Premier League: Season Preview Part III
The final part of LS Media’s Premier League season preview starts with a trip to Craven Cottage as we take a look at Fulham’s prospects this campaign…
Last season’s finish: 9th
Fulham’s small squad will benefit from being without the fixture congestion of the Europa League but as Martin Jol enters his second season in charge at the Cottage storm clouds appear to be gathering. The exit of the steadfast Danny Murphy has left a sizeable gap in proven Premier League quality in the Fulham midfield. Even more worrying for Martin Jol’s team are the nagging rumours surrounding talisman Clint Dempsey’s future at the club, which have persisted throughout their pre-season preparations. With Dempsey’s Fulham career supposedly drawing to a close added pressure is being placed on Moussa Dembele, whose creativity is integral to the Cottagers’ hopes of a top half finish.
Key Player: Moussa Dembele. The Belgian international’s blend of technical ability and work ethic will be crucial in Murphy and potentially Dempsey’s absence.
Fantasy Football Pick: Dembele again at 6.0m. After scoring a modest amount of points last season the onus is on Dembele to become this season’s fantasy football must-have.
LS Media Prediction: 13th. Jol’s credentials will be tested as he faces a challenging transitional season.
West Bromwich Albion
Last season’s finish: 10th
Roy Hodgson seemed to have finally stabilised the perennial yo-yo club of English football when he guided the Baggies to their first top half Premier League finish last season. But as the FA decided that Hodgson was their man to replace Fabio Capello the Hawthorns faithful must have been ruing the departure of their outgoing manager, whose guiding hand had finally settled the Midlands club. Hodgson will be succeeded by Steve Clarke, who will need to use his defensive expertise to its fullest extent if West Brom are to remain a Premier League outfit.
Key Player: James Morrison. Morrison’s vision is the key to West Brom’s attacking play and the Scottish international will need to be on form if Peter Odemingie and loan signing Romelu Lukaku are to thrive this season.
Fantasy Football Pick: Jonas Olsson (5.0m). Clarke’s West Brom will only be successful with clean sheets and in addition Olsson’s height means he is an aerial threat from set-pieces.
LS Media Prediction: 14th. A tough season beckons for the Baggies but they do possess enough quality to steer clear of trouble providing they don’t suffer an injury crisis.
Last season’s finish: 11th
Swansea were one of last season’s surprise packages and Brendan Rodgers’ attractive brand of football firmly established the club as a neutral’s favourite during their first Premier League campaign. With Rodgers’ departing for Liverpool, Swansea have installed former Denmark international Michael Laudrup as manager. Significantly, Laudrup’s stint at Getafe suggests that fans of Swansea’s passing game will not be disappointed this season. Yet Swansea have lost an important cog in their passing machine as Joe Allen has followed Rodgers to Liverpool. Furthermore, the failure to make Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s loan moves permanent is a huge blow to the Welsh club. Laudrup must ensure the likes of Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer, Danny Graham, Michel Vorm and Neil Taylor continue their form from last season if Swansea are to avoid becoming victims of the dreaded second season syndrome.
Key Player: Scott Sinclair. Sinclair’s progress over the last two seasons has been instrumental in Swansea’s success and the winger’s trickery will be pivotal again this campaign.
Fantasy Football Pick: Nathan Dyer (5.5m). The lively midfielder remains a bargain for fantasy football managers.
LS Media Prediction: 15th. Swansea’s hopes rest on Laudrup adapting to Premier League football, but the Swans have the quality to avoid relegation.
Last season’s finish: 12th
Another of last season’s promotion surprise packages who are preparing for the new season under the stewardship of a new manager. There is more concern for Norwich however despite Paul Lambert being replaced by an ambitious and relatively proven manager in Chris Hughton. This concern stems from the fact that the bulk of the Canaries’ squad had been transformed from a bunch of unknowns from League One into a Premier League team under Lambert’s leadership. It is vital that Hughton instantly commands his authority in order to earn the respect of the players, failure to do so could see a trip back down the league ladder for Norwich.
Key Player: Grant Holt. Holt’s impressive 15 goal haul last season provided the basis for Norwich’s successful return to the top flight.
Fantasy Football Pick: Jonathan Howson (5.0m). Howson adapted well to the Premier League following his January move from Leeds United and will be an important player for the Canaries this season.
LS Media Prediction: 18th. Life after Lambert might prove too much for Norwich’s survival aspirations.
Last season’s finish: 13th
Marin O’Neill’s December arrival following the sacking of Steve Bruce was followed by a dramatic upturn in form which steered Sunderland well clear of the relegation skirmish. Despite looking good for a top ten finish, the Mackems’ form dipped in the Spring and their lack of firepower needs to be addressed if O’Neill is top propel Sunderland into the top half of the table this term. Though in McClean and Sessegnon, O’Neill has the basis to assemble a side capable of building towards the European places over the coming seasons.
Key Player: Stephane Sessegnon. If O’Neill can add a proven Premier League goal-scorer to his squad then he has the perfect provider in Sessegnon.
Fantasy Football Pick: Frazier Campbell (5.5m). With Sunderland’s attacking options thin Campbell may be given the chance to fulfil his early potential following a series of serious injuries. Wes Brown (5.0m), John O’Shea (5.0m) and Carlos Cuellar (4.5m) are all also worth a chance.
LS Media Prediction: 9th. Without a reliable striker mid-table is the best Sunderland can expect.
Last season’s finish: 14th
The Europa League undoubtedly prevented the Potters’ uncompromising style of football from securing a higher league placing last season. With less energy sapping midweek trips to Moldova in store Tony Pulis’s team should see an improvement on last season’s paltry 11 league wins.
Key Player: Peter Crouch. Stoke’s only player to break into double figures last season claimed the highlight of the Potters’ campaign with his wonder-goal versus Manchester City.
Fantasy League Pick: Robert Huth (5.5m). Integral to Stoke’s fierce defensive unit and always has a goal in him from set-pieces.
LS Media Prediction: 12th. Another season of mid-table security for Pulis’s men.
Last season’s finish: 15th
Wigan’s survival after looking relegation certainties in January was a testament to both the tactical awareness and motivational ability of Roberto Martinez. Martinez’s switch to an effective 3-4-3 formation possessed Wigan with a previously absent fluency, whilst the Spanish manager’s ability to keep a squad seemingly destined for the drop believing was miraculous. Ultimately though the Latics’ late success only exemplified a limited squad’s incapability to prolong a run of consistency over the full course of a campaign.
Key Player: Gary Caldwell. With key player Victor Moses reportedly set to leave, Wigan will need their imposing captain to maintain his form from last season.
Fantasy Football Pick: Ali Al-Habsi (5.0m). One of the Premier League’s best shot stoppers and a penalty-kick saving expert.
LS Media Prediction: 19th. The expected sale of Victor Moses could prove too much for Wigan’s survival hopes.
Last season’s finish: 16th
Alex McLeish’s dismissal following Villa’s worst campaign of the Premier League era seemed a long time in the making as the universally unpopular former Birmingham City manager’s team crawled across the finishing line with just 38 points last term. Though the appointment of Paul Lambert has brought optimism to a set of fans who were becoming resigned to apathy over the past two seasons. Lambert’s Villa will be a more exciting prospect in the new campaign, with Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor set to be reinvigorated by the former Norwich boss’ more ambitious style of play.
Key Player: Barry Bannan. The promising young Scot will hope to progress further under Lambert as he attempts to consolidate his place in Villa starting XI.
Fantasy Football Pick: Charles N’Zogbia (6.5m). Lambert will look to reinstall N’Zogbia’s motivation, expect a dramatic improvement from last season.
LS Media Prediction: 10th. More spending is needed at Villa but Lambert’s appointment will see a reversal in fortunes.
Queens Park Rangers
Last season’s finish: 17th
QPR’s decision to sack Neil Warnock in favour of Mark Hughes almost completely backfired as Rangers stayed up on the last day of the season courtesy of Bolton Wanderers’ defeat at Stoke City. Hughes has bought well during the summer though and the arrival of Junior Hoilett and Manchester United pair Ji-Sung Park and Fabio da Silva puts QPR in good stead to enjoy a more comfortable campaign this time round.
Key Player: Ji-Sung Park. The signing of the South Korean international was a real coup for Mark Hughes. Park’s work-rate will make QPR a much tougher side to beat.
Fantasy League Pick: Adel Taarabt (6.5m). After a disappointing campaign Taarabt could prove a few detractors wrong in a better Rangers side.
LS Media Prediction: 11th. Hughes’ first full season should be a less stressful one for QPR supporters.
Last season’s finish: 1st (Championship)
Reading’s return to the Premier League is owed to the initiative of manager Brian McDermott, who despite losing key players season after season managed to keep Reading in the promotion hunt. McDermott got his just reward when Reading were promoted as champions, but the Royals will face a tough test as they aim to establish a reputation in the top flight. The signing of Newcastle’s Danny Guthrie Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak will help the Reading cause as McDermott strives to add more Premier League experience to his squad.
Key Player: Danny Guthrie. Guthrie was under-rated during his time at Newcastle and will relish the opportunity of a more prominent role at Reading.
Fantasy Football Pick: Kaspars Gorkss (4.0m). Gorkss’ steady presence at the back was fundamental to Reading’s promotion, at such a cheap price he’s well worth a gamble.
LS Media Prediction: 20th. Lack of Premier League experience within the squad may prove terminal.
Last season’s finish: 2nd (Championship)
Nigel Adkins will be hoping to emulate NorwichCity as he attempts to keep Southampton in the Premier League following consecutive promotions. The signing of Steven Davis from Rangers is an encouraging move, whilst in Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert Southampton have two players determined to prove they’re good enough for the Premier League.
Key Player: Steven Davis. Many an eyebrow was raised when Davis made the switch up North from Fulham in 2008. The composed central midfielder has the potential to be Southampton’s Joe Allen this season.
Fantasy Football Pick: Adam Lallana (6.0m). Lallana can score and provide the goals that could keep Southampton up.
LS Media Prediction: 17th. A tough task awaits but Adkins’ squad should have just enough to survive.
West Ham United
Last season’s finish: 3rd (Championship)
Sam Allardyce’s approach to the game and West Ham United aren’t exactly a match made in heaven and discord between fans and the club’s manager was prevalent during the Irons’ 2011-12 campaign, but crucially Big Sam was able to secure promotion at the first attempt via the play-offs. Allardyce will now look to find a balance in his team between the attractive football the club’s supporters demand and a stubbornness that has become his trademark. Though if West Ham should find themselves struggling there will be no prizes for guessing what will be sacrificed first.
Key Player: Mark Noble. Noble offers a mix of poise on the ball and aggression that will be essential to Allardyce’s plans.
Fantasy Football Pick: Winston Reid (4.5m). West Ham will look to have a water-tight backline as they launch their survival bid.
LS Media Prediction: 16th. Don’t expect it to be pretty but Big Sam should make the Irons tough to beat.