Hull outclassed in destructive performance

It was the goal that said it all. The game was done, Arsenal having already sealed a crushing victory, and play had slowed to its lowest ebb. Arsene Wenger’s men were content to pass the ball around in midfield, letting the clock run out. It was against this backdrop that Granit Xhaka finished off a masterful performance in style. He received the ball deep in Hull’s half from Mohamed Elneny, and he dribbled towards goal looking for an option. No-one presented themselves, so he shot. The ball found the top corner from thirty yards, but there was little acknowledgement of the stunning goal. Instead, Xhaka merely raised his hand to the crowd, with a few teammates coming together to join him in celebration. This goal, and the reaction, summed up Arsenal’s night in a nutshell: minimum effort, minimum fuss.

The game had started fairly evenly, with both teams controlling the ball well and neither side looking like making any errors. Even still, Arsenal soon established their superiority, creating some dangerous chances and throwing plenty of bodies forward at every opportunity. They had the first goal within twenty minutes, with Francis Coquelin proving the catalyst. The Frenchman collected the rebound from his own blocked shot before playing a nice pass to Santi Cazorla, who in turn found Theo Walcott. Eldin Jakupovic dived well to parry the resultant cross, but the ball fell to Alex Iwobi, whose shot deflected off Alexis Sanchez on its way into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

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Teamwork: Theo Walcott (left) celebrates Arsenal’s second goal with Alex Iwobi.

The goal breathed new life into Arsenal, and soon Hull had no answer to the dynamic passing of the Gunners. They cut through their opponents like a breadknife slicing through butter, with minimum effort and minimum fuss. Andrew Robertson made a costly mistake when he accidentally provided Sanchez with a perfect through ball, and Hull were lucky to escape as the left-back slid in to save the goal. Minutes later, Mesut Ozil should have scored after Jakupovic saved brilliantly to deny Iwobi, but the German proceeded to miss an open goal. Hull should have been conclusively out of the contest minutes before half time when Jake Livermore was given his marching orders for a handball inside the box, and the Tigers were left to face a penalty. Sanchez stepped up to take it with confidence, but he could not add a second as Jakupovic dived well to make an excellent save.

Hull were lucky to only concede once in the first half, but it did not end there. Arsenal were brimming with confidence, and they continued to play the ball around in their forward half easily, seemingly oblivious to the presence of their opposition. There was always someone there, someone ready to receive the next ball in the chain, and it was only a matter of time before they added a second. It was Walcott who delivered, playing the ball to Iwobi before running through to receive a beautiful back-heeled pass. Walcott was one-on-one with Jakupovic, and there wasn’t much the keeper could do as the ball was chipped past him into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

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Take cover: Andrew Robertson (in orange) ducks as Alexis Sanchez blasts the ball past him for Arsenal’s third goal.

There was no contest as the second half progressed. Hull weren’t just out for the count; the hosts had been knocked out for a long time. Occasionally they would look dangerous on the break, but Arsenal would stop their attack and hit back savagely, running wild before meeting resistance on the last line of defence. Anything Hull could do, Arsenal could do better. Then Hull scored, and it looked as if the game was about to change dramatically. Petr Cech was the culprit, the keeper taking out Dieumerci Mbokani in the box after an incisive pass from Ryan Mason. The penalty was belatedly awarded, and Robert Snodgrass was all class as he clinically drilled the ball into the back of the net. It was 2-1 with ten minutes to go, and it looked as if Hull had somehow manufactured a contest.

They hadn’t. Sanchez scored again less than five minutes later after collecting the rebound from another Jakupovic save, and he had no trouble blasting the ball past the defenders standing on the line, who were there more in hope than anything else. Arsenal were content to slow the pace of the game down to that of a Sunday walk, and Xhaka’s stunning strike was merely icing on the cake after a scintillating performance. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 1 (Snodgrass 79 pen)
Arsenal 4 (Sanchez 17, 83, Walcott 55, Xhaka 90+2)
Referee: Roger East

Hull City (4-1-4-1): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Clucas; Snodgrass, Huddlestone (Mason 58), Meyler, Diomande (Maguire 42); Hernandez (Mbokani 77).
Sent-off: Livermore 40.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech – Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla (Xhaka 66); Walcott (Perez 88), Ozil, Iwobi (Elneny 77); Sanchez.

Top 5
1. Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City)
Jakupovic was in top form despite conceding four goals, rebuffing Arsenal time and time again and making them work for everything. He saved a penalty and made multiple top-drawer saves as he looked to keep Hull in the match, and if he had not been there the scoreline would have looked much worse. He played brilliantly, and can take confidence from his performance.
2. Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Coquelin was at the heart of everything for the Gunners, making incisive runs into the box and distributing the ball wherever he saw fit. He was in excellent touch, and he caused plenty of problems for Hull with his control and ability to pick holes in the defence.
3. Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
Iwobi finished the game with two assists, and he was unlucky not to score himself on a number of occasions. His back-heel to set up Walcott for Arsenal’s second goal was pure class, and he created plenty of problems for Hull with his skill and ability to find the ball in dangerous positions. He played very well, and should continue to hold his place in the team.
4. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Sanchez netted twice, and while he did miss a penalty he probably shouldn’t have been taking he was exceptionally dangerous and was a nightmare for the Hull defence. He dropped back and pushed forward wherever necessary, and whenever he touched the ball he looked as if he was going to do something. A class performance.
5. Sam Clucas (Hull City)
Clucas was one of the hardest working players on the pitch, rebuffing Arsenal on a number of occasions with his ability to go in and win the ball in tough spots. He didn’t have much of an influence when Hull went forward, but his defensive play was top rate and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.

Where did it all go wrong for Leicester City?

As the opening day of the season drew closer, things kept looking better and better for Leicester City. Shock champions of the Premier League last season, they were ready to start their campaign against a Hull City side embroiled in political issues and ravaged by a pre-season injury crisis. All the advantages lay with the Foxes going into the big day, with the champions possessing a better side and a working bench. Yet they still lost. It was a shocking defeat, and it left many asking where it came from. Yet the truth is that while Hull were undoubtedly the better side on the day, Leicester were tactically inadequate, and it cost them dearly. Manager Claudio Ranieri could not adapt to the clever approach adopted by Mike Phelan, and ultimately Hull City won as a result. This article will look at the three big problems Leicester faced on the opening day, highlighting the issues that need to be rectified if they are to find success this season.

1. Long ball doesn’t work well as a tactic, and Hull showed why.
Leicester won the Premier League last season with what was essentially a glorified version of kick-and-chase, their tactics centring around defence and the ability of Jamie Vardy to slip in behind when long balls were slung forward from the back half. They looked to do the same against Hull, but Phelan was ready for them. Leicester’s system failed them on two fronts, both allowing Hull to gain a foothold in the game and being woefully inefficient in attack. Leicester had the better, more skilled set of players, and had they pressed Hull harder in the opening stanza it is likely they would have cracked the newly-promoted Tigers. They didn’t. Hull could pass around the back for as long as they wanted to, not having to worry about Vardy and Ahmed Musa, who didn’t really try to press them. This was Ranieri’s biggest mistake. The Tigers fielded a side full of inadequacies, with Jake Livermore, a midfielder, playing as a makeshift centre half. Yet the Italian was content to cede possession to his opponents, which allowed Hull to settle comfortably into the rhythm of the game.

Furthermore, Ranieri’s long ball approach was effectively countered by the Tigers. Graham Taylor, who found incredible success at Watford thirty years ago using a combination of long balls and pressing, diagnosed the flaws in his strategy against better quality teams, and later admitted to being surprised that these issues were not exposed earlier. The issue with his system, he said, was that if a team could keep possession under pressure they could do whatever they liked. This game highlighted these inadequacies perfectly. Vardy was taken out of the game as Phelan dropped his centre halves deeper to reduce the space in behind the defence, and both Livermore and Davies were good enough to shut down the English international. They were also good enough to keep the ball as Leicester pressed desperately in an attempt to find an equaliser, and they were able to push Leicester back into their own half time and time again.

2. Ranieri stuck to his guns and showed no creativity when inspiration was needed.
Leicester came into the match with a clear plan, but when it began to unravel Ranieri did not change his approach. Shinji Okazaki aside, the substitutes he brought on were uninspiring, and the use of Daniel Amartey only weakened a midfield which was already struggling to cope with the loss of N’Golo Kante. Amartey later moved into defence as cover for the substituted Danny Simpson, and Danny Drinkwater, who had already toiled without support from Andy King, was left to contend with David Meyler, Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas on his own. Ranieri made no attempt to change his delivery for Vardy, and the mindless long balls kept flying into Leicester’s front third and flying back out again as Hull intercepted them. Leicester needed a new approach which better involved players like Riyad Mahrez, but they only followed their initial plan more rigorously as the game progressed. Mahrez had a devastating impact in the first half, but as Leicester went behind he saw less and less of the ball as the champions became desperate. Ranieri and Leicester panicked, and they could not cope with playing from behind.

3. There were communication problems in defence, and these need to be addressed.
From the start, warning signs were there for Ranieri, but nothing was done and the defence continued to look shaky when the ball was played into the box. Robert Snodgrass provided excellent delivery from set pieces, but he was aided by the lack of communication between centre backs Luis Hernandez and Wes Morgan. Hernandez should move out of the side when Robert Huth returns from injury, but the lack of communication in the German’s absence raises some big questions about the quality of Leicester’s pre-season. There were multiple instances of the two defenders letting aerial balls past them, each leaving it for the other to clean up, and while Kasper Schmeichel was able to plug most of the gaps the Danish keeper was only able to do so much. Leicester’s lack of defensive organisation was always going to cost them with the quality of Snodgrass’ delivery, and the issues that exist down back need to be fixed.

In the end, Leicester still have a good side, and after such an early wake-up call they should respond next week as they look to get back to their winning ways. Hull City were disciplined and smart, and the Tigers have posed plenty of difficult questions which the Foxes will need to answer if they are to have any chance of contending for European spots this season. Their confidence will have taken a large hit, but Leicester are not done yet and they could well use this loss as a stepping stone for bigger and better things. They have the personnel, and if these key questions are answered Leicester will be very tough to beat.

Hull break all the rules as Leicester go down

Nobody could have picked this. Eldin Jakupovic gratefully clutched the ball to his chest, Mike Dean blew his whistle and one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Premier League was confirmed. It was a fairytale, full of suspense and drama with a touch of injustice added in on the side. Hull City had undergone a torrid off-season, with the most successful manager in their history walking out less than a month out from kick-off and an injury crisis ruling out all but thirteen of their senior players. The owners of the club had fallen out bitterly with the fans, and the fans were planning a big protest at this match. That protest was soon forgotten as the Tigers showed spirit and class to defy all odds and win.

Leicester City came into the game as defending champions, with such stars as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Wily Italian Claudio Ranieri led the Foxes to greater heights than they had ever reached before, and they were brimming with confidence against a Hull City team in turmoil. The real question going into this match was not who was going to win, but how much Leicester were going to win by.

The reigning champions looked to play this game according to their model, but this time Hull were ready for them. Vardy, who took the league by storm last year, was beyond ineffective, with ball after ball being picked up by Jake Livermore and Curtis Davies. He looked lost, like he didn’t belong on the pitch. Mahrez dazzled the crowd with some occasional touches of brilliance, but the Algerian struggled to penetrate the determined defensive front. Hull were allowed plenty of breathing space, and they established a firm foothold in the game.

The warning signs were there for the champions. While Hull looked unable to create many chances, alarm bells should have rung as Robert Snodgrass wreaked havoc with his well-placed set pieces. He delivered the ball into dangerous positions, and while he did not have many chances the threat was ever-present. The Foxes started to ramp things up as the first period drew to a close, but Hull kept knocking them back.

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Beaten: Jamie Vardy (left) and Jake Livermore challenge for the ball.

The first real chance came when Christian Fuchs was played through after an excellent passing move. It was atypical of the Premier League champions, a far cry from the direct approach which brought them so much success last season. Even still, a marauding Fuchs was able to penetrate Hull’s defence, and Jakupovic did well to keep him out. Then it fell to Vardy, who was confronted with an open goal. Livermore threw himself in front of the shot, and it bounced away. The threat was still not gone. Jakupovic had recovered, but now Mahrez was streaming into the box, driving the Hull defence closer and closer towards their own goal as they backpedalled to keep pace with the right winger. It didn’t matter in the end, as the left footed effort on goal went well wide. More than ever, it looked a matter of when, not if.

Then Ahmed Musa got involved, giving Vardy a brilliant chance to open the scoring. A careless pass back to Davies was the issue, as the Nigerian swooped in to pick it off. He sprinted down the right before centring it for Vardy, but the star of last season could not convert. The ball flew over the bar, and Hull survived again.

Then came the goal. Leicester should have seen it coming, but they didn’t. Snodgrass whipped in the corner, and Wes Morgan, solid as a rock last season, was beaten in the air. Davies managed to get his head to the ball, and Kasper Schmeichel needed to make a brilliant save to keep the score at 0-0. The deadlock only lasted for a few seconds, however, as Abel Hernandez received the rebound. The Uruguayan attempted to control it with his chest, but he got a bad bounce and it looped up over his head. He had the same idea as Adama Diomande, and the two went up for the bicycle kick in unison. It was hard to tell who scored; possibly Hernandez, possibly Diomande, most probably a combination of the two; but it didn’t matter. Hull had the lead, and the fans were back behind their team.

Leicester came out after the half with the goal fresh in their minds, and it was not long before they levelled. Less than half a minute of the second half had elapsed when Demarai Gray was falsely awarded a penalty, with the replays showing that Tom Huddlestone had in fact fouled the pacey youngster outside the area. It didn’t matter to Leicester, and Mahrez stepped up to drill the ball past Jakupovic, who never stood a chance. Leicester had the equaliser, and it looked as if the Tigers were going to be overrun.

It didn’t happen. Ranieri allowed his team to settle back into their old rhythm, giving Hull plenty of breathing space and failing to challenge the newly-promoted Tigers. The fans had plenty of spirit, and a chorus of boos rang out over the KCOM Stadium every time the ball fell to Gray on the left wing. Then Hull went back ahead, and there was no more need for the boos. The injustice had been corrected.

The game had died down, but a rare mistake from Schmeichel opened the door for Hull. Ahmed Elmohamady intercepted the Danish keeper’s long throw towards the left wing, and the right back streamed forward with pace. He put the ball in, and all the Leicester players in the immediate vicinity flung themselves at the ball in an effort to contain it. There was no organisation, and while Danny Simpson managed to get his body to the ball Snodgrass had all the time in the world inside the area. He delivered, sending his shot hurtling into the bottom corner.

From that point onwards the game adopted a familiar rhythm. Ball after ball would go in, seeking out Vardy up front, and ball after ball would fly back the other way, with the Hull defence booting it forward wherever they could. Mike Phelan had only one senior player on his bench, and the former Manchester United assistant was not making any changes. The starting eleven fought with everything they had, knowing all the while that no bench support would come. Shinji Okazaki was a breath of fresh air for the champions, but Ranieri’s other changes were uninspiring at a time when Leicester needed inspiration. Leicester came in riding a wave of excitement and expectation, but on this day they looked sluggish and predictable. Hull came in to the game with a plan, and they came out of it with one of the biggest victories in their history as a club. They have silenced the doubters, and no matter how this season plays out they will remember this day forever. For one moment at least, the backroom dealings and political issues were forgotten, as Hull City celebrated a famous victory.

Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 2 (Diomande 45+1, Snodgrass 57)
Leicester City 1 (Mahrez 47 pen)
Referee: Mike Dean

Hull City (4-3-3): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Meyler, Huddlestone, Clucas; Snodgrass, Hernandez, Diomande.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson (Ulloa 83), Hernandez, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, King (Amartey 68), Drinkwater, Gray (Okazaki 68); Vardy, Musa.

Top 5
1. Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)
A class above. Snodgrass was in complete command throughout, providing excellent delivery from set pieces and eventually scoring the winner with a perfectly executed half-volley. He used all of his experience in the closing stages to ensure that the Tigers finished the match well, and he showed brilliant skill and composure as he secured a famous victory for his team.
2. Curtis Davies (Hull City)
Davies was in top form in central defence, making a number of critical interceptions as Hull looked to peg their opponents back time and time again. He provided a significant attacking threat with his ability to win the ball in the air, and he will be very pleased with his performance.
3. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Mahrez scored Leicester’s only goal with a penalty early in the second half, and his skill on the ball was impressive as he looked to break through. He came very close on a number of occasions with his ability to find space, and he showed some very positive signs in an otherwise disappointing day for the Foxes.
4. Adama Diomande (Hull City)
Diomande scored the opening goal of the game with a well-executed bicycle kick just before half time, and the Norwegian striker was a significant threat for Hull on the break. He showed good pace and skill, and he caused plenty of problems for Leicester with his ability to transition between attack and defence.
5. Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)
Musa was one of the quickest players on the field, and he put Hull City under a lot of pressure with his skill and pace. He pressed the Tigers hard from start to finish, and created plenty of opportunities with some well-placed passes. He was one of Leicester’s best, and showed plenty of positive signs on debut for the club.

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.

2014-15 Premier League preview

On Saturday the English Premier League engine kicks into gear once more, and 20 teams compete either for a Championship or to avoid the second division. This year Leicester, Burnley and QPR replace Fulham, Norwich and Cardiff in the top flight. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have spent big in the summer, but can they take the title away from Manchester for the first time since 2010? It will be very hard to tell, as twenty sides embark on the roller-coaster ride that is the Premier League season. In this preview I will tell you all you need to know, as well as provide a prediction and the team that I would pick. Hopefully you will be able to refer back to this as the season progresses.

Arsenal

Last Season: 4th
Based: London
Ground: Emirates Stadium (capacity 60,338)
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Squad: Arteta (c), Campbell, Cazorla, Chambers, Coquelin, Debuchy, Diaby, Flamini, Gibbs, Giroud, Gnabry, Koscielny, Martinez (gk), Mertesacker, Monreal, Miyaichi, Ospina (gk), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Podolski, Ramsey, Rosicky, Sanchez, Sanogo, Szczesny (gk), Walcott, Wilshere, Zelalem.

Arsenal were FA Cup winners last season despite some disappointing results in the league, with the best clubs starting to pull away. Wenger has tried to delay this process with the signings of David Ospina and Alexis Sanchez (both excellent in the recent season and the World Cup). Plenty of depth in the centre of midfield, with players like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini all strong players. Giroud up front is an excellent target, but will need star players Mesut Ozil and Sanchez to deliver if he is to have a prolific year. The loss of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona is not ideal, but Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are both good enough to fill the void.

Verdict: Very strong team but will need playmakers to deliver. 4th.

My first team:
Ospina;
Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs;
Arteta, Wilshere;
Walcott, Sanchez, Ozil;
Giroud.

Aston Villa

Last Season: 15th
Based: Birmingham
Ground: Villa Park (cap. 42,682)
Manager: Paul Lambert
Squad: Vlaar (c), Agbonlahor, Bacuna, Baker, Bennett, Bent, Benteke, Burke, Cissokho, Clark, Cole, Delph, Donacien, El Ahmadi, Gardner, Given (gk), Grealish, Guzan (gk), Herd, Hutton, Kozak, Lowton, N’Zogbia, Okore, Richardson, Robinson, Senderos, Stevens, Weimann, Westwood.

Aston Villa have been hanging around the bottom of the table for a few years now, and nothing they have done in the market this season seems particularly special. Christian Benteke was brilliant two years ago and will be crucial to their hopes this season. Andreas Weimann, Libor Kozak and Gabriel Agbonlahor are also very good, and the return of the experienced Darren Bent is very good for the club. Kieran Richardson will give the side a lot of flexibility on the left edge, and Ron Vlaar, Jores Okore and Ciaran Clark are all excellent players. Brad Guzan will be very important between the posts. Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood, Joe Cole and Fabian Delph are all strong in midfield. Injuries to Benteke and Kozak will affect the side at the start of the season.

Verdict: Will struggle, especially early in the season. 16th.

My first team:
Guzan;
Lowton, Clark, Vlaar, Cissokho;
Agbonlahor, El Ahmadi, Westwood, Richardson;
Benteke, Weimann.

Burnley

Last Season: 2nd (Championship)
Based: Burnley
Ground: Turf Moor (cap. 21,401)
Manager: Sean Dyche
Squad: Shackell (c), Arfield, Barnes, Cisak (gk), Duff, Gilks (gk), Heaton (gk), Hewitt, Ings, Jones, Jutkiewicz, Kightly, Lafferty, Long, Marney, Mee, O’Neill, Reid, Sordell, Taylor, Trippier, Vokes, Wallace.

Burnley returned to the Premier League on the back of some brilliant form from Sam Vokes and Danny Ings up front. Dyche has been busy in the market, signing Michael Kightly, Matt Gilks, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Marvin Sordell and Steven Reid amongst others. A baptism of fire is prepared for the side, however, facing Chelsea in their first Premier League match since 2010. Vokes and Ings will combine with Sordell or Jutkiewicz up front, and this is where Burnley have a lot of flexibility. There is some good experience in midfield but the side could struggle a bit defensively. Michael Duff has masses of experience but is also getting on, while the rest of the defence have little to no experience at this level.

Verdict: A real struggle for Burnley this season and relegation is a definite possibility. 20th.

My first team:
Gilks;
Trippier, Shackell, Mee, Lafferty;
Kightly, Arfield, Jones, Sordell;
Ings, Vokes.

Chelsea

Last Season: 3rd
Based: London
Ground: Stamford Bridge (cap. 41,837)
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Squad: Terry (c), Ake, Azpilicueta, Blackman (gk), Cahill, Cech (gk), Christensen, Costa, Courtois (gk), Drogba, Fabregas, Hazard, Ivanovic, Luis, Matic, Mikel, Moses, Oscar, Ramires, Salah, Schurrle, Schwarzer (gk), Torres, van Ginkel, Willian, Zouma.

Chelsea have made some huge signings over the summer, and in terms of depth probably have the best list in the league. Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois are both brilliant keepers and are well backed up by the defence despite the losses of Ashley Cole and David Luiz. The signing of club talisman Didier Drogba is huge, and Diego Costa had such a good season with Atletico Madrid that his poor World Cup form was not enough to discourage the Londoners. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Andre Schurrle and now Cesc Fabregas competing for a spot in attacking midfield, and Ramires, John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic going for the slots behind them, this team will be hard to beat.

Verdict: Squad is incredible, and should have the resources to go all the way. 2nd.

My first team:
Courtois;
Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Luis;
Ramires, Fabregas;
Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle;
Costa.

Crystal Palace

Last Season: 11th
Based: London
Ground: Selhurst Park (cap. 26,255)
Manager: Keith Millen (caretaker)
Squad: Jedinak (c), Bannan, Binnon-Williams, Bolasie, Campbell, Chamakh, Dann, Delaney, Garvan, Gayle, Guedioura, Hangeland, Hennessy (gk), Kebe, Kelly, Kettings (gk), Ledley, Mariappa, McCarthy, Murray, O’Keefe, Price (gk), Puncheon, Ramage, Speroni (gk), Thomas, Ward, Williams.

Palace did incredibly well last season to avoid relegation after a string of losses early in the season. Mile Jedinak did an incredible job in the centre of midfield and he will be key to any success this season. The addition of Brede Hangeland is huge for the club, and the Norwegian will provide the defence with much needed solidity. Martin Kelly is a big gain at right-back. Scott Dann and Adrian Mariappa provide extra assistance in defence, and the midfield has a lot of depth. Fraizer Campbell adds firepower to an attack of Marouane Chamakh, Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray, and although they are still well behind the big clubs another mid-table finish would be expected.

Verdict: Strong all over but may struggle to compete with big clubs. 14th.

My first team:
Speroni;
Kelly, Hangeland, Dann, Mariappa;
Ledley, Jedinak, Bannan;
Chamakh, Campbell, Gayle.

Everton

Last Season: 5th
Based: Liverpool
Ground: Goodison Park (cap. 39,572)
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Squad: Jagielka (c), Alcaraz, Atsu, Baines, Barkley, Barry, Besic, Browning, Byrne, Coleman, Distin, Duffy, Galloway, Garbutt, Gibson, Grant, Hibbert, Hope, Howard, Kone, Long, Lukaku, McAleny, McCarthy, McGeady, Mirallas, Naismith, Osman, Oviedo, Pennington, Pienaar, Robles (gk), Stanek (gk), Stones.

Everton were one of the best sides in the league last season, and were challenging for a Champions League slot until very late in the season. They have very good players in every area of the park, with Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley all in the English World Cup squad. Tim Howard is a brilliant keeper, and fullbacks Baines and Seamus Coleman played incredibly during last season. Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry are both excellent players, and Barry will combine well with new signing Muhamed Besic. The depth in midfield is incredible, and an admirable performance in the transfer market means that this Everton side is stronger than ever, and a good league position is expected.

Verdict: Interesting to see how side copes with the double load of European football and the league. 7th.

My first team:
Howard;
Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines;
Barry, Besic;
McGeady, Barkley, Atsu;
Lukaku.

Hull City

Last Season: 16th
Based: Kingston-upon-Hull
Ground: KC Stadium (cap. 25,400)
Manager: Steve Bruce
Squad: Davies (c), Aluko, Boyd, Brady, Bruce, Chester, Elmohamady, Figueroa, Harper (gk), Huddlestone, Ince, Jakupovic (gk), Jelavic, Livermore, Maguire, McGregor (gk), McShane, Meyler, Quinn, Robertson, Rosenoir, Sagbo, Snodgrass.

Hull City managed to qualify for European football through the FA Cup, and it will be interesting to see how they cope with that burden. The signing of Harry Maguire helps out the defence consisting of players like Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa. Robert Snodgrass and Thomas Ince are very helpful signings, and with Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore the midfield is especially productive. Up front the side looks extremely strong, with Yannick Sagbo, Nikica Jelavic and Sone Aluko. Elmohamady and Brady are also very strong, and the side seems good enough to cope with losing Robert Koren to Melbourne City. Alan McGregor was very good between the posts last season and Hull will hope that this form sticks.

Verdict: A strong side, but may struggle with the added pressure of European football. 12th.

My first team:
McGregor;
Elmohamady, Davies, Maguire, Figueroa;
Ince, Huddlestone, Snodgrass, Brady;
Jelavic, Sagbo.

Leicester City

Last Season: 1st (Championship)
Based: Leicester
Ground: King Power Stadium (cap. 32,262)
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Squad: Morgan (c), Albrighton, Bakayogo, Barmby, de Laet, Drinkwater, Hamer (gk), Hammond, Hooper, James, King, Knockaert, Konchesky, Logan (gk), Mahrez, Moore, Nugent, Schlupp, Schmeichel (gk), Smith (gk), Taylor-Fletcher, Ulloa, Upson, Vardy, Wasilewski, Wood.

Leicester gained promotion easily from the Championship, and the team looks strong. Mark Albrighton has experience at this level with Aston Villa and is an excellent signing. The side is extremely well stocked in attack, with players like David Nugent, Chris Wood, Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy amongst others. The defence has plenty of experience, with former English international Matt Upson as well as Wes Morgan and Marcin Wasilewski all available, while left-back Jeff Schlupp provides a youthful influence. In midfield Albrighton is ably assisted by players like Danny Drinkwater, Andy King and Riyad Mahrez, while Kasper Schmeichel is a very strong keeper.

Verdict: Strong team, but could struggle a bit in the big league. 15th.

My first team:
Schmeichel;
Upson, Wasilewski, Morgan, Schlupp;
Drinkwater;
Albrighton, King, Mahrez;
Nugent, Ulloa.

Liverpool

Last Season: 2nd
Based: Liverpool
Ground: Anfield (cap. 45,276)
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Squad: Gerrard (c), Adorjan, Agger, Allen, Assaidi, Borini, Brannagan, Can, Coates, Coutinho, Enrique, Flanagan, Henderson, Ibe, Ilori, Johnson, B Jones (gk), L Jones, Lallana, Lambert, Leiva, Lovren, Manquillo, Markovic, McLaughlin, Mignolet (gk), Peterson, Phillips, Robinson, Rossiter, Sakho, Skrtel, Sinclair, Sterling, Sturridge, Suso, Toure, Ward (gk), Yesil.

Liverpool will be desperate to succeed this season after they threw away the title to Manchester City in incredible circumstances. This summer, despite the loss of Luis Suarez (scorer of 30 goals last season) to Barcelona, Liverpool have done well, netting Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert from Southampton amongst others. The 2-man attack looks good, with Lambert an able assistant for Daniel Sturridge, and in midfield Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Emre Can and others are all options. Raheem Sterling is one of the best young prospects in the Premier League, and he will be joined on the wings by Lallana, also very skilful. Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger, Lovren, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson make sure the defence is strong.

Verdict: Very strong side, and almost certain to challenge for the title. 3rd.

My first team:
Mignolet;
Johnson, Agger, Lovren, Enrique;
Sterling, Henderson, Gerrard, Lallana;
Sturridge, Lambert.

Manchester City

Last Season: 1st
Based: Manchester
Ground: Etihad Stadium (cap. 47,405)
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Squad: Kompany (c), Aguero, Boyata, Caballero (gk), Clichy, Demichelis, Dzeko, Fernandinho, Fernando, Guidetti, Hart (gk), Jovetic, Kolarov, Lampard, Mangala, Milner, Nasri, Nastasic, Navas, Negredo, Richards, Sagna, Silva, Sinclair, Toure, Wright (gk), Zabaleta, Zuculini.

Manchester City took the title from Liverpool in incredible circumstances last season, winning their last five to go from third to champions. The side is still incredibly strong, with the midfield stocked brilliantly. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are a brilliant combination in the centre of midfield, while David Silva and Jesus Navas are all class, pushing players like Samir Nasri, James Milner and possibly even loan recruit (and former Chelsea legend) Frank Lampard out of the first team. Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo amongst others make for a brilliant attack, and the defence is also stocked very nicely. Joe Hart is a great keeper but if out Willy Caballero would be a great replacement, and this team looks as strong as it’s ever been.

Verdict: One of the strongest, and it will be interesting to see how they go in the Champions League this season. 1st.

My first team:
Hart;
Zabaleta, Mangala, Kompany, Clichy;
Navas, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva;
Aguero, Dzeko.

Manchester United

Last Season: 7th
Based: Manchester
Ground: Old Trafford (cap. 75,731)
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Squad: Rooney (c), Amos (gk), Anderson, Carrick, Cleverley, de Gea (gk), Evans, Fellaini, Fletcher, Hernandez, Herrera, Januzaj, Johnstone, Jones, Kagawa, M Keane, W Keane, Lawrence, Lindegaard (gk), Lingard, Mata, Nani, Powell, Rafael, Shaw, Smalling, Valencia, van Persie, Varela, Vermilj, Welbeck, Wilson, Young, Zaha.

Last season was a horror for Manchester United, and the fans will desperately be hoping that former Dutch manager Louis van Gaal can fix this. The side hasn’t changed an awful lot since last season, with Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw the only ins. The defence looks pretty good, with 18 year-old England starlet Shaw the standout, and with players like Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, Michael Carrick and Juan Mata they have plenty of depth. Young guns Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha will help out on the wings, while Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck make for a great attack. Under van Gaal you can guarantee that his side will be tough to beat, and fans will hope for this.

Verdict: Strong and will presumably play in a very solid style. 6th.

My first team:
De Gea;
Rafael, Smalling, Jones, Shaw;
Carrick, Herrera;
Januzaj, Rooney, Mata;
Van Persie.

Newcastle United

Last Season: 10th
Based: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Ground: St James’ Park (cap. 52,405)
Manager: Alan Pardew
Squad: Coloccini (c), Aarons, Abeid, Alnwick (gk), Ameobi, Anita, Armstrong, Ben Arfa, Bigirimana, Cabella, Cisse, Colback, de Jong, Dummett, Elliott (gk), Ferguson, Ferreyra, Good, Gouffran, Gutierrez, Haidara, Janmaat, Kemen, Krul (gk), Mbabu, Obertan, Perez, Riviere, Santon, Satka, Sissoko, Streete, R Taylor, S Taylor, Tiote, Vuckic, Williamson, Woodman (gk), Yanga-Mbiwa.

Newcastle have a strong team, and have the potential to do very well. Tim Krul is very solid between the posts, and in players like Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Fabricio Coloccini and others the side has a lot of depth in the centre of defence. Davide Santon is very good at left-back, while Daryl Janmaat is a perfect replacement for the departed Debuchy. Cheick Tiote, Moussa Sissoko and Vurnon Anita occupy the centre of midfield, while Hatem Ben Arfa, Siem de Jong and Remy Cabella provide the creative spark for the attack of Papiss Cisse, Emmanuel Riviere, Facundo Ferreyra and Yoan Gouffran. If Cisse can regain his form of a couple of years ago then Newcastle will be a force to reckon with.

Verdict: Very solid side and a good league position expected. 9th.

My first team:
Krul;
Janmaat, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon;
Tiote;
Ben Arfa, de Jong, Cabella;
Riviere, Cisse.

Queens Park Rangers

Last Season: 4th (Championship)
Based: London
Ground: Loftus Road Stadium (cap. 18,489)
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Squad: Hill (c), Austin, Barton, Caulker, Cesar (gk), Dunne, Ehmer, Faurlin, Ferdinand, Green (gk), Harriman, Henry, Hoilett, Isla, Jenas, Murphy (gk), Mutch, Onuoha, Petrasso, Phillips, Remy, Simpson, Taarabt, Traore, Wright-Phillips, Yun, Zamora.

QPR gained promotion through the play-offs, and have regained the players who they loaned out for last season. Loic Remy will be an excellent addition to the attack of Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora, and with the signings of Steven Caulker, Mauricio Isla and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand, the defence is first-class. Junior Hoilett, Adel Taarabt and Mathew Phillips are great set-up players, and with Joey Barton, Jordan Mutch and Shaun Wright-Phillips the centre of midfield also looks very strong. Julio Cesar and Robert Green are both extremely experienced goalkeepers, and Harry Redknapp is almost certainly the manager to bring this side together and hopefully avoid relegation.

Verdict: A strong side who shouldn’t go down, but you just never know with QPR. 13th.

My first team:
Cesar;
Isla, Ferdinand, Hill, Caulker;
Barton;
Hoilett, Taarabt, Phillips;
Austin, Remy.

Southampton

Last Season: 8th
Based: Southampton
Ground: St Mary’s Stadium (cap. 32,589)
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Squad: Fonte (c), Bertrand, Boruc (gk), Clyne, Cork, Cropper (gk), K Davis (gk), S Davis, Forster (gk), Gallagher, Gardos, Gazzaniga (gk), Hooiveld, Isgrove, Long, Mayuka, McQueen, Pelle, Ramirez, Reed, Rodriguez, Schneiderlin, Stephens, Tadic, Taider, Targett, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, Yoshida.

Southampton have been hit hard in the transfer market, losing Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw to their rivals, but they still have some class. Graziano Pelle will be good up front, and he will be ably supplied by Dusan Tadic, Gaston Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez. Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin and Saphir Taider are all very strong in the centre of midfield, and Jose Fonte was very good in the centre of defence last season. Maya Yoshida may not be as strong as Lovren, but will be able to fill the void, and with Ryan Bertrand coming in as a replacement for Shaw the side does not look bad at all. Fraser Forster and Artur Boruc are both excellent keepers and it will be interesting to see how this season pans out.

Verdict: Not as strong as last year but still very impressive. 8th.

My first team:
Forster;
Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Bertrand;
Taider, Schneiderlin;
Tadic, Ramirez, Rodriguez;
Pelle.

Stoke City

Last Season: 9th
Based: Stoke-on-Trent
Ground: Britannia Stadium (cap. 27,740)
Manager: Mark Hughes
Squad: Shawcross (c), Adam, Arnautovic, Bardsley, Begovic (gk), Butland (gk), Cameron, Crouch, Diouf, Huth, Ireland, Jerome, Krkic, Muniesa, N’Zonzi, Odemwingie, Palacios, Pieters, Shea, Shotton, Sidwell, Sorenson (gk), Texeira, Walters, Whelan, Wilkinson, Wilson.

Stoke have picked up some very handy players, including Mame Biram Diouf and Bojan Krkic to supplement the already strong attack containing Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters and Peter Odemwingie. Steve Sidwell brings experience into midfield, combining with Wilson Palacios, Glenn Whelan, Steven N’Zonzi and Charlie Adam in the centre. Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth form an extremely solid core in the centre of defence, and versatile fullbacks Erik Pieters and Geoff Cameron will assist nicely in attack. Asmir Begovic was very good in the recent World Cup and Stoke will be hoping that his form continues into the upcoming season. All-in-all, Stoke look like a very strong side and should get a good position.

Verdict: Side fits together very nicely, with plenty of experience. 10th.
My first team:
Begovic;
Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters;
Whelan, Sidwell;
Walters, Arnautovic, Odemwingie;
Diouf.

Sunderland

Last Season: 14th
Based: Sunderland
Ground: Stadium of Light (cap. 48,707)
Manager: Gus Poyet
Squad: Agnew, Altidore, Bridcutt, Brown, Buckley, Cattermole, Cabral, Diakite, Fletcher, Giaccherini, Gomez, Graham, Johnson, Jones, Larsson, Mandron, Mannone (gk), Mavrias, N’Diaye, O’Shea, Pantilimon (gk), Roberge, Rodwell, Smith, van Aanholt, Vergini, Watmore, Wickham.

Sunderland avoided what seemed to be certain relegation last season through an incredible run of form, beating Manchester United and Chelsea along the way. This season will be tough for Poyet’s side, but they have made some very nice acquisitions over the summer. Jack Rodwell and Costel Pantilimon come to the club from Manchester City, and the former will fit in brilliantly with Sebastian Larsson, Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson in midfield. Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore are very good up front, and John O’Shea will marshal the defence ably. Younger players like Charalampos Mavrias and Connor Wickham will be important in attack, and overall, while this side may struggle, they may just pull through with their class.

Verdict: A good side, but still candidates for relegation due to relatively weak defence. 19th.

My first team:
Pantilimon;
Vergini, Brown, O’Shea;
Rodwell, Bridcutt;
Larsson, Johnson, Giaccherini;
Altidore, Fletcher.

Swansea City

Last Season: 12th
Based: Swansea
Ground: Liberty Stadium (cap. 20,750)
Manager: Garry Monk
Squad: Williams (c), Amat, Bartley, Bony, Britton, Canas, Cornell (gk), Donnelly, Dyer, Emnes, Fabianski (gk), Fulton, Gomis, Ki, King, Kingsley, Montero, Obeng, Rangel, Richards, Routledge, Sheehan, Shelvey, Sigurdsson, Tate, Taylor, Tiendalli, Tremmel (gk).

Swansea have captured Bafetimbi Gomis from Lyon and he will combine with Wilfried Bony to form a brilliant attack. Jefferson Montero, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Nathan Dyer are very strong when it comes to assisting the forwards. Jonjo Shelvey and Korean star Ki Sung-Yeung are both very strong in the centre of midfield, and Leon Britton and Jose Canas will also push for a first-team slot. Former Arsenal back-up Lukasz Fabianski comes in to fill the void left by Michel Vorm’s departure to Tottenham, and he will compete with Gerhard Tremmel for a first-team place. The defence has lost Chico Flores and Ben Davies, and while these are big losses the Swans should be safe from the drop.

Verdict: Despite some defensive worries, the side should hold up. 11th.

My first team:
Fabianski;
Rangel, Williams, Amat, Tiendalli;
Ki;
Dyer, Sigurdsson, Montero;
Gomis, Bony.

Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: 6th
Based: London
Ground: White Hart Lane (cap. 36,284)
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Squad: Dawson (c), Adebayor, Assou-Ekotto, Bentaleb, Capoue, Carroll, Chadli, Chiriches, Davies, Dembele, Dier, Eriksen, Friedel (gk), Fryers, Holtby, Kaboul, Kane, Lamela, Lennon, Lloris (gk), Mason, Naughton, Paulinho, Rose, Sandro, Soldado, Townsend, Vertonghen, Vorm (gk), Walker.

Spurs are very strong but were unable to win the big games last season, with this ultimately costing them as they finished sixth. They have strengthened their defence over the summer with the signings of keeper Michel Vorm, Eric Dier and Ben Davies. The depth in the centre of defence is great, with Younes Kaboul, Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches but they may struggle in the left-back position. Lewis Holtby, Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, Aaron Lennon, Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend are excellent in attacking midfield, and behind them Sandro, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Moussa Dembele and Algerian starlet Nabil Bentaleb make sure that the side has optimum depth in midfield. With Roberto Soldado up front this side is very strong.

Verdict: Under Pochettino anything could happen, with Champions League a serious possibility. 5th.

My first team:
Lloris;
Walker, Kaboul, Dawson, Vertonghen;
Paulinho, Bentaleb;
Lamela, Eriksen, Chadli;
Soldado.

West Bromwich Albion

Last Season: 17th
Based: West Midlands
Ground: The Hawthorns (cap. 26,445)
Manager: Alan Irvine
Squad: Brunt (c), Anichebe, Baird, Berahino, Daniels (gk), Davidson, Dawson, Dorrans, Foster (gk), Gamboa, Gardner, Garmston, Ideye, Jones, Lescott, McAuley, Morrison, Mulumbu, Myhill (gk), Nabi, Olsson, O’Neil, O’Sullivan, Pocognoli, Roofe, Sessegnon, Wisdom, Yacob.

Manager Irvine has signed plenty of defenders, and with Joleon Lescott, Andre Wisdom, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley and Sebastien Pocognoli his side is extremely well-stocked in the centre of defence. Jason Davidson and Cristian Gamboa come in as fullbacks, and with Ben Foster in goal West Brom look like they could be hard to score against. Claudio Yacob, Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Youssouf Mulumbu are strong in midfield. Brown Ideye comes in to the side to back up young gun Saido Berahino, and Stephane Sessagnon will provide the creative spark, but the side may struggle in attack. Overall West Brom have the potential to go well but will be on their guard after a poor 2013-14.

Verdict: Stayed up by a game last time, and may be lucky to avoid the drop again. 18th.

My first team:
Foster;
Gamboa, Olsson, Lescott, Wisdom;
Yacob;
Brunt, Sessegnon, Morrison;
Ideye, Berahino.

West Ham United

Last Season: 13th
Based: London
Ground: Boleyn Ground (cap. 35,016)
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Squad: Nolan (c), Adrian (gk), Burke, Carroll, Cole, Collins, Creswell, Demel, Diame, Downing, Jaaskelainen (gk), Jarvis, Jenkinson, Kouyate, Morrison, Noble, O’Brien, Potts, Poyet, Reid, Sakho, Tomkins, Valencia, Vaz Te, Zarate.

West Ham have tried to bolster their attack over the summer with the signings of Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate joining the attack of Andy Carroll, Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te. It is the midfield, however, that is the strongest link, with Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing and Ravel Morrison all very strong players. Carl Jenkinson will bolster the defence, coming into the side on loan from Arsenal. James Tomkins, James Collins, Winston Reid and Joey O’Brien make for a reasonably solid back four, and with the versatile Cheikhou Kouyate joining from Anderlecht manager Allardyce will have plenty of options all over the park. Overall the side looks good, and it will be interesting how they end up.

Verdict: Solid but may struggle against relegation. 17th.

My first team:
Jaaskelainen;
Jenkinson, Reid, Tomkins, Kouyate;
Downing, Noble, Nolan, Jarvis;
Valencia, Carroll