Premier League Preview: Day 3
This is the third in a five part preview of the Premier League season that will run through Friday. See part one here and part two here
Stoke City FC
Last Season: 9th place, Premier League
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Nickname: The Potters
Key Additions: Philipp Wollscheid, Joselu, Glen Johnson, Moha El Ouriachi, Ibrahim Afellay, Marco van Ginkel (loan)
Key Departures: Asmir Begovic, Steven N’Zonzi, Robert Huth
With back-to-back ninth place finishes, Stoke City have entrenched themselves as a quality Premier League side, and now the club is looking up at Europa League places and salivating. Thanks to the improvements Mark Hughes has made to the side over the past seasons, those spots are in reach. However, Stoke will have to overcome the loss of a pair of major contributors from last season in star keeper Asmir Begovic and influential midfielder Steven N’Zonzi. They have a ready-made replacement for Begovic in 22-year-old Englishman Jack Butland, and the club bought two players in veteran Shay Given and youngster Jakob Haugaard to back him up. It could be harder to fill in for N’Zonzi, who started every league game and was Stoke’s creative midfield hub last year. None of the players Stoke have brought in so far looks like a direct replacement for the Frenchman, which means the likes of Glenn Whelan, Chelsea loanee Marco van Ginkel, and the always-beloved Charlie Adam will be counted on heavily. Hughes will hope van Ginkel can provide the spark Stoke are missing after N’Zonzi’s loss. Things are a bit more promising just about everywhere else on the pitch,
though. A defense that allowed the sixth-fewest goals in the league last season added two talented players in Philipp Wollscheid (signed permanently after a successful loan spell) and longtime England international Glen Johnson. The Potters also look deep in the attack, where wingers Marko Arnautovic and Ibrahim Afellay will work with Bojan (once the Spaniard returns from the knee injury that ended his season prematurely) to provide service for a decent motley crew of strikers including Mame Biram Diouf, former Hannover man Joselu, ageless wonder Jonathan Walters, and the fascinating figure that is Peter Crouch. Stoke have built their squad with some supremely talented players over the past few seasons, and that process is continuing. With some luck, this could be the season it comes together in the form of European qualification.
Crystal Palace FC
Last Season: 10th place, Premier League
Ground: Selhurst Park
Nickname: The Eagles
Key Additions: Yohan Cabaye, Connor Wickham, Patrick Bamford (laon)
Key Departures: Owen Garvan
Though they are often overlooked, Crystal Palace have slowly been building up their squad and are poised for another year of success in England’s top flight. This year will mark their third consecutive year in the BPL, their longest stint since the early 1990s. While the previous two campaigns have ended with respectable mid-table finishes, this year could be an even brighter one for Palace. After Alan Pardew
jumped the sinking Newcastle ship for brighter days at Palace in the middle of last season, the south London club had a resurgence, winning six of its final ten contests, including a win over Liverpool at Anfield in Steven Gerrard’s final home game. At the end of the year, Pardew had the team in very good form, and Palace could surprise quite a few teams if he can carry that into this campaign. Though the Eagles have not done a ton in the transfer market, they have reunited Pardew with one of his former stars. Yohan Cabaye played under Pardew at Newcastle, and the French international will now again be under his influence as he makes the move to London from PSG. Though Cabaye isn’t the star PSG need, he is a proven and talented BPL central midfielder, and his experience will be crucial in the middle of the park for Palace this year. The club also signed Connor Wickham from Sunderland earlier this week to bolster its strike force. Just 22 years old, Wickham looks to have a bright future in England, and — with Palace lacking at the striker position — he should be challenging Glen Murray and Dwight Gayle for the starting job. He will face additional competition, though, from another new face, Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford. Bamford has been on the rise for the past few seasons on loan in the Championship and deserves the chance to compete for a starting spot in the top flight. He might only be Palace’s for a year, but his quality can definitely help the squad get results. For now, though, Palace seem pretty locked into the middle of the table with their talent. Their squad is cohesive enough to give problems to the top teams, and with Pardew’s tactical acumen, they might even be able to pull some upsets. But, in the end, the Eagles probably need at least one more quality player to break out of their mid-table rut.
Last Season: 11th place, Premier League
Ground: Goodison Park
Nickname: The Toffees
Key Additions: Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu, David Henen
Key Departures: Antolin Alcaraz, Silvain Distin
Everton are looking to rebound after one of the worst seasons in their recent memory, but the task staring at Roberto Martinez is a tall one. As sides who finished around the Toffees have spent their summers improving, Everton has remained fairly stagnant, desperately trying
to hold onto their star players while making a few smaller signings. Their reasoning makes sense; last year’s team was a talented one torpedoed by individual errors, and two of those most responsible — mediocre aging center backs Antolin Alcaraz and Silvain Distin — are now gone. Assuming they are replaced by emerging star John Stones full time next to Phil Jagielka, Everton will be much better at the back this season, as they still have one of the league’s best fullback duos in Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. But if Chelsea or any other of the big clubs are able to pry Stones away, the defense looks suspiciously thin, especially considering the shakiness American keeper Tim Howard displayed last season. The same can be said of the midfield; if James McCarthy sticks around despite reported discontent with his contract and interest from Tottenham, Everton’s midfield will be fine. But if he leaves, there isn’t a ton of talent left, even if there are a lot of options. Up front, the Toffees will rely on Romelu Lukaku to return to the form he showed on loan two seasons ago, and he will be supplied by a cast of wingers that includes Belgian international Kevin Mirallas and former Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu, who also starred on loan for the Toffees when they finished fifth two seasons ago. They should be able to improve their scoring output and get somewhere closer to the 61 goals of two season ago rather than the 48 of last year, and combining that with a better defense should lead to a better season at Goodison Park. If the Toffees hold on to their stars, this season should be a much better one on the blue half of Merseyside, but they’ll need to act quickly if either Stones or McCarthy departs to prevent another difficult campaign.
West Ham United FC
Last Season: 12th place, Premier League
Ground: Upton Park
Nickname: The Hammers
Key Additions: Angelo Ogbonna, Dimitri Payet, Darren Randolph, Carl Jenkinson (loan)
Key Departures: Stewart Downing
Last season, the league got exactly what it expected from West Ham: a decent year, which saw the club defeat the weak, lose to the powerful, and ultimately end up in the middle of the table where they tend to settle. But amongst growing discontent with a third consecutive finish between 10th and 13th, the London club fired manager Sam Allardyce – who guided the Hammers to the top flight four seasons ago – and has taken a new direction for the 2015-16 season by hiring former Besiktas boss Slaven Bilic, who played one year for the Hammers in the mid 1990s. Bilic has used the window to improve just about every facet of his squad behind striker Diafra Sakho, whose 10 goals led the team last year. In the midfield, the Hammers have brought in a veteran and a youngster to replace Stewart Downing, who made 36 BPL appearances for West Ham last year but left for Championship side Middlesbrough this summer. As of now, it looks like former Marseille man Dimitri Payet has the
inside track to nab Downing’s role. The French international has proved he can score as well as provide, and he looks to be ready to fill the void, though it could take some time for him to get used to the BPL’s pace and strength. Bilic’s other major midfield addition, 23-year old Pedro Obiang from Sampdoria, was a signing made with the future and present in mind. The youngster controlled Sampdoria’s midfield for the last four seasons and should be an impact player, but he could develop into a star with some seasoning. Behind that pair, the Londoners have made two significant defensive additions. Firstly, Angelo Ogbonna, who played in 26 Serie A games for Juventus last year, should be an immediate boost to the back four is reaching his prime at 27 years of age.The Hammers also added to their depth in goal by bringing in former Birmingham keeper Darren Randolph. Over the last two years, Randoph has started 91 of Birmingham City’s 92 Championship fixtures, and he could challenge Adrian for the starting job, having already made a Europa League appearance for the Hammers. Despite these additions, the Hammers haven’t improved by leaps and bounds this summer, and this season could well reflect the last few - or even be worse. But regardless of results, it will be a special year for West Ham fans as they say goodbye to Upton Park before the club moves into the Olympic Stadium next season.