Previews: Man United, Portsmouth, Stoke City
Premier League Preview 13: Manchester United
Life after Cristiano Ronaldo commences this weekend for Manchester United as they take on Birmingham City at Old Trafford. United will be looking to create history this season, as they search for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title and an historic 19th in their decorated history. Wayne Rooney is expected to take centre stage for the Red Devils as he is handed a more central role up front this season.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be expecting an improvement from his £30 million Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov who now needs to fill the void left by Ronaldo and increase his goal haul. The 28-year-old has had one season to acclimatise himself to life at Old Trafford and he must now step up to the plate. Another player who will be required to improve on previous performances will be Portuguese winger Nani.
The wily Ferguson has brought in two big summer signings without having to touch the majority of the enormous £80m Ronaldo fee. Antonio Valencia arrived from Wigan Athletic for £18 million. The Ecuadorian will have to cope with the weight of expectation that will undoubtedly be heaped upon him after the departure of arguably one of United’s greatest ever players. Valencia has insisted he isn’t a natural successor to Ronaldo and will instead bring different attributes.
The signing of former Liverpool hero Michael Owen caused one of the biggest stirs of the summer with mixed reactions from the public to the move. If Ferguson can keep the England international fit then he will certainly score goals as he is a natural goalscorer. And Owen will be crucial should Berbatov and Rooney fail to hit the ground running come the start of the season. Goals could be a problem for this United side.
United were defensively supreme for the best part of last season, and it was this defensive stability that won them the title, despite a wobble against Liverpool where the defence no longer looked infallible. Chelsea and Liverpool will take hope from United’s close season slump however United look best prepared to win another title this year.
In: Antonio Valencia (Wigan, £16m), Michael Owen (Newcastle, free), Gabriel Obertan (Bordeaux, undisclosed).
Out: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, £80m), Fraizer Campbell (Sunderland, £3.5m), Carlos Tevez (contract expired), Manucho (Real Valladolid, undisclosed), Lee Martin (Ipswich, undisclosed), Richard Eckersley (Burnley, undisclosed), Rodrigo Possebon (Braga, loan).
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 1st
Premier League Preview 14: Portsmouth
With the ownership of the club up in the air and forcing the sale a sizeable set of senior players in order balance the books, the season ahead looks like it will be an uphill struggle for Portsmouth.
The 2008 FA Cup winners will this season surely be simply hoping for Premier League survival with the thin squad that is now left at Fratton Park.
The club changed hands in May after former owner Sacha Gaydamak decided enough was enough and that he would not be putting any more money into his venture. Gaydamak agreed to sell Pompey to United Arab Emirates businessman Sulaiman Al Fahim later that month.
On the pitch, the Fratton Park side will be significantly weakened by the departures of Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch. As things stand, manager Paul Hart has only been able to bring in four players, three on free transfers and one on loan.
Pompey have just 18 outfield senior players in their squad at present, so Hart will understandably be relying on homegrown talent from Portsmouth’s academy in order to add a degree of depth.
Hart’s side are however graced with a small sprinkle of proven Premier League quality in players such as Papa Bouba Diop and David James, and this could be a decisive factor in Pompey’s favour should they find themselves in a relegation battle.
So there is no doubt that this will be an extremely tough season for Portsmouth, but with a balance of Premier League experience and homegrown talent, coupled with a never-say-die attitude, relegation can be narrowly avoided.
In: Steve Finnan (Espanyol, free), Aaron Mokoena, (Blackburn, free), Antti Niemi (free), Frederic Piquionne (Lyon, loan).
Out: Glen Johnson (Liverpool, £17.5m), Peter Crouch (Tottenham, £9m), Sean Davis (Bolton, free), Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo (Standard Liege, free), Andre Blackman (Bristol City, free), Noe Pamarot (released), Jerome Thomas (released), Lauren (released), Djimi Traore (released), Glen Little (released).
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 17th
Premier League Preview 15: Stoke City
So the oldest club in the Premier League embarks on its second straight season in the Premier League after finishing in an impressive 12th position last year.
This was seen as a major coup by Tony Pulis and his squad, a commendable finish, especially when some had tipped the midlands club to plummet straight back to the Championship. But it appears Stoke City and its fans are not ready to relinquish their top-flight status after being outside the division since 1985.
Tony Pulis, who has never been relegated as a manager, has brought a group of players together that make Stoke an incredibly hard team to beat on the evidence of last season. They played a very physical game and some fairly route-one stuff. However with their very effective set-plays they scored the necessary goals to grind out results.
Special mention must of course go to Rory Delap, who has a second-to-none ability for long throw-ins. The ‘Delap Special’ helped set up seven of Stoke’s first thirteen goals in the Premier League. On 13 July 2009 the Irishman signed a one-year contract extension, which will only boost the confidence and belief this team has.
Not much money is available to spend, however the club did receive £35 million from automatic promotion and a further £60 million over the following three seasons. But Pulis is known to be very shrewd with his transfer budgets and quite rightly so.
James Beattie, in the January transfer window for a fee which could rise to £3.5 million, and Dave Kitson from Reading for £5.5 million have been the most notable signings. Beattie and fellow Potters’ striker and fans favourite, Ricardo Fuller, will have to continue their prolific goalscoring form if Stoke are to carry on from where they left off.
Many consider a newly promoted team’s second season in the top-flight tougher than the first, which is something teams such as Reading found out the hard way. However a team that held Liverpool to a goaless draw at Anfield and picked up wins against Spurs, Arsenal and Aston Villa last season can expect to put up a good fight and stay clear of relegation.
In: Matthew Lund (Crewe AlexandraÃ¢â‚¬Â¨), Ben Marshall (Crewe Alexandra), Ã¢â‚¬Â¨Ã¢â‚¬Â¨Dean Whitehead (Sunderland, £3m).
Out: Seyi Olofinjana (Hull City, £3m), Marc Grocott (released), Vincent Pericard (released), Jimmy Phillips (released), Tom Thorley (released), Ben Marshall, (Northampton Town, loan),
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 14th