Premier league season preview

Olivier Giroud (forward)(Montpellier); Lukas Podoloski (midfielder)(Cologne); Santi Cazorla (midfielder)(Malaga)

Manuel Almunia(Goalkeeper) (released), Gavin Hoyte(defender) (released), Jeffrey Monakana (Preston, free), Joel Campbell (Forward)(Real Betis, loan), Denilson (Midfielder)(Sao Paulo, loan)

Arsenal have just gone through another frustrating season, without a trophy yet again after 6 barren years. They had a dreadful start last summer and, in spite of a spirited run midway through their campaign, they left themselves with way too much to do to catch up in the title race, though they managed to secure third place, thereby hanging on to their Champions League status. They return still under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger this summer with question marks over the involvement of their star player Robin Van Persie, who is in the final year of his contract. He is understandably in the compass of most top clubs in Europe as a result although he might just let his current deal run out till the end of the season. Fans will want this issue clarifiied as soon as possible to avoid the same kind of situation that led to the acrimonious departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas last August and Wenger having to panic buy on deadline day. The Gunners do have some new faces in already with last season’s French League top striker Olivier Giroud, seasoned German international Lukas Podolski and versatile Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla. All three look like quality signings and should complement Gervinho and Theo Walcott in the offensive roles. It remains that a Van Persie departure would be a major blow to Arsenal’s aspirations this season. The Dutchman finally had an injury-free campaign last term and really came into his own, rising to the top of the scoring charts, which earned him a well deserved PFA Player of the season award. Injury has been the curse of the Gunners over the past few years and it remained a problem last season, with Jack Wilshere pretty much missing the whole of the campaign. The England rising star should return from the start in midfield along with Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, with Alex Song also back in a holding role he made his own last season. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, who showed great promise last term, will look to confirm that this season while Sanchez Watt, who has been handed the number 10 jersey, will look to follow in his footsteps after a number of loan spells at lower level. At the back, Thomas Vermalen should return in central defence with Laurent Koscielny for company. A couple of quality signings should be needed in defence since right back Bakary Sagna will need some time to fully recover from a leg fracture while Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos didn’t exactly convice last term. Young full backs Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs remain on board, along with Wojiech Szczesny, who should easily retain the number one goalkeeper spot. 

Fans will hope that lessons have been learned from past campaigns and that the Gunners will come out this season with a squad enabling them to go the distance. The title is once again the avowed target but with other clubs strengthening, the top four remains a more reasonable objective.

Aston VillaIn:
Brett Holman (midfielder) (AZ Alkmaar), Ron Vlaar (defender )(Feyenoord); Karim El-Ahmadi (midfielder)(Feyenoord), Matthew Lowton (defender)(Sheff Utd).Jean Makoun (midfielder)(return of loan from Olympiakos)

Carlos Cuellar(defender)(Sunderland), Emile Heskey(forward) (released). James Collins (defender)(West Ham)

To say that last season was a dreadful one for Villa would be an understatement since pretty much everything that could go wrong did after the ill-advised appointment of Alex McLeish. The Midlanders nearly got drawn into a relegation battle at the back end of the campaign that saw main striker Darren Bent sidelined midway through with serious injury and captain Stilyan Petrov diagnosed with acute leukemia. Besides, a number of first team players also got injured or vastly underperformed under McLeish, which meant Villa had their worse camnpaign for many a year, playing soporific football and finishing in 16th place. McLeish was logically sacked at the end, making way for boss Paul Lambert. The former Norwich boss is a much more adventurous type than McLeish, which should cheer up the fans, who have been longing for a more attractive brand of play and a return of their side to the top tier of the league since the departure of Martin O’Neill in 2010. Lambert can take heart in a well balanced squad with a good mix of young talent, such as the likes Barry Bannan, Mark Albrighton, Ciaran Clark and players with unquestionable Premiership pedigree such as Darren Bent, Charles N’Zogbia, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Gabby Agbonlahor. The Villans will start the season without Dunne and Agbonlahor who will need to recover from injury, along with Albrigthton, and of course Petrov who is still undergoing treatment. Paul Lambert will therefore undoubtedly look to add to the signings of Brett Holmann, Karim El Ahmadi and Matthew Lowton to put his stamp on Villa’s game early on. The Villa boss has also signed Ron Vlaar to fill the void left by the departures of James Collins to West Ham and fans favoutite Carlos Cuellar to Sunderland. Left back Matthew Lowton is already on the roster but the defence should require more staff as both full backs Hutton and Warnock came up short last season and Dunne is out injured till October. Vlaar should easily impose himself in central defence while youngsters Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Barry Bannan could well claim regular roles in midfield. The once highly rated Fabian Delph returns hoping to make his mark this season and finally find his best position. In the attack, Darren Bent, having recovered from serious injury, should be the focal point of the attack while winger Brett Holman and Charles N’Zogbia should bring width to the play. Paul Lambert will obvioulsy expect his signings to have an impact but also players like Agbonlahor, Makoun or N’Zogbia to perform better than they did last season. 

After two hugely disappointing seasons, Villa will look to start on a clean slate and return to the top half of the table, this time under a highly rated young manager.

Marko Marin (midfielder)(Werder Bremen,) Eden Hazard (forward)(Lille), Thorgan Hazard (midfielder)(Lens); Oscar (midfielder)(Internacional); Yossi Benayoun (midfielder)(return of loan from Arsenal)

Didier Drogba (forward)(Shanghai Shenhua), Salomon Kalou (forward)(released), Romelu Lukaku (forward)(West Bromwich Albion); Jacob Mellis (Barnsley), Jose Bosingwa (defender)(released)

Chelsea have had a rollercoaster of a season last time out, finally reaching their promised land in the Champions League Final in Munich in May after a rather erratic first few months of the campaign. The flamboyant Andre Villas-Boas only survived till the start of the year, when he was unceremoniously sacked by owner Roman Abrahamovich, who handed the reins to his assistant Roberto Di Matteo on a interim basis. The Italian had a blinder in charge, which earned him a permanent role, with the brief to bring the Premiership title back to Stamford Bridge and defend the Champions League crown this season. As usual with Chelsea, it is a case of out with the old and in with the new this summer. The Blues have let go Didier Drogba after eight seasons at the club, along with Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou. Florent Malouda is highly likely to move on as well while the hugely promising Eden Hazard is making his way to West London. The diminutive Belgian is, for now, Di Matteo’s main signing, along with Marko Marin, who is also on board from Werder Bremen. Another exciting arrival is that of new Brazilian international Oscar, who shows all the hallmarks of the creative Brazilian midfielder. Chelsea being Chelsea, more new signings will inevitably follow suit to ensure the Blues remain a force to be reckoned with in England and on the continent. They do have a strong base to build on, with England internationals John Terry and Ashley Cole still going strong at the back, competently seconded by the useful Branko Ivanovic and the hugely talented David Luiz. The futures of midfielders Michael Essien and Raul Meireles remain to be clarified but Jon Obi Mikel should return in defensive midfield after appearing to finally blossom in this role under Di Matteo this year. In the more offensive roles, Frank Lampard should be back as the menace from midfield, with Ramires expected to confirm his rise to preeminence from last season. Last but not least, Fernando Torres, who seemed enfolded in some kind of bad curse for the past year, will hope to recapture the powers that seemed to have deserted him. With the departure of Drogba, the Spaniard should take the main striker role. Hazard being more of a wing type player Di Matteo is working hard to bring in another striker to complement El Nino. 

Chelsea will definitely go for the title this year after getting lost in the way last season. Di Matteo’s results as Chelsea interim coach should mean a significant line of credit should be handed to him to build a squad able to compete on all fronts.

Steven Naismith (mid), Rangers), Steven Pienaar (mid), Tottenham),

Marcus Hahnemann (gk), James McFadden (mid), Tim Cahill (mid), NY Red Bulls), Joseph Yobo (def), Fenerbahce), Royston Drenthe (def), Real Madrid – end of loan), Denis Stracqualursi (att), Tigre – end of loan), Jack Rodwell (mid), Manchester City)

Everton approach the new season with the biggest amount of optimism in at least five seasons. There is no clear reason for that apart from the fact that David Moyes really created a strong group of players at the end of last season and has managed to retained the most important of them during close season. Moreover, there is real buzz around Goodison Park about the free signing of Steven Naismith who is the man expected to fill the boots of departed Tim Cahill who joined NY Red Bulls after eight glorious seasons at Goodison Park. Everton still had to sell big in order to keep their head above the water and the departure of Jack Rodwell a week before the season is a blow but still not as big as losing Marouane Fellaini or Leighton Baines. Rodwell has undoubted potential and is a fine player when free of injuries but he has been injured almost non-stop since last November and getting £15m up front plus additional fees from Manchester City seems a fair deal. Moyes would expect another product of the academy, Ross Barkley, to make the step up having offered glimpses of quality last season and fill the gap left by Rodwell. Nikica Jelavic will aim to maintain his fantastic form since joining in January and in the Croatian the Toffees possess one of most lethal poachers in the division. Overall, the squad has a balanced look and if they avoid too many injuries, the Merseysiders may actually have a decent start of a season for a first time in ages. They are still quite unlikely to break the glass ceiling of top six but it is also difficult to see them dropping outside the top ten. 

Pushing for a European place and might just succeed if they have a good start of the season

Hugo Rodallega (att), Wigan), Mladen Petric (att), HSV), Sascha Riether (def), Koln – loan)

Andy Johnson (att), QPR), Pavel Pogrebnyak (att), Stuttgart – end of loan), Orlando Sá (att), AEL Limassol), Björn Helge Riise (mid), Lillestrom), Danny Murphy (mid), Blackburn), Marcel Gecov (mid), Gent), Dickson Etuhu (mid), Blackburn)

Fulham start their second season under Martin Jol looking to maintain their easy-on-the-eye fluid attacking football and try to be more consistent and solid when they are under pressure. At times last season the Cottagers really looked mesmerising too see but the fact that they lacked real character and desire to go on a long run meant that their season lacked real substance. They never threatened to go near the European places and now the Dutchman will hope to see his team more of a factor in the league. The main story of the summer for the South London club was Clint Dempsey and whether he is staying on. The apparent desire of the American to join Liverpool has not softened the stance by the club and now it looks almost certain that the free-scoring forward will stay on. Jol signed more attacking players in Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric who can forge a pretty exciting attacking duo. The former was a hot properly 12 months ago but loss of form meant that he was let go by Wigan and joins on free transfer. He look to rejuvenate his career and Craven Cottage may prove a good place to do so. The other interesting bit of the close season was the release of Danny Murphy who has kept Fulham together in midfield for the past few seasons but was deemed too old to continue. It may prove a mistake by the Fulham management but it signifes the belief in Moussa Dembele who was turned into a central midfielder in the second half of last season and looked pretty impressive. Bryan Ruiz, the club’s record transfer, struggled in his first season and will look to kick on players like Alex Kacaniklic an Marcelo Trotta could play an important part too. 

Claiming a safe mid-table spot looks on the cards again but something more could be in store if the attacking players enjoy a good start of the season

Fabio Borini (forward)(Roma); Joe Allen (midfielder)(Swansea City); Joe Cole (midfielder)(return of loan from Lille)

Dirk Kuyt (midfielder)(Fenerbhace); Maxi Rodriguez(midfielder) (Newell’s Old Boys); Craig Bellamy (forward)(Cardiff City)

Liverpool fans are still reeling following their worse season in many years. Although they did somehow win the Carling Cup last season, which affords them a passage to European football this term, the Reds have a lot to prove this season. The dire 2011-2012 campaign was made even more bitter as expectations where sky-high after club legend Kenny Dalglish had taken the reins. Liverpool’s season never got off the ground, with their home form in particular letting them down all season, meaning an eighth place finish behind sworn rivals Everton. Dalglish was logically sacked in the summer to make way for Brendan Rodgers, who comes in with a big capital of sympathy and goodwill. The former Swansea boss has been treading carefully so far in his Liverpool carrer with only Fabio Borini on board yet. The Reds do recover players like Lucas, who was injured for most of last season, and Joe Cole, who is back from a good loan spell at Lille. There remain question marks over the involvement of a number of players this season, such as Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, who are in the visor of major clubs, and Andy Carroll, who has struggled to make a mark since his sensational move from Newcastle. Rodgers is likely to embrace an offensive style of play, possibly in a 4-3-3 formation, with at his disposal talented wingers like Stewart Downing, Joe Cole and Borini to feed striker Luis Suarez. The midfield will be an area that Rodgers will need to pay particular attention to. The return of Lucas will be welcomed by fans since Jordan Henderson didn’t exactly convince last season in the holding role while Charlie Adam was at times disappointing. Jonjo Shelvey has showed promise last season while Jay Spearing, for all his industry, lacks quality at this level. Besides, the long term fitness of Steven Gerrard remains a worry after a couple of seasons in and out of the treatment room so more signings could intervene following the capture of Joe Allen from Swansea City, if only to make up for the departures of Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez. Craig Bellamy has also departed for Cardiff City. In defence, Glenn Johnson and Jose Enrique look set to occupy the full back roles again while Agger and Skrtel have been a solid central defensive unit last term and should easily ward off competition from the ageing Jamie Carragher and up and coming youngsters such as Sebastian Coates, Jack Robinson and John Flanagan.

The Reds still see themselves as a major force in English football so expectations will be high of Rodgers. Realistically, considering the opposition, a top four finish would be a major achievement.

Manchester CityIn:
Emanuel Adebayor (att), Tottenham – loan), Roque Santa Cruz (att), Betis – return from loan), Jack Rodwell (mid), Everton)

Owen Hargreaves (mid), Stuart Taylor (gk), Wayne Bridge (def), Brighton), Vladimír Weiss (mid), Pescara), Greg Cunningham (def), Bristol City)

Manchester City start the season as defending champions and now the big challenge ahead of Roberto Mancini and his men is to show that they have the character and consistency to claim the title again now that the drought was ended in the most dramatic of ways in the last seconds of the previous campaign. The City fans should never have gone through that sort of ordeal against QPR but that only made the success sweeter and they are certainly hungrier for more in the coming season. Mancini is setting his sights on a better Champions League campaign this time around and it remains to be seen whether he has the squad to really go the distance on two fronts. It has been a very quiet summer on the transfer front so far with the previously lavish spending nowhere to be seen this time around due to the fear within the board that City will not manage to comply with the financial fair play rules. Mancini has made his anger plain at the lack of signings and after the deal for Daniel Agger stalled, they moved in to agree a fee for Jack Rodwell from Everton who is to complete a move next week. He is not the superstar expected to arrive but is a talented player and could realise his potential if given the chance. Still, there are areas where the is not enough cover and this must be a worry for Mancini. That said, if the likes of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Joe Hart stay fit for most of the campaign, City will take some stopping and are definitely the team to beat in the Premiership. As for Europe, the lack of a deep-lying playmaker who can find holes in the opposition defence is a big hindrance and that is why they are unlikely to make too much of a mark there. 

Winning the title seems the main objective again and with the experience of having done that already, City are the main favourites for a reason.

Manchester UnitedIn:
Shinji Kagawa (mid), Borussia Dortmund), Nick Powell (mid), Crewe)

Fabio da Silva (def), QPR – loan), Ji-Sung Park (mid), QPR), Michael Owen (att), Tomasz Kuszczak (gk), Brighton), Ben Amos (gk), Hull – loan), Matty James (mid), Leicester), Richie de Laet (def), Leicester), Paul Pogba (mid), Juventus)

Manchester United suffered the cruel fate of being champions for a couple of minutes before seeing the trophy snatched literally under their noses at the end of last season when their local rivals City scored twice in added time to claim the title that they ultimately deserved. It was to Alex Ferguson’s credit that his team ran their rivals so close until the end and it will be once again exercise of maximising resources through know-how and experience in order to keep the Red Devils in the hunt for the title once again. The highlight of summer was off the pitch as the owner continue to find new ways to hang the club dry. They launched an IPO with the initial proclamation that the funds raised will make United more competitive in the transfer market and use the proceeds to lower the debts but then in the last moment changed it and it became clear that they will be personally be the biggest benefactors. The fact that Ferguson leapt in their defence once again and claimed that the fans critisizing them are not real ones only made a difficult situation more poisonous. Despite the promise of serious strengthening during the summer, Shinji Kagawa is the only senior signing so far. Ferguson admitted that Robin van Persie is a target too but it is a difficult transfer to complete and the most problematic area, central midfield, has been neglected again. Nevertheless, the squad still possess real quality and if they avoid the raft of injuries from last season, along with the return of Nemanja Vidic from a serious injury, there is little reason for them not to be among the top candidates for the title again. United disgraced themselves in Europe last season but the manager would expect the young players to show more maturity at that stage this season and progress into the latter stages in the Champions League. However, it takes a serious leap of imagination to see the current team challenging for the trophy itself. Therefore, the lack of really special, game-changing talent, except for Wayne Rooney, makes the team unlikely to make the big defining step on either front and another trophy-less may lie in store again for Ferguson and his men. 

Re-claiming the title is as usual the main ain but the squad still looks inferior to that of Chelsea and Manchester City and a lot of players will need to have great seasons to bridge the difference

Newcastle UnitedIn:
Gaël Bigirimana (mid), Coventry), Romain Amalfitano (mid), Reims), Curtis Good (def), Melbourne Heart), Vurnon Anita (mid), Ajax)

Peter Lövenkrands (mid), Birmingham), Tamás Kádár (def), Roda), Alan Smith (mid), MK Dons), Danny Guthrie (mid), Reading), Leon Best (att), Blackburn), Fraser Forster (gk), Celtic),

Newcastle were one of the great stories last season as they pushed for a Champions League spot all the way to the last day of the season and only the fact that they had to face the actual champions Manchester City on the penultimate game of the season undid them. Alan Pardew deservedly got the award for manager of the season having shown superb management of resources and ability to make the team peak at the key moments. It is exciting times ahead for the Magpies who kept all their stars during the summer and now have a European campaign to look forward too. The squad now boasts some of the best midfield and attacking talent in the country while the return of Steven Taylor from a serious achilles injury will ensure a more solid and dependable Magpies side. Moreover, the Tynesiders are finally to make a breakthrough in their transfer campaign as Ajax’s utility man Vurnon Anita is poised to complete a move after the two clubs finally agreed on a fee. Mathieu Debuchy remains a possibility too but time is running out to bridge the difference in valuation. Even without the Frenchman in the squad, the Tynesiders are still a very capable side and another Champions League places challenge is not beyond them. The big worry is how they will juggle the league campaign with the gruelling Europa League schedule with games on Thursday. Pardew will hope that the squad stays free of injuries and make a solid start of the season to maintain the momentum from the closing stage of the previous campaign. 

The Magpies have the qualities to claim a European place and the goal is very much attainable again.

Norwich CityIn:
Michael Turner (def), Sunderland), Robert Snodgrass (mid), Leeds), Jacob Butterfield (mid), Barnsley), Steven Whittaker (def), Rangers)

Kyle Naughton (def), Tottenham – end of loan), Adam Drury (def), Leeds), Zak Whitbread (def), Leicester), Aaron Wilbraham (att), Crystal Palace), Andrew Crofts (mid), Brighton), Daniel Ayala (def), Nottingham Forest)

Norwich City endured a difficult summer as the inevitable exit of manager Paul Lambert took place in acrimonious circumstances. It was clear during last season that the former Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund has outgrown the Suffolk club, with his cunning management and clever use of modest resources, landing the newcomers a place in mid-table, comfortably beating the drop. The board were determined to keep them and even rejected his resignation but eventually Lambert got his wish and took charge of Aston Villa. At least the Norwich chiefs reacted quickly to the blow and took up Chris Hughton who has done wonders at Birmingham in the previous season. The Irishman is a very good appointment, given how well he did at Newcastle two years ago when in the Premiership. Nevertheless, one would worry about the second-season syndrome that is inevitable for a side that overachieved wildly on their first season since promotion. Grant Holt has stayed on, having initially asked for a transfer, and this is a big boost while the signings of Robert Snodgrass, Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker are shrewd bits of business. Therefore, Norwich seems equipped to beat the drop but the big question is whether a relatively limited group of players could summon the same levels of dedication and commitment as last season. Given that the manager that helped them from League One to Premiership is now gone, this is a very debatable and the Canaries may indeed endure a difficult season that could well end in relegation. 

Securing safety is once again the target but it promises to be a more difficult task than last season

David Hoilett (forward)(Blackburn Rovers); Ji-Sung Park (midfielder)(Manchester United); Fabio (defender)( loan from Manchester United); Robert Green (Goalkeeper)(West Ham); Andy Johnson (forward)(Fulham);Ryan Nelsen(defender) (Tottenham); Samba Diakite (midfieder)(Nancy)

Taye Taiwo (defender)(Dynamo Kyv); Paddy Kenny (goalkeeper)(Leeds United); Heidar Helguson (forward)(Cardiff City); Akos Suzsaky, Danny Gabbidon, Fitz Hall (released)

QPR just about managed to come home and dry last season on their return to top flight football. It was an eventful campaign that saw Neil Warnock depart in the mid-season after a worrying run of results, to be replaced by Mark Hughes. The former Man Utd and Barcelona striker bought big in January and managed to steady the ship in the end with 17th place secured in the final furlong. He has been busy in the summer transfer market with the arrivals of strikers David Hoillett and Andy Johnson, midfielder Ji Sung Park and Fabio, defender Ryan Nelsen and goalkeeper Robert Green. Midfield hardman Samba Diakite has also been permanently added to the books on permanent basis after a good loan spell in the second half of last season. The situation of Joey Barton, whose antics in QPR’s final game against Man City last season mean he faces a lengthy 12-game ban to start with, remains to be sorted out with a loan deal likely till the turn of the year. In any case, the Hoops looks well staffed to try and preserve their Premiership status for a second season, with quality signings in all lines. Hughes installed a strong defensive set up from the start of the year and should continue with Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill in central defence and Fabio likely to take over from the departed Taye Taiwo at left back. Nedum Onuoha should be back on the right side. Diakite and Derry formed a strong defensive midfield unit since the start of the year and will be difficult to leave out, even though Alejandro Faurlin should return from long term injury to try and reclaim his starting spot. With Paddy Kenny rejoining Neil Warnock at Leeds United, Robert Green should quickly claim the number one goalkeeper spot. The experience of Ji Sung Park in midfield should do the Hoops a world of good to temperate the otherwise impulsive nature of players like Taraabt, Mackie or Cisse in the attack. Hughes will have options upfront, with Bobby Zamora and Jay Bothroyd competing with new arrivals Johnson and Hoillett.

After a eventful return to the top flight last season, the Hoops will look to settle back in the Premiership landscape, with a finish in midtable a reasonable objective.

Chris Gunter (defender)( Nottingham Forest); Adrian Mariappa (defender)(Watford); Nicky Shorey (Defender)(West Brom);Pierce Sweeney(midfielder)(Bray Wanderers); Garath McCleary(Midfielder (Nottingham Forest); Danny Guthrie(Midfielder)(Newcastle United) Pavel Pogrebnyak(forward)(Stuttgart)

Brett Williams (Forward )( St Jonhstone, loan); Michail Antonio (Sheffield Wednesday), Brian Howard (released), Tomasz Cywka (released), Andy Griffin (released), Jack Mills (released), Joseph Mills (Burnley, loan)

Reading are back in the big time after last going down on the final day of the 2007-2008 season. The Royals had a great come-from-behind campaign last season, which saw them not only attain promotion but also win the Championship trophy. Boss Brian McDermott, as usual when a club moves up, has been one of the busiest managers on the summer transfer market, rescuing Nicky Shorey from West Brom and bringing in Premiership caliber players such as Danny Guthrie from Newcastle and Pavel Pogrebniak, who had an impressive loan spell at Fulham last season. Other additions of note to the roster are Chris Gunther and Garath McCleary from Nottingham Forest as well as Jamaica defender Adrian Mariappa. More signings will be needed to help settle Reading back in the higher echelon of English football since most of the squad remains unproven at the top level. Jason Roberts was instrumental in the Royals’ revival last term and should form a good striking partnership with Pogrebniak while the likes of McAnuff, Kebe and Le Fondre will need to raise their game to get consistent game time. McLeary and Leigertwood are the other contenders for a regular midfield starting spots. The main area of concern for McDermott will certainly be his defence since pace, of lack therof, might be an issue. In this perspective, the addition of the promising Marriappa to the central defensive options looks a wise move to offer an alternative to Gorkss or Pearce, who formed the central defensive unit last term. Veteran left back Ian Harte will compete with Nicky Shorey while on the right sided Chris Gunther will look to impose himself over Shaun Cummings.The solid Adam Federici will return in goal. 

Most obviously, survival in the top flight wil be the name of the game for Brian McDermott. The Reading boss will expect the players who did so well in the Championship last season to raise their game while new signings should bring Premiership quality to Reading play. Still, the Royals will need to improve their defensive options, which look limited at the start of the season.

Jay Rodriguez (forward)(Burnley), Paulo Gazzaniga (goalkeeper)(Gillingham), Steven Davis (midfielder)(Rangers), Nathaniel Clyne (defender)(Crystal Palace)

Dan Harding (forward)(Nottingham Forest), Bartosz Bialkowski (goalkeeper)(Notts County), Lee Holmes (forward)(Preston North End), Ryan Doble (forward)(Shrewsbury), David Connolly (forward)(released); Radhi Jaidi (defender)(retired), Aaron Martin (defender)

Southampton return to the top flight this season for the first time since 2005. With inventive manager Neil Adkins at the helm, they have gone up two divisions iin the past two seasons and look forward to continued success, this time at the higher level. The Saints looked to be running away with the Championship title last season, only to be pipped to the post by Reading but it was enough to secure a return to the higher echelon of English football. Nigel Adkins has managed for now to retain most of his key players this summer while buying wisely on the transfer market. He has brought in striker Jay Rodriguez, who will aim to prove himself at the top level after inflicting some serious damage on Championship defences last term at Burnley. Rodriguez should form a useful partnership with last season’s top scorer in the Championship Rickie Lambert. Adam Lallana and Guly Do Prado look favourite to occupy the offensive midfield roles while former Rangers captain Steven Davis will bring his experience to the midfied order to marshall the up and coming Jack Cork, Richard Chaplow and Steve De Ridder. James Ward-Prowse is also an exciting prospect in midfield. While the forward roles look well staffed, the defence will be an area of concern since it features no player yet proven at this level. Goalkeeper Paulo Gazzinaga comes in for Bartosz Bialkowski while England Under 21 right back Nathaniel Clyde is also in from Crystal Palace but a couple of signings wouldn’t go amiss to provide alternatives for Jose Fonte and Jos Hooivelt at center backs. Danny Fox should remain first choice on the left hand side of defence. 

The Saints return to the top flight full of confidence after back to back promotions but will need a stronger defence to make the grade. They will certainly cause most clubs problems with their attacking intent. A finish between 10th and 15th place would be a good achievement before settling back in the top flight.

Jamie Ness (mid), Rangers, Geoff Cameron (def), Houston Dynamo), Michael Kightly (mid), Wolverhampton), Goran Popov (def), Dynamo Kyiv – loan)

Andrew Davies (def), Bradford), Ricardo Fuller (att), Salif Diao (mid), Jonathan Woodgate (def), Middlesbrough), Tom Soares (mid), Danny Collins (def), Nottingham Forest)

Stoke City prepare for their fifth consecutive Premiership season hoping to this manage to make the quantum leap from being a safe mid-table side to one challenging for the top six. This is the projection of managers Tony Pulis who wants his men not just to settle for being safe but leave more of a mark in the league. The previous two seasons were dominated by Cup competitions but this time the Potters do not play in Europe and could really focus all their effort and commitment to getting as many points as possible. There will be no change in style as Stoke will once again rely on brute force, hard work and commitment until the last drop of sweat in order to make up for the deficiency in talent. Pulis has not really upgraded the squad significantly since last season and instead focused on players who could develop in the future. There will be major changes in the regular starting 11 with the possible exception of Dynamo Kyiv left-back Goran Popov pushing Marc Wilson having joined on loan a week before the season. Whether Stoke can actually become more of a significant factor in the league is very much debatable but if they get some momentum and focus all their attention on the league, they are a formidable force for any opponent. Still, anything other than a place above top eight will be a major surprise in the coming season. 

The target is securing a place in the top ten and challenging for Europe but it is difficult to see it happening with the current squad

Carlos Cuéllar (def), Aston Villa)

Nicklas Bendtner (att), Arsenal – end of loan), Wayne Bridge (def), Manchester City – end of loan), Sotiris Kyrgiakos (def), Wolfsburg – end of loan), Cristian Riveros (mid), Kayserispor), Asamoah Gyan (att), Al-Ain), George McCartney (def), West Ham),

Sunderland are hoping for less tumultuous season then the previous one when they were flirting with relegation in the first half of the season before the arrival of Martin O’Neill sparked a revival before the season ended on a bit of a whimper as the Black Cats failed to win any of their last eight games and scored just once in the last seven. O’Neil now had the chance to really review the squad and push on after a good pre-season but it remains to be seen whether his men can become something more than just mid-table warriors. The lack of quality centre forward is glaring after the departures of Asamoah Gyan and Nicklas Bendtner and the prospects of signing someone to fill their boots is dwindling with just a week of the season left. The only signing so far is Carlos Cuellar who is a solid defender but will not make up for the lack of imagination and quality in midfield. That is reason why the mood is pretty sombre at Wearside ahead of the new campaign. The hopes derives from the fact that O’Neill can make average players perform superbly for long periods thanks to his motivational skills. Moreover, James McLean is expected to become an even better winger after a storming breakthrough season while Fraizer Campbell may finally fulfil his potential now that he is injury-free. Still, Sunderland seem way short of what is required for top-ten finish and may struggle in the lower regions of the table for big stages of the season but relegation is still highly unlikely.

Finishing safely in mid-table is achievable but the lack of depth in the squad is worrisome and they may be sucked into the lower regions

Swansea CityIn:
Michu (midfielder)(Rayo Vallecano); Chico Flores (defender)(Genoa) Jonathan de Guzman (midfielder)( loan from Villarreal). Curtis Obeng (defender)(Wrexham)

Gylfi Sigursson (midfielder) (Tottenham); Joe Allen (midfielder)(Liverpool); Steven Caulker (defender)(return of loan to Tottenham Hotspur)

The Swans had a great first campaign in the Premiership last season, ending up in 11th place with a vibrant style of play that earned them many plaudits.This achievement didn’t go by unnoticed and opened the way for manager Brendan Rodgers to get the Liverpool job. Former Danish midfield maestro Michael Laudrup has been brought in in his place this summer to build on the success of the past campaign.The former Real Madrid and Barcelona man has made some interesting signings so far with defender Chico coming in from Genoa and Dutch midfielder Jonathan de Guzman on loan from Villareal. Young defender Curtis Obeng is also on the books following his move from Wrexham. Laudrup’s main catch so far is attacking midfielder Michu from Rayo Vallecano to make up for the departure of Gylfi Sigurdson, who has been snapped up by Tottenham. The Icelander was intrumental in Swansea’s good run of results this year but Michu, with 15 goals from midfield in La Liga last season, looks more than an able replacement. Laudrup will try to hang on to the highly rated Neil Taylor but Joe Allen has already departed for LIverpool. That means Laudrup should look to bring in more talent to beef up his squad, particulary in midfield and in defence. With players like Leroy Lita and Luke Moore not exactly Premiership level, the Dane will also try to add a proven striker to his roster to compete with Danny Graham, who had a great season last term. Attacking midfielders Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair should return on the wings with Britton and Agustien in the deeper midfield roles. In defence, with Steven Caulker back at Tottenham, some reinforcement will also be needed. Ashley Williams should return to marshall the defence with club captain Gary Monk and old faces Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor. Last season’s player of the year Michel Vorm should be back in goal. 

The Swans should look to build on the success of last season but cannot rely on the surprise effect this time round. A midtable finish would be a likely outcome this season.

Tottenham HotspurIn:
Kyle Naughton (def), Norwich – return from loan), Steven Caulker (def), Swansea – return from loan), Gylfi Sigurdsson (mid), Hoffenheim), Jan Vertonghen (def), Ajax)

Ledley King (def), retired), Louis Saha (att), Steven Pienaar (mid), Everton), Bongani Khumalo (def), PAOK – loan), Vedran Corluka (def), Lokomotiv Moscow), Ryan Nelsen (def), QPR), Niko Kranjcar (mid), Dynamo Kyiv), Ben Alnwick (gk), Barnsley)

Tottenham embark on an exciting new era in the coming season after chairman Daniel Levy decided to dispense with Harry Redknapp at the end of the season despite Spurs finishing in the top four. Chelsea’s improbable Champions League victory meant that Tottenham will have to do with the Europa League rather than the glamorous games in Europe’s elite competition. It was a significant financial blow and Levy used the opportunity to dispense with a manager who he was not getting on with. He decided that a modern continental approach was the way forward and the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas as a new manager may just turn out to be a very inspired one. The Portuguese had torrid time at Chelsea but the dressing room at White Hart Lane is much less intimidating place and he will feel that his progressive methods will be taken more eagerly there. Gareth Bale is staying on but Luka Modric has once again openly instigated for a move with Real Madrid the suitors this time. Villas-Boas is playing hard ball though and Modric may just stay on for another season against the odds, just like last season. Despite the setbacks in the attempts to sign Emanuel Adebayor permanently, along with the rejections of Oscar and Santi Cazorla to join, the North London club still signed some very good players like Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson. The big issue a week before the start of the season is the lack of real quality striker except Jermain Defoe. Villas-Boas also does not seem to trust his keepers too much as well but deals for Hugo Loris and Julio Cesar are yet to materialise. There are still a lot of question marks surrounding the team with just a week left but one feels that there is a lot of potential at Spurs and they may put themselves in the race for top places, just like last season. A lot will depend on the acquisition of new striker and how quick the players will take on the progressive tactics of the new coach. 

Securing a Champions League spot but the competition will be fierce and the lack of genuine striker is very worrisome.

West Bromwich AlbionIn:
Claudio Yacob (midfielder)( Racing Club); Markus Rosenberg (forward)(Werder Bremen); Yassine El Ghanassy (midfielder)(loan from Gent); Romelu Lukaku(forward)(loan from Chelsea); Ben Foster (goalkeeper)(permanent signing from Birmingham City)

Nicky Shorey (defender)(Reading); Keith Andrews (midfielder)(Bolton Wanderers); Joe Mattock (defender)(Sheffield Wednesday)

The Baggies had a rather smooth ride in the Premiership last season under Roy Hodgson, who put them back into shape since taking the reins in January of the previous season. The new England boss did a great job and his successor Steve Clarke finds a side looking forward to another good season in the top flight. West Brom have developed the habit in seasons gone by of being promoted to the Premier League, only to go back down straight after but they seem to have found their range now. Steve Clark has been treading rather careful in the transfer market so far with only three signings, though each of them looks an inspired one to make up for the departures of Nicky Shorey, Joe Mattock and Keith Andrews. Indeed, Argentian deep midfielder Claudio Yacob looks a great addition to the squad while playmaker Yassine El Ghanassy, on loan from Gent, should provide a good alternative to Chris Brunt, who has had a number of injury problems recently, in offensive midfield. In the attack, Steve Clarke has secured the signing on a free of striker Markus Rosenberg. The Swede’s arrival could open the way for a move for Peter Odemwingie while Shane Long should remain at the Hawthorns. Besides with the barn-storming Romelu Lukaku signing on loan from Chelsea, the Baggies now look well equipped upfront for the season. Elsewhere, most of the personel from last season should return, ensuring a certain degree of stability to the Baggies squad and their style of play. In defence, Jonas Olsonn and Gareth McAuley have proved a solid central defensive unit and should return with Liam Ridgewell and Billy Jones at full backs. The experienced Steven Reid, who missed most of the past season due to injury, should look to reclaim a starting spot on the right side. Meanwhile, the loan deal of keeper Ben Foster has been made permanent so he will return between the sticks, with Boaz Myhill and Luke Daniels for back up. In midfield, Yousuf Mulumbu should return this season along with James Morrison, Graham Dorrans and Jerome Thomas.

The Baggies would probably sign now for a repeat of their 11th place finish of last season.

West Ham UnitedIn:
Mohamed Diamé (mid), Wigan), Stephen Henderson (gk), Portsmouth), Jussi Jääskeläinen (gk), Bolton), George McCartney (def), Sunderland), Modibo Maïga (att), Sochaux), Raphael Spiegel (gk), Grasshoppers), James Collins (def), Aston Villa), Alou Diarra (mid), Marseille)

Ruud Boffin (gk), Eskisehirspor), Pablo Barrera (mid), Cruz Azul), Freddie Sears (att), Colchester), Marek Stech (gk), Yeovil), Frank Nouble (att), Wolverhampton), Robert Green (gk), QPR), Papa Bouba Diop (mid), Abdoulaye Fayé (def), Hull), John Carew (att), Julien Faubert (def), Elazigspor), Péter Kurucz (gk), Ravel Morrison (mid), Birmingham)

West Ham are back among the big boys after just one year in the Championship and are determined to avoid the gruelling relegation battle that has accompanied almost every of their Premiership campaigns in the last decade. Sam Allardyce will never win a popularity contest at Upton Park but he got the job done last season when steering the team through the war of attrition and endurance that the Championship is to an ultimately successful conclusion. The 2:1 win over Blackpool in the play-off final realised the dream of the fans of seeing their club back in business. The Hammers had lofty ambitions for their transfer business during the summer but the failed pursuit of Andy Carroll, who refused to join from Liverpool, epitomised the somewhat frustrating experience for Allardyce. He still signed some quality players with James Collins back at the club from Aston Villa. The biggest coup could prove to be Alou Diarra who was one of the more impressive performers for France in the Euros and played in a World Cup final too. Alladyce will expect his side to be solid in defence and take their chances up front where Carlton Cole will be the battering ram and Ricardo Vaz Te is expected to continue his remarkable reverse of fortunes having become one of the key players for the Hammers since joining in January. Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and James Collins form a capable midfield for Premiership standards while Jussi Jaaskelainen has the class to make up for the exit of Rob Green. All in all, the team looks in decent position to beat the drop and given that a big number of the squad have experience at this level, plus the cunning leadership of the manager, should ensure a safe mid-table spot. 

Survival is of course the main objective but the Hammers are setting their sights a bit higher and will feel that they can finish safely in mid-table if the new signings gel in quickly

Wigan AthleticIn:
Ivan Ramis (defender)(Mallorca) ; Fraser Fyvie (midfielder)(Aberdeen):ryo Miyaichi (sp)(att)(Loan from Arsenal)

Hugo Rodallega (forward)(Fulham); Mohamed Diame (midfielder)(West Ham); Simon Cox (midfielder)(Nottingham Forrest): Hendry Thomas (midfielder)(released)

Wigan have once again survived last season for an eighth consecutive time in the top flight. The Latics looked doomed at one stage in the wake of a dreadful winless run round the turn of the year but a fantastic series of results in the final couple of months of the campaign propelled them past the safety line. Roberto Martinez returns at the helm this summer, probably hoping for a more consistent season this time round. The Spaniard will rely on the same core of players that did so well in the last stages of the past season, with the excellent Ali Habsi back in goal and a solid defensive unit formed by central defenders Gary Caldwell and Antolin Alcaraz and full backs Emerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa. The defence improved throughout last season and should remain the same at least at the start of the campaign, although summer recruit Ivan Ramis from Mallorca will logically look to claim a starting spot in the centre. Midfielder Fraser Fyvie is also in from Aberdeen. One feels more signings will be needed to ensure Wigan are able to compete once again this season. With Mohamed Diame moving to West Ham in the summer, the Latics will need to beef up their midfield, although McCarthy and McArthur formed a good central unit last season. Roberto Martinez will obviously be on the lookout for reinforcement in the attack, which was a problem last season till Easter. Besides, Hugo Rodallega has now departed for Fulham, and Victor Moses is eagerly followed by suitors, which could leave Wigan with only the on-and-off Franco Di Santo and Mauro Boselli, who is back atthe club after two loan spells, in the attack. Shaun Maloney should return in the playmaker role, along with the likes of Jordi Gomes and Ben Watson, who will hope to return in contention after being dropped in the second half of last season.

Absent some serious reinforcement in midfield and upfront, it is difficult not to expect Wigan to struggle again at some stage this season, although they have accostumed us to doing wonders to escape relegation season in, season out for the past 8 years now.