. Ultimately, Bournemouth do not have the quality to compete with the best sides, and while they punched above their weight last season this may not happen again.

Star Player: Callum Wilson

Wilson’s rise over the last few seasons has been meteoric, with the pacey striker developing from a fringe player at Coventry City into one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers. He nearly outscored all of his teammates last season despite missing six months with a knee injury, and he could be very difficult to deal with when he is on his game.

Key Player: Artur Boruc

Boruc has played at the highest level for over fifteen years, and the veteran Polish stopper will be looking to use all of his experience to help Bournemouth beat the drop this season. He was not at his best last time around as Bournemouth let in nearly two goals a game, and while he is still the number one choice he will need to improve if Bournemouth are to succeed.

One to watch: Jordon Ibe

Ibe made his professional debut at the age of 15, and while he arrives in Bournemouth after five seasons at Liverpool he is still only 20. He became the record signing for the Cherries when he arrived over the off-season, and they will be looking for him to fit in immediately. He has plenty of pace and skill, and he is a very exciting prospect.

Likely team (4-4-2): Boruc – Smith, Cook, Francis, Ake; Ibe, Surman, Gosling, Gradel; King, Wilson.

Burnley

Manager: Sean Dyche
Captain: Tom Heaton
Ground: Turf Moor
Last Season: Championship, 1st (promoted)
Top Scorer: Andre Gray (23)
Most Assists: Andre Gray (9)
Prediction: 19th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Tom Heaton, 17. Paul Robinson, 29. Nick Pope, 36. Conor Mitchell.
Defenders:
2. Matthew Lowton, 3. Daniel Lafferty, 4. Jon Flanagan, 5. Michael Keane, 6. Ben Mee, 23. Stephen Ward, 26. James Tarkowski, 27. Tendayi Darikwa, 28. Kevin Long, 34. Tom Anderson, 38. Cameron Dummigan.
Midfielders:
8. Dean Marney, 11. Michael Kightly, 14. David Jones, 20. Fredrik Ulvestad, 21. George Boyd, 25. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, 37. Scott Arfield, 41. Aiden O’Neill.
Forwards:
7. Andre Gray, 9. Sam Vokes, 10. Ashley Barnes, 18. Rouwen Hennings, 19. Lukas Jutkiewicz, 24. Chris Long.

Burnley emerged victorious last season in a three-horse race at the top of the Championship, with Sean Dyche’s men edging out Middlesbrough and Brighton to win automatic promotion back to the top flight. Andre Gray (pictured) was in top form last year as he led the league in goals, and he will be well supported by Welsh frontman Sam Vokes. Johann Berg Gudmundsson has been brought in from Charlton Athletic after leading the Championship for assists last season, and the Icelandic winger is sure to create plenty of chances with his ability to put in pinpoint crosses from the right flank. Michael Keane and Ben Mee will form a solid combination in the centre of defence, and Tom Heaton will be a solid presence in goal for the Clarets. David Jones, Scott Arfield and Dean Marney are solid presences in the centre of midfield, and Burnley could well have what it takes to beat the drop this season.

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Burnley were very strong as they won automatic promotion to the Premier League after just one season, but there are still issues. The loss of Joey Barton to Rangers has left Burnley a man short in the centre of the park, and Dyche is yet to sign a replacement. There is not much bench depth in attack should Gray or Vokes fail to fire, and this could leave the team in a difficult position. The biggest problems exist in defence, where the losses of Jason Shackell and Michael Duff over recent seasons have left the side stretched thin. It is unclear who will start at right back, but Matthew Lowton and Tendayi Darikwa are not top quality players and this could cause problems for the team. Stephen Ward has plenty of experience at left back, but he is only really getting a game based on the lack of other options available. There is a significant gap in quality between Burnley and their opponents, and they could face a big challenge if they are to survive this season.

Star Player: Andre Gray

Gray moved to Burnley from Brentford at the start of last season, and his purchase had an immediate effect. Gray finished the season as the leading scorer in the Championship, and the pacey striker is sure to make an impact as Burnley look to beat the drop. He can also operate as a winger, and it will be interesting to see how he performs at the highest level.

Key Player: Tom Heaton

Heaton was in top form last season as Burnley won promotion, playing every game and keeping 20 clean sheets. His form led to a call-up to the English squad for the Euros, and he will be looking to perform in Burnley’s return to the Premier League. Burnley’s defence is not as strong as it could be, and if Heaton does not clean up at the back then there will be problems.

One to watch: Michael Keane

Keane is a former product of the Manchester United youth academy, and the young central defender has firmly established himself in Burnley’s best eleven. He played 44 games as the Clarets won promotion, and if they are to stay in the top flight he will need to provide plenty of solidity in the heart of defence. He is still only 23, and he has a long career ahead of him.

Likely team (4-4-2): Heaton – Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Gudmundsson, Arfield, Jones, Boyd; Gray, Vokes.

Hull City

Manager: Mike Phelan
Captain: Michael Dawson
Ground: KCOM Stadium
Last Season: Championship, 4th (promoted via the play-offs)
Top Scorer: Abel Hernandez (20)
Most Assists: Sam Clucas (8)
Prediction: 20th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Allan McGregor, 16. Eldin Jakupovic, 30. Dusan Kuciak.
Defenders:
3. Andrew Robertson, 4. Alex Bruce, 6. Curtis Davies, 12. Harry Maguire, 21. Michael Dawson, 31. Brian Lenihan, 33. Josh Tymon.
Midfielders:
2. Moses Odubajo, 7. David Meyler, 8. Tom Huddlestone, 10. Robert Snodgrass, 11. Sam Clucas, 14. Jake Livermore, 15. Shaun Maloney, 27. Ahmed Elmohamady.
Forwards:
9. Abel Hernandez, 25. Adama Diomande, 32. Greg Luer, 34. Calaum Jahraldo-Martin.

It has all been downhill for Hull City after they beat Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley to seal promotion to the Premier League. The club’s Egyptian owners have managed to alienate almost everyone involved with the club, and as such they have just thirteen players and no manager going into their first game. The Tigers still have plenty of quality all over the park, and Allan McGregor will be a solid presence in goal when he returns from injury. Curtis Davies will form a solid partnership with Michael Dawson in the centre of defence, and the pair will bring plenty of experience and leadership. Abel Hernandez (pictured) will lead the attack, and Sam Clucas and Robert Snodgrass will ensure that he receives excellent supply. David Meyler will play alongside Tom Huddlestone in the centre of the park, leaving Hull City with a very well-rounded side.

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The Tigers have a fairly strong team, but political issues are already putting their season in jeopardy. They will kick off their campaign against Leicester City in a couple of days, and they are seriously underprepared. An unsuccessful attempt by the owners to rename the club has led to a mutual hatred between the Allam family and the fans, and the club is currently in a period of transition as the owners look to sell. The situation was not helped by an injury crisis which has ruled out many of Hull’s best players, and Steve Bruce’s resignation in response to the club’s inaction on the transfer market has only created more issues. Mohamed Diame, who scored the winning goal against Sheffield Wednesday, has since moved on to Newcastle United, and with Hernandez reportedly looking to move on it is difficult to see how the Tigers will pull themselves out of their current predicament. It is a matter of hours before they host the reigning champions, and it is hard to see them avoiding relegation unless some drastic changes are made.

Star Player: Abel Hernandez

Hernandez was in top form last season as Hull City won promotion to the Premier League, scoring 20 times and causing plenty of problems for defenders. He failed to perform as the Tigers dropped out of the Premier League two years ago, but he has improved a lot since then and could cause plenty of issues if Hull City can hold onto him.

Key Player: Curtis Davies

Davies has plenty of experience at the highest level, and Hull will need him to marshal the defence until Dawson and Alex Bruce return from injury. He is a former captain of the club, and he will need to use all of his experience if the Tigers are to beat the drop this season. He will have a very tough job, and he will need to do it well if Hull are to have any chance of avoiding relegation.

One to watch: Harry Maguire

Maguire emerged as one of the hottest prospects in English football in his time at Sheffield United, and the young centre back will receive more game time this season due to the injuries which are currently sweeping through the defence. He is still only 23, and he is good enough to make the step up to the Premier League. He will get a great chance this year, and he will look to make the most of it.

Likely team (4-4-2): McGregor – Elmohamady, Dawson, Davies, Robertson; Snodgrass, Huddlestone, Meyler, Clucas; Diomande, Hernandez.

Middlesbrough

Manager: Aitor Karanka
Captain: Grant Leadbitter
Ground: Riverside Stadium
Last Season: Championship, 2nd (promoted)
Top Scorer: David Nugent (8)
Most Assists: David Nugent (7)
Prediction: 14th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, 12. Brad Guzan, 13. Tomas Mejias, 26. Victor Valdes.
Defenders:
3. George Friend, 4. Daniel Ayala, 5. Bernardo Espinosa, 6. Ben Gibson, 15. Alex Baptiste, 17. Antonio Barragan, 22. Dael Fry, 24. Emilio Nsue, 40. James Husband, Brad Halliday, Adam Jackson, Mark Kitching.
Midfielders:
7. Grant Leadbitter, 8. Adam Clayton, 14. Marten de Roon, 16. Carlos de Pena, 19. Stewart Downing, 20. Adam Reach, 21. Gaston Ramirez, 23. Julian de Sart, 27. Albert Adomah, 34. Adam Forshaw, 38. Harry Chapman, Bryn Morris, Mustapha Carayol.
Forwards:
9. Jordan Rhodes, 10. Alvaro Negredo, 11. Viktor Fischer, 18. Cristhian Stuani, 35. David Nugent, Bradley Fewster.

Middlesbrough won promotion on the final day of the season against Brighton, with a 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium enough to send Aitor Karanka’s men into the Premier League. Boro have invested heavily in the transfer market over the off-season, with Viktor Fischer and Alvaro Negredo (pictured) added to bolster the attack. Brad Guzan and Victor Valdes have been signed from Aston Villa and Manchester United respectively, and the two keepers will compete with Dimitrios Konstantopoulos for the starting spot. Karanka likes to base his teams around a solid defence, and the Spaniard will look for good performances from Antonio Barragan, Ben Gibson and Daniel Ayala. Emilio Nsue can cause plenty of problems when pushing forward from right back, and he will look to combine effectively with Stewart Downing and Albert Adomah. Negredo will compete with Scottish target man Jordan Rhodes to start in attack, and they will receive excellent support from Gaston Ramirez, who has the ability to get forward and contribute to the scoresheet. Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton and Marten de Roon are all solid presences in midfield, rounding off a strong side.

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Middlesbrough have some excellent attacking options, but their defence could be found wanting. Ayala, who was in top form last season, is facing a battle to be fit for the season opener, and Barragan, his replacement in central defence, is more of a converted right back. Karanka has many options at his disposal in attack, but he is unlikely to change his formation to accommodate for the new additions. This means that players such as Rhodes and Adomah, who are very talented, will be left on the bench despite worse players featuring elsewhere. The new signings have created a clear split between Boro’s best and worst players, and this could prove costly in the event of an injury to a star player. Negredo is a quality option up front, but the Spanish international has not been in top form for some time and he could struggle to fire in the Premier League. Middlesbrough have some major weaknesses, but they have made some shrewd signings in the transfer market and they should be good enough to beat the drop.

Star Player: Alvaro Negredo

Negredo has scored goals wherever he has gone over the course of his career, from his time as a youth player at Rayo Vallecano to his time at Sevilla. His scoring has dropped off since 2013, when he earned a big-money move to Manchester City, but he will be a regular starter at Middlesbrough and has the potential to score plenty of goals in his return to England.

Key Player: Ben Gibson

Gibson has been firmly established in Boro’s first eleven since 2013, when the former English youth international broke into the side after a successful loan spell with Tranmere Rovers. He has become the anchor at the heart of Karanka’s defence, and he will need to lead the charge at the start of the season while Ayala is on the sidelines. There are other options, but he still needs to perform.

One to watch: Viktor Fischer

Fischer has spent most of his short career with Ajax, and he has accumulated plenty of experience at the highest level. He is still only 22 and has plenty of time to develop, but he will play a key role in shaping Middlesbrough’s success this season. He is a winger who can cut inside and make an impact on the scoresheet, and he is sure to provide plenty of excitement.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Valdes – Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Leadbitter; Downing, Ramirez, Fischer; Negredo.

Sunderland

Manager: David Moyes
Captain: John O’Shea
Ground: Stadium of Light
Last Season: 17th
Top Scorer: Jermain Defoe (15)
Most Assists: Adam Johnson (5)
Prediction: 18th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 13. Jordan Pickford, 25. Vito Mannone.
Defenders:
2. Billy Jones, 3. Patrick van Aanholt, 5. Papy Djilobodji, 15. Younes Kaboul, 16. John O’Shea, 23. Lamine Kone, 27. Jan Kirchoff, Paddy McNair, Donald Love.
Midfielders:
4. Liam Bridcutt, 6. Lee Cattermole, 7. Sebastian Larsson, 8. Jack Rodwell, 14. Jordi Gomez, 17. Jeremain Lens, 22. Wahbi Khazri, 28. Charalampos Mavrias, 41. Duncan Watmore.
Forwards:
9. Fabio Borini, 18. Jermain Defoe.

Sunderland avoided relegation by the finest of margins last season, edging out rivals Newcastle United by two points to beat the drop once again. Sam Allardyce has since left to take charge of England, and new manager David Moyes will be looking to steer the Black Cats clear of relegation for another year. Jermain Defoe (pictured) is a very strong player up front, and the experienced striker will be looking to back up the form he showed last season with another strong performance. He will get good support from Duncan Watmore and Jeremain Lens, who will provide plenty of pace on the wings, and Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell will be solid presences in the centre of the park. Vito Mannone is a strong goalkeeper, and he will receive good protection from the experienced central defensive pairing of John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul.

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Sunderland have been facing a perennial relegation battle since their return to the Premier League, and while they have been able to stay in the division since 2007 they have been forced to change managers many times over that period. Allardyce is the latest in a long line of Sunderland managers to leave the club, and the instability has had an impact on the club’s ability to perform. O’Shea is getting older, and he is nowhere near as good as he was in his time at Manchester United. He was dropped as Irish captain midway through the Euros, and if he is unable to perform then it will leave a hole in the defence. Sunderland have not made many attempts to address the issues raised by their ageing side, and with many of their best players on the decline this could be the season they fall into the relegation zone. They are almost certain to be in the relegation picture at the end of the season, and if they cannot find another gear they could easily go down after years of fighting to stay up.

Star Player: Jermain Defoe

Defoe is one of the most prolific strikers the Premier League has ever seen, and his haul of 15 goals in 32 games last season was one of the bright spots in Sunderland’s campaign. He has accumulated over 50 caps for England over a long career at the highest level, and Sunderland will be looking for a series of strong performances from the diminutive forward.

Key Player: Vito Mannone

Mannone took over as Sunderland’s first-choice keeper halfway through last season, and the former Arsenal stopper was a rock in goal as the Black Cats beat the drop. With Costel Pantilimon’s departure to Watford he will be the number one for the duration of the season, and if Sunderland are to stay up he will need to perform.

One to watch: Duncan Watmore

Watmore burst onto the scene last season, with the former Manchester United reject impressing with his skill and ability to get in behind. He is starting to establish himself as a regular first-team player for the Black Cats, and it will be interesting to see how he performs with more exposure this season. He has a bright future, and could be a star in years to come.

Likely team (4-3-3): Mannone – Jones, Kaboul, O’Shea, van Aanholt; Larsson, Cattermole, Rodwell; Watmore, Defoe, Lens.

This brings to an end my preview of the Premier League for season 2016-17. It is sure to be a tight race at the top of the table, and it will be an intriguing start to the season as the teams look to establish themselves in the competition. Stay tuned over the course of the season for my reports on Premier League matches, starting with the season opener between Hull City and Leicester City.