Premier League Preview: Day 4
This is the fourth in a five-part preview of the Premier League season that will run through Friday. See part one here, part two here, and part three here.
Tottenham Hotspur FC
Last season: 5th place, Premier League
Ground: White Hart Lane
Nickname: Spurs, The Lilywhites
Key additions: Dele Alli, Kevin Wimmer, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld
Key departures: Younes Kaboul, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Benajmin Stambouli
Progress tends to occur somewhat slowly at White Hart Lane, but it’s really all that Spurs fans want to see in Mauricio Pochettino’s second season. Defining progress, however, is where things get dicey. The reality of Spurs’ situation is that breaking into the top four is the only way to silence the critics, but Tottenham doesn’t have the same spending
power as the elite teams. So another fifth-place finish is expected, though fourth-place dreams are sneaking into Tottenham hearts and minds. It seems like this side might not be far away from getting to that spot, either. After colossally wasting the Gareth Bale money two summers ago, Spurs have spent the offseason shifting out their deadwood while signing players who will help a backline that conceded 53 goals last season, most in the top ten. Now, Spurs have what looks like the club’s most cohesive unit since the days when Bale, Luka Modric, and Rafael van der Vaart roamed White Hart Lane. The biggest move for Pochettino this summer was the addition of Toby Alderweireld, who was one of the Premier League’s best backs while on loan at Southampton last year. He will join international and former Ajax teammate Jan Vertonghen in the center of Spurs’ defense in front of one of the best keepers in the league, French captain Hugo Lloris. At right back, Pochettino added Kieran Trippier, who was one of the league’s best crossers a year ago, from Burnley to push Kyle Walker, and Trippier could unseat the injury-prone England international. Opposite, Danny Rose improved leaps and bounds last season as both a defender and an attacker. The group could combine to form one of Tottenham’s best defenses in years, but it’ll need some protection from the midfield. Rising star Nabil Bentaleb has likely nailed down one of the spots, with new signing Dele Alli fighting incumbent Ryan Mason for the starting job next to the Algerian. In the attack, three players purchased with the Bale money — Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela — will have the freedom to move around the attacking third behind Harry Kane and create chances for England’s breakout star of 2014-15. Kane scored a staggering 31 goals in all competitions last season, but he enters this year as Tottenham’s only senior striker. An injury to either Kane or Eriksen, who scored four second-half game-winning goals last year, could torpedo Spurs’ top four chances again, so Pochettino will be looking to add depth up top over the final weeks of the transfer window.
Last Season: 6th place, Premier League
Nickname: The Reds
Key Additions: Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings, James Milner, Joe Gomez, Adam Bogdan
Key Departures: Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling
There’s no way to look back at Liverpool’s 2014-15 campaign and not mention Steven Gerrard. In his final year at Anfield before moving to the LA Galaxy, the Liverpool legend was frankly not up to Premiership snuff. For much of the season, his presence stuck Brendan Rodgers between a rock and a hard place of deciding whether to play Gerrard and appease supporters or to put his best XI on the field. This problem is now gone, and the Reds promptly replaced Gerrard with James Milner and Roberto Firmino, who will combine to plug the hole effectively. Both should be an upgrade in the center of the park, with Milner being a proven BPL veteran and Firmino, at just 23 years old, still looking at his best days in front of him. The Brazilian
international was a stalwart in 1899 Hoffenheim’s midfield for the past four seasons, playing 30 or more Bundesliga games in each, while racking up 38 goals. The task of replacing Gerrard was always going to be on the agenda for Liverpool this offseason, but following Raheem Sterling’s saga, and subsequent move to Manchester City, the Reds needed to bolster their attacking ranks. Before the Sterling madness, the club had already acquired Danny Ings — who flourished with Burnley last season but doesn’t appear to be ready to be a starter on an elite BPL squad — but with a pile of Qatari cash in their pockets following the Manchester City deal, the Reds went all in for Christian Benteke. The Belgian has been inconsistent in his time in the BPL, but when he’s in form, Benteke is a top-notch striker. He has displayed an ability to run at defenders and finish with both feet — as well as his head — from both inside the area and out. And now, with a much stronger team around him, Benteke will find himself engaged offensively in a way he wasn’t on a weekly basis at Aston Villa. If all the offensive firepower wasn’t enough, Liverpool have also picked up two pieces to strengthen their defense. Right back Nathaniel Clyne was excellent for Southampton, whose defense allowed more goals than only Chelsea, last season. At this time last year, Liverpool had few options at outside back, and Clyne is a fullback who will immediately pay dividends. The last piece of business for Liverpool was to light a fire under Simon Mignolet by bringing in Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan. Though Mignolet will most likely remain the starter for the foreseeable future, there have been questions as to whether or not the Belgian is good enough to bring Liverpool to the top. That remains to be seen, but, regardless, Liverpool have bettered their squad a ton this window. Though losing Sterling’s contributions on the field — and Gerrard’s in the locker room — are tough blows, the Reds have responded well, and it’s clear that their ownership intends to keep moving up the table.
Last season: 7th place, Premier League
Ground: St. Mary’s Stadium
Nickname: The Saints
Key additions: Cedric Soares, Juanmi, Jordy Clasie, Maarten Stekelenburg (loan), Steven Caulker (loan)
Key departures: Nathaniel Clyne, Morgan Schneiderlin, Toby Alderweireld
Following a second straight season of unexpected success, Southampton are again looking up the table for the 2015-16 campaign. This time, though, manager Ronald Koeman will have to juggle a grueling Europa League campaign with a more difficult Premiership one. For the second straight offseason, the Saints waved goodbye to
their stars, with Nathaniel Clyne following last year’s departures Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, and Rickie Lambert to Liverpool, while Morgan Schneiderlin joins Luke Shaw at Manchester United. Part of the reason the Saints were so successful last season was that Koeman’s imports transitioned seamlessly into the starting XI to replace those departed stalwarts; he’ll need similar impacts from this season’s additions. Most notable is former Feyenoord captain Jordy Clasie, a highly talented and hard-working center midfielder who should fill Schneiderlin’s shoes perfectly. Clasie, sometimes referred to as the Dutch Xavi because of his passing, is likely to be the only new starter in the front six, and he’ll be joined by returners like Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic, and midfielder partner Victor Wanyama in what should be an effective attacking group. Southampton’s success last season was built from the back, however, as the Saints allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, and Koeman has freshened up his defense with a few nice moves during the offseason. Fullbacks Cedric Soares and Cuco Martina will compete for Clyne’s vacant spot, while QPR’s Steven Caulker will replace last season’s loan stud, Toby Alderweireld, in the center of defense. Caulker is an imposing figure at the back and should settle nicely with returner Jose Fonte, one of the league’s surprises last year. Additionally, Koeman’s loan acquisition of Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg will help the side remain afloat in the Premier League until Fraser Forster returns from injury, if he is able to return. The England international suffered a broken kneecap in March, and his return date is still uncertain. There are rumors he could miss the entire season, which would put Stekelenburg on center stage. Particularly if Forster’s return continues to get delayed, this will be something of a transition season at the St. Mary’s as the Saints accustom themselves to European football. A similar league finish to last season, coupled with a run to the Europa League knockout rounds, will be seen as progress on the South Coast as Koeman continues to develop Southampton into a contender.
Swansea City AFC
Last Season: 8th place, Premier League
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Nickname: The Swans
Key Additions: Andre Ayew, Eder, Oliver McBurnie, Franck Tabanou
Key Departures: None
A year ago, Swansea vaulted out of the starting gates, winning their first three contests – including a season-opening victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford – to set the tone for another positive BPL campaign. Though the season didn’t end with European qualification, the Swans’ eighth-place finish was the club’s best since 1982 — which came during their only other stint in the top flight — and even brighter days could be on the horizon. The first job of the offseason was replacing striker Wilfried Bony, who fled to Manchester City last January. Despite not playing for Swansea during the second half of the year, Bony lead the team with nine goals on the season. The club brought in loanee Nelson Oliveira for that period in an effort to compensate, but he was ineffective in his limited time and has returned to Benfica. But the Welsh side have delved deeper into Portugal and to snatch a new striker, Eder, from Braga. The Portuguese international netted 26 times in 60 Primeira Liga games over the past three seasons, and he should provide the ability to finish Swansea so desperately lacked in the latter stages of last
year, when Bafetimbi Gomis was trying to lead the line alone. The club has also taken a shot in the dark by signing 19-year old Oliver McBurnie. The striker is highly touted by his former employers Bradford City, but it could be a few years until we really see if he pans out. Besides the obvious necessity to sign a forward, the Swans had — and still have — plenty of options during the transfer window because the team behind the strikers was so solid last year. The club elected to make an upgrade at winger, signing Ghanaian international Andre Ayew from Marseille to help Gylfi Sigurdsson – who had a breakout season for the Swans in 2014-15 – provide service to the front man. Ayew will give Swansea pace and class on the wings that Nathan Dyer, whom he will likely replace, doesn’t have, and he’ll hope to balance effectively with Jefferson Montero on the other side, who had seven assists last year. Behind that solid line of attacking mids is Ki Sung-yueng, the South Korean international, who was Swansea’s engine in the center of the park last year. And behind him rest a pair of solid center backs, Federico Fernandez and Ashley Williams, and keeper Lukasz Fabianski, who was stellar in the net a season ago, keeping 12 clean sheets. They haven’t made any major changes, but for Swansea’s current goals, they didn’t really need to. With the improvements made in the offseason, the Welsh squad doesn’t appear to have a weak link, and if they come out firing like last season, they might be able to make that success last.