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English Premier League Preview 2013-14
Gary Jordan tackles the contenders for the forthcoming soccer season - from first to worst
The English Premier League (EPL) has often been quoted as the most entertaining in the world, and with good reason. Every year its shifting line-up of 20 teams capture a new crop of fresh and exciting world-class players before fighting it out over nine months of high pressure, nerve shredding, fast paced football. This season promises to be no different as a new post-Sir Alex Ferguson era begins. The legendary Scottish manager had so much success the past two decades with his Manchester United side that not seeing him on the sidelines will at first seem odd. As time slips by, his absence may prove refreshing: after all, it does give other teams a chance to raise some silverware come the end of the season in May. Or does it?
Another figure to leave the pressure cooker environment of the Premier League is USA national player Clint Dempsey. The towering striker has decided to go back to the States, departed Tottenham Hotspur for the Seattle Sounders. During his six seasons here, Dempsey amassed 213 appearances, 57 goals... and two in-depth interviews in The American (here and (here). Fulham saw the majority of his EPL time, and he was always a consistent - and often clutch - performer. His attitude to the game was top notch, something that the fans of the Sounders will see first hand.
Let's take a look at who has the best chance to be crowned champions of the EPL this year, and who will be happy just to avoid the trap door of relegation.
MANCHESTER UNITED won last season's title with ease. They were ahead of the pack for much of the year and further cemented themselves as the best team in English football history. They will once again look to Dutch striker Robin van Persie to bag them the goals, and new manager David Moyes, recruited from Everton, will have to steady the ship after Sir Alex Ferguson's departure from the hot seat. They will once again be the team to beat, and Malcolm Glazer will be proud of his charges once more.
MANCHESTER CITY could not repeat the tremendous year they had in 2011/12 in beating neighbours United to the title by the most slender of margins. They too have a new manager with Manuel Pelligrini now in charge after the club severed ties with Roberto Mancini. The failure to back up the title win with no trophy was too much for the big financial backers to bear. They have splashed out big in the summer transfer market and will look to push on this term.
CHELSEA have kept most of their squad intact and despite another roller coaster season, finished strong. The big news for the West London club is that fan (and media) favourite Jose Mourinho is back in the dugout. He orchestrated the club's success a decade ago when they won back-to-back titles. The team and fans will hope that he can work his magic again and will be United's closest challenger this time.
ARSENAL is the team that flatter to deceive. They blow very hot, and then inexplicably very cold. Arsene Wenger remains the man in charge and has stuck with his own tried and tested policy of buying relatively cheap and nurturing younger players in his system. It is becoming very tired though, and he may need to rethink if they are to challenge for top honours; after all, majority stake holder Stan Kroenke will want to see a return on his investment.
TOTTENHAM HOTPUR will be looking to break the grip the above four teams have in those positions. There's no doubt they have the talent to do it, but always seem to fade away when the season draws to a close. They need to make it to the Champions League if they are to have a consistent shot at attracting big name players into their squad. This could be that year. USA interest here with veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
EVERTON over recent years have punched above their weight. This was largely down to the manager, but now he has set off for a new challenge can the blue half of Merseyside continue to surprise? If the top players aren't poached by the end of August they could be okay. Ex-Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez knows how to get the best out of a limited squad. USA goalie Tim Howard is still the man charged with keeping the ball out of the net.
LIVERPOOL is the real sleeping giant in the league and are showing steady signs of improvement. They are still some way off a title challenge, but their realistic aim will be top four and Champions League football the following year. They will not want to be behind their blue rivals again, and should have enough to do that at the very least. Owner John W.Henry remains in charge after a shaky start to his ownership.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION was a real handful for most clubs last season and deserved their top ten finish. They will be hard pressed to repeat that this time out though as they may have lost the shock element to their game that was bought in by manager Steve Clarke. Mid-table beckons again.
SWANSEA CITY had an amazing first season in the Premiership. They played an attractive style of football that was a joy to watch at times. They have European football to perhaps distract them this year as they won the League Cup last term. They will do very well to finish top ten again.
WEST HAM UNITED will always be a team that, on their day, can beat anyone. It's the lack of consistency that gets them into trouble. They did very well not to be involved in the relegation scrap at all during last season, and will be happy if that's the case again this time.
NORWICH CITY will look to improve on the ten wins they gained last year, and in doing so move away from the fringes of the dogfight at the bottom. They may find this tougher than expected and a tricky season could be ahead. FULHAM, under the new ownership of Shahid Khan, should have enough in the tank to see them survive another year. They are another team that on their day could be a match for any team in the league, but they will have their new owner wanting more. Expect a mid-table finish for the Cottagers.
NEWCASTLE UNITED had a terrible time in the league. A team that felt it was too good to go down almost suffered that fate. Expect better this time; they will be comfortably away from the drop zone.
STOKE CITY was a squad that most teams feared playing due to their very direct approach to the game: kick it long and see what happens. Well they too have a new manager, and this one likes the ball on the ground more. Could be a nervy time if you follow this team, so expect a relegation dogfight. Gold Cup winner Brek Shea will hope to impress enough to gain a regular position in the midfield, alongside defender Geoff Cameron.
SOUTHAMPTON made steady progress throughout the 2012/13 season and will look to build on that. They have a decent set-up and if they could turn some of the many draw results they had into wins, they will be a safe mid-table team come May. ASTON VILLA were so close to being a big-name casualty last time, Randy Lerner's team will want to avoid that again. A decent solid start is needed, or the doubts will creep in again. They should avoid the drop, but only just. Another US national, Brad Guzan will look to break through this year and keep goal for Villa.
SUNDERLAND fans will have no shortage of entertainment this year, the problem is most of it will come from their charismatic manager Paulo Di Canio. This team is on the brink, and could fall over the edge into the abyss. Striker Jozy Altidore keeps the Stars & Stripes flying, and looks to fit into the first team in his goalscoring role. American owner Ellis Short will want to see the headlines for the right reasons, winning games.
CARDIFF CITY were the runaway winners of the Championship last year and after gaining promotion to the elite league they should take that momentum forward gaining enough points early to stave off any relegation worries later in the season. A mid-table finish above Swansea should be the aim.
HULL CITY had a strong finish to last year giving them the second automatic promotion spot from the Championship. The problem here is that they can't attract star players, and unfortunately their lack of depth in the squad will mean an instant return to the second tier of English football.
CRYSTAL PALACE found the Premier League promised land via the end of season playoffs. They will have the surprise win or two during the year, but will suffer the same fate as Hull, a lack of depth and too many defeats that should have been points gained will see them drop out of the big time.