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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2016-17 Premier League Preview – The middle of the pack

Crystal Palace

Manager: Alan Pardew
Captain: Scott Dann
Ground: Selhurst Park
Last Season: 15th
Top Scorer: Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye, Scott Dann, Connor Wickham (5)
Most Assists: Yannick Bolasie, Damien Delaney, Jason Puncheon, Connor Wickham (3)
Prediction: 16th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Julian Speroni, 13. Wayne Hennessey, Steve Mandanda.
Defenders:
2. Joel Ward, 6. Scott Dann, 19. Zeki Fryers, 23. Pape Souare, 27. Damien Delaney, 34. Martin Kelly, James Tomkins.
Midfielders:
7. Yohan Cabaye, 10. Yannick Bolasie, 11. Wilfried Zaha, 14. Lee Chung-yong, 15. Mile Jedinak, 18. James McArthur, 20. Jonny Williams, 22. Jordon Mutch, 26. Bakary Sako, 28. Joe Ledley, 38. Hiram Boateng, 42. Jason Puncheon, Andros Townsend.
Forwards:
9. Fraizer Campbell, 21. Connor Wickham, 32. Kwesi Appiah.

Crystal Palace were solid last season, making it to the final of the FA Cup and comfortably staying out of the relegation zone. Yohan Cabaye (pictured), Mile Jedinak, Joe Ledley and James McArthur provide a solid base in the centre of the park, and new signing Andros Townsend will provide plenty of width. The English international will compete with Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon for a spot on the wings, and they will be looking to provide excellent delivery for Connor Wickham up front. The defence is solid, and new recruit James Tomkins will face stiff competition as he aims to start ahead of Damien Delaney at centre back. Scott Dann was in top form last season, and the new captain will look to keep this up as he anchors the defence. Steve Mandanda has been brought in from Marseille, and the French number two will replace Wayne Hennessey in goal.

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Crystal Palace are a solid side defensively, but there are some problems in attack. They were only able to score 39 goals last season, with centre back Dann finishing the season as one of the team’s top scorers. He was able to score as many goals as Wickham, who was Pardew’s main option in attack throughout the campaign. The losses of Marouane Chamakh, Emmanuel Adebayor and Dwight Gayle have left Palace devoid of the few attacking options they had at the end of last season, and unless they can find a new striker before the transfer window closes they will find it incredibly difficult to penetrate opposition defences. Cabaye, a defensive midfielder, has been functioning as the team’s main playmaker since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain. The French international failed in this role during his first season at the club, and Palace will need him to deliver if they are to get anywhere this season.

Star Player: Yohan Cabaye

Cabaye has racked up nearly 50 international caps for the French national team, and he has gathered plenty of experience in both France and England. He was reunited with Pardew when he moved to Palace from French giants PSG at the start of last season, and he is still good enough to take on the best players in the world. He will be a constant presence in midfield throughout the campaign, and Palace will be hoping he can deliver.

Key Player: Scott Dann

Dann moved to Crystal Palace from Blackburn Rovers midway through the 2013-14 season, and he has slotted effortlessly into the centre of defence at the club. He is a good leader, and he has replaced Jedinak as captain after showing great form last season. He is the best player Palace have in defence, and if he fails to step up they will struggle to keep their opponents out.

One to watch: Wilfried Zaha

Zaha made his debut for England in 2012, and he has been on the scene for such a long time that it is hard to believe that he is still only 23. He was unsuccessful during a brief spell at Manchester United, but he still has plenty of potential and could take Crystal Palace to greater heights as he continues to develop. He has been a regular over the last couple of seasons, and he will play a big role again.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Mandanda – Ward, Dann, Tomkins, Souare; McArthur, Jedinak; Zaha, Cabaye, Bolasie; Wickham.

Stoke City

Manager: Mark Hughes
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Ground: Bet365 Stadium
Last Season: 9th
Top Scorer: Marko Arnautovic (11)
Most Assists: Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri (6)
Prediction: 9th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Jack Butland, 24. Shay Given, 29. Jakob Haugaard, 35. Daniel Bachmann.
Defenders:
2. Phil Bardsley, 3. Erik Pieters, 5. Marc Muniesa, 8. Glen Johnson, 12. Marc Wilson, 17. Ryan Shawcross, 20. Geoff Cameron, 23. Dionatan Teixeira, 26. Philipp Wollscheid.
Midfielders:
4. Joe Allen, 6. Glenn Whelan, 7. Stephen Ireland, 14. Ibrahim Afellay, 16. Charlie Adam, 21. Giannelli Imbula, 22. Xherdan Shaqiri, 34. Ollie Shenton, Ramadhan Sobhi.
Forwards:
10. Marko Arnautovic, 11. Joselu, 18. Mame Biram Diouf, 19. Jonathan Walters, 25. Peter Crouch, 27. Bojan.

Stoke City have been consistent performers in the Premier League for a long time, and they have not looked like being relegated since their return to the top flight in 2008. Mark Hughes has guided the club to three consecutive ninth-place finishes since taking over in 2013, and this consistency looks set to continue. Joe Allen has joined the club from Liverpool after showing impressive form at Euro 2016, and he will form an effective combination with Giannelli Imbula and Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield. Ryan Shawcross is one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League, and he will combine with Philipp Wollscheid to ensure that not much gets through. Jack Butland is still very young and will continue to develop over the course of the season, and the English international will provide an excellent safety net for the back four. Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri (pictured) are both incredibly talented players, and they should cause plenty of problems for opposition defences.

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Stoke have been in need of a quality target up front for years, but no amount of money has done the trick since their return to the Premier League. Arnautovic was the main scoring option last season, and while he netted 11 times from the left wing Hughes was only able to get a total of 21 goals out of Bojan, Mame Biram Diouf, Jonathan Walters and Joselu. Stoke were barely able to manage more than a goal a game last season, and if they are looking to improve they will need to find a player who can get them the goals they need. There is not a lot of time left before the season kicks off, and if they cannot find a new target up front they will struggle. The defence was fairly leaky last season, and while some of this was due to an injury to Shawcross they will need to ensure that their defensive woes do not become a recurring problem. There are some things which could go wrong for Stoke as they look to finish in the top half of the table for a fourth consecutive season, but they are a fairly well-rounded side and are unlikely to drop off significantly.

Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri

Shaqiri has played for Basel, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, and the Swiss winger became a record signing for the Potters when he was signed from the Italian giants in 2015. He is not tall, but he makes up for it with pace, skill and an ability to put the ball into dangerous positions. He has the ability to take down another team on his own, and he could be a massive influence this season.

Key Player: Marko Arnautovic

Arnautovic led Stoke for both goals and assists last season, and the Austrian international has the ability to cause plenty of problems for opposition defences over the course of this campaign. He has plenty of skill and will look to present himself as a target for Shaqiri, who will function as the team’s main playmaker. He is Stoke’s best scoring option, and he will need to maintain his output.

One to watch: Ramadhan Sobhi

Sobhi is exceptionally talented, and the young Egyptian playmaker will be looking to make an impact for his new club after moving to the Premier League from Al Ahly. He made his Egyptian debut at just 17, and his signing could prove to be a massive coup for Stoke City in years to come. He is unlikely to feature too heavily this season, but it will be interesting to see if he can make the most of his chances.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Butland – Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Allen, Imbula; Shaqiri, Afellay, Arnautovic; Bojan.

Swansea City

Manager: Francesco Guidolin
Captain: Ashley Williams
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Last Season: 12th
Top Scorer: Andre Ayew (12)
Most Assists: Kyle Naughton, Gylfi Sigurdsson (3)
Prediction: 12th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Lukasz Fabianski, 13. Kristoffer Nordfeldt, 19. Mark Birighitti, 25. Gerhard Tremmel.
Defenders:
2. Jordi Amat, 3. Neil Taylor, 5. Mike van der Hoorn, 6. Ashley Williams, 14. Franck Tabanou, 22. Angel Rangel, 26. Kyle Naughton, 33. Federico Fernandez, 35. Steven Kingsley.
Midfielders:
4. Ki Sung-yueng, 7. Leon Britton, 8. Leroy Fer, 10. Andre Ayew, 12. Nathan Dyer, 15. Wayne Routledge, 20. Jefferson Montero, 23. Gylfi Sigurdsson, 24. Jack Cork, 30. Josh Sheehan, 53. Adam King, 56. Jay Fulton.
Forwards:
9. Fernando Llorente, 11. Marvin Emnes, 17. Modou Barrow, 62. Oliver McBurnie.

Swansea started last season poorly, and they were facing a relegation battle before Francesco Guidolin, a relative unknown outside of Italy, stepped in. The experienced Italian guided the Swans to safety over the second half of the season, recording wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool on the way to a twelfth-placed finish. Andre Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson (pictured) scored 23 goals between them last season, and they will be complemented by new signing Fernando Llorente. Jack Cork is a solid presence in midfield, and he will be ably supported by Leroy Fer, Ki Sung-yueng and Leon Britton. New signing Mike van der Hoorn will bolster the defence, where he will play alongside captain Ashley Williams, and Lukasz Fabianski will be very hard to beat in goal.

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Swansea are very solid down back, but there are some issues in attack which need to be fixed. Bafetimbi Gomis has been loaned out to Marseille, and with Eder making a permanent move to Lille the Swans have been left with just four genuine strikers on their books. Llorente has been brought in to fix the problem, but he did not play regularly in stints at Juventus and Sevilla and is short on match practice. He reached his peak years ago during his time at Athletic Bilbao, and he is likely to be taking on a very heavy burden with little support. Neither Modou Barrow nor Marvin Emnes were regular options last season, and the lack of bench depth will make Llorente’s job very tough. Swansea struggled last season before Guidolin came to the club, and there is no way of knowing that this will not happen again. They have a solid base, but they could be very inconsistent.

Star Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Sigurdsson was a key member of the Icelandic side that made the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and he has developed into one of the Premier League’s best attacking midfielders. HHehnbHe is a skilled playmaker, and he managed to score 11 times over the course of last season in a more attacking role. He is an excellent player, and he can have a big impact this season with his skill and his eye for goal.

Key Player: Ashley Williams

Williams has plenty of experience at both club and international level, and he has been in charge of Swansea’s defence for a long time. He led Wales to the semi-finals of the Euros, and he will be a key member of Swansea’s team as they look to improve on last season. If he is unable to perform it will be very difficult for the Swans, who need their defence to hold firm if they are to succeed.

One to watch: Mike van der Hoorn

Swansea may have uncovered a hidden gem in van der Hoorn, an imposing central defender who is still developing and has the potential to become one of the world’s best. He is not particularly well-known outside of the Netherlands, but he is strong in the air and should be able to immediately compete for a place in the first-team.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Rangel, van der Hoorn, Williams, Taylor; Cork, Ki; Routledge, Sigurdsson, Ayew; Llorente.

Watford

Manager: Walter Mazzarri
Captain: Troy Deeney
Ground: Vicarage Road
Last Season: 13th
Top Scorer: Odion Ighalo (15)
Most Assists: Troy Deeney (7)
Prediction: 15th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Heurelho Gomes, 13. Rene Gilmartin, 34. Giedrius Arlauskis, Costel Pantilimon.
Defenders:
2. Allan Nyom, 3. Miguel Britos, 5. Sebastian Prodl, 14. Juan Carlos Paredes, 15. Craig Cathcart, 18. Juan Camilo Zuniga, 25. Jose Holebas, 26. Brice Dja Djedje, 27. Christian Kabasele, 31. Tommie Hoban, Essaid Belkalem.
Midfielders:
4. Mario Suarez, 7. Nordin Amrabat, 8. Valon Behrami, 16. Abdoulaye Doucoure, 17. Adlene Guedioura, 21. Ikechi Anya, 23. Ben Watson, 28. Sean Murray, 29. Etienne Capoue.
Forwards:
9. Troy Deeney, 10. Isaac Success, 19. Jerome Sinclair, 24. Odion Ighalo, Matej Vydra.

Watford comfortably avoided relegation in their return to the top-flight, with Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney (pictured) causing plenty of problems for opposition defences. Quique Flores has since made way, and new manager Walter Mazzarri has wasted no time in leaving his mark on the team. Brice Dja Djedje has come in from Marseille, and Christian Kabasele has been added to the defence after showing brilliant form at Genk. Kabasele will play alongside Craig Cathcart and Miguel Britos in the centre of defence, while wing backs Dja Djedje and Juan Camilo Zuniga will look to provide width and create a connection between defence and attack. Heurelho Gomes is an experienced presence in goal, and the Brazilian international will look to perform as well as he did last season. The midfield of Ben Watson, Etienne Capoue, Mario Suarez and Valon Behrami is very solid, and Deeney and Ighalo will provide plenty of bite in attack. Watford have a very well-rounded side, and they should be consistent throughout.

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Watford are fairly solid in all areas, but they are too reliant on Deeney and Ighalo for goals and this could prove costly. The two provided 28 goals between them over the course of last season, and while they were prolific their teammates were only able to contribute 12 between them. No other player scored more than two goals, and this over-reliance on the strikers could prove costly as the season progresses. Capoue, Suarez and Behrami, while experienced, are all defensive midfielders, and Mazzarri lacks a real connection between defence and attack. This could be particularly costly as Ighalo and Deeney are the key to Watford’s chances this season, and if they are not involved in the game then the team will have huge problems. The defence is not as strong as it could be, and the inexperience of Kabasele and Dja Djedje could prove costly. There is a quality gap between Watford and the big clubs that will be difficult to breach, and if the strikers don’t fire they could find themselves in a relegation battle.

Star Player: Troy Deeney

Deeney has been one of Watford’s most consistent performers since he joined the club in 2010, and he netted 13 goals on their return to the Premier League. He showed last season that he is capable of mixing with the best in the world, and there is no reason why he cannot continue to form a dominant strike partnership with Ighalo this time around.

Key Player: Valon Behrami

With the departure of Almen Abdi to Sheffield Wednesday the Swiss international will be more influential than ever, with Behrami set to act as the side’s main playmaker in addition to his defensive duties. Watford are in need of a link between defence and attack, and if Behrami cannot deliver in this role then Mazzari will have some big problems to deal with.

One to watch: Christian Kabasele

Kabasele came from nowhere to take a place in Belgium’s squad at Euro 2016, and the centre back should slot easily into Watford’s defence. He is not a well-known quantity, but he showed great form at Genk and has the physical qualities to succeed in the Premier League. He can be a dangerous presence at set pieces, and it will be interesting to see how he performs.

Likely team (3-5-2): Gomes – Kabasele, Cathcart, Britos; Dja Djedje, Suarez, Behrami, Capoue, Zuniga; Deeney, Ighalo.

West Bromwich Albion

Manager: Tony Pulis
Captain: Darren Fletcher
Ground: The Hawthorns
Last Season: 14th
Top Scorer: Salomon Rondon (9)
Most Assists: Chris Brunt, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gardner, James Morrison (3)
Prediction: 13th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Ben Foster, 13. Boaz Myhill, 38. Jack Rose.
Defenders:
3. Jonas Olsson, 4. James Chester, 6. Jonny Evans, 15. Sebastian Pocognoli, 16. Cristian Gamboa, 23. Gareth McAuley, 25. Craig Dawson.
Midfielders:
5. Claudio Yacob, 7. James Morrison, 8. Craig Gardner, 10. Matt Phillips, 11. Chris Brunt, 14. James McClean, 19. Callum McManaman, 24. Darren Fletcher, 47. Sam Field.
Forwards:
9. Salomon Rondon, 17. Rickie Lambert, 18. Saido Berahino, 45. Jonathan Leko.

West Bromich Albion have been a constant presence in the Premier League for a long time, and they were solid last season under the guidance of experienced Welsh manager Tony Pulis. The Baggies have an excellent defence, with James Chester, Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley battling it out to start in the heart of the back four. Manchester United youth product Jonny Evans is a top-quality player at left back, and Craig Dawson will be a constant presence on the right. English international Ben Foster has plenty of experience in goal, and he will ensure that not much gets through. Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob are solid in the centre of midfield, and new signing Matt Phillips has the potential to do plenty of damage on a wing. Saido Berahino is one of the most promising players in English football, and he will form a dangerous partnership with Salomon Rondon (pictured).

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Pulis has plenty of experience at the highest level, but ever since he guided Stoke City to promotion in 2008 his sides have been unable to put the ball in the back of the net. Only Aston Villa, who went through four different managers and finished with just three wins, scored fewer goals than the Baggies last season. Rondon was excellent, scoring nine times, but Berahino could not back up the great form he showed early on in his career. Rickie Lambert was nowhere near his best, and it is likely that the 34-year-old will be unable to return to the form he showed a few seasons ago. There is no-one creating chances in the middle of the park, and while the Baggies will be defensively solid they lack a link between midfield and attack. Pulis will take them to safety, but they are unlikely to get close to the top half of the table.

Star Player: Salomon Rondon

Rondon is a top-quality player in attack, and he has the potential to cause plenty of problems for opposition defences. He has plenty of experience of European competitions, and the Venezuelan international immediately made his mark in his first season in England. He netted nine goals despite a poor supply chain, and if he can combine well with Berahino the Baggies will be hard to beat.

Key Player: Darren Fletcher

Fletcher spent 13 seasons at Manchester United, making over 200 league appearances and featuring over 60 times in Europe. He has also made 73 appearances for Scotland, and his vast experience at both club and international level will serve West Brom well over the course of the season. He will be a constant presence in the centre of the park, and he will look to serve as a calming influence.

One to watch: Jonathan Leko

Leko made his Premier League debut last season at the age of 16, racking up five league appearances and starting in three games. He is quick, skilful, and terrorised opposition defences late in the season when given the opportunity. He is a dangerous presence up front, and he is good enough to push for a place in the starting line-up this season. He is still only 17, and is a very exciting prospect.

Likely team (4-3-3): Foster – Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans; Gardner, Yacob, Fletcher; Phillips, Rondon, Berahino.

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