Premier League season preview – every team rated

Just over a week remains before the Premier League kicks off again after a three month hiatus. From what the transfer window has given us so far, this should be a tight, competitive campaign, but there will still be winners and losers and mid-table fodder.

Here, each team will be reviewed and rated, from Arsenal to West Ham United. Who will be the champions, who will face the drop, and how will your team fare?

Arsenal (4th)

So far, all their heavy transfer talk has come to no avail. Luis Suarez hasn’t arrived, and the chiefs at the Emirates put a deal for Gonzalo Higuain on ice to accommodate the Uruguayan. It could be another difficult summer, but Arsene Wenger has a knack for scarping into the Champions League places, no matter what faces him.

Aston Villa (16th)

Paul Lambert has made some clever acquisitions this summer but you have to fear that his unwillingness to play his more premium players – Darren Bent, Charles N’Zogbia – could come back to bite him. That said, he’s a good manager, who might be able to steer them clear of the drop.

Cardiff City (20th)

They come as the most prepared club from the Championship, having won the league and, more importantly, carrying forward the healthiest budget. Steven Caulker is a good full back, but £8 million is a lot to pay. It’s a similar tale with Andreas Cornelius. They are building a solid side but could be in for a tough campaign.

Chelsea (1st)

Jose Mourinho is back and the self proclaimed ‘Happy One’ has brought a buzz back to Stamford Bridge. The signings Chelsea have made are impressive and their new manager’s influence should make them a Championship winning outfit. Whether it will last beyond a year, though, is a different story.

Crystal Palace (18th)

Ian Holloway will return to the Premier League and will return with a team fond of attacking football but will, most likely, be leaky at the back. His side has many similarities with that of Blackpool’s 2010 team and a similar fate will most likely befall them.

Everton (11th)

Under Roberto Martinez, Everton are an unknown quantity. They will lose their relative solidity, that’s for sure, but their new gaffer’s style of play could work wonders at Goodison Park. The Merseysider’s could be in for a season of consolidation and would do well to break into the top half, taking into account some uninspiring signings.

Fulham (7th)

It’s difficult to say where the Cottagers are heading given their new ownership. Shahid Khan has funds but it is unclear just how much of his wealth he is willing to expose to Martin Jol. If he is prepared to splash a little more, and some major gaps are filled, a solid season is in store.

Hull City (17th)

Hull have something both Palace and Cardiff will be jealous of – a manager who has been successful at this level. That could make a difference for an otherwise Championship quality squad. A few good signings could mean relegation can be avoided.

Liverpool (6th)

Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool should continue to grow. Philippe Coutinho has the potential to be huge but losing Luis Suarez could dent any hopes of breaking into a strong top five.

Manchester City (3rd)

Manuel Pellegrini is a strong manager, and City have probably made the most influential investments of any top club this summer. They’re still not a complete package, though, with Chelsea possessing more quality and United possessing more guile.

Manchester United (2nd)

David Moyes is the most obvious choice to take United forward and his time will come, but this season could be too early for him. The Scotsman has inherited a good squad, but they are no vintage side. Robin van Persie will get him goals but the change in manager may dampen their season a little.

Newcastle United (14th)

Last season exposed the Geordies as a distinctly average side and the shambles behind the scenes with Joe Kinnear will not make things easier. The lack of European football will surely help, however, and a squad brimming with quality should achieve safety without too much trouble.

Norwich City (10th)

The Canaries have probably made the best signings in this transfer window, though they have concentrated somewhat heavily on a forward department that, with the early signing of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, is already strong. Leroy Fer is a superb midfielder and Nathan Redmond could break into the first eleven. Chris Hughton is an unremarkable manager, however, and 10th could be their limit.

Southampton (12th)

Another side that have spent heavily so far this summer, Southampton should have a campaign to get excited about. Mauricio Pochettino has proved himself a good manager, too, but they don’t come without some severe concerns. They have spent heavily on unproven players and have a knack for beating the big teams and stumbling when against the minnows.

Stoke City (15th)

With Tony Pulis gone, it is a new dawn at the Britannia Stadium. Mark Hughes will look to change the style of play – more through pressure than a desire to himself – and this transition could take its toll on Stoke. They’ll do well to beat the drop, and they probably will eventually.

Sunderland (19th)

Paolo Di Canio inspired something of a resurgence when he arrived late last season at the Stadium of Light. Not everyone will get on with his hard-line persona though and he could quickly lose the respect of an otherwise decent squad. If that happens, a slog is in store.

Swansea City (8th)

The Welsh side have a lot to be excited about this year, but the luxury of Europa League football has its inevitable drawbacks. Wilfred Bony will take the goal burden off of the shoulders of Michu, and Michael Laudrap has built a top ten side. Breaking into the top six could even be on the cards.

Tottenham Hotspur (5th)

Gareth Bale, Gareth Bale, Gareth Bale. Everything rests on Gareth Bale. The Welshman is probably the best player in the Premier League right now and retaining him is key to pushing for a Champions League place. That will be as good as it gets, though, and losing the winger could lead to a more troublesome season for Andre Villas-Boas.

West Bromwich Albion (9th)

The Baggies have lost their most vital asset last year in Romelu Lukaku but have replaced him well in seasoned veteran Nicholas Anelka. They are different types of player, however, and the speed at which their new Frenchman settles in will have a huge effect on how this campaign will go.

West Ham United (13th)

Everything is in place at Upton Park to do well. A good manager, a solid squad and a star striker should mean a positive year for the Hammers. Andy Carroll is not the answer to every prayer, though, and an over-reliance on the former Newcastle man could cost dear.

Predicted League Table

1 Chelsea
2 Man Utd
3 Man City
4 Arsenal
5 Spurs
6 Liverpool
7 Fulham
8 Swansea
9 West Brom
10 Norwich
11 Everton
12 Southampton
13 West Ham
14 Newcastle
15 Stoke
16 Aston Villa
17 Hull
18 Crystal Palace
19 Sunderland
20 Cardiff

The life of a sports journo – Dean Jones interview

What could be better than waking up every morning, knowing your day would be spent talking about and watching football? 

It’s a nice idea, and it’s one that Dean Jones, football reporter for The People, subscribes to. Except for him, of course, it’s a reality.

There’s no fitting in matches around work, no catching up on interviews after the nine-to-five is over. Football is his job and he very much lives it. And he’s always wanted to.

“I knew from a very early age that if I did not make it as a footballer, I wanted to write about it,” Dean said.

“I read papers every day from the age of about 14 and by 16 I was covering matches for an agency, who are now called Hayters Teamwork.

“Thinking back, it was brave of them to let me do it so young but it kind of came naturally to me so I didn’t think about how old I was.

“I had a full-time job as a reporter by age of 20.”

As much as it came naturally, and despite a somewhat captivating façade to the role of a sports journalist, Dean admits it’s not all plain sailing.

The boom in social media has added a new aspect to his job and, unsurprisingly, instant interaction on sites such as Twitter isn’t always complimentary.

“It’s not easy. People seem to think journalists make up transfer stories and news stories but it’s simply not true.

“Making contacts and working out who you can trust takes time, and is not as straight forward as it sounds.

“Twitter has changed the game too, because so many stories/rumours break on there – and we also have thousands of people ready to tweet abuse when we get a story wrong!”

That abuse, seemingly, can even come from fans of his own club – Fulham. When breaking the news of Bobby Zamora’s spat with Martin Jol last year, Dean was met with disdain in some quarters.

He doesn’t let his allegiance to the Whites affect his duty, though, and feels breaking the story is what matters most.

“[Putting loyalties aside is] not something I have ever had a problem with.

“When I broke the story of Bobby Zamora having a bust-up with Jol and stated that he’d be leaving in January, some fans suggested on Twitter I was out of order because I was upsetting the club I support.

“But, ultimately, if you have a good story and know it is correct, you can not worry about who it impacts on.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Fulham’s fortunes don’t take their toll. He cites the club’s extra-time loss to Atletico Madrid in the inaugural Europa League final as his saddest moment on the job.

It’s not all bad, though,  being a sports hack:

“I was inside the Olympic Stadium reporting on the night Ennis, Farah and Rutherford won their gold medals,” he reminisced.

“That hour was unlike anything I have ever experienced in terms of drama and stadium noise.

“[I] will never see anything like it again, either.”

Story of Fabrice Muamba shows football’s less prominent side

There is a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol travelling around football right now. 

There is talk of racism. There is talk of scandal. There is talk of violence. There is even, as news reports in the Netherlands have shown, talk of death.

It’s not a sport, and it will never be a sport, that reflects well on itself. For every moment of brilliance, for every 92nd minute title-winning goal, there is a monkey gesture in the stands. There is a Gareth Bale, theatrically tumbling without the slightest of contact.

No wonder, then, that others look upon football with the greatest of disdain. They see the headlines and think: where is the morality? Where, even, is the sanity?

It’s a good question but if you find football repulsive, find its values repugnant, then you have probably missed some of its most treasured moments. Some are delightful, simply awe-inspiring. Others are harrowing and yet still, miraculous.

The story of Fabrice Muamba falls into the latter. It was told on ITV 4’s Sports Life Stories on Tuesday 4th December and it was a story that touched the heart as much as any other documentary. If not more.

A young boy, who travelled to England from the troubled Democratic of Congo, Fabrice had to work hard. He only spoke a smattering of English words but learnt the language within a year. He was athletically gifted but not so technically. Arsenal turned him down after his first trial.

Fabrice went back, though, keen to impress and, from then on, he wrote his own history.

But, on 17th March 2012, he collapsed while playing for Bolton Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup Quarter Final. He had suffered a cardiac arrest and the ground could only watch on in absolute horror.

Still quite unaware of the extent of Fabrice’s state, though, the fans began to chant. He couldn’t hear them, of course. First the Bolton fans sang, and then the Spurs fans joined in. The whole stadium supported him.

And then, a Tottenham fan ran onto the pitch. He had explained to three stewards that he was a consultant cardiologist but only one was prepared to let him on. He helped the medical team prepare Fabrice whose heart, by now, had not beat independently for a good 10 minutes.

It wouldn’t go on to do so for another 68. He was rushed to the London Chest Hospital where it was deemed that, if he did survive, he would likely be brain damaged. He wasn’t.

Fabrice didn’t wake up for two days while, in the meantime, supporters of myriad teams flocked to the Reebok Stadium, eager to show their collective support to a rival player. They left scarves, replica shirts, anything that could prove they were behind him, that they wanted him to get better.

Fabrice-Muamba-Shirt

People left messages, leaving both love for Fabrice and his family.

Players for various other teams wore t-shirts that read “pray 4 Muamba”. Rest assured, many, many did.

Seven months later, Fabrice returned to White Hart Lane for the first time, the home of Tottenham Hotspur and the place where it all happened. The whole ground stood in appreciation and applauded similarly. Fabrice, understandably, cried. And so did many others.

For this is a story that was felt by so many – way beyond the spectrum of football.

But, within it, Fabrice Muamba’s ordeal has shown that football isn’t completely rammed with resentment, with rivalry and with rancour.

Patrick Vieira, former Arsenal team-mate of Fabrice’s, summed up the sentiment beautifully:

“The way the fans sent in the messages, I think, it just showed that football is unbelievable. We’re talking so much about the negativity, about our game that we love so much.

“And, we should not forget the time when that happened, how football reacted. It was fantastic.”

Because yes, football gets a bad press and deservedly so. But in times like these, perhaps it’s the best place to be.