Premier League Preview: Day 2
This is the second in a five part preview of the Premier League season that will run through Friday. See part one here.
West Bromwich Albion
Last Season: 13th place, Premier League
Ground: The Hawthorns
Nickname: The Baggies
Key Additions: James Chester, Rickie Lambert, James McClean
Key Departures: Graham Dorrans, Youssuf Mulumbu
After a wholly mediocre 2014-15 campaign, West Brom have made some shrewd moves in the transfer market as they look up the table. But Baggies fans everywhere are a little nervous because of rumors of the imminent departure of Saido Berahino. The 22-year-old England international scored 14 of West Brom’s 38 goals in the league last season, with nobody else notching more than four. While veteran Rickie Lambert will provide good cover for Berahino, the 33-year-old would struggle if asked to lead the line, which would be the case if Berahino is sold. Whoever the opening day striker is will be relying heavily on the
service of Stephane Sessegnon and new acquisition James McClean, each of whom add a touch of creativity to an otherwise uninspiring midfield. The real strength of this team — as with most Tony Pulis-coached sides — is at the back, where the purchase of James Chester adds another solid presence to an already deep group of defenders. Chester will likely knock one of Joleon Lescott or Craig Dawson out of the starting lineup, unless either takes the right back spot away from Costa Rican Cristian Gamboa. Opposite him, Sebastien Pocognoli is a solid, if not spectacular, choice, and Chris Brunt can drop back from the midfield and provide cover. Pulis should have the side well organized all season long defensively, and they should be able to once again hang above the relegation mire if they can put the ball in the back of the net more consistently. But if Berahino leaves and Lambert fails to settle, Pulis could be in for another battle at the bottom.
Leicester City FC
Last Season: 14th Place, Premier League
Ground: King Power Stadium
Nickname: The Foxes
Key Additions: Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Shinji Okazaki, Yohan Benalouane
Key Departures: Esteban Cambiasso
We wrote a ton at the end of last season about Leicester’s crazy escape from almost certain relegation, but this year, the Foxes look poised for a run up the table rather than another struggle to survive.During the final weeks of the 2014-15 campaign, the whole squad rounded into form and became one of the deadliest in the league, securing seven wins, one draw, and one loss in their last nine BPL fixtures, ultimately avoiding relegation by a surprising six points. But the offseason started out badly for the Foxes when a team trip to
Thailand ended in the release of a video of three players — including manager Nigel Pearson’s son — engaging in a racist orgy, which eventually led to Pearson’s firing. The manager was key in Leicester’s amazing run last year, but the club has made a solid move by bringing in Italian Claudio Ranieri, whose laundry list of teams managed includes Chelsea, Roma, Juventus and Inter Milan. Though it’s yet to be seen how successful Ranieri will be in his second stint in the Premiership, Leicester have brought in three solid players who should help him greatly in that quest. First and foremost, Christian Fuchs is a proven left back who spent his last four years playing at Schalke, where he earned 99 league appearances. He will be an upgrade at a position that veteran Paul Konchesky patrolled 26 times last year. An additional upgrade was needed at right back, but Leicester have also protected their center back spots by buying out Robert Huth’s contract, as well as inking Yohan Benalouane from Atalanta. Huth spent the second half of last year at Leicester and was critical in the aforementioned survival, giving Leicester good reason to make the move permanent, while Benalouane made 27 Serie A appearances for his former club. Leicester dipped further into the market yesterday when N’Golo Kante was revealed as their latest acquisition, making the trip across the English channel from Caen. Though he’s unproven in the BPL, there are high expectations for Kante who at just 24 years of age has already logged a ton of games in France’s Ligue 1. Finally, the Foxes added another previously German-based player, Shinji Okazaki, who will be counted on to provide help for Leonardo Ulloa up top. The Japanese international is a known scorer, as he netted 27 times in 65 games for FSV Mainz 05. Though last year was an incredible roller coaster ride for Leicester, if they can regain the form they found at the end of the season, and their additions prove to be significant, the Foxes could see a fair amount of success in this year’s BPL.
Newcastle United FC
Last season: 15th place, Premier League
Ground: St. James’ Park
Nickname: The Magpies
Key additions: Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba
Key departures: Davide Santon, Ryan Taylor
It was certainly a tale of two halves for Newcastle United last season. Before the New Year, Alan Pardew led the club into the top half of the table, but when fan discontent hit its peak and a better offer came around in December, Pardew bolted for Crystal Palace. Newcastle supporter John Carver took over, but his tenure was marked by loss after loss until a final-day victory over West Ham salvaged the
club’s Premier League status. Now, with former England coach Steve McClaren at the helm, the Magpies — and perhaps more importantly, owner Mike Ashley — are trying to move past last season’s near-disaster and re-establish themselves as a top-half team. Ashley has shown his intent so far this summer, making high-profile signings for the defense, midfield, and attack that could make or break Newcastle’s season. DR Congo international center back Chancel Mbemba made 63 league appearances for Anderlecht and will celebrate his 21st birthday by debuting for Newcastle on Saturday. He immediately improves a defense that allowed 63 goals last season, second-most in the league. In midfield, former PSV star Georginio Wijnaldum could be one of the signings of the transfer window. The 24-year-old brings quality to Newcastle’s heart that hasn’t been seen since Yohan Cabaye left for PSG, and he should form a nice partnership with the hardworking Jack Colback. Up front, the Magpies added Aleksandar Mitrovic, also a former Anderlecht player, to compete for playing time with Ayoze Perez and Emmanuel Riviere. Mitrovic is a 20-year-old Serbian international with loads of talent but a reputation for hotheadedness, so if he can keep his composure in England, he could, like Wijnaldum, prove to be a steal. With the blend of new and old, Newcastle should be much improved this year. But if the team starts slow — a very real possibility since six of their first eight fixtures are against top-half teams from last year — the rumblings at St. James’ Park will begin again, and another season of turmoil could be in store.
Last Season: 16th Place, Premier League
Ground: Stadium of Light
Nickname: The Black Cats
Key Additions: Jeremain Lens, Adam Mathews, Younes Kaboul, Santiago Vergini
Key Departures: Anthony Reveillere
Last season, Sunderland again narrowly held on to its Premier League status, avoiding relegation by five or fewer points for the third season in a row after the late-season hiring of manager Dick Advocaat. The Black Cats’ offense, which scored just 31 goals last year, is in need of a big boost, which fans hope Jeremain Lens can provide. The winger spent the last two seasons at Dynamo Kyiv – where he scored 19 goals in 49 appearances – but has played for Advocaat previously at PSV
and AZ. The 27-year-old Dutchman will improve the service that strikers Jermain Defoe and Danny Graham will get while also providing a much-needed threat going forward. On top of that, the Black Cats have further helped their width by adding right back Adam Mathews from Celtic and permanently signing Santiago Vergini, who was on loan with the club last year. The two will compete for the job left vacant by the release of 35-year-old Anthony Reveillere, who made 15 appearances last season. Also contributing to an improved backline will be veteran Younes Kaboul, who came over from Tottenham. Furthermore, the Black Cats might not be done in the transfer window yet, as rumors have emerged that Yann M’Vila, a high-quality French defensive midfielder, could soon be on his way to Sunderland. Right now, however, the squad seems a bit on the weaker side. They have proven their ability to survive the drop recently, but Sunderland are probably going to need at least one more decent addition to get out of the danger zone.