Premier League 2015-16 season preview

Ten breakout players for the 2015-16 Premier League season

6 Comments

Heading into the 2015-16 Premier League season, Harry Kane is one of the favorites to win the Golden Boot following his 21-goal haul last season. But before Kane burst onto the scene at White Hart Lane last fall, he was a relatively unknown forward who was still battling for a spot on Spurs’ roster.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL season previews

With the new season kicking off tomorrow, we’re taking a look at some players who could follow in Harry Kane’s footsteps and have themselves a breakout campaign in the Premier League.

The list consists of ten players, and is in alphabetical order by club. It was tough to narrow it down, so let us know in the comments if you agree with the picks, or who you think should have made the cut.

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa (pictured above) — Grealish got a shot in the first team under Tim Sherwood towards the end of last season, and was one of the big reasons why the Villans survived relegation. His performances were highly impressive and the 19-year-old was immediately tabbed as the future of Aston Villa. Heading into 2015-16, Grealish will have a full season to showcase his talents and could officially assert himself as a star in the Premier League.

Patrick Bamford, Crystal Palace (on loan from Chelsea) — After signing with Chelsea in 2012, Bamford will finally get his shot in the Premier League at Crystal Palace. The 21-year-old has spent the past few seasons on loan, and was named Championship Player of the Year last season at Middlesbrough, scoring 19 goals in all competitions. He’s shown he can compete with the best, scoring the game-winning goal in Middlesbrough’s upset win over Manchester City in the FA Cup last January. He’s already netted a hat-trick for Palace in preseason, and playing with the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie at Selhurst Park, Bamford could have a real quality campaign for Alan Pardew’s side.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 20 Premier League teams ahead of the new season ]

Andrej Kramaric, Leicester City — The Foxes dished out a record transfer fee to bring Kramaric to Leicester during the January transfer window last season, and this year he could prove his worth. The 24-year-old striker had a prolific goalscoring record in Croatia, bagging 55 goals in 66 appearances for Rijeka before moving to the Premier League. Chelsea was also rumored to be interested in signing Kramaric last season, which shows how highly-rated he is. With Leicester likely to be in a relegation battle throughout the season, Kramaric could be the difference if the Foxes want to stay up.

FBL-MAS-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL
Ibe could have Liverpool supporters forgetting about Raheem Sterling.

Jordon Ibe, Liverpool — Ibe began last season on loan with Derby County, but was recalled in February after impressing in the Championship. At 19-years-old, the winger is lightning quick with excellent feet, very similar to a certain Raheem Sterling. Now with Sterling at Manchester City and Ibe on a new long-term contract with the Reds, he’ll have a much more prominent role in 2015-16.

Andreas Pereira, Manchester United The 19-year-old midfielder was the star player for Brazil in the U-20 World Cup this summer, and he’ll be hoping that form carries over into the Premier League. Louis van Gaal gave Pereira a solid run in United’s preseason tour, and was the Red Devils’ most impressive youngster throughout the summer. He has shown he has the talent to become a top-tier player, but his biggest challenge will be finding minutes with United’s deep lineup. Should he find his way onto the pitch, look for Pereira to have an immediate impact.

Aleksander Mitrovic, Newcastle — After leading the Belgian Pro League in scoring last season with 28 goals, Mitrovic made a $20 million move to Newcastle over the summer. Papiss Cisse scored 11 times in 2014-15 and was the only consistent attacking threat for the Magpies, as Mitrovic will be asked to score early and often under Steve McClaren. Only 20-years-old, the Serbian is known for having a bit of a temper, but could become a hero at St. James’ Park if he keeps up his goalscoring record.

Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle — Staying at St. James’ Park, Georginio Wijnaldum was one of the best summer signings in the Premier League. At 24-years-old, Wijnaldum is coming off a season in which he captained PSV to the Eredivisie title while being named Dutch Footballer of the Year. Most of the Newcastle attack will likely run through Wijnaldum, who has the ability to score goals while also setting them up. Owner Mike Ashley splashed $23 million for the Dutchman, who could prove to be an elite talent in the PL.

[ RELATED: Best starting lineups for all 20 Premier League teams — Do you agree? ]

Joselu, Stoke City — The 25-year-old is heading into his first season in the Premier League after making a $9 million move to Stoke City, the most money spent for a player under Mark Hughes. The Spaniard played under Jose Mourinho during his time at Real Madrid, and showed his potential by scoring in both of his two first-team appearances. For the Potters he’ll likely play up high with Bojan sitting in behind him which could work wonders, as the two played together in Spain’s youth setup.

FBL-ENG-PR-SWANSEA-HULL
Bafetimbi Gomis could surprise many as a top scorer in the PL.

Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City — The Frenchman scored just seven league goals last season for Swansea, his lowest output since 2006. Heading into his second season at the Liberty Stadium and with Wilfried Bony at Manchester City, Gomis will be the top striker for Garry Monk from day one. He has the ability to score 15+ goals for the Swans, and he’ll have to if they want to push for another record-breaking season in Wales.

Erik Lamela, Tottenham — Last season was Lamela’s first full campaign with Tottenham, and it was hugely disappointing. Spurs’ record signing ($45 million in 2013) showed flashes of brilliance, but failed to find consistency in his game, which had people calling for a move away from White Hart Lane. This season, Lamela can silence the critics and show he was worth the hefty price tag, as the Argentine is vital to Spurs’ push for success both domestically and in Europe.

The new fan’s 2015-16 guide to picking a new Premier League club

Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
24 Comments

Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.

[ MORE: 2015-16 Premier League season previews ]

But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. ‘They’ had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background as a proud Buffalonian, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further ado, I submit to you my 2015-16 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.

source: Getty Images
They’ve got 99 problems, but attack-minded players ain’t one.

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
PST’s Premier League season preview

Gooners… they are everywhere. That’s not a joke, as Arsenal is the most-supported team in these here United States of America. They have a massive celebrity supporter base, too, from Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of shiny fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are incredible talents, and Santi Cazorla could be among the more unheralded out-and-out superstars of all-time.

This year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight. And for a big club, they provide their fans a fair bit of misery. They’ve won the last two FA Cups, but haven’t seen a Premier League title since 2004.  Also, as a fan, you’ll have the boon of reading about “The Invincibles” nearly every week for better or worse, as Arsenal ran through the PL gauntlet unbeaten earlier this century.

2. Aston Villa
Last championship: 1980-81
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Villans
Location: Birmingham
American players: GK Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship)
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames
PST’s Premier League season preview

Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa (though now you have to contend with motor-mouthed Tim “Timmy Tactics” Sherwood as boss). Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but recently supporters have suffered through the ignominy of nearly seeing their club relegated for the first time in its history. After selling Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph this summer, that fate is quite uncertain yet again.

3. Bournemouth
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 1/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Cherries
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Southampton
Comparisons: Utah Jazz, Carolina Hurricanes
PST’s Premier League season preview

How are they even here?!?! That’s the question you can’t help but ask when you read about a club that’s never made it this far, and plays in a stadium that seats just 12,000. In some ways, last season’s Burnley campaign will be replicated here in terms of underdog story. Their crest is a man heading the ball incorrectly, unless of course the Cherries player is clearing the ball from danger. We’ll be rooting for the upstarts this season.

4. Chelsea
source: Last championship: 2014/15
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, QPR
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins
PST’s Premier League season preview

Last year’s champions made it five titles, and Jose Mourinho’s position as one of the best managers in the game is buttressed by the wealth of talent purchased by owner Roman Abramovich. The London club has Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Mourinho enters season No. 3 with the best attacking midfielder in the league in Eden Hazard, and likely the best defensive mid as well in Nemanja Matic.

You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry and the gloved theatrics of brilliant striker Diego Costa, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 8/24
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies
PST’s Premier League season preview

Palace is a truly intriguing option due to incredible fans and their manager, Alan Pardew, who is at best a goofball and at worst a lunatic. Palace is a real working-class London club, and the addition of “Pardiola’s” former Newcastle star Yohan Cabaye gives them a flair to match their work rate.. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: GK Tim Howard
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos
PST’s Premier League season preview

Roberto Martinez’s crew had a tough season last year, as contending with the UEFA Europa League schedule pushed the team down the standings for much of the year. Their defense is solid, with Phil Jagielka pacing a unit with Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and, for now at least, young John StonesRomelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are fun to watch, but need to take that next consistent step to raise the Toffees. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.

7. Leicester City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 10/24
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles
PST’s Premier League season preview

Leicester — or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say — engineered a stunning salvation to their Premier League hopes last year under Nigel Pearson, but enter a new era after the boss was fired due in large part to a racist incident in Thailand involving his son (He’s also choke-held an opposing player, for what it’s worth). The Foxes are four-time FA Cup finalists and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.

8. Liverpool
source: APLast championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers
PST’s Premier League season preview

It’s a new era for Liverpool now that Steven Gerrard has waltez (or dance-halled) himself over to Los Angeles, but really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the BPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). And, as a fan — like Manchester United — now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. The Reds have added a good batch of players in Danny Ings and James Milner, while ridding themselves of the endless Raheem Sterling saga. Upgrades to their attack give the Reds their best chance for a title in ages.

9. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 19/24
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels
PST’s Premier League season preview

Manchester City has great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. Winners of two of the last four PL crowns, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation (though the club may struggle more than usual this season, in my opinion). There’s a natural connection to New York City FC in Major League Soccer.

10. Manchester United
Last championship: 2012-13
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots
PST’s Premier League season preview

Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team re-enters the UEFA Champions League debate after more than a half-decade since its last title. As far as the Premier League, there’s a new batch of world-class talent from Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay. Manager Louis Van Gaal has a great resume and the club’s loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and one of Germany’s all-timers in Bastian Schweinsteiger. If United can find a center back to upgrade over Phil Jones, the club can compete for anything they want in 2015-16.

11. Newcastle United

source: Getty ImagesLast championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 22/24
Nickname: Magpies
Location: North England
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills
PST’s Premier League season preview

Hey, do you like misery? Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history — and a great read at that — is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness, have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. New manager Steve McClaren has a slew of new talent this season including Giorginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic, and the Magpies might have the talent to tempt the Top Ten again.

12. Norwich City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 8/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: The Canaries
Location: Norwich
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Ipswich Town
Comparison: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions… heck, the NFC North
PST’s Premier League season preview

First off: Read Joe Posnanski’s brilliant SportsWorld piece on the Canaries. Norwich is a high-firing, well-spirited club and their colorful unis were matched by their play in 2014-15, which saw them rise back to the Premier League. The Canaries have the “oldest football supporters song in the world”,

“Kick off, throw in, have a little scrimmage,
Keep it low, a splendid rush, bravo, win or die;
On the ball City, never mind the danger,
Steady on, now’s your chance,
Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal, City! City! City!”

Have a little scrimmage!!!!!!

The club has more than 8,000 public shares in a bit of Packers-esque ownership. They’ve been at their grounds — stadium — on Carrow Road since 1935, so the historical and road-tripping allure is there.

13. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 17/24
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: St. Louis Blues, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Vikings
PST’s Premier League season preview

A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into the Europa League. Southampton has done marvelous things under former Edmonton Oilers — you read that right — boss Ralph Kruger, and continues to sell off big pieces while acquiring intriguing talent. Look out for Jordy Clasie to be perhaps the league’s best signing of the summer.

14. Stoke City

source: Getty Images

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 8/24 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: DF Geoff Cameron
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers
PST’s Premier League season preview

Here’s a club with a legit chance to make a run for Europe for the first time in history. Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. and the Potters were really humming under Mark Hughes last season. Marko Arnautovic and the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron are big parts of the club, which has now added four Barcelona players in the last half-decade. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league. And Stokesalona has thrilling, diminutive forward Bojan Krkic.

15. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 15/24
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs
PST’s Premier League season preview

There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with holdover manager Dick Advocaat, but the club has seen a series of seasons that include hanging out near the bottom of the league before surviving by the skin of its teeth. It’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last two seasons to remain in the top flight. Sunderland is owned by an American and has a relationship with DC United of Major League Soccer. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

16. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 5/24
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns
PST’s Premier League season preview

A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive as a first-year boss two years ago before turning them into a fun contender last season. With the addition of Andre Ayew, Swans are a candidate — along with Stoke —  to become a perennial top-half contender. If I were coming along now, I’d be tempted to adopt the Welsh side.

17. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: DF DeAndre Yedlin
Biggest rivals: Arsenal
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys
PST’s Premier League season preview

Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, an inventive manager and a cool-albeit-goofy logo. They also play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Aside from the chanting of a gentleman — the chanting, not the gentleman — at my local pub who tries to cram “Rock The Casbah” in my eardrums 30 times a match, there’s really a terrific tradition at the North London club and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

18. Watford

source: Getty Images

Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 3/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Hornets
Location: Hertfordshire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Luton Town
Comparisons:
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Hornets have made it to the Premier League twice before, only to go bounding back down to the Championship after a season each time. This year could be different, with Valon Behrami among the stars set to make a difference for Sir Elton John’s favorite club. Manager Quique Flores has a lot of work to do, but this is a club that gave USMNT star Jay DeMerit a shot and he ended up their captain.

19. West Bromwich Albion

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 10/24
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers
PST’s Premier League season preview

I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

source: Getty Images20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 20/24
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers, Oakland Raiders
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that had a great first half of last season, so perhaps new manager Slaven Bilic can harness that into a full campaign. The focus of some hard-nosed supporter stories — the film “Green Street Hooligans” was penned about fictional West Ham fans — the Hammers have plenty of grit on the pitch as well. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added big talent to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.

Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Epic title race set to take center stage

3 Comments

Are Manchester United’s new boys up to the challenge?

Louis van Gaal has spent another $120 million on new signings this summer, as his total expenditure on transfer fees alone since taking charge at Old Trafford 12 months ago has risen to $320 million. With those huge amounts of cash comes a huge amount of expectation.

[ MORE: PST’s writers predict the final PL standings ]

With five new signings arriving this summer, this side is now a true reflection of van Gaal and his philosophy. The Dutchman delivered a top four finish last season, exactly what he promised, but if he doesn’t at least finish in the top two this season, serious questions will be asked. 

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL season previews

Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have arrived to bolster the holding midfield positions, while Matteo Darmian will start at right back and the eccentric, but hugely talented, Dutch youngster Memphis Depay will support Wayne Rooney in attack. Following the departure of Falcao and Angel di Maria this summer after an unsuccessful year at United, van Gaal will be hoping his new signings have a significantly bigger impact.

On paper, United’s midfield is the strongest in the PL but if Rooney goes down following the departure of Robin van Persie, they only have Depay who can play centrally in a pinch, and young striker James Wilson. At the back, question marks remain in central defense, but if Chris Smalling and Phil Jones stay injury free they can provide the solidity needed to mount a serious title charge, providing Rooney and Co. take care of business at the other end of the pitch.

[ MORE: Can United mount a serious title challenge? ]

The big question mark heading into this season for United remains whether or not goalkeeper David de Gea will remain at Old Trafford. The 24-year-old Spanish international has yet to commit his future to United and with just one-year left on his current deal and the links with Real Madrid persisting, LVG could start with new ‘keeper Sergio Romero on the opening day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur. De Gea was the star of the show for United last season and was the reason they finished in the top four. If he leaves or this situation continues to drag on, the Red Devils’ chances of challenging for the title will be a lot slimmer.

Can Chelsea hold off the big spenders?

Reigning PL champs Chelsea have had a frugal summer, and Jose Mourinho is fine with it. The Blues have added Asmir Begovic in goal and Radamel Falcao on loan to boost their already strong squad. But have they strengthened sufficiently to deal with the challenge of United, Arsenal and Manchester City?

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

The main area of concern is up front. Diego Costa’s hamstring issues have continued throughout the summer and with Didier Drogba gone, Mourinho only has Loic Remy and Falcao in attack to replace Costa. Mourinho has admitted he cannot reassure Chelsea as to the future health of Costa and although Eden Hazard has been pulling off Lionel Messi-esque moments during preseason, he can’t do it all on his own. Losing the focal point of their attack for most of the second half of last season severely hampered Chelsea’s attacking prowess and if Costa is missing for large chunks of this season, relying on Remy and Falcao may not cut it. Defensively the Blues look as sound as ever, but as we saw during their Community Shield defeat to Arsenal, the competition is catching up fast which should make this a much tighter title race than last season.

Is Cech the final piece in Arsenal jigsaw?

Petr Cech’s arrival seems to have already given the fans, players and coaches at Arsenal a big lift, with the veteran goalkeeper finally adding what the Gunners have lacked for nearly a decade: a world class stopper. Cech, 33, finally got fed up of sitting on the bench behind Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea and after plenty of negotiations between Mourinho and Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich, Cech was allowed to leave for the club of his choice. That turned out to be Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal, who are now serious rivals to Chelsea’s title.

[ MORE: Can Arsenal win the title with Cech on board? ]

For years Arsene Wenger’s side have played the most attractive soccer in the PL but have failed to win the league since 2004. The main reason for that has been defensive solidity and organization. However when  you sign Cech, a goalkeeper who has won 13 major titles during his 11-year stint at Chelsea, you don’t just get a great stopper. You get a guy who can organize the back line and with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny solidifying their central defensive partnership, the Gunners looked an incredibly strong defensive unit against Chelsea in the Community Shield. Now, if Wenger can add a true 25 goal-plus striker (Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain continue to be linked) before the end of the transfer window, the Gunners will be legit title contenders.

Pellegrini under pressure, as City look for Sterling to deliver

Talking of title contenders, Manuel Pellegrini has been bullish about Manchester City’s title hopes this season but many, including most of our writers in their preseason predictions, have City slumping. Despite signing Raheem Sterling for an eye-watering $75 million, the only other additions this summer have been Fabian Delph and young striker Patrick Roberts. With Pellegrini signing a new contract extension on the eve of the new season, there is some stability but it is still a huge season for the Chilean manager.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

City finished second last season but you feel that anything other than a title winning campaign will spark the end for Pellegrini, even with his new deal. The erratic form of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure was crucial in City’s demise last season, but with Sergio Aguero as sharp as ever, plus Sterling and David Silva linking up well in preseason, that trio could dazzle this season. There will be plenty of pressure on Sterling but like his manager, there is faith in their abilities from City’s owner. Now, they must deliver.

Liverpool’s rebuild; can Spurs and Saints challenge top four?

For the second summer in a row, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has undertaken a huge revamp of his squad after key departures. Last summer Luis Suarez left, this summer it was Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling departing as over $115 million has been spent on the likes of Christian Benteke ($50 million) and Roberto Firmino ($40 million) to significantly boost their chances of returning to the top four after a disappointing sixth-place finish last season. Add in the Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner and Danny Ings singings and Rodgers has added players with plenty of PL experience to guide his side back to the top four, plus Daniel Sturridge will return from injury in September.

[ MORE: Second rebuild in a row for Liverpool ]

With the Europa League a distraction for Liverpool, their main aim will be to finish above Chelsea, Arsenal, and the two Manchester clubs. Whether or not that’s attainable will become quickly apparent and the pressure will pile on Rodgers if another new-look side struggles in the early part of the season.

Tottenham and Southampton finished either side of Liverpool last season in fifth and seventh respectively, and both harbor hopes of once again flirting with a top four position. Spurs have strengthened their sieve-like defense consisderably (Toby Alderwiereld is the key addition) but with Mauricio Pochettino in his second season in charge at White Hart Lane, his players know his philosophy and his young squad must finally fulfill its potential and achieve a top four finish. As for Pochettino’s old club Southampton, they will have a struggle on their hands to replicate their best-ever PL finish of seventh from last season. Ronald Koeman has once again wheeled and dealed admirably in the transfer market but after losing Schneierdlin to Manchester United and Clyne to Liverpool, plus having a potential Europa League group stage to deal with, the Saints may not go marching on much further this season. Another intriguing storyline to look out for is the emergence of Swansea, Crystal Palace and Stoke City as established PL clubs. All three finished in the top 10 last season and have made shrewd signings this summer. They may not challenge for a top four berth yet, but these clubs will be vying for the top eight.

New boys on the block

Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City join the part this season as the trio were promoted from the English Champions (second-tier) last season. For Bournemouth, their tiny Vitality Stadium holds under 12,000 fans but under a wealthy Russian owner and a progressive, young head coach in Eddie Howe, the Cherries should cause plenty of upsets along the way and have a good chance of staying up in their first-ever season in the PL.

As for Watford, they have a host of new signings (12 in total) and new manager Quique Flores will have his work cut out to gel everything together. The Hornets have been relegated straight away in their previous two seasons in the PL, but they can expect a little better this time around with Troy Deeney up front.

Finally there’s Norwich; Make sure you sit down and read Joe Posnanski’s brilliant longform article on the Canaries, as young manager Alex Neil took charge midway through last season and guided them straight back to the PL. Norwich have bags of PL experience but not strengthening this summer could haunt them.

Foreign imports: top five to look out for

With over $750 million spent on new signings by Premier League clubs already this summer, there are plenty of new players to look out for.

In the video above I select my top five new guys who will grace the PL for the first-time in their careers this campaign.

New managers have tough task to turn things around

Steve McClaren and Slaven Bilic have tough jobs on their hands to steady the ship and progress Newcastle United and West Ham United respectively. Both have been given plenty of money to spend this summer, but McClaren will be feeling plenty of pressure to deliver a top 10 finish for a club whose fans and owner always demand more. As for West Ham, they have turned to their former defender Bilic to lead them in their final season at their famous Upton Park stadium and although they have brought in plenty of players with experience of European soccer, the Hammers already crashed out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds to start the season off on a bad note.

Although these two new managers have the talent in their squad to be in the top 10, they could well see their teams embroiled in a relegation battle this season. Elsewhere, Claudio Ranieri has a big job on his hands at Leicester City. The veteran Italian manger — infamously known as “The Tinkerman” during his time at Chelsea — has inherited a squad of players signed by Nigel Pearson and following his firing this summer, despite keeping the Foxes up against all the odds last year, Ranieiri will have to hit the ground running. Other managerial storylines to keep on eye on include Roberto Martinez at Everton and Dick Advocaat. Both will be on a short leash if they have a poor start to the season.

Don’t miss a second, all season long

For the third season in a row we will bring unprecedented coverage of the Barclays Premier League. From video highlights, injury and team news, analysis, recaps and more, here at PST we will give you all the important information you need from the PL.

And of course, you can stream every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. Plus there will be at least four feature games on NBCSN, NBC and USA every weekend. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Right, are you ready? Let’s do this.

Premier League forwards preview: Who’s in the top five? Who just missed out?

7 Comments

As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

Scoring goals — more than your opponent, at least — is the name of the game. Clean sheets are great, but you can’t win if someone doesn’t put one over the other team’s goal line.

[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams

There’s very good reason that strikers — proven goalscorers especially — cost a real premium price on the transfer market. There are few players who can do the job at an elite level, so the biggest, richest clubs typically sign all of them.

So it’s no coincidence that the below list, featuring the Premier League’s top five strikers, all hail from the five teams who finished one through five in the league last season. A leading man with the kind of quality that these guys possess, capable of putting the ball in the back of the net time and again, is truly invaluable.

[ MORE: Predicting the final league standings | Top 5 goalkeepers | Defenders | Midfielders ]

With that said, who’s our top five Premier League strikers, and in what order?

5. Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur — 19 league goals in 24 appearances — Let us not forget that last year was Kane’s first “full” season in the first team. He is just 22 years old. He didn’t start his first league game until Nov. 9 of last year. The meteoric rise and goal return were phenomenal, but showing this season that he’s not a one-hit wonder would be even more impressive.

4. Olivier Giroud, Arsenal — 12 league goals in 21 appearances last season — a goals-per-game rate equal to those of Nos. 1 and 2 on this list. The problem, of course, are all the games missed. Is the 28-year-old Frenchman an enigma and often times his own worst enemy? You bet he is, but on his day, he’s nearly unplayable.

source: AP3. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United — 12 league goals in 33 appearances last season — not exactly gaudy numbers, so what is he doing in a top-five list, you ask? Bear in mind, Rooney wasn’t a full-time forward in 2014-15, but looks set to play the bulk of this season as the leading man. Perhaps the most versatile player in the PL, the 29-year-old is somehow criminally underrated.

2. Diego Costa, Chelsea — 19 league goals in 24 appearances — not bad numbers for a player’s first season in England. The issue, of course, are the 14 goals Costa didn’t play, almost solely due to constant injuries. This was the case at Atletico Madrid and remains the only thing holding the 26-year-old Brazilian-turned-Spainard back from blowing the PL to smithereens.

1. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City — 78 league goals in 120 games played — that’s the kind of production for which any team in the world would pay any price. The 27-year-old Argentine seemed to shake off the injury bug (27 games missed during his first three seasons in England) last season, when he played 33 of 38 games and bagged 26 goals.

Honorable mention: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Wilfried Bony (Manchester City) and Graziano Pelle (Southampton)

Manchester United — Are they Premier League title contenders in 2015-16?

8 Comments

As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

It has been exactly 836 days since Manchester United last lifted the Premier League trophy. For the non-mathletes among us, that means two PL seasons.

[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams

While that doesn’t sound all that long to someone who doesn’t support the Red Devils, that’s practically an eternity in Man United years.

Thus, the spectacularly expensive rebuild under the new direction of Louis van Gaal ($356 million spent in his two summer transfer windows in charge) has been universally welcomed by the Old Trafford faithful. But to what effect has the Dutchman overhauled an aging, stagnant squad and turned them into Premier League title contenders?

Van Gaal’s first transfer window, in the summer of 2014, could be described, largely, as a flop. He splashed out $99 million for Angel di Maria, who scored just three league goals last season and left the club for Paris Saint-Germain a year later, for a fee of $68 million — not only was Di Maria largely a flop while at Man United, he cost the club a loss of $30 million in just 12 months.

Van Gaal’s other big buys — Ander Herrera ($48 million), Luke Shaw ($45 million), Marcos Rojo ($27 million) and Daley Blind ($24 million) — all proved to be varying levels of “meh” in their first seasons at Old Trafford, as well.

[ RELATED: Petr Cech’s Arsenal arrival — the final piece for a real PL title challenge? ]

source:
Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Matteo Darmian

United’s signings in the summer of 2015 look to be less “this player is available, so we should sign him” (Di Maria) and more “this player fits a very specific need of ours, and he’s really good, so we should sign him.” That goes for all four of Van Gaal’s latest recruits — Memphis Depay ($48 million), Morgan Schneiderlin ($39 million), Bastian Schweinsteiger ($22 million) and Matteo Darmian ($20 million).

The problem with United’s title chances in 2015-16 is as follows: As outlined in yesterday’s piece regarding Arsenal’s title hopes, of the last 13 Premier League champions, all 13 possessed either one of, or both, the league’s top defense or attack, measured by goals conceded and goals scored.

United finished the 2014-15 season the fourth-best in both categories — five more goals conceded than Chelsea’s 32, and a whopping 19 fewer goals scored than second-place Manchester City. While that seems a daunting enough task in itself, there’s also a matter of the gap in points won — 17 — from last year’s winners, Chelsea, to United in fourth.

[ MORE: Predicting the final league standings — Who wins? CL places? Relegation? ]

While the Blues have largely stood pat this summer — the signing of now-former Man United striker Radamel Falcao being the lone exception — have United done enough to close a gap that vast? The simple answer is, “Probably not,” but then I begin to think deeper and wonder, “If not United, then who will challenge Chelsea for the title?”

source:
Memphis Depay & Louis van Gaal, Manchester United FC

The midfield is lightyears ahead of where it was last season — the trio of Scheiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick will form perhaps the best two- and/or three-man midfield in the league — while Memphis, a winger/center forward hybrid, seems a much better fit than his departed predecessor when ask to play on the left and combine with Wayne Rooney. Depth is now an issue, though, with Robin van Persie departing and all signs pointing toward Javier Hernandez doing the same.

Then there’s the defense, which despite solidifying the right back spot with Darmian, still has a ways to go at left back (Shaw) and looks all but set on beginning the season with some combination of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Daley Blind at center back.

In brief summation, Man United’s 2015-16 title hopes: 3/10. Other non-Chelsea sides’ title hopes: 2/10.