Swansea win shootout against lacklustre Liverpool

It was the ultimate mismatch. Third-place against the side at the bottom of the table. The best attack in the league against the worst defence. Swansea City had little chance. Instead, they pulled off an upset for the ages, handing Liverpool their first home defeat in almost a year and gaining plenty of confidence in a statement victory.

To say the first half was dull would be something of an understatement: comatose would be a more accurate term. Liverpool dominated possession, but faced with a wall of white shirts they could not come close to penetrating Swansea’s disciplined defence. Neither goalkeeper was really troubled, and Liverpool seemed to have no answer to Swansea’s solid defensive front.

As the second half began, it soon became clear that they had no answer to Fernando Llorente, who took less than ten minutes to turn the match on its head. It began with a corner, conceded by Dejan Lovren after a back-pass gone wrong. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped it in, where Federico Fernandez headed it towards goal. The ball landed at the feet of Wayne Routledge inside the six-yard-box, and Llorente couldn’t have had it any easier as he blasted it in. Inexplicably, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was already on the ground, as the rest of his teammates just stood there watching.

Too easy: Fernando Llorente (second from left) blasts home the opening goal of the match.

Liverpool weren’t making much progress in recouping the deficit when Swansea’s lead doubled. It was Swansea’s two new signings who set it up, with Tom Carroll finding Martin Olsson on the left wing. Carroll kept running through and received a return pass before hitting a first-time cross which looped in and was met with an excellent header from Llorente. Mignolet had no chance. Liverpool didn’t look to have too much hope either.

Enter Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian had looked like Liverpool’s most dangerous player from the outset, and he immediately set to work on getting Liverpool back on level terms, scoring their first goal mere minutes after Swansea’s second. James Milner set it up, sending in an excellent cross from the left wing and finding Firmino, who was one-on-one with Olsson on the back post. It was a battle the Swede was never going to win, and a header Lukasz Fabianski was never going to stop.

Swansea recovered, and eventually they had taken some of the heat out of the game. Emre Can attempted a bicycle kick, fell over and gave away a foul as he tripped Jack Cork. It just looked like one of those days for Liverpool. Then, Firmino found the equaliser. Georginio Wijnaldum capitalised on a rare mistake from Fernandez to find space on the left, and his ball for Firmino was perfect. The Brazilian controlled it with his chest before driving it home with his left boot, sending the Anfield crowd into raptures. It was 2-2.

Unstoppable: Roberto Firmino (left) scores his first goal past Martin Olsson and Lukasz Fabianski.

Liverpool continued to press on, and another goal in the match looked inevitable. It came, just not for Liverpool. Swansea pushed up the field, with Leroy Fer picking out Llorente at the top of the box. He gave it to Carroll, the new signing, who looked to bulldoze his way past Ragnar Klavan and Lovren. It didn’t work, but the ball spilled wide, and Gylfi Sigurdsson was more than ready to put it away. He stretched for the ball, eventually sliding as he put the ball into the bottom corner and put Swansea ahead once again. They were not going to let it slip this time.

There were moments of chaos as both sides loaded the box. Daniel Sturridge was denied by Fabianski at close range, and Adam Lallana was at the centre of a piece of play which saw bodies flying everywhere. He controlled and attempted to shoot, and eventually the ball bounced into the bar. Fabianski flew through the air to try and stop it, but he could not get there and ended up in the back of his own net as the ball rebounded out. Sturridge collected it and found Lallana, who could not convert a close-range header. It was just one of those days.

In the end, Liverpool were very poor and didn’t deserve to win, and this result leaves them in serious trouble as they look for a drought-breaking title. For Swansea, it was a confidence boosting effort which will hold them in good stead for the rest of the season. They will have a tough relegation battle on their hands, and they may still go down, but this game will go down in history as one of their best wins. No matter what happens this season, they will always have this game.

Liverpool – Anfield
Liverpool 2 (Firmino 55, 69)
Swansea City 3 (Llorente 48, 52, Sigurdsson 74)
Referee: Kevin Friend

Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can (Origi 70), Henderson, Wijnaldum (Matip 90+4); Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho (Sturridge 57).
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson (Rangel 79); Carroll, Cork; Routledge, Fer (Fulton 90+4), Sigurdsson; Llorente (Baston 85).

Top 5
1. Fernando Llorente (Swansea City)
Llorente didn’t get too many chances over the course of the ninety minutes, but when they came he was more than equal to the task, scoring both goals and providing a key presence in the box for the Swans. He showed his ability to find the ball in the box, and he performed his defensive duties well.
2. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Firmino was the only Liverpool player who looked like scoring, and from start to finish he was head and shoulders above his teammates. He scored twice to throw Liverpool a lifeline in the game, and while his team wasn’t good enough to take it he can hold his head high after an excellent effort.
3. Federico Fernandez (Swansea City)
Fernandez was solid as a rock in Swansea’s defence, repelling attack after attack and pairing well with Alfie Mawson to keep Liverpool at bay. He played a key role in creating Swansea’s opening goal, and while he made a small error which allowed Liverpool to equalise he played a very strong game.
4. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
Sigurdsson was quiet in the first half, but his second half effort was excellent. His set-piece delivery was impeccable as he made the most of limited opportunities, and he scored a winner which was harder to convert than it looked. A class performance.
5. Tom Carroll (Swansea City)
On debut for Swansea after moving from Spurs, Carroll looked in great touch throughout. He assisted the second goal with an excellent cross, and he also played a key role in the winner. He defended well, and he showed that he could play a key role for Swansea as this season draws on.

Liverpool rally for comeback win

The ball trailed across the Liverpool penalty area, leaving Modou Barrow with a simple job to do: clear it. For eighty minutes of the match momentum had swung both ways, but for now Swansea City and Liverpool were level, and a draw was looking like a fair outcome.

Swansea had a point to prove in front of their home fans, and they burst out of the blocks with energy and skill. Borja Baston, making his first start in the Premier League, found space for a header from the edge of the six-yard box, but his effort went wide. The Swans were turning up the heat from the outset, and Liverpool were struggling to cope.

The goal came within ten minutes, Leroy Fer capitalising on some poor defence to tap the ball into the back of the net. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped in a corner, and after Baston headed it down Mike van der Hoorn was there to flick it on. The flick-on was destined for the back of the net, but Fer made sure of it with a very simple finish.

The clearance was straightforward, but Barrow still bungled it. The ball went straight up, flying into the Swansea sky and dropping back down again. Angel Rangel was quick to spot the danger, and he managed to work his way into a good position as he jostled with Roberto Firmino. He was in control, and looked as if he could handle the situation.

Last-ditch: Jordi Amat (in white) makes a strong challenge to deny Sadio Mane.

Liverpool tried to get themselves back into the game, but they could not find their rhythm. Nothing was going quite right for them, and an injury to an in-form Adam Lallana only set them back further. Farce ensued as the substitute was not yet ready, and Daniel Sturridge was finally introduced minutes after Lallana had left the pitch. It just seemed as if nothing was going right for Liverpool.

The ball landed in front of Rangel, and his control evaporated as soon as it did. It bounced towards the goals, leaving Rangel desperate to get the ball out of defence as soon as possible. Firmino was still lurking, and the Brazilian managed to get in front of his man, through on goal.

Liverpool gained more possession as the first half drew to a close, but most of their passes and shots were cut out, and they generally looked clunky. Sadio Mane looked like a massive threat when he cut in behind, but he was a rare example in an otherwise disappointing showing. As the first half drew to a close Sturridge received a booking for diving after throwing himself to the ground in the box. Swansea were conceding possession, but Liverpool looked like a toothless tiger.

At half-time, however, something clicked. Liverpool played with more purpose, and suddenly it did not look as if the Swans could weather the storm. Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner were pushing forward to good effect, and the Reds just looked more dangerous as they unlocked holes in Swansea’s defence.

Firmino was through on goal, having turned Rangel with incredible ease. Fabianski was waiting to deal with the situation, but Rangel had to try something. He made a last-ditch attempt to win the ball back, clumsily bringing down the Brazilian in the process and leaving referee Michael Oliver with no choice. He pointed to the spot.

Under pressure: Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin watches on.

Liverpool equalised less than ten minutes after the break. Philippe Coutinho drilled his free kick into the wall, but Jordan Henderson was there and he lifted the rebound over the top. Swansea had pushed up in unison to deal with the poor free kick, and Roberto Firmino found himself open without moving a muscle. Fabianski dived to save the header, but it evaded his clutches.

Liverpool were back on level footing, and it didn’t look as if they would be denied for much longer. Coutinho was only inches wide from the edge of the area. Kyle Naughton denied Mane from a dangerous position. Corner after corner came in, and Swansea needed a response. They worked hard, and it looked as if the Swans had taken back some of the initiative. Then Barrow bungled his clearance.

Milner was calm as he readied himself for the penalty, and there was no sign of nerves at the top of his run-up. He cruised smoothly towards the ball before driving it up the middle of the goal, well out of the reach of a diving Fabianski. The comeback was all but complete.

After the goal Liverpool attacked with renewed vigour, using the pace of Mane, Sturridge and the newly-introduced Divock Origi to open up holes in the Swansea defence. Coutinho forced an excellent reflex save from Fabianski after Origi’s cross missed Sturridge, and Jack Cork nearly scored an own goal after he slid in to block Emre Can’s dangerous ball across goal. Fabianski was there, and they survived. Swansea needed to score, but they seemed to have no chance.

Swansea had a last roll of the dice with a minute to play, when Rangel opened up a large hole in the Liverpool defence. His cross found van der Hoorn, who inexplicably missed a tap-in from point-blank range. It was a bad miss, and it ended a disappointing afternoon for the Swans. They needed to hold on, but it was not to be.

Swansea – Liberty Stadium
Swansea City 1 (Fer 8)
Liverpool 2 (Firmino 54, Milner 84 pen)
Referee: Michael Oliver

Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Rangel, van der Hoorn, Amat, Naughton; Britton (Ki 63), Cork; Routledge (Barrow 62), Fer (Fulton 72), Sigurdsson; Baston.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius – Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lallana (Sturridge 23), Henderson, Wijnaldum (Can 85); Mane, Firmino (Origi 85), Coutinho.

Top 5
1. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane was Liverpool’s most dangerous player, using his pace to find pockets of space in the Swansea defence and showing great awareness to work his way into threatening positions. He was unlucky not to score on a number of occasions after he had close-range chances blocked, and he was largely responsible for Liverpool’s ability to turn the game around.
2. Leroy Fer (Swansea City)
Fer worked very hard throughout, and he applied plenty of pressure to the Liverpool defence with his ability to force mistakes and use the ball well. He scored Swansea’s only goal with a simple tap-in, and was solid when called back to defend.
3. Jordi Amat (Swansea City)
Amat was dominant in the first half, and while his influence waned as the game progressed he was a key part of Swansea’s defensive solidity. He made a number of excellent sliding challenges to deny Liverpool, and he made a number of key blocks to keep them at bay as they looked to break through.
4. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Firmino stepped up in the big moments, scoring Liverpool’s first goal with a calm finish and winning the penalty which led to the second. He was not great in the first half, but when he was needed he delivered, and he was a key reason for Liverpool’s win.
5. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Coutinho stepped up in the second half, dropping slightly deeper to fill the void left by Lallana’s injury and spraying the ball around into dangerous positions. His long shots were a constant threat for Swansea to deal with, and he was in command in the middle of the park.

Spurs salvage a point from defensive wreck

Spurs were out of the contest. For the first hour, anyway. Playing against Liverpool, who were coming off a spectacular flop against newly-promoted Burnley, things were not looking good. They were 1-0 down, not creating any chances, and being exposed time and time again in defence. An injury to Kyle Walker threw Mauricio Pochettino’s pre-match plans out the window, and in the centre of the park Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli were unable to keep the ball out of their opponent’s hands. Tottenham’s attack received no delivery, and the defence was more than a little shaky.

Eric Dier had started the match playing in central midfield, but he was moved into right back after Walker went off. Throughout the ninety minutes it was like watching Jekyll and Hyde; sometimes he was composed, most of the time he gave the ball away in very bad positions. Jan Vertonghen was not much better. He looked frazzled when he came under pressure from Senegalese winger Sadio Mane, who nearly took Spurs apart on a number of occasions with his pace in behind. Toby Alderweireld was a rock at the heart of the defence, and Michel Vorm was ensuring not many goals were scored, but those two couldn’t do everything.

Under pressure: Eric Dier (left) is challenged by James Milner.

Liverpool, on the other hand, looked completely rejuvenated. Coming off a loss in which they had over 80 percent of possession, they had learned from their mistakes. Mane had come in for Daniel Sturridge, a player who wants to be at the heart of absolutely everything and had expressed annoyance at playing on the right wing. Mane tore Tottenham to shreds on a number of occasions, sliding in behind Danny Rose and beating Vertonghen for pace. He received good support from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, both of whom had been out of action against Burnley, and he generally boosted everything about Liverpool’s attack. Against Burnley they had played with all the pace of a funeral procession. Now, they played with purpose, taking advantage of the extra space available and looking for more opportunities through quick ball movement.

Liverpool had a plethora of great chances in the first half as they were able to exploit the extra space in Tottenham’s defence. No longer suffocated by Burnley’s rigid defensive structure they found their niche against a side who looked to attack them back, and they had nearly opened the scoring within five minutes. Vorm made an excellent save to deny Coutinho from close range after Firmino had played him through, with a well-placed foot trapping the ball on the line and allowing the Dutch keeper to gratefully reel it in.

Mane looked most dangerous on the break, when Tottenham players lost the ball after some errant passing. Vorm was up to the test, even as Mane broke the defensive line on multiple occasions. Vorm risked being booked or even sent off more than once by coming off his line to clear the ball, but he was able to keep it level. Finally, just minutes before the break, Liverpool broke the deadlock. They scored from the spot, with a very soft penalty being awarded to Firmino after a minute clip on the heels from Erik Lamela. The contact was there, but ultimately the Brazilian fell after tripping over his own feet. Either way, the penalty stood, and James Milner was there to stroke it home.

If Pochettino was hoping that his side would recover after the break, he was very much mistaken. After a brief settling in period, the game resumed its familiar rhythm, but with a slightly different beat. Liverpool had reached their zenith, and it was in this short period just after half time that they came closest to sealing a win. Things happened very quickly for Jurgen Klopp’s men. Joel Matip brushed the bar after getting his head to Milner’s corner, and shortly afterwards Vorm had to make an excellent save to deny Nathaniel Clyne, who had marauded into the box from right back. Then came the disallowed goal.

Georginio Wijnaldum, who had been much improved due to increased time on the ball, intercepted yet another poor pass from Dier and started off down the left wing. He had plenty of support, but he kept running to the edge of the area before feeding Adam Lallana with an excellent through ball. Lallana played Mane on the near post, and the ball was promptly blasted into the back of the net. It appeared to be the death knell for Spurs, the sign that Liverpool had finally sealed the victory. But the linesman’s flag said otherwise. It was a very tight call, with Lallana in an offside position by the barest of margins, and it gave Tottenham the lifeline that they needed. Perversely, the disallowed goal acted as a turning point in the match, as Spurs sputtered into gear, albeit belatedly.

Finish: Danny Rose (in white) levels the score.

It was Wanyama and Alli who stepped up. The solid pairing in central midfield started to cope with Liverpool’s pressure, and the attack found more of the ball and more space. Harry Kane started to pick it up in dangerous positions, and Vincent Janssen looked like a big threat. The hosts started to look like their former selves, stringing together great passing moves and creating some excellent chances. Lamela’s free kick had to be tapped over the bar by Simon Mignolet, and another top-drawer save had to be made moments later as Alderweireld got a head to Christian Eriksen’s corner. Spurs were starting to probe again, and suddenly it looked as if they could punish Liverpool for their missed opportunities. They did.

It started with a brilliant ball over the top from Alderweireld, with Milner completely misjudging it as it flew over his head to the feet of Dier. Milner was beaten again with a good touch, and while Lamela could not get a solid connection on the cross the ball fell to Rose at the back post. It was not an easy finish, but the left back made it look easy. He bundled the ball past Mignolet, and Matip, who had gone in behind to protect the line, had no chance as the shot rolled in next to the post. Liverpool looked to get an equaliser straight away, but the moment had already passed: Liverpool’s momentum was gone.

Liverpool had some chances late as the game opened up, and Alderweireld had to make an incredible challenge to deny Lallana in injury time. The Belgian was Tottenham’s last line of defence, and he risked a penalty by sliding in and blocking Lallana’s effort straight of the boot. The game trailed on, with some meaningless substitutions and a yellow card to Matip only delaying the finish as injury time drew to a close. Liverpool were the better side on the day, but they could not capitalise on the opportunities they created, and Tottenham’s porous defence did not prove costly in the end.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Rose 72)
Liverpool 1 (Milner 43 pen)
Referee: Robert Madley

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Vorm – Walker (Janssen 28), Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Wanyama; Lamela, Alli, Eriksen (Winks 90+3); Kane (Onomah 83).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lallana (Stewart 90+4), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane (Sturridge 88), Firmino, Coutinho (Origi 69).

Top 5
1. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Alderweireld was excellent at the heart of Tottenham’s defence, staying unfazed under heavy pressure and often covering up the defensive mistakes of his teammates. He created the goal with a pinpoint pass over the top of Liverpool’s defence, and he made a brilliant challenge to deny Lallana as the game drew to a close.
2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane made all the difference for Liverpool after coming into the side to replace Sturridge. He cut swathes through Spurs with his pace and ability to get in behind, and he was unlucky not to score. He was the most dangerous attacking player on the ground, and he will be a big threat as the season progresses.
3. Joel Matip (Liverpool)
Matip provided a much-needed solidity for Liverpool in central defence, making life very difficult for Spurs and ensuring that not much got through. He was a significant threat at set pieces, and he came very close to scoring after beating his man in the air early in the second half. He played well in his Premier League debut, and he will want the good form to continue.
4. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was Tottenham’s best attacking player, and while Mane often caught him out when his teammates carelessly lost possession he was fairly solid in defence as well. He created problems for Liverpool with his ability to go forward and put in incisive crosses, and he finished with excellent precision when he was given the opportunity.
5. Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur)
Vorm had less to do in the second half as Liverpool’s influence waned, but he was excellent in goal throughout and did well to only concede once. His decision making was first-rate, and he saved a number of goals by coming off his line and clearing the ball away. He will only start until Hugo Lloris comes back, but he will take comfort from his early season form.

Disorganisation proves costly as Burnley take the points

If ever there was a game where the stats did not tell the full story, this was it. A quick glance at the stats sheet for the game between Burnley and Liverpool shows that Liverpool had over 80 per cent of possession, registered 26 shots (Burnley had 3), and won a staggering 12 corners to their opponent’s one. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool won the match easily. Instead, they lost 2-0, with the hosts going ahead early and managing to keep their opponents at bay through some excellent defensive work.

The game was barely ninety seconds old when Burnley took the lead, with an aimless pass from Nathaniel Clyne intercepted by Andre Gray. The ball was played to the edge of the area, where Sam Vokes turned away from Dejan Lovren and blasted the ball past Simon Mignolet into the back of the net. The home fans were in complete ecstasy; Liverpool fans everywhere were in shock. Eventually the Liverpool defence was able to get past Burnley’s forwards, and they had soon taken control of the tempo. They were dominating possession, and it seemed as if they would eventually break Burnley down.

They couldn’t. Liverpool’s attack was a mess, the kind of mess which comes about when there are no boundaries. Sometimes the Reds had no centre forward, sometimes they had three, and it seemed as if Jurgen Klopp had instructed all of his forwards to roam free. Philippe Coutinho was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, moving around in Liverpool’s front third like a bee buzzes from flower to flower, hitting one sideways pass after another. James Milner, picked to start at left back over Alberto Moreno, permanently parked himself on the left wing. He had almost no defensive work to do, but he was fairly useless in attack when he received the ball.

Daniel Sturridge had come in for the game, replacing an injured Sadio Mane on the right wing. At least, that was where he was meant to play. Sturridge is always interesting to watch when he is picked as a winger, and by the end of the first half he was essentially operating as Liverpool’s main striker. Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana were given licence to push into attack from midfield, but neither had a significant impact on the match.

Then there was Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who was named at centre forward by Klopp, was nowhere to be seen. With as many as three of his teammates pushing into his position he drifted to the outer, and he barely touched the ball in the first half. In the second, although he was still technically playing as a striker, he started bobbing up deep in midfield. Liverpool’s attack was a picture of chaos throughout, especially when compared to Burnley’s pacey counter-attack.

Jump for joy: Andre Gray celebrates scoring Burnley’s second goal.

Burnley scored again just before the break, with new signing Steven Defour feeding Gray on the counter. The Belgian ran halfway up the field as Gray went with him, the star striker struggling to keep himself onside. Eventually he managed to get it right, and he received the ball on the edge of the area. He took one touch to get past Jordan Henderson, and his second touch brought him past Ragnar Klavan. Lovren was looking to close him down, but the shot came too quickly. It was an excellent strike, and Mignolet couldn’t get a glove to it as the ball found its way into the bottom corner.

Up to this point the Reds had been fixated on trying to get through Burnley’s defence, but they completely ignored the fact that the lethargic tempo with which they conducted their attack was the reason for their inability to do so. As the game went on the crosses kept coming in from Milner on the left, but Coutinho gave up on playing through balls in an attempt to beat Michael Keane and Ben Mee. He started shooting every time he found himself in a somewhat dangerous position, missing the target with almost every attempt. His teammates took up his lead, and soon Liverpool were taking shots from thirty yards out whenever they could not break through Burnley’s solid structure. The result was inevitable, and by the end it was quite clear who played the better game. Liverpool entered the Turf Moor brimming with confidence after a stunning performance against Arsenal. They left with their tail between their legs after a lethargic attacking effort, leaving Jurgen Klopp with a number of unanswered questions.

Burnley – Turf Moor
Burnley 2 (Vokes 2, Gray 37)
Liverpool 0
Referee: Lee Mason

Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton – Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Marney, Defour (Gudmundsson 56), Arfield; Gray (O’Neill 90+3), Vokes (Jutkiewicz 82).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner (Moreno 77); Lallana (Grujic 78), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Sturridge (Origi 65), Firmino, Coutinho.

Top 5
1. Andre Gray (Burnley)
Gray started the game brilliantly, cutting out an errant pass from Clyne and setting up the first goal of the game after less than two minutes. He continued to threaten throughout, causing massive problems for both Lovren and Klavan as he looked to get in behind the Liverpool defence. He showed plenty of skill and composure, and looks set for a big season.
2. Dean Marney (Burnley)
Marney formed a solid partnership with Steven Defour in the centre of midfield, doing plenty of defensive work and making life difficult for Liverpool with his balls in behind the defence. He worked harder than anyone else on the field, and he was still giving his all when the final whistle blew.
3. Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
Lovren was a rare plus in an otherwise poor performance for Liverpool, making some excellent stops to deny Gray and holding Liverpool’s defence together as Burnley looked to hit them on the break. He looked composed throughout, and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.
4. Michael Keane (Burnley)
Keane was a rock at the centre of Burnley’s defence, making interception after interception as Liverpool looked to break through. His positioning was first-rate, and he ensured that the Reds could not get past him. He had less to do in the second half as Liverpool took more shots, but he didn’t make a mistake and will take great confidence from his performance.
5. Matthew Lowton (Burnley)
Lowton was exposed to most of Liverpool’s attack, and his work shutting down Milner was excellent. He didn’t give Liverpool any free space, and he made some crucial blocks to deny them as they looked to score. He showed great composure under pressure, and his efforts will go a long way as he looks to keep his place in the team safe from Tendayi Darikwa.

2016-17 Premier League Preview – The Europa League Challengers

As the Premier League gets closer, I am continuing my look at the teams in the English top flight by assessing the teams who will be looking for spots in European competitions come the end of the season. Enjoy.

Everton

Manager: Ronald Koeman
Captain: Phil Jagielka
Ground: Goodison Park
Last Season: 11th
Top Scorer: Romelu Lukaku (18)
Most Assists: Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu (8)
Prediction: 11th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Joel Robles, 22. Maarten Stekelenburg.
Defenders: 3. Leighton Baines, 5. John Stones, 6. Phil Jagielka, 8. Bryan Oviedo, 23. Seamus Coleman, 25. Ramiro Funes Mori, 26. Matthew Pennington, 27. Tyias Browning, 29. Luke Garbutt, 30. Mason Holgate, 32. Brendan Galloway.
Midfielders: 4. Darron Gibson, 7. Aiden McGeady, 11. Kevin Mirallas, 12. Aaron Lennon, 15. Tom Cleverley, 16. James McCarthy, 18. Gareth Barry, 19. Gerard Deulofeu, 20. Ross Barkley, 21. Muhamed Besic, 31. Kieran Dowell, 34. Tom Davies.
Forwards: 9. Arouna Kone, 10. Romelu Lukaku, 14. Oumar Niasse, 24. Shani Tarashaj, 35. Conor McAleny.

Everton were disappointing last season, with Roberto Martinez making way after a run of bad results left them in the bottom half of the table. Ronald Koeman has moved from Southampton to manage the team, and the former Dutch international has already added Maarten Stekelenburg to replace the departed Tim Howard in goal. The new boss is yet to sign an outfield player, but Everton still have quality all over the park. Romelu Lukaku (pictured) is one of the best strikers in the Premier League, and Ross Barkley will ensure that he gets excellent supply. John Stones and Phil Jaigielka form an excellent combination in the centre of defence, and they are well backed-up by Ramiro Funes Mori. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are both fullbacks who provide plenty of attacking support, and they will cause big problems for opposition defences.

Everton have some excellent players, but they are very dependent on Lukaku for goals. The Belgian striker scored nearly a third of the team’s goals last campaign, with no other player scoring more than eight. Chelsea are very interested in bringing him back to Stamford Bridge, and this could leave Everton with a massive hole and not much time to fill it. Even if he stays the 23 year-old will be under immense pressure to perform, as will 22 year-old playmaker Barkley. Both players are still very young, and the burden of holding up Everton’s attack could prove too much for them. Everton were very disappointing last season, but Koeman has not made any moves to improve the squad. He will need to make some changes fast, or Everton could slip back to the same lows as last season. Overall, the Toffees are a fairly strong side and could challenge for the Europa League under the right guidance, but there are some issues which need to be resolved before this can happen.

Star Player: Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku led the Belgian Pro League for scoring at just 17, and he has only improved since then. He was signed by Everton in 2014 after a successful loan spell yielded 15 goals, and he has become the focal point of their attack. He managed 18 goals last season despite the side’s poor performance, and he could take them very far if he is on his game.

Key Player: Ross Barkley

Barkley has developed into one of the best playmakers in the Premier League, and he has drawn comparisons with Michel Ballack and Paul Gascoigne due to his pace and technical ability. He is Everton’s main creator, and he will be relied upon to provide plenty of chances for Lukaku. If he fails to fire then it will be very difficult for Everton to score, and they will struggle as a result.

One to watch: Gerard Deulofeu

Deulofeu is a product of the Barcelona academy, and he was sold by the Catalan giants after an unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla. He is not a prolific scorer, but he is a dangerous presence on the wing and can ease some of the pressure on Barkley with his ability to create chances. He has enormous potential, and he should benefit from increased first-team action this season.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg – Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Lennon, Barkley, Deulofeu; Lukaku.

Liverpool

Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Ground: Anfield
Last Season: 8th
Top Scorer: Roberto Firmino (10)
Most Assists: James Milner (11)
Prediction: 7th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Loris Karius, 13. Alex Manninger, 22. Simon Mignolet.
Defenders: 2. Nathaniel Clyne, 3. Mamadou Sakho, 6. Dejan Lovren, 12. Joe Gomez, 17. Ragnar Klavan, 18. Alberto Moreno, 26. Tiago Ilori, 32. Joel Matip, 38. Jon Flanagan, 47. Andre Wisdom, 56. Connor Randall.
Midfielders: 5. Georginio Wijnaldum, 7. James Milner, 10. Philippe Coutinho, 14. Jordan Henderson, 16. Marko Grujic, 20. Adam Lallana, 21. Lucas Leiva, 23. Emre Can, 25. Cameron Brannagan, 35. Kevin Stewart, 50. Lazar Markovic, 54. Sheyi Ojo, 68. Pedro Chirivella, Luis Alberto, Allan.
Forwards: 9. Christian Benteke, 11. Roberto Firmino, 15. Daniel Sturridge, 19. Sadio Mane, 27. Divock Origi, 28. Danny Ings, 45. Mario Balotelli, Taiwo Awoniyi.

Liverpool have been very active over the off-season, bringing in Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum to bolster the attack and adding Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Loris Karius in an effort to improve the defence. Jurgen Klopp has no shortage of options all over the park, and he will be aided by the versatility of Mane, Philippe Coutinho (pictured) and Roberto Firmino. Wijnaldum is likely to drop deeper than he did at Newcastle, and the Dutchman will form an excellent combination with Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in the centre of the park. Karius should replace Simon Mignolet in goal after showing excellent form at Mainz, and Matip and Klavan look set to form a solid combination in the heart of the defence. Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Danny Ings are all quality players who will be pushing for a start in attack, and there is sure to be plenty of competition for spots throughout the season.

Klopp has been very smart in the transfer market, but the same cannot be said of his predecessors and he has inherited a squad with too many expensive flops. There has been a lack of continuity over past seasons, with the large number of strikers signed from other clubs in the last couple of years often taking time on the pitch away from each other. As it stands, none of them are playing well enough to command a place in the first team, and Klopp may decide to use Coutinho up front instead. There is a general lack of depth on either side of the defence, and while Nathaniel Clyne is a top level right back the same cannot be said of left back Alberto Moreno. Moreno is currently in the first team by virtue of being the only option, and if no other left back is added then Liverpool could experience some serious issues. Liverpool are likely to contend for a spot in European competitions, but they are not good enough to contend for the title.

Star Player: Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho’s career has taken off since joining Liverpool from Internazionale in 2013, and the Brazilian has firmly established himself as one of the Premier League’s most dangerous playmakers. He is skilled and pacey, and he is sure to provide plenty of problems for defenders over the course of the season.

Key Player: Jordan Henderson

Henderson has progressed quickly, and at 26 he is already coming into his second season as Liverpool captain. He will be a constant presence for the Reds this season, and they will need him to be in top form throughout. He will function as the side’s main link between defence and attack, and he will need to move well through the middle of the park.

One to watch: Loris Karius

Karius was one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga last season, keeping nine clean sheets and saving two penalties. He has been brought in from Mainz to replace Mignolet, and the former Manchester City reject now has a chance to perform on the big stage. He is an excellent player, and has the potential to serve Liverpool well for a long time.

Likely team (4-3-3): Karius – Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Moreno; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Coutinho, Firmino.

Southampton

Manager: Claude Puel
Captain: Jose Fonte
Ground: St Mary’s Stadium
Last Season: 6th
Top Scorer: Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle (11)
Most Assists: Dusan Tadic (12)
Prediction: 8th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 44. Fraser Forster.
Defenders: 2. Cedric Soares, 3. Maya Yoshida, 5. Florin Gardos, 6. Jose Fonte, 15. Cuco Martina, 17. Virgil van Dijk, 21. Ryan Bertrand, 33. Matt Targett.
Midfielders: 4. Jordy Clasie, 8. Steven Davis, 11. Dusan Tadic, 14. Oriol Romeu, 16. James Ward-Prowse, 18. Harrison Reed, 27. Lloyd Isgrove, Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojberg.
Forwards: 7. Shane Long, 9. Jay Rodriguez, 28. Charlie Austin.

Southampton have turned plenty of heads since they won promotion to the Premier League in 2012, and in 2015-16 they recorded their best finish since their return to the top flight. Ronald Koeman has departed for Everton after two successful seasons as manager, and the Saints have recruited Claude Puel from Nice as his replacement. Puel has inherited an excellent side, and new signings Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will provide a massive boost to a midfield containing Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse, Jordy Clasie and Dusan Tadic (pictured). Fraser Forster is a solid presence in goal, and he will receive excellent support from the defence of Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares, Ryan Bertrand and Virgil van Dijk. Shane Long is an excellent option up front, and Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez are likely to see more first team action this season after the departures of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane.

Southampton have long relied on the transfer strategy of selling off their best players for a massive profit, and while it has not adversely affected the side in the past the losses of Pelle and Mane will make things very difficult. Redmond can fill Mane’s spot on the right wing, but he will not necessarily be able to provide the same level of performance as the Senegalese star. Long will lead the attack in Pelle’s absence, but it is unclear who will partner him up front. Rodriguez has only played eight times in the last two seasons, and Austin was unable to take his performances with him when he moved to the Saints from QPR. Southampton have lost a key midfield player in Victor Wanyama, and the Kenyan will be difficult to replace. These issues will make life difficult for Southampton, but Puel has had plenty of success before and can take them a long way.

Star Player: Dusan Tadic

Tadic is very fast and incredibly skilful, and the Serbian winger will be relied upon to provide consistent delivery for the strikers. He was not able to find that consistency under Koeman, but his talent is undeniable and he is sure to bounce back under a new manager. He has become one of Southampton’s most important players, and he will need to use all of his skill if they are to succeed.

Key Player: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Wanyama’s departure has left a big void in the Southampton midfield, and new signing Hojbjerg will be expected to fill it. He has plenty of potential, and after successful loan spells with Augsburg and Schalke he has moved to the Premier League from Bayern Munich. He may take some time to adjust to his new surroundings, but he is an excellent player and Southampton will need him to step up.

One to watch: James Ward-Prowse

Ward-Prowse is a product of Southampton’s brilliant academy system, and he is sure to feature heavily for the Saints this season. He already has plenty of first team experience with the Saints, and he is likely to provide plenty of opportunities for the forwards with his pace and skill. He is still developing, and has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Forster – Cedric, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Clasie; Redmond, Ward-Prowse, Tadic; Long.

West Ham United

Manager: Slaven Bilic
Captain: Mark Noble
Ground: Boleyn Ground
Last Season: 7th
Top Scorer: Andy Carroll, Dimitri Payet (9)
Most Assists: Dimitri Payet (12)
Prediction: 10th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Darren Randolph, 13. Adrian, 34. Raphael Spiegel.
Defenders: 2. Winston Reid, 3. Aaron Cresswell, 19. James Collins, 21. Angelo Ogbonna, 22. Sam Byram, 25. Doneil Henry, 32. Reece Burke, 37. Lewis Page.
Midfielders: 4. Havard Nordtveit, 7. Sofiane Feghouli, 8. Cheikhou Kouyate, 14. Pedro Obiang, 16. Mark Noble, 17. Gokhan Tore, 23. Diego Poyet, 27. Dimitri Payet, 28. Manuel Lanzini, 30. Michail Antonio, 35. Reece Oxford, 39. Josh Cullen, 42. Martin Samuelson.
Forwards: 9. Andy Carroll, 11. Enner Valencia, 15. Diafra Sakho, 24. Ashley Fletcher.

Slaven Bilic’s first season at West Ham United was a massive success, with the Croatian manager taking them within striking distance of the Champions League. They have not been particularly active in the transfer market, but they have not lost many players either and they are in strong form heading into the season. Dimitri Payet (pictured) starred at Euro 2016, and the versatile French international will be looking to continue his incredible form throughout this campaign. He will provide excellent service to the likes of Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, and he will be well backed up by Michail Antonio and Sofiane Feghouli. Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid will anchor a solid defence and provide plenty of support for Adrian in goal. Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate are steadying presences in midfield, and the former will be looking to build on the excellent form he showed last season.

West Ham are a fairly solid side, but there are some problems which they have to deal with. Carroll, Valencia and Sakho are all decent options, but Bilic is still in need of a top-quality striker. Further issues exist down back, where the squad is lacking defensive depth. Central defender James Collins is currently the Hammers’ best option at right back after the end of Carl Jenkinson’s loan spell, and there is no real cover for Reid and Ogbonna should either player suffer an injury. There is a general lack of depth which exists throughout the squad, and West Ham may struggle as a result. They are a strong side and could go a long way this season, but they are not good enough to keep up with the big clubs and are unlikely to perform as well as they did last campaign.

Star Player: Dimitri Payet

Payet was brilliant in the Premier League last season, and the versatile French midfielder backed it up with his performances at Euro 2016. He starred as France made it to the final of their home tournament, and this season he will be looking to cause plenty of problems for defenders with his pace, skill and ability to put the ball into dangerous positions. He is a class act, and can take West Ham to the next level.

Key Player: Angelo Ogbonna

Ogbonna was a strong presence at the back for West Ham last season, and he will be needed more than ever this time around. He will marshal the defence, and he will need to stay on the park given the lack of depth that exists down back. The defence is seriously undermanned, and he will need to step up if the Hammers are to perform as well as they did last campaign.

One to watch: Reece Oxford

Oxford became the second youngest player to start in a Premier League game last season when he took the field in West Ham’s opening match against Arsenal. He is still only 17, and he is sure to get more of a chance this campaign. He has shown glimpses of his ability to perform at the highest level, and he could be the future of English football.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Adrian – Collins, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Kouyate, Noble; Feghouli, Payet, Antonio; Carroll.

UEFA Champions League Matchday 1 Preview

On Tuesday the UEFA Champions League begins again, with Europe’s best battling it out on one of the world’s greatest stages. This year we see Liverpool’s return and Manchester United’s departure from the elite, as well as the remarkable return of Monaco, who were just two years ago in the second tier of French football. Real Madrid will be on a high after becoming the first European side to win ten continental titles, but can anyone knock them off their perch? It will be very interesting to see. In this preview I will look in depth at the first matchday, providing predictions, key matches, players to watch and also key questions. Enjoy.

Matches: (Predicted winner in bold)

Tuesday September 16

Olympiacos vs Atletico Madrid, Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus (1-2)
Atletico should be too good despite recent losses in the transfer market.
Juventus vs Malmo, Juventus Stadium, Turin (4-0)
Newbies Malmo no match for the experience and class of Juve.
Liverpool vs Ludogorets Razgrad, Anfield, Liverpool (4-0)
Ludogorets will really struggle against the stronger opposition.
Real Madrid vs Basel, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid (3-0)
On a high after great success it is hard to see Real going down.
Monaco vs Bayer Leverkusen, Stade Louis II, Monaco (1-1)
A close contest that really could go either way.
Benfica vs Zenit St Petersburg, Estadio da Luz, Lisbon (1-3)
Zenit should have too much class for a slightly weakened Benfica.
Galatasaray vs Anderlecht, Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul (3-0)
Galatasaray should cruise past Anderlecht, especially at home.

Key Game: Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
These two sides met in the group stage of last year’s tournament, with the odds split evenly over the two matches, in both cases the away side winning by a goal. With Dortmund losing centre forward Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern in the summer their attack has been weakened, and it is still to be seen how new recruit Ciro Immobile will cope with the pressure. On the other side, Arsenal have splashed out a bit in the transfer market, reeling in Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, both of whom will be key to the attack, as well as Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina in defence. This will be an extraordinarily exciting game, and it should be a very close one in the end.
Verdict: Both sides incredibly strong but home-ground advantage tips it slightly in Dortmund’s favour. Borussia Dortmund 2-1.

Wednesday September 17

Roma vs CSKA Moscow, Stadio Olimpico, Rome (3-1)
Roma return to the European stage and should knock off CSKA at home.

Key Game: Bayern Munich vs Manchester City, Allianz Arena, Munich
Whenever the champions of England and Germany collide, it is going to be a very big match. While these two sides picked up their titles in dramatically different fashions (Bayern cruised through while City snatched it from Liverpool with 5 straight wins late in the season) they are both brilliant sides. Bayern have lost young star Toni Kroos over the summer, but with players such as Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri, Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba, Bayern are a serious contender for the title. While Manchester City have under-performed in Europe in past tournaments they should not be underestimated, and now that their players have had some experience of the Champions League they are a good enough side to go a very long way.
Verdict: Manchester City are a good side but Bayern are just too good. Bayern Munich 2-0.

Barcelona vs APOEL, Camp Nou, Barcelona (5-0)
With Neymar and Messi fit again APOEL will be no match for Barca.
Ajax vs Paris Saint-Germain, Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (0-2)
Ajax are strong but PSG should out-do them.
Chelsea vs Schalke 04, Stamford Bridge, London (1-0)
Schalke will provide a challenge but Chelsea should meet it at home.
Maribor vs Sporting CP, Ljudski vrt, Maribor (1-1)
Interesting match-up, but neither side quite strong enough to win.
Porto vs BATE Borisov, Estadio do Dragao, Porto (2-0)
Porto have a strong enough team to cruise past the Belarusians.
Athletic Bilbao vs Shakhtar Donetsk, San Mames, Bilbao (2-2)
Shakhtar will provide a test but Athletic should match them at home.

Players to watch

Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
After playing brilliantly during Germany’s World Cup triumph Kroos was picked up by Real. A very good provider of aerial chances from dead ball situations, he has the skills to fit perfectly into the system of Real Madrid and it will be very exciting to see how he performs at his new club.

Diego Costa (Chelsea)
After scoring 8 Champions League goals to help Atletico make the final of the tournament Costa has moved to London. He had a very disappointing World Cup and he will be looking to rectify this against Schalke. If he fires then Chelsea could mount a serious challenge.

James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
James picked up the golden boot at the World Cup, scoring 6 times in 5 games for Colombia. Such form was enough for Real Madrid to pay €75 million for his signature. They will be hoping for the versatile midfielder to repay them, and he is easily able to provide goals and assists for Carlo Ancelotti’s team.

Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
In Sterling both Liverpool and England have a player who could easily become a superstar. He has incredible pace and after a brilliant league campaign last season he is fully ready to showcase his talent upon the European stage. Expect excitement, and lots of it.

Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund)
After being offloaded to Torino by Juventus at the start of last season Immobile went on to shine, scoring 22 times. Having been bought by Borussia Dortmund to replace Robert Lewandowski, however, he has the weight of expectation on his shoulders, and it will be interesting to see how he copes.

Neymar (Barcelona)
As the host nation’s talisman in the World Cup, Neymar shone until a bad challenge from Juan Zuniga in the quarter-finals left him with a broken back. Now available after returning from his injury it will be very interesting to see how he fares against a relatively weak APOEL team.

Key Questions

How will Liverpool and Monaco fare on their return to Europe’s elite?
Liverpool have been drawn into a group that they should progress from, as Basel and Ludogorets are not good enough to really worry them. Plenty of players in the side have some experience at this level, and with young stars Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge both explosive players in attack Liverpool should be fine. Monaco, on the other hand, are a different proposition. They have offloaded Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez to Manchester United and Real Madrid respectively, and in a tough group containing Benfica, Zenit and Bayer Leverkusen they may struggle, as this side is not near the team that came second last season in class.

Will this be the season when English sides meet their potential?
It will be interesting to see how the English teams fare in this tournament, with Manchester City and Arsenal facing an early test this week. They face German powerhouses Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, and with Liverpool drawn into a group with reigning champions Real Madrid we should soon find out how these sides compare with the best in Europe. Chelsea have been drawn into a much easier group with Schalke, Sporting and Maribor and they should easily progress. Also, in terms of class and experience, Chelsea are probably the best of the English sides and I would be surprised if they did not at least reach the quarter-finals of this season’s tournament.

How will Atletico Madrid recover from their big losses over summer?
Atletico have lost some of the key members of the team that made the final of last season’s tournament, losing keeper Thibaut Courtois, left-back Filipe Luis and striker Diego Costa to Chelsea, as well as strikers Adrian Lopez (Porto) and David Villa (New York City) and attacking midfielder Diego (Fenerbahce). They have made extensive signings to compensate for this, mainly in attack where Mario Mandzukic, Raul Jimenez, Angel Correa, Alessio Cerci and French winger Antoine Griezmann have been picked up. Miguel Angel Moya and Jan Oblak have been picked up to rectify the goalkeeper situation, but whether these signings can replace Courtois, who is one of the best keepers in the world, and Costa, who contributed 38 goals in all competitions last season, remains to be seen. If anyone can pull them through it is Diego Simeone, whose coaching feats were incredible last season, and they have a reasonable draw, but it would take a very special effort to replicate last season’s all-round success.

Can Real Madrid be beaten?
After a stunning 4-1 victory (after extra time) over Atletico in Lisbon a tenth European crown was claimed for Real Madrid. On a high after completing ‘La Decima’ the champions have signed three stars of the recent World Cup in Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas, Colombian attacking midfielder James Rodriguez and German playmaker Toni Kroos. Combine these players with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Isco, Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric amongst others and you begin to see why Real are the best team in Europe. There are teams who can beat them, and Barcelona and Bayern Munich immediately spring to mind, but Real are looking like pretty strong favourites at the moment.

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