Premier League team previews

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Enner Valencia of West Ham United and Matic Crnic of NK Domzale in action during the UEFA Europa League Qualification round match between West Ham United and NK Domzale at London Stadium on August 4, 2016 in Stratford, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: West Ham United

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West Ham are on a slow build, and things seem to be progressing as planned.

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With Slaven Bilic at the helm, the Hammers secured European play last season, and despite a relative lack of flashiness behind superstar Dimitri Payet, a deep squad should help push them towards a repeat of that this campaign. It won’t be easy, with struggling historical powers like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United improving behind them, but the Hammers have a solid squad with which to compete.

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Unfortunately, with the Europa League having already begun, the Hammers have been big players in the transfer market, but have had little success. Injuries to key players like Aaron Cresswell and Manuel Lanzini have caused them problems early on, with the former out for months and nobody in to replace him. Sam Byram has deputized in the early going, but the Hammers have had multiple bids for multiple left-backs rejected or otherwise failed. Just Friday, a deal for Davide Santon looked complete until he failed his medical. They need a right-back as well, with Carl Jenkinson back at Arsenal and a winger in Michail Antonio currently filling in.

Lanzini has been easier to replace, with Enner Valencia stepping into the squad opposite Sofian Feghouli, who’s had a fantastic preseason and Europa League showing. Still, outside of Feghouli’s free transfer and the purchase of Lanzini on a permanent basis after last year’s loan, there has been less activity than expected at the Olympic Stadium, given the amount of rumors West Ham has been mentioned alongside.

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West Ham could slip if…they fail to find a steady replacement for both wing-back positions, fixture congestion in the Europa League strikes, and Payet regresses. Last season, Southampton found themselves out of the Europa League in the playoff stage, with the Premier League season barely having begun. If West Ham should do the same, it might help them more than it hurts them, as with the Saints last year. Making the Europa League group stage could prove a bigger distraction than it’s worth.

More than likely, they’ll repeat last year’s performance…Dimitri Payet is a wonderful player, and they may only have him one more season. Around him, the Hammers have a very deep, if not flashy, squad, and should be able to handle the Europa League’s additional fixtures. They can produce a result on any given day in league play, and that should carry them far.

Best Possible XI

—– Adrian —–

— Antonio — Nordtveit — Reid — Cresswell —

—– Kouyate —– Noble —–

 —-Feghouli —- Lanzini —- Payet —-

—— Carroll ——

Transfers In: Manuel Lanzini ($13m, Al-Jazira), Sofiane Feghouli (Free, Valencia), Gokhan Tore (Loan, Besiktas), Ashley Fletcher (Free, Manchester United),  Havard Nordtveit (Free, Borussia Monchengladbach).

Transfers Out:  James Tomkins ($12.5m, Crystal Palace), Joey O'Brien (Free, Unattached), Elliott Lee (Free, Barnsley),

Last Season: West Ham rode Bilic and Payet to a seventh place finish. They could have made the Champions League had things gone their way in the FA Cup final, but without the stroke of luck they needed, the Hammers still reached the Europa League for the second straight time. They were steady as a rock all year long, not once losing two matches in a row until the final two games of the campaign, which themselves halted an 11-match unbeaten run.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Dimitri Payet of West Ham United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at the Boleyn Ground on April 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Star Player: Dimitri Payet – The Frenchman used an explosive season to vault himself towards the Euro 2016 finals, and didn’t disappoint in his home country. Back from his post-Euro rest, Payet is ready to repeat the glitz and glamour he displayed in his first campaign in Claret and Blue. Where Payet goes, West Ham goes too; should he suffer a Premier League sophomore slump, there is no chance West Ham can achieve a finish similar to last season.

Coach’s Corner: Slaven Bilic burst onto the scene last season with the Hammers, and solidified himself as a neutral fan’s favorite character with gleaming reviews of his on-camera time during Euro 2016. Bilic pushed all the right buttons off the field last year, but more importantly, he moved the chess pieces to perfection on the pitch. Last year, Bilic boasted wins over Arsenal, Liverpool twice, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United. He deployed a 4-2-3-1 attacking system that still maintains defensive solidity, a type of double-edged sword even the best managers would salivate over. Look for more of the same.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10:  Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United points during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on May 10, 2016 in London, England. West Ham United are playing their last ever home match at the Boleyn Ground after their 112 year stay at the stadium. The Hammers will move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: Speaking of more of the same, West Ham should pull another top tier finish, likely in the seventh position again. Unfortunately, while the Hammers have a solid squad and top manager, teams around them got significantly better this summer while the Hammers treaded water. Due to this, it’s possible that they fall out of a Europa League position next season, but don’t expect too hard a fall. 7-10 should be the expectation, while anything more would be a bonus.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: West Bromwich Albion

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Captain Darren Fletcher of West Brom talks to Salomon Rondon (L) and Craig Gardner after they seem to argue over who is taking the penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion at the Vitality Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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The Baggies have forced themselves into the yearly top flight conversation, as they make their way towards their seventh consecutive season in England’s top flight, but could this be the year things go sour?

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Since promotion in 2008, West Brom have gone from perennial relegation candidates to mid-table contenders. However, yet still to take that next step towards a top-half finish, a poor finish to last campaign and a quiet transfer window has supporters worried headed into the 2016/17 season.

West Brom failed to record a single win in their final nine league games of the season headed into this summer, and the stretch run is often a relatively solid litmus test of what is to come.

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The club has added Matt Phillips from QPR in the summer to replace the departed Stephane Sessegnon, but still have yet to find a reinforcement for Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe, and with Saido Berahino coming off a very poor season, the attacking ranks are quite thin. The club was ready to break its transfer record for Diafra Sakho, but the player had some fitness concerns and the deal was scrapped.

Chris Brunt, a Baggie since 2007, is coming off an ACL tear that left his chances of playing in Euro 2016 in tatters, and could be replaced by one of a host of different West Brom defenders in the squad.

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The Baggies will make a move up the table if…they grasp Pulis-ball to the fullest, play for their manager, and get a few attacking reinforcements. The squad as it stands is not relegation quality, but without another attacker and a focused Berahino, the strike unit is very underwhelming. If this team can figure out how to score goals to go along with the defensive work rate, the club will end up with more than a few impressive results.

More likely, however, they’ll be near the bottom again…Berahino still could be off. While the club usually leaves things to the end of the transfer window, the way things stand is somewhat worrisome. Nobody outside of Rondon hit double-digit goal tally last season across all competitions, and a right-back was their second-leading scorer. Goals are the key to success this season.

Best Possible XI

—– Myhill —–

— Dawson — McAuley — Evans — Chester —

—– Yacob —–

 —-Phillips —- Gardner —- Fletcher —- McLean —-

—— Rondon ——

Transfers In: Matt Phillips ($7m, Queens Park Rangers).

Transfers Out: Victor Anichebe (Free, Unattached), Anders Lindegaard (Free, Preston North End), Stephane Sessegnon (Free, Unattached).

Last Season: The Baggies did just enough last season to remain relatively obscure for most of the year. They hovered around the 12-15 position for almost the entire year, Tony Pulis‘s first full campaign with the club after saving them from relegation the last. Unfortunately, the nine-match winless run to end the year is most fresh on the supporters’ minds, and Pulis will need to put that to bed with a solid start to this new season to keep in the good graces of his bosses.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Saido Berahino of West Bromwich Albion in action during the pre-season friendly between Plymouth and West Bromwich Albion at Home Park on July 30, 2016 in Plymouth, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Star Player: Saido Berahino – Salomon Rondon was last year’s top goalscorer, but the brightest talent on the squad is the 21-year-old…or so we thought. After the club fought tooth and nail to keep him at the Hawthornes, fending off interest from plenty top-tier English clubs, Berahino rewarded them with a paltry four league goals last season, including just one after November. It was looking like he could be headed elsewhere should the club sign Sakho, but with that transfer off, they may not be able to afford selling Berahino, meaning they’ll need him to produce. He seemed disinterested for much of last season, and was a fringe player as a result. If he wants to return to the starting lineup, he’ll need to prove his intentions are pure, and the best way to do that is by putting the ball in the back of the net.

Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis is known for his direct style of play, and it fits perfectly with the squad available to him at the Hawthornes. Pulis-ball will be back and bigger than ever this year, and they’ll need to deliver for their experienced boss if they have any hopes of staying in the league. Pulis is an expert in avoiding the drop, but not much else, having personally finished between 11th and 14th for eight consecutive seasons.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Tony Pulis, manager of West Bromwich Albion gestures during the pre-season friendly between Plymouth and West Bromwich Albion at Home Park on July 30, 2016 in Plymouth, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: West Brom will find them outside the relegation zone, but only because there are even thinner squads out there. It’s going to be a struggle this year, with few attacking options outside the unsettled Berahino, but the squad has enough defensive experience and depth to make it through unscathed. Pulis just flat out doesn’t get relegated.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Leicester City

CARSON, CA - JULY 30:  Riyad Mahrez #26 of Leicester City in action against Paris Saint-Germain during the 2016 International Champions Cup at StubHub Center on July 30, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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The dust has settled. Last season’s fairytale is now for the history books. It’s time to move on.

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Leicester City now faces a battle on multiple fronts, one that won’t be easy. With Champions League play to contend with, plus higher expectations for the Cup competitions, there will be many new challenges to face.

In addition, the Foxes will be without their most important player from last year, N'Golo Kante, who made the choice to move to Stamford Bridge. Jamie Vardy, however, decided not to leave, a major boost to the squad. It remains to be seen what Riyad Mahrez chooses, caught between Leicester and the pull of Arsenal.

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They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but this year, it’s Claudio Raneiri’s job to make sure it does. Chances are they won’t win the title again, but supporters are moreso looking for steady growth and a strengthening of the club’s position in the long term. That’s most certainly in play for the Foxes.

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Leicester City can remain among the Premier League powers if…the new signings prove to be adequate fill-ins. Nampalys Mendy will have the world’s weight on his shoulders looking to replace N’Golo Kante, and without him, the system will fall apart. Ahmed Musa will be vital, as failure to produce will put more shoulders on an otherwise thin and aging strike group split across four competitions. If the two – plus any additional talent brought in before the window closes – can produce, they can help turn this squad from Cinderella to perennial Premier League power, the next step in this club’s meteoric growth.

However, more likely Foxes will return to Earth. It’s pretty clear that Kante is somewhat irreplaceable to this squad, and his loss will show. In addition, Leicester probably could use a few more players to come in. Ranieri is big on squad cohesion, and will likely wish not to disrupt the chemistry too much with additional bodies, but another midfielder would be vital to stretch the club across all the fronts they’ll do battle. It might be too much to handle, especially at how they were hammered by PSG in preseason, although it’s hard to see them falling too drastically flat.

Best Possible XI

—– Schmeichel —–

— Simpson — Morgan — Huth — Fuchs —

Mahrez — Mendy — Drinkwater — Albrighton

— Vardy — Musa —

Transfers In: Ahmed Musa ($22m, CSKA Moscow), Nampalys Mendy ($17.5m, Nice), Ron-Robert Zieler ($4m, Hannover), Luis Hernandez (Free, Sporting Gijon).

Transfers Out: N’Golo Kante ($40m, Chelsea), Andrej Kramaric ($11m, Hoffenheim), Paul Konchesky (Free, Gillingham).

Last Season: You know all about last season. Leicester City was nearly relegated two seasons ago, some time passed, yada yada yada, they won the title. Yawn. Ok fine, it was awesome. A club that had fallen to League One not five years prior lifted the Premier League trophy. A fairytale story like none other, Leicester City will be remembered for a long time as soccer’s Little Engine That Could.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City poses with the Premier League Trophy as players and staffs celebrate the season champion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Star Player: Riyad Mahrez – The Algerian is still being wooed by Arsenal, but with every passing day it seems more and more likely he will stay. Should he remain at King Power Stadium, the Foxes will have much of the same firepower they did last year. Jamie Vardy is right there with him, but Mahrez is the magic man. The 25-year-old was an absolute workhorse, one of just 15 midfielders to top 3,000 minutes last season, and he missed just a single league match all year. To show for it, he pumped out 17 goals and 10 assists, a number which seems likely to be repeated.

Coach’s Corner: Claudio Ranieri was considered one of the better coaches in Europe never to win a trophy, and that came crashing down last season. He consistently kept his players grounded and focused during the midst of an improbable run, an incredibly difficult task with so much attention on the club. There’s no question that once Ranieri feels his work at Leicester City is complete, he will have plenty of offers coming his way. However, that does not seem to be anytime soon, and he will keep dreaming with the city of Leicester.

OXFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri looks on prior to the pre-season friendly between Oxford City and Leicester City at Kassam Stadium on July 19, 2016 in Oxford, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: People have been doubting this team for long enough that the noise about a one-hit-wonder won’t bother them. Unfortunately, that’s the realistic scenario here. European fixture congestion has taken down too many middle-tier teams to ignore. Last season, an unusually impeccable bill of health kept a thin squad from showing weaknesses in the depth department. This season, that won’t be the case. This club is too talented to be in the relegation picture, but a bottom half finish is likely, somewhere in the 10th-12th range.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Hull City

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Adama Diomande of Hull City celebrates his second goal with team mates during the pre-season friendly match between Nottingham Forest and Hull City at City Ground on July 30, 2016 in Nottingham, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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It seems like years ago that Hull City won the playoff final at Wembley over Sheffield Wednesday.

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In the few months since that major victory, shooting the Tigers back into the Premier League after just a season in the Championship, things have spiraled down towards the ground like an out of control airplane.

Manager Steve Bruce, with the club since 2012 and loved by the fans, quit after speculation for the England job seemed to unsettle him in his current position. Injuries have ravaged the squad before the season has even begun, with goalkeeper Allan McGregor and defenders Moses Odubajo, Alex Bruce, and Michael Dawson have all been ruled out for months. Despite this, the new uncertainty at the managerial position means the club hasn’t signed a single reinforcement this summer.

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For a club that has only seen Premier League action since 2007 and has never finished higher than 16th in the top flight, it will be more than an uphill battle much of the season.

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Hull City can stay up if…they find a quality manager and he pulls in signings. The Tigers relied on a solid defensive structure last season, and with so many injuries at the back to open the season, they risk putting themselves in an unrecoverable situation straight out of the gates. They need players, and they need them yesterday.

More than likely though, they’ll be headed back down. Like Burnley, this is a team that has bounced back and forth in recent years, and they look more unstable than ever before coming into this season. There is some experience in the squad between Tom Huddlestone, Mohamed Diame, Robert Snodgrass, and Abel Hernandez, but that alone won’t be able to keep the ship afloat.

Best Possible XI

—– Jakupovic —–

— Ivanovic — Dawson — Davies — Robertson —

— Diame — Huddlestone —

— Elmohamady — Livermore — Snodgrass —

— Hernandez —

Transfers In: Will Mannion (Undisclosed, AFC Wimbledon).

Transfers Out: Sone Aluko (Free, Fulham), Ryan Taylor (Free, Unattached).

Last Season: The Tigers made their way to the Premier League via the playoff, but they were solid for much of the year and put out balanced numbers. Their defensive record was worthy of a place at the top of the table allowing just four more goals than defensive stalwarts Middlesbrough, and they scored just three goals less than the league leaders. Unfortunately, while this team is built well for the slog of the Championship, they – like Burnley – have little star power and may struggle to find rewards for their hard work in the top flight.

HULL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: Robert Snodgrass of Hull City celebrates scoring during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Hull City and Brighton & Hove Albion at KC Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Hull, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Star Player: Robert Snodgrass – A classy player who has been hurt for much of his Hull career, Snodgrass shot onto the scene with Norwich City in 2013 – his first shot at the Premier League – and has backed up that production since. He’s a chance creator more than a finisher, but he’ll score the occasional goal as well. Abel Hernandez is the star finisher on the squad, with 20 Championship goals last season, but Snodgrass is the player opposing managers will be most concerned about when game-planning for Hull.

Coach’s Corner: Steve Bruce was meant to lead Hull into the Premier League for the second time in three years, but after receiving a shot at the England job that Sam Allardyce ultimately won, things went sour. Bruce resigned, and suddenly the squad is left not only thing but without a leader. They wanted Welsh boss Chris Coleman, but were turned down. The vacant managerial position is something Hull will want to sort out quickly, or else they risk an untenable situation just weeks into the new season.

PST Predicts: At this point in time, there’s only one place anyone can realistically see Hull after the season, and that’s back in the Championship. Sure, it’s a long season, and with the transfer window not closed yet, things can turn around. But if things remain as they are, and a manager isn’t found until after Opening Day, it could get ugly quick. They have a more talented squad than Burnley, and therefore can weather time without reinforcements better than their counterparts from the Championship in a similar situation, but a thin squad is deadly.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Burnley

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 30: Andre Gray of Burnley celebrates after scoring his third goal of the game with team mate David Jones during a pre-season friendly between Rangers FC and Burnley FC at Ibrox Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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Burnley has ridden the roller coaster to and from the Premier League in recent years. Up in 2014 after four years off the top flight, they slumped to relegation the next season coming seven points short of the 40-point safe zone.

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Now, having bounced straight back up after just a season in the Championship, Burnley will look to stay in the Premier League more than a single season for the first time since the 70’s.

With stability at manager under Sean Dyche, Burnley has performed well in the Championship but come up short in the top flight. They lack star power, but play as a unit, and have been somewhat unlucky at crucial points in their recent Premier League history, suffering crushing last-second defeats or finding themselves on the wrong end of pivotal refereeing decisions.

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Unfortunately, this summer has been cruelly quiet for Burnley, and now they face going into Premier League play with an arguably weakened squad. The club ended last year on a 23-game unbeaten run, but that is long since forgotten, with plenty of pessimism headed into the new campaign.

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Burnley will stay up if…They get some players in at the buzzer of the deadline, and they find goals to match their work rate. Otherwise, this appears to be a losing battle. This squad puts in plenty of hard work during matches, but last time around struggled to find a reward for their effort. They lost last year’s Player of the Year Joey Barton to Rangers, and will struggle to find a replacement.

More than likely, they will stumble back down the drop because this squad seems unable to match up to even other promoted sides. Andre Gray is a talented player in his prime at the front of the attack, and Michael Keane can be a solid Premier League player, but there’s currently not enough squad strength to help them climb the table.

Best Possible XI

—– Heaton —–

— Lowton — Keane — Mee — Ward —

— Boyd — Jones — Arfield — Kightly

— Gray — Vokes —

Transfers In: Johann Berg Gudmundsson ($3.5m, Charlton), Nick Pope ($1m, Charlton).

Transfers Out: Joey Barton (Free, Rangers), Michael Duff (Retired), Matthew Taylor (Free, Northampton Town).

Last Season: Burnley scored the most goals in the Championship and their defensive record was only bested by Middlesbrough, leading them to the 2nd tier title. Andre Gray scored 23 goals and Sam Vokes bagged 16 of his own, leading the way up front. They finished the season as strong as ever thanks to a shift in tactics from Dyche that saw Michael Duff benched (leading him to retire this summer) and Ben Mee moved into the middle of defense, a change which sparked unforeseen success.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 30: Andre Gray applauds the traveling Burnley fans during a pre-season friendly between Rangers FC and Burnley FC at Ibrox Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Star Player: Andre Gray – The 24-year-old developed a stellar partnership with Sam Vokes, but it’s obvious who the main man is. Gray scored 23 goals last season in 42 appearances after arriving from Brentford, and he’s poised to show the Premier League what he can do. Worst case scenario for Burnley – which is totally in play – is if Gray scores 15 or more goals and the club is still relegated. Gray could earn himself a spot on a more steady Premier League side while his current club drops leagues. But if the club rallies around their frontman and give him help, they will shoot up the table.

Coach’s Corner: Sean Dyche has built a somewhat steady ship at Burnley, but hasn’t been able to keep that ship afloat in the top division. He’s found a niche at a club that works for him, and while his name has cropped up for jobs at bigger places, he hasn’t found a better fit outside Turf Moor. The players run themselves ragged for him, and he often does well to get the most out of a less talented squad.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 30: Burnley manager Sean Dyche looks on during a pre-season friendly between Rangers FC and Burnley FC at Ibrox Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: Andre Gray is an up and coming Premier League mainstay, and could be the one who brings this team to another level. Unfortunately, the squad appears weaker with the departure of Joey Barton and only Johann Berg Gudmundsson in to strengthen the ranks – a guy who sprung to the surface with the Iceland run, but also found himself relegated to League One with Charlton this past year. This will be a very tough go for the team as is, and they will likely find themselves back in the Championship yet again.