It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.

Premier League Preview 2014/15

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After the excitement of the World Cup, excitement levels are sky high for the return of domestic football, and another unpredictable season is in store in the Premier League. The title race is as open as it has been for years, although Chelsea are most people’s favourites, and the newly promoted teams should give some of the stagnating mid-table clubs a run for their money in the battle to avoid relegation. Stars from the World Cup will want to prove they weren’t just a flash in the pan, and the next generation of English players will want to stake their claim for a place in the England squad. It’s going to be a good one. 

Arsenal

Last season: 4th

Major arrival: Alexis Sanchez

Alexis has arrived for a fee of around £30m from Barcelona after starring at the World Cup in the impressive Chile side. He was one of Barcelona’s best players last season, and it is rather surprising that they have let him go. He can play either up front or on the wing, and the acquisition of a genuine world class player could spur them on as the signing of Mesut Ozil did last season. 

Youngster to watch: Gedion Zelalem

German midfielder made his debut last season in the FA Cup at just sixteen years of age, and have led to comparisons with Cesc Fabregas. He has shown some impressive form in pre-season, and is expected to make his Premier League bow this season.

Point to prove: Mesut Ozil

There were some who said that Mesut Ozil was a disappointing signing for Arsenal, and while he certainly wasn’t poor, he will know he can do better. Winning the World Cup won’t have harmed his confidence, and now he will want to prove that he is one of the best players in the Premier League.

Area to strengthen: Central defence

The sale of Thomas Vermaelen has left them rather light on defensive options, with no recognised centre backs other than Koscielny and Mertesacker. Wenger seems to intend to deploy Callum Chambers in that role, but another addition seems like a necessity.

Best XI:

Ospina

Debuchy – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs

Ramsey – Wilshere

Sanchez – Ozil – Cazorla

Giroud

Prediction: 3rd

Aston Villa

Last season: 15th

Major arrival: Aly Cissokho

Villa’s transfer business is far from inspiring, with only Cissokho, Joe Cole, Kieran Richardson and Philippe Senderos coming in. Cissokho earned the ire of Liverpool fans last season with some poor performances, and will need to improve if he is to help Villa beat the drop.

Youngster to watch: Jack Grealish

18-year-old Grealish is an attacking midfielder/winger who had an impressive loan spell with Notts County next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him given a big role for Villa, as he seems ready for the step up.

Point to prove: Charles N’Zogbia

The tricky Frenchman missed the whole of last season injured, and will want to break back into Villa’s first team after his so far disappointing move from Wigan. We all saw what a good player he was for the Latics, and if he were to get back to that form, he will be a crucial player.

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

Villa seem very reliant on the goals of Christian Benteke, and the big Belgian is ruled out until November. Without attacking reinforcements, they may struggle for goals. 

Best XI:

Guzan

Lowton – Okore – Vlaar – Cissokho

Westwood – Delph

Agbonlahor – N’Zogbia – Weimann

Benteke

Prediction: 16th

Burnley

Last season: 2nd (Championship)

Major arrival: Michael Kightly

Kightly was on loan at Burnley last season, and a crucial player in their unexpected promotion. They moved quickly to secure his permanent signing from Stoke.

Youngster to watch: Danny Ings

Last year’s Championship Player of the Year is still only 22, and Burnley’s hopes of avoiding the drop lie mainly on his ability to find the back of the net. 21 goals last season suggest he has the talent to make the step up.

Point to prove: Matt Gilks

Goalkeeper Gilks was unable to keep Blackpool up the last time he was in the Premier League, he’ll want to right that wrong this time with Burnley.

Area to strenghten: Midfield

Burnley’s whole squad looks worryingly weak, but the midfield in particular is very short on top flight quality. A talented midfielder can make a big difference to a team.

Best XI

Gilks

Trippier – Shackell – Mee – Lafferty

Kightly – Marney – Jones – Wallace

Ings – Vokes

Prediction: 20th

Chelsea

Last season: 3rd

Major arrival: Diego Costa

Up front was Chelsea’s biggest weakness last season, and they have plugged that hole with the £32m signing of Costa, who was prolific in La Liga last season. There are some whispers that last season was a fluke, and that he will flop, and he did have some injury problems towards the end of last season. He’ll be very important for Chelsea.

Youngster to watch: Lewis Baker

Young midfielder Baker has been playing well in pre-season, setting up all three goals in a 3-2 win over Wycombe. He is known for his quality set pieces and moments of magic. 

Point to prove: Cesc Fabregas

Another major arrival is former Arsenal captain Cesc, who’s dream move to Barcelona ended acrimoniously. He is back in the league where he made his name, and a fresh start may help him return to his Arsenal heights, as the naysayers claim he is no longer a world class player.

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

Chelsea’s squad is bursting with quality and depth in every position, but if there is a weak spot it remains the striking position. If Costa should be injured the only alternatives are a 36-year-old returning Drogba, and Fernando Torres. 

Best XI:

Courtois

Azpilicueta – Terry – Cahill – Luis

Fabregas – Matic

Schurrle – Oscar – Hazard

Costa

Prediction: 1st

Crystal Palace

Last season: 11th

Major arrival: Brede Hangeland

Fulham’s former captain has rocked up at Selhurst Park on a free transfer, and brings a wealth of Premier League and European experience with him.

Youngster to watch: Sullay Kaikai

Palace have produced several quality wingers recently who have gone on to play for big clubs, and Kaikai is cut from the same cloth as Victor Moses and Wilfried Zaha. Tony Pulis has said he will play a part this season. 

Point to prove: Glenn Murray

Murray fired Crystal Palace to promotion with 30 goals in the Championship, but played very little part last season after a long injury. Fit again now, can he regain his scoring touch?

Area to strengthen: Full back

Full back seems to be a weak spot for Palace, a position that is crucial for both attacking and defending. At least another right back seems essential.

Best XI:

Speroni

Mariappa – Dann – Hangeland – Ward

Puncheon – Ledley – Jedinak – Bolasie

Chamakh – Gayle

Prediction: 18th

Everton

Last season: 5th

Major arrival: Romelu Lukaku

Everton were derided last season for relying on loan players like Lukaku and Gareth Barry. They soon shut the haters up by signing both of them permanently, the former for a record fee of £28m. A huge statement to sign one of the best young players in the world for such a fee, Lukaku will be aiming for 20 goals this season. 

Youngster to watch: Ryan Ledson

The latest bright young thing to come out of Everton’s academy, it won’t be long before midfielder Ledson follows Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley into the first team. He was named on the bench last season against Southampton at just 16, and then went on to captain England in their victory at the under-17 European championships. 

Point to prove: Leighton Baines

Baines’ excellent performances for Everton over the last two years led to much excitement as he became England’s first choice left back at the World Cup. However, he failed to transfer his club form to the national side, and now some are calling for him to make way for Luke Shaw. If he continues to dominate the left flank for Everton, it might remind people just what a good player he is.

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

Everton are another club reliant on a big Belgian for goals. Another striker to lessen the pressure of Lukaku would be beneficial.

Best XI: 

Howard

Coleman – Stones – Jagielka – Baines

Barry – McCarthy

Mirallas – Barkley – McGeady

Lukaku

Prediction: 7th

Hull

Last season: 16th

Major arrival: Jake Livermore

Livermore was on loan at Hull last season, and has made the move permanent for around £8m. 

Youngster to watch: Andrew Robertson

Left back Robertson arrived in the summer from Dundee United, after being named the Scottish Young Player of the Year. He has already made his debut for Scotland, despite only being a professional football for less than a year. 

Point to prove: Tom Ince

He had long been touted as a future star, perhaps mainly thanks to his rather more famous dad. Ince reportedly turned down Inter Milan for Hull, which says a lot about how Hull’s reputation has been enhanced. He didn’t exactly make waves while at Palace last season, now he has another chance to show he is Premier League quality. 

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

Hull have a lot of average strikers, and not really any top draw ones, which will be needed for their Europa League campaign.

Best XI:

McGregor

Rosenior – Davies – Chester – Figueroa

Snodgrass – Huddlestone – Livermore – Ince

Jelavic – Long

Prediction: 15th

Leicester City

Last season: 1st (Championship)

Major arrival: Leonardo Ulloa

Eyebrows were raised by our signing of Brighton striker Ulloa for around £7m, as he is 28 and has never played in the Premier League. However he is undoubtedly a quality target man, a style of striker we have been missing. He will make Nugent and Vardy work for their place. 

Youngster to watch: Tom Hopper

Young striker Hopped played at centre back a few times in pre-season, and if he makes his permanent position there, it would be the second time a striker from our academy has found his dome in defence, after Jeffrey Schlupp. It would be a surprise if he started in the Premier League, but if safety is secured with a few games to go, he might make his Premier League debut towards the end of the season. 

Point to prove: David Nugent

David last played in the Premier League in 2009/10 and couldn’t keep Burnley from relegation. He failed to make the step up at Portsmouth, this could be his last chance to make in the top division.

Areas to strengthen: Full back

Left back in particular is a weak area, with only the ageing Paul Konchesky and the raw Jeff Schlupp to choose from. There is also no real cover for Ritchie De Laet at right back. At least one more full back, preferably one who can play on either side, would be nice. 

Best XI:

Schmeichel

De Laet – Morgan – Wasilewski – Schlupp

Knockaert – James – Drinkwater – Mahrez

Nugent – Vardy

Prediction: 14th

Liverpool

Last season: 2nd

Major arrival: Adam Lallana

£26m seems rather excessive for Southampton’s former winger Lallana, but the fact is that English players will always be overpriced. He is still a good player, and will be a good addition to the Reds. 

Youngster to watch: Jordon Ibe

Yet another young winger in the mold of Raheem Sterling, Ibe made his debut for Wycombe at the age of just 15. He has already played for Liverpool’s first team, this could be his breakthrough season. 

Point to prove: Steven Gerrard

It seems ridiculous to suggest that the legend Steven Gerrard has anything to prove, but following the infamous slip that gifted the title to Man City, and subsequent international retirment, it has been suggested that he is now past it. He’ll be determined to right his mistakes and lead Liverpool one place better. 

Area to strengthen: Full back

The calamitous Glen Johnson on one side, and the average Jose Enrique on the other, Liverpool need better full backs for their Champions League return. Jon Flanagan is showing promise, but is he ready to become the first choice right back?

Best XI:

Mignolet

Flanagan – Lovren – Sakho – Enrique

Gerrard – Henderson

Sterling – Coutinho – Lallana

Sturridge

Prediction: 5th

Manchester City

Last season: 1st

Major arrival: Fernando

Fernando is a feisty defensive midfielder from Brazil, signed from Porto for £12m. He gives City more midfielder options, and more defensive solidity for difficult games.

Youngster to watch: Karim Rekik

The 19-year-old Dutch defender spent last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven, and his solid season in the Eredivisie has earnt him a chance to break into the first team at City. He has said he won’t return to the Etihad unless he is assured of at least 20 first team games.

Point to prove: Sergio Aguero

All of City’s Argentine contingent will be fired up for glory after World Cup heartbreak, no more so than Aguero who failed to score once during the tournament. He has become somewhat injury prone in the last two seasons, if he can stay injury free all season it will be a big boost for City. 

Area to strengthen: Left wing

For all their attacking midfielders, City don’t have a specialist left winger, sticking David Silva or Samir Nasri out there normally. A proper left winger would be helpful. 

Best XI:

Hart

Zabaleta – Kompany – Demichelis – Kolarov

Navas – Toure – Fernandinho – Silva

Aguero – Dzeko

Prediction: 2nd

Manchester United

Last season: 7th

Major arrival: Ander Herrera

United have finally addressed the midfield problem, with young Ander Herrera coming in. He is creative, can get box-to-box and doesn’t shy away from a tackle. A complete midfielder. 

Youngster to watch: James Wilson

18-year-old striker Wilson scored twice on his United debut during the last game of the season, and the club have turned down loan requests for him, suggesting he will be more involved this season. 

Point to prove: Marouane Fellaini

Fellaini’s first season after moving from Everton for £27m was not a success, and many United fans want to see the back of him. He showed he can play if in the right role at Everton, but with Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa also available for that position, he’ll have to impress when given the chance. 

Area to strengthen: Centre defence

The release of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand has left United’s back line rather inexperienced. Although they have no European football to contend with this season, another quality defender will be needed to help them back into the top four. 

Best XI:

De Gea

Rafael – Jones – Evans – Shaw

Carrick – Herrera

Mata – Rooney – Kagawa

Van Persie

Prediction: 4th

Newcastle

Last season: 10th

Major arrival: Remy Cabella

Cabella has already proved popular with Newcastle fans, and the winger was one of Montpellier’s best players. He is full of skill and creativity, and will provide plenty of entertainment as well as goals and assists. 

Youngster to watch: Rolando Aarons

The winger has shown stunning form in pre-season after being pivotal for the youth team’s FA Cup run last season. He is set to play a part at St James’ for at least part of the season. 

Point to prove: Hatem Ben Arfa

Frozen out of the first team picture by Alan Pardew, Ben Arfa remains popular with Magpie’s fans and is a mercurial talent. Should he remain at the club, he has some work to do to get back in the team. 

Area to strengthen: Centre defence

They could do with some more cover in defence, particularly at centre back. Should Fabricio Coloccini ask to leave again, another defender will definitely be needed. 

Best XI:

Krul

Janmaat – Coloccini – Yanga-Mbiwa – Santon

Sissoko – Tiote

Ben Arfa – De Jong – Cabella

Gouffran

Prediction: 8th

Queen’s Park Rangers

Last season: 4th (Championship)

Major arrival: Steven Caulker

Caulker did well for Cardiff last season despite their relegation, and continues to be touted as a future England player. He can learn a lot from Rio Ferdinand. 

Youngster to watch: Jordon Mutch

Mutch has also come in from Cardiff, and he was another bright spark in their doomed campaign. Youth is something QPR were lacking in, and he will help that.

Point to prove: Adel Taarabt

Taarabt seems set to remain at QPR for the season, and after showing glimpses of what he can do the last time QPR were in the Premier League, he needs to do so on a more consistent basis. 

Area to strengthen: Left back

Neither Armand Traore or Yun Sook-Young are amazing, and the position could be improved on. 

Best XI:

Cesar

Onuoha – Caulker – Ferdinand

Isla – Mutch – Faurlin – Traore

Taarabt

Remy – Austin

Prediction: 17th

Southampton

Last season: 8th

Major arrival: Dusan Tadic

Tadic was excellent in the Eredivisie last season, and comes in as a replacement for Adam Lallana. A skillful dribbler, he be a major player for the Saints. 

Youngster to watch: Matt Targett

As one wave of young talent reaches the end of it’s time at Southampton, another ready to step into it’s place. Luke Shaw has departed, and Matt Targett is ready to step into his boots at left back. No new left back has been bought, other than Ryan Bertrand on loan, suggesting Ronald Koeman has faith that Targett can become his new first choice in the position. 

Point to prove: Gaston Ramirez

Ramirez was one of the most promising players in Serie A when Southampton shelled out £12m to buy him. His reputation has suffered somewhat since his arrival, as he failed to become a regular, but with all the players departing St Mary’s, he now has a chance to cement his place in the starting XI and become an important player. 

Area to strengthen: Centre defence

The departure of Dejan Lovren means that defensive reinforcements are badly needed, with only Yoshida, Fonte and Hooiveld available. 

Best XI:

Forster

Clyne – Fonte – Yoshida – Bertrand

Schneiderlin – Taider

Ramirez – Tadic – Rodriguez

Pelle

Prediction: 12th

Stoke 

Last season: 9th

Major arrival: Bojan Krkic

Bojan was one of the most exciting young players in the world when he burst onto the scene at Barcelona, but his career has not followed the expected trajectory, and he now finds himself at Stoke. It has been several years since he had a good season, so it will be a tough job for Mark Hughes to get him back to his best, but if he can, Stoke, have pulled off a real coup in landing him. 

Youngster to watch: Dionatan Teixeira

The Brazilian-born Slovak defender has just signed for the club, and faces a tough job breaking into a formidable defence, but Mark Hughes clearly rates him and thinks he has great potential. 

Point to prove: Jack Butland

Once touted as England’s future number one, Butland has fallen off the radar somewhat after failing to oust Asmir Begovic from between the sticks. He needs to be playing regular Premier League football, or his promising career may be over before it has begun.

Area to strengthen: Right back

When the best option for a position is Phil Bardsley, you know you have a problem.

Best XI:

Begovic

Bardsley – Huth – Shawcross – Pieters

Sidwell – N’Zonzi

Arnautovic – Bojan – Odemwingie

Diouf

Prediction: 9th

Sunderland

Last season: 14th

Major arrival: Jack Rodwell

Another player once destined for greatness, his career has been hampered by injuries and an ill-advised move to Manchester City. Sunderland have offered him a chance to rebuild his career, and it feels like a last chance for him to prove himself.

Youngster to watch: David Karlsson

The Danish winger signed last summer but failed to make a breakthrough in the Premier League with all the turmoil at the Stadium of Light. In what should be a calmer season this time around, he may get a chance to impress.

Point to prove: Costel Pantilimon

In his few appearances for Manchester City, Pantilimon showed that he has what it takes to make it as a first choice keeper, and now he has his chance to prove it. Vito Mannone may prove stern competition, but Pantilimon has all the ability to make the keeper’s jersey his own.

Area to strengthen: Defence

The whole defence looks rather weak, with ageing players like Wes Brown and John O’Shea coupled with bang average defenders like Modibo Diakite and Patrick van Aanholt. If they want to avoid another season of struggle, reinforcements are needed. 

Best XI: 

Pantilimon

Jones – O’Shea – Diakite – van Aanholt

Giaccherini – Cattermole – Rodwell – Johnson

Fletcher – Wickham

Prediction: 13th

Swansea 

Last season: 12th

Major arrival: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Former loan player Sigurdsson has returned permanently to the Liberty Stadium. He didn’t get many chances to impress at Spurs but always seemed to do well when he did. He is known for his excellent set pieces and long range goals. 

Youngster to watch: Kyle Copp

Just 17 years old, attacking midfielder/striker Copp is regarded as one of the best young players in Wales. He has yet to hit the headlines yet, which may be good for him, as it will keep him grounded and working hard to break into the first team.

Point to prove: Lukasz Fabianski

Much like Costel Pantilimon, former bench-warmer Fabianski is set to be handed the chance to make it as a first choice keeper. Formerly derided as ‘Flappy-handski’, he now has a chance to banish that nickname for good. 

Area to strengthen: Goalkeeper

MIchel Vorm has left, and Swansea are left without a keeper of proven Premier League standard. Fabianski has been good and horrific on occasion, and in goal is the one position you want to be certain of having an assured presence. 

Best XI:

Fabianski

Rangel – Williams – Bartley – Taylor

Britton – Shelvey

Montero – Sigurdsson – Routledge

Bony

Prediction: 10th

Tottenham

Last season: 6th

Major arrival: Ben Davies

Spurs have addressed the problem left back area by snapping up the promising Ben Davies from Swansea, rated by some as a better prospect than Luke Shaw. A Wales regular at just 21, he could prove a shrewd signing.

Youngster to watch: Cristian Ceballos

Former Barcelona youngster Ceballos has impressed for Spurs’ reserve side, and given their struggles with strikers last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was given a chance in the first team this season. 

Point to prove: Erik Lamela

His first season at Spurs after a big money move was nothing short of a disaster – rarely started, played out of position, and missing the last few months injured. Everyone knows what a good player he is from his time at Roma, now he needs to start showing it for Spurs. Missing out on the World Cup will surely have fired him up more. 

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

Spurs’ only striking options are Roberto Soldado, who flopped miserably in his first season, the inconsistent Adebayor and the relatively raw Harry Kane. Another addition may be needed.

Best XI:

Lloris

Walker – Kaboul – Vertonghen – Davies

Sandro – Dembele

Lamela – Eriksen – Townsend

Adebayor

Prediction: 6th

West Bromwich Albion

Last season: 17th

Major arrival: Brown Ideye

Brown Ideye has become West Brom’s record signing, following his £10m move from Dynamo Kiev. The fee seems rather a lot, although his scoring record in Ukraine was respectable.

Youngster to watch: Jack Rose

Academy player Rose is regarded as a very promising goalkeeper, and highly thought of at the club. 

Point to prove: Stephane Sessegnon

Sessegnon was a star player for Sunderland, so it was a surprise when he joined WBA last summer. He is an exceptionally talented player, and should be bossing games for the Baggies. They will need him to do just that this year if they have any hope of staying up.

Area to strengthen: Centre forward

The forward line looks very light on goals, which will probably be their downfall. A striker who can score consistently is a must. 

Best XI:

Foster

Wisdom – Olsson – Lescott – Pocognoli

Mulumbu – Yacob

Morrison – Sessegnon – Brunt

Ideye

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

Last season: 13th

Major arrival: Mauro Zarate

Sam Allardyce has been told to get his team playing more exciting football, and Zarate is just the player to do it. A brilliantly tricky player with an eye for the spectucular, he will get Hammers fans off their seats if he hits it off in the Premier League. He is still remembered fondly by Birmingham fans after his brief loan spell at St Andrews. 

Youngster to watch: Diego Poyet

The son of Sunderland manager Gus, Diego has signed from Charlton this summer after being voted their player of the season at just 19. If he becomes anywhere near the player his dad was, West Ham have a gem on their hands.

Point to prove: Ravel Morrison

Yet another court appearance has many Irons fans wanting rid of the enigmatic youngster. Prodigiously talented, yet clearly with a couple of screws loose, Ravel is definitely in last chance saloon now. 

Area to strengthen: Centre defence

The Hammers looks light on options and quality in central defence, which needs addressing.

Best XI:

Adrian

Jenkinson – Tomkins – Collins – Cresswell

Jarvis – Noble – Nolan – Downing

Zarate – Carroll

Prediction: 11th

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