Premier League Preview 2015-16

Some second half Chelsea pressure

Chelsea will be hoping to do better at St James’ Park this season

It’s that time yet again – the  footblawl season preview for the Barclays Premier League has returned. I got one of the relegated teams out of the three last season (Burnley), grossly overestimated the talents of Queens Park Rangers (again) and predicted not once but twice during 2014-15 that Manchester City would win the Premier League.

I doubt I’ll do any better this coming season but am perfectly willing to have a bash. The campaign begins on Saturday at Old Trafford; here’s how I see the table looking at about 4:45 on the 15th of May next year:

1. Chelsea

2. Manchester United

3. Arsenal

4. Manchester City

5. Liverpool

6. Tottenham Hotspur

7. Stoke City

8. Everton

9. Swansea City

10. Southampton

11. Crystal Palace

12. West Bromwich Albion

13. Norwich City

14. Bournemouth

15. Newcastle United

16. West Ham United

17. Aston Villa

18. Leicester City

19. Watford

20. Sunderland

Despite my best efforts, I can’t see past Chelsea for the league title. They remain annoyingly consistent under Mourinho – Arsenal may have won the Community Shield but that doesn’t count for a great deal come next May. They will, however, not find things as easy as in 2014-15. Manchester United have gone some way to solving their midfield problems, particularly with the purchase of Morgan Schneiderlin, and I can see them pushing on despite the ongoing “is De Gea leaving” saga. Despite Arsenal making the very sound purchase of Petr Cech, I can still see them being a little off the pace – defensive midfield is still a position in which they lack, particularly if Francois Coquelin can’t maintain his form from last season.

Manchester City appear to be going backwards under Manuel Pellegrini, and despite the Chilean signing a new contract to 2017 I think he may be on his way come the end of the season. While City have cleared out some of the chaff in their squad they will miss James Milner, while the wisdom of spending that much on Raheem Sterling remains to be seen. Liverpool should improve on last season – Clyne and Benteke appear sound signings, while Firmino should be interesting. They should also benefit from not having the Steven Gerrard-shaped albatross around. Spurs should round out the top six – Harry Kane should play well again but maybe not quite as well as last season, Eriksen should kick on, but Spurs should still be a little too Spursy to challenge for the Champions League.

I fancy Stoke to move their way up the table following their good season last year. They should have Bojan back and have made another couple of interesting signings from Barcelona’s B team and ex-player brigade. Ibrahim Afellay is particularly intriguing should he stay fit. Everton, without the Europa League to distract, should have a better season this season. While their defence is getting a little creaky, and John Stones may be on his way, they too have made some shrewd purchases in Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu. Next in the table I think will be Swansea – mainly because they will miss Wilfried Bony’s goals while he makes the bench cosy in Manchester.

Rounding off the top half should be Southampton – they have a Europa League campaign to distract them, but more importantly have lost Morgan Schneiderlin, a fulcrum in their midfield. Jordy Clasie is an interesting purchase, while Jay Rodriguez’s return will be, to coin the old cliche, like a new signing. Crystal Palace should maintain their position near the top half; the signing of Yohan Cabaye is a particularly impressive statement of intent. With Tony Pulis in charge, West Bromwich Albion will, I think, have a reasonably easy-going season – I particularly like their capture of Rickie Lambert from his Scouse purgatory.

I really fancy Norwich City to stay up. Alex Neil has shown that he loves a challenge and will no doubt be looking forward to taking Norwich as far up the league as he can. Other than the capture of Youssouf Mulumbu, he is relying largely on the side that won the Championship play-offs though many of those have Premier League experience. Bournemouth should hang around until next season too. Eddie Howe, like Neil, is an ambitious and interesting young manager. I really like their capture of Tyrone Mings and Christian Atsu on loan in particular. Newcastle United should have a slightly easier time of it with a relatively reliable man in charge in Steve “Schteve” McClaren, with Georginio Wijnaldum a really exciting purchase. Mike Williamson and Steve Taylor as the first choice centre-back partnership might be a bit tricky though.

The claret and blue pairing of West Ham United and Aston Villa will come next I think. Slaven Bilic’s brand of football, in the last season at Upton Park, will take a while to kick in and the Hammers’ Europa League performance doesn’t breed confidence. Villa, meanwhile, will struggle losing the goals of Christian Benteke.

Going down I think will be Leicester City, Watford and Sunderland. Leicester and Claudio Ranieri is I think a recipe for disaster. Ranieri has had good jobs throughout his career on the basis of winning and doing very little. Watford in my view have changed too much of their squad too quickly, and while Quique Sanchez Flores is a fine coach, getting rid of Slavisa Jokanovic seems a retrograde step. Sunderland, meanwhile, were abject last season and will continue to be abject. Losing Conor Wickham reduces their already scant goalscoring capacity even further.

So there we are. No doubt most of this will be wrong come May, but we shall see how the next few months pan out, starting at 12:45pm tomorrow with Manchester United v Spurs.

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Newcastle United v Borussia Mönchengladbach, 1 August 2015

Another weekend, another trip to the sunny (yesterday at least) Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As well as having a wee impromptu overnight stay in the north-east of England, I (and thus Clare) thought it only right to take in Newcastle’s final pre-season friendly, before the real fun for the Magpies starts again next Sunday at home to Southampton.

For a mere-ish £15 on the day, it was a good opportunity to see Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic in action before they make their Premier League debuts next week. I was also looking forward to seeing Patrick Hermann for Mönchengladbach, who I understand is very well thought of in European football circles.

The match got underway in an about half-full St James’ Park, and two things became immediately apparent. One was that the away fans were making rather more than their (as usual) library-dwelling opposite numbers. The other was that the game was being played with no real urgency, with both teams largely happy to knock the ball about at the back with the occasional lethargic foray forward.

Mönchengladbach

The away contingent in Newcastle

Half-time arrived with not a great deal having happened. Mike Williamson headed just over from a corner mid-way through the half, while in the five minutes before half time Wijnaldum flicked one at the goalkeeper from a Cisse lay-off, before returning the favour for Cisse not much later with the Senegalese striker shooting just wide.

A Newcastle corner in the first half (Newcastle playing in white)

A Newcastle corner in the first half (Newcastle playing in white)

The second half began in rather more exciting fashion. About a minute in, a lovely little through ball from Haidara put Sissoko in on goal – the winger could only cannon his shot off the underside of the bar, leaving the home support wondering how the Toon weren’t in front.

On the hour mark the mass substitutions that mark every good pre-season friendly began. This gave the Newcastle fans their first opportunity to see Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian striker was outdone by a fellow substitute almost straight away however – unfortunately for the Toon fans, it was at the wrong end. Eden Hazard’s not-quite-as-talented brother Thorgan picked up on a sloppy clearance from Steven Taylor, and rattled his effort from the edge of the area past Tim Krul.

The home fans were clearly enamoured with Mitrovic and Wijnaldum, both showing classy touches in their outing in front of the St James support. Mitrovic almost crowned his first appearance in Newcastle with a goal four minutes from time. A wonderful flick through from Siem de Jong (another sub) found Mitrovic on the penalty spot – he hit the post when it seemed easier to beat Yann Sommer in the Mönchengladbach goal.

Steve McClaren (on the left there, honest) might have a bit to think about before next Sunday.

Steve McClaren (on the left there, honest) might have a bit to think about before next Sunday.

Full time arrived with a fairly comfortable win for Borussia. Both sides had shown an intent to keep the ball and not go long too often which was refreshing. Mönchengladbach have qualified for this season’s Champions League (by virtue of coming third in the Bundesliga last season) and they will cause problems for a few sides. Hermann did not stop running, Yann Sommer is a solid keeper while the lesser Hazard looked good when he came on.

I feel like Newcastle might have a bit to think about prior to the beginning of the season next Sunday. While both Wijnaldum and Mitrovic looked good – the fans behind me thought Wijnaldum already looked too good for Newcastle and wondered why he’d signed for them – their defence as always looked a bit shaky and there was a little lacking in terms of creativity. Founding your season on a central defensive partnership of Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor is perhaps not the way to go and I reckon the Magpies will need a further defensive purchase before they can consider themselves ready for the 38 games.

In all, a reasonable run-out for both sides, if a slightly dull game. All the same, we had a nice weekend in the Toon and got some great pictures of the tilty bridge in Gateshead tilting. No doubt I’ll be back in the North East of England again at some point this season with more bloggage to follow.

Newcastle United 0-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Hazard)