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Player Ratings: Southampton 4, Aston Villa 1

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

A miserable second half performance sees Villa drop their third match of the season. I don’t have much to say about it.

Record: 1-1-3, 4 pts; 5 goals for, 9 against
Guzan – 6; Not really his fault we gave up four, besides the foul at the end, but hopefully he won’t be back on the bench next game.
Lichaj – 5; Poor defensively, but possibly even worse offensively
Vlaar – 6; Maybe not his best game, but it certainly wasn’t his fault the way Southampton carved us open in the second half.
Clark – 6; Like Vlaar, spent most of the second half trying to cope with attacking players allowed too much space by the midfield. Probably didn’t close Lambert down quickly enough on the first goal.
Lowton – 5; A fine attacking fullback who can’t defend. Seems to fall asleep at key moments (goals two and three, all the Everton goals). But hey, who else are we gonna play there?
El-Ahmadi – 5; Probably his poorest game of the season
Ireland – 6; Wasn’t particularly great in the first half, but we were much worse without him in the second half.
Bannan – 5.5; Was active at least. Has the tendency of trying too many long crossfield balls when the simple pass will do.
Holman – 5; Spent too much time trying to help out Lowton on the right and gave the ball away often when he had it. Good attacking player, but not a great midfielder.
Bent – 6; Scored a goal and was reasonably active, at least for him.
Benteke – 5.5; A threat on set pieces and had one nice long pass for Bent, but the team resorts to the long ball when he’s on the field, and it got them nowhere. Maybe better as an impact sub?
Westwood – 5; Didn’t look prepared for Championship level midfielders.
Agbonlahor – NR; Don’t recall him touching the ball. Where was he, on the left?
Bennett – NR; Didn’t look much better than Lichaj after replacing him.

It’s just one game, but it sure was disappointing. I don’t think we’ll get relegated, but this is going to be another long, frustrating season.
For the next match, I’d like it if we returned Weimann to the starting lineup and maybe gave Stevens or Bennett a runout at one of the fullback spots.

Match Report: Aston Villa 1, Everton 3

Goals: Aston Villa — El Ahmadi 75 (Lichaj); Everton — Pienaar 3 (Naismith) , Fellaini 31 (Jagielka), Jelavic 44 (Baines)

Shots: Aston Villa 9 (2 on target); Everton 22 (6)

Possession: Aston Villa 39 %; Everton 61 %

Everton crush Aston Villa – their first win over the team in their last 12 matches, and their first at Villa Park in seven years – behind first-half goals from Steven Pienaar, Maroane Fellaini and Nivica Jelavic. It was a horrendous performance from Villa, who see the optimism behind the appointment of new manager Paul Lambert rapidly diminishing – this team simply isn’t good enough to compete in the Premier League. Makes you long for the days where Everton were almost as good as us in the fight for European spots, doesn’t it? Karim El Ahmadi had a consolation goal for Villa, who actually were much better in the second half, but it really doesn’t matter. Everton will probably finish somewhere 5th-7th again this season, though I’d love to see them finish in a Champions League place. As for Villa, Lambert got his team selection wrong; they sorely missed the creativity of Stephen Ireland and Brett Holman, and the right-sided combination of Matt Lowton and Chris Herd was overrun, though in fairness, so was the rest of the team. Terrible.

Player Ratings

Shay Given, GK – 4; Tentative in goal. Arguably could’ve stopped either of the first two goals. Is it time to give Brad Guzan a start?

Nathan Baker, D – 6; Looked much more comfortable at left back, though he did let Jagielka get by for the second goal. More assured than Ciaran Clark in central defense once he replaced him.

Ron Vlaar, D – 6.5; Once again solid at the back. He looks composed on the ball too.

Ciaran Clark, D – 4.5; Outjumped for Fellaini’s header, sent off somewhat harshly for a professional foul in the second half. Needs to be better.

Matt Lowton, D – 5; Pienaar and Baines owned him on the left wing. Welcome to the Premier League, kid.

Karim El-Ahmadi, M – 6.5; Started off slowly and didn’t see much of the ball, but played better as the game wore on. He looks like a good signing, still.

Barry Bannan, M – 5; Performance will once again raise questions about whether he’s too lightweight for the Premier League. Brought little to the table.

Chris Herd, M – 5; Lambert’s decision to play him on the right raises the question of why he didn’t just start him at right back. Tried hard, but offered nothing going forward.

Charles N’Zogbia, M – 5; Probably leading the league in the most dribbles out of bounds. I feel like I say this every week, but at some point, he just needs to be dropped, no matter how much he cost or what he did before.

Nathan Delfouneso, M – 5; Another strange selection from Lambert. Probably not match-sharp, and certainly not an attacking midfielder. Replaced at halftime.

Darren Bent, F – 6; Once again, never got the ball, played no role. You have to wonder how long he’s going to want to stick around unless some decent players are signed.

Brett Holman, SUB – 6; Villa looked better with him on the pitch. Should be starting.

Eric Lichaj, SUB – 6; Brought energy off the bench. Probably will start on the left against Newcastle with Clark banned because of his red card.

Andreas Weimann, SUB – NR; Only on briefly; hit the post late on. Should be ahead of Delfouneso in the pecking order, you would think.

Grade: F. Though the performance late on with Holman, Lichaj and Weimann was better, overall, this was as bad – or worse – than any of the matches under Alex McLeish. In fact, I’d go so far as saying this is the worst I’ve EVER seen Villa play at home. Villa need four or five new signings, or they very well could be in the Championship next year. Suggestions for the next match: 1. Sign new players; 2. Start Guzan for Given; 3. Give Holman and Ireland back their starting spots; 4. Drop N’Zogbia; 5. Put Baker in the center of defense and see if he plays well enough to keep Clark out; 6. Start Lichaj either on the right or left; 7. Start Weimann instead of Delfouneso, or better yet, sign a striker

Premier League Picks: Aug. 25-26

Saturday

Swansea 2 West Ham 0

Aston Villa 2 Everton 1 (I know, I know)

Manchester United 3 Fulham 0

Norwich City 3 Queens Park Rangers 2

Southampton 1 Wigan 3

Sunderland 1 Reading 1

Tottenham Hotspur 2 West Brom 0

Chelsea 3 Newcastle 1

Sunday

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 1

Liverpool 1 Manchester City 2

Last week’s record: 5-3-2

Match Report: West Ham 1, Aston Villa 0

Not a great start for Brett Holman (AVFC)

Goals: Nolan, 40 (Vaz Te, assist)

Shots: West Ham – 7 (1 on target); Aston Villa 13 (2)

Possession: West Ham – 34 %; Aston Villa – 66 %

The first match in the Paul Lambert era at Aston Villa and the first back in the Premiership for West Ham ends up being a pretty dull affair, with West Ham grabbing the three points thanks to a Kevin Nolan goal that was initially flagged for offsides. Aside from that goal, neither team really threatened to score. It was a bit of a weird alternate universe thing for Villa fans, who are usually accustomed to defending and looking for occasional counterattacking opportunities, but this time had the lion’s share of possession but couldn’t break down a well-organized West Ham defense. It remains to be seen whether Villa will be more of an attacking force against teams that play more open, expansive football, but on the evidence of this, they won’t unless the bring in a few more players.

Player Ratings

Shay Given, GK – 6; Didn’t have much to do except for the one goal, which wasn’t his fault

Nathan Baker, D – 6; Defended reasonably well, but didn’t offer any width at all in attack

Ron Vlaar, D – 8; Solid at the back. Even got a cut and bled everywhere, which is always a good sign for your central defender

Ciaran Clark, D – 7; Occasionally shaky, but didn’t do anything that led to a goal, which is good enough

Matt Lowton, D – 6; Showed less of the willingness to get forward than he did in preseason matches

Karim El-Ahmadi, M – 7; Combined well with Stephen Ireland, particularly in the first half, but had a few bad giveaways as well

Fabian Delph, M – 6.5; Looked a bit nervous initially, but had a couple uncharacteristic runs into the attacking half, which is a hopeful sign

Stephen Ireland, M – 7; Probably the most forward-thinking Villa player, but none of his through balls or shots came to anything

Charles N’Zogbia, M – 5.5; Another disappointing performance from N’Zogbia; you have to wonder how much longer he will start when he plays like this

Brett Holman, M – 5; Runs around a lot; unfortunately, looked more tentative than he had in preseason and put in a couple woeful crosses. Must be better.

Darren Bent, F – 6; Never got the ball, so it’s hard to give him a rating. Had one shot which was blocked. Needs better service. Same old story

Andreas Weimann, SUB – 6; Didn’t get the ball enough to do anything

Gary Gardner, SUB – 5.5; Didn’t impress when he had the ball

Barry Bannan, SUB – 6; Didn’t do much with the ball after coming on as a sub

Grade: C-. Opening day matches are always iffy – particularly in away games – but on the basis of this performance, Lambert has a lot to do to turn this team around, injuries or no. They passed the ball around well, but didn’t seem to have any idea what to do when West Ham was defending. Baker was fine defensively at left back, saving a certain goal late on, but offered nothing supporting the attack. N’Zogbia and Holman ran around a lot but offered zero penetration. Must be better.

Premier League Picks: Aug. 18-20

Saturday

Arsenal 3, Sunderland 0

Fulham 2, Norwich 1

Queens Park Rangers 2, Swansea 0

Reading 0, Stoke 0

West Brom 1, Liverpool 1

West Ham 2, Aston Villa 2

Newcastle 2, Tottenham 1

Sunday

Wigan 1, Chelsea 3

Manchester City 5, Southampton 0

Monday

Everton 1, Manchester United 1

Only Love Soccer’s No Holds Barred, All-Encompassing English Premier League Preview

This is of course without knowing what other players might be brought in before the end of the transfer window on Aug. 31.

Prediction

1. Manchester City. Hate to say it, but can’t see anyone beating them.

2. Manchester United. Haven’t added to their squad like their 900 billion fans might like, but still have more money and better players than most everyone else.

3. Chelsea. Chelsea finishing third and competing again in the Champions League is largely dependent on whether Fernando Torres returns to the player he was before he came to Chelsea.

4. Arsenal. The Gunners are a good shot for finishing here even if Robin Van Persie leaves. Their summer signings have been astute.

5. Liverpool. They’ll be better under Brendan Rogers, but just lack the quality of the the teams above them.

6. Tottenham Hotspur. It’s very possible Spurs will make some big signings before the end of the transfer window, but with their current squad, finishing even this high might be too much to ask.

7. Everton. Don’t they finish here every year? It hasn’t been as terrible a summer as it usually is. With Jack Rodwell heading to Man City, can they avoid losing anyone else?

8. Newcastle. With the lack of new signings, for Newcastle to have a similar season to last year, they’ll need Demba Ba and Pappa Dembiss Cisse to have huge years again.

9. Fulham. If they can hang on to Clint Dempsey, which looks increasingly unlikely, Fulham is one of the better mid-table teams in England.

10. Sunderland. The Black Cats haven’t really signed anyone, but if I know Martin O’Neill, they’ll bring in about four players on Aug. 31 at 9 p.m.

11. Aston Villa. Renewed optimism at Villa Park thanks to the departure of Alex McLeish (and hiring of Paul Lambert) can’t mask the fact that this team will be heavily reliant on very young players unless they sign someone late.

12. Wigan. Could we finally have another Wigan season where they aren’t fighting off relegation all year long? Well, new signing Arouna Koné certainly won’t hurt.

13. Stoke City. Stoke are always pleasantly, boringly decent. This year should be no different.

14. West Ham. Aside from their every few years relegation, West Ham tend to be a fun, attacking side. Oh wait, Sam Allardyce is their manager now. Nevermind.

15. Queens Park Rangers. I want to pick QPR as a team to get relegated. I think with their mix of so-so players and aging, mediocre veterans (Park Ji-Sung aside), there is a very good chance. Nonetheless, they have enough quality to escape. Right?

16. Reading. I don’t know much about Reading, but they were impressive in the Championship and have made some good signings in the summer.

17. West Brom. How good West Brom is this year is largely dependent on whether Steve Clarke turns out to be a decent manager or not. They have a team that should be good enough to escape relegation.

18. Norwich City. I’d love to say the Canaries will be safe this year, despite Paul Lambert joining Villa, but it will take quite an effort from Chris Hughton to keep what is a fairly weak squad from getting relegated.

19. Swansea City. I think Michael Laudrup is a pretty good manager, but he has a big job to do, taking a team that overachieved last year and keep them playing well enough to stay in the EPL without really signing anyone.

20. Southampton. Southampton were dominant in the Championship this year, but look destined to go down in a blaze of glory.

Player of the Year: Mario Balotelli, Man City

English Premier League transfer rumours: The best defenders of 2011/12

Europa League next year? Money, take me to my happy place.

Editor’s note: Today we’re debuting a story from Andy Topping from the UK site Orange Sport. Welcome Andy, and let him know what you think of his picks.

By Andy Topping | Special to Only Love Soccer

It’s sad but true, with the end of the Premier League season we must now face the fact that there will be no weekend football fixtures to look forward to – certainly not at club level – for a few months.

Of course, there will be the Olympic team’s efforts and Euro 2012 to keep our hunger at bay, but for many the buying and selling action that takes place over the summer will be more than enough to keep them happy. But which of those solid centrebacks, reliable right-backs and linchpin left-backs will be at a different club come August? And which will be tempted to stay?

Fabricio Coloccini

Coloccini has been excellent for Newcastle United this year in helping them to prove they are a force to be reckoned with and to surprise a few big teams and pundits too. At the age of 30 he has a few years left in him yet, but it seems unlikely he’ll be the subject of a big money swoop over the next few months. This will be of great comfort to the Toon faithful, who have seen Fabricio emerge as a captain who has been key to some of their most impressive wins.

Vincent Kompany

There has been an incredible level of excitement around the Etihad Stadium throughout the season, even when Manchester City went through a dip in form. One thing that has been constant though is Vincent Kompany. Not only has this central defender been a captain capable of holding down the defensive line and commanding his troops to victory, but he has also entered City folklore by scoring the only goal in their recent win over local rivals United. Kompany seems to love the club and is an undeniable fans’ favourite, so it seems unlikely he’ll want to give all that up.

Ashley Cole

He’s sometimes in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons, but the truth is this England left-back is a solid part of Chelsea’s defensive strategy in a role that is notoriously difficult to fill. On the national stage, this will likely make him the only real choice and while Roman Abramovich will inevitably look at his itinerary over the next three months, he’d be a fool to think of offloading this talented player.

Kyle Walker

At the age of just 21 with his whole career ahead of him, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker splashed across the back pages in the latest round of transfer rumours this summer. Having made a name for himself as the 2011/12 PFA Young Player of the Year, Walker has come back from a season in the shadows last year to being one of Harry Redknapp’s most reliable players. Walker will be central to the team’s plans next year too, but with so much money being around in the Premier League, there’s every chance he could be tempted away.

So what do you think? Could any of the above be easily replaced? Would you like to poach them for your own side?

Weekend Preview: March 9-11

Back in my Chinese football hooligan days. They'll rip you apart!! My wife took this picture, so please stop harping on it, Missy, there's your credit, thanks.

 

 

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

I love doing the world weekend previews, though I don’t always have time for them. But anyway, I’ll try and do them when I can. All times Pacific, as usual.

Today (Friday)

Tijuana vs. America/Morelia vs. Toluca. (Mexico,  6:10 p.m.) These two clashes feature four of the Top 8 teams in Mexico. Morelia and America have been steamrolling everyone, more or less (though Morelia did lose at home to Monterrey in the Champions League earlier in the week). Tijuana is much-improved after a rough first half of the year in the Primera and have the best club crest in the top division. Toluca are a bit uneven, but they do feature the league’s top scorer in Ivan Alonso (9 goals). In fact, all four of the league’s top scorers are playing in these two matches: Alonso, Miguel Sabah (Morelia), Christian Benitez (America) and Jose Sand. (Tijuana). Predictions: Tijuana 1, America 1; Morelia 3, Toluca 1

Saturday

Bolton Wanderers vs. Queens Park Rangers/Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Blackburn Rovers (England, 5:45 and 8 a.m.) One of the big pluses of many world leagues is relegation, which makes what is often the inevitable (Real Madrid/Barcelona winning La Liga; Manchester United winning the EPL) a little more interesting. And here’s why, for the unitiated: In the top leagues of Europe, three teams are typically relegated to the second division. So that creates a whole new competition at the end of the season, which is often much more interesting than the title battles. Fairly big teams such as Deportivo La Coruna in Spain, River Plate in Argentina and Newcastle and Leeds in England have been taken down a notch in recent years. These four teams don’t really qualify as “big teams” per se, though Blackburn did win the league in the ’90s, but nonetheless, the matches have great potential to be back-and-forth goalfests, especially since Wigan isn’t playing. Prediction: Bolton 3-1; Wolves 2, Blackburn 2

Malaga vs. Levante (Spain, 10 a.m.). This match features two teams that aren’t in the title hunt (of course not; this is Spain), but they are competing for the fourth and final Champions League spot – Valencia is well on pace to finish third. Malaga are the new money team, bankrolled by millionaires, that are currently in sixth, a point back, but have largely been disappointing this year. Can they start to push on the second half of the season? Levante are the big shock team, nearly going out of business last year for failure to pay player salaries and operating at a fraction of the budget of the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Malagas of the world, and then spending the first few weeks in first before their inevitable drop down the table. They’re unlikely to keep pushing for a Champions League spot, but it sure would be neat if they did.  Prediction: Malaga 3-0

Shanghai Shenhua vs. Jiangsu Shuntian. (China, 4:35 a.m.) That’s right, my boys in blue (Jiangsu Shuntian) are taking on … the other boys in blue (in China, there are about four color combos, mostly blue and white, and pretty much every team wears white on the road), who have just signed French striker (and former Chelsea/Arsenal/Liverpool/Real Madrid player) Nicolas Anelka. Shanghai had a bad year last year, but optimism is renewed with the Anelka signing. As for Shuntian, they surprised everyone by finishing just out of a Champions League slot, and they signed former star and Chinese national team member Deng Zhouxiang. Yes, I’m going to occasionally highlight the Chinese league on here. Prediction: Shanghai 3-2.

Sunday

Not much of note going on Sunday, unless you feel particularly interested in matches like Manchester United vs. West Brom (England), Schalke vs. Hamburg (Germany), Genoa vs. Juventus (Italy) or Racing Santander vs. Barcelona (Spain). I will pass – this is MLS opening weekend, after all.

Fulham 0, Aston Villa 0: What we learned

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Villa drew 0-0 at Fulham in a match that was fun to start, then turned into a boring, slogfest with few chances in the second half. A point is a point, I guess, right?
Record: 0-1-0, 0 goals scored, 0 goals conceded, 1 point, 4th place
Goal scorers: none
Assists: none
Man of the match: Shay Given, GK

1. Villa are going to be a good defensive team. After the nightmare of a season last year that saw Villa give up 59 goals – 40 on the road – there was no place to go but up, really. And after shutting an OK attacking team in Fulham, Aston Villa certainly look better than at any point last year on defense. Part of the key was Shay Given, who was rarely tested in the first half and took care of everything Fulham threw at him in the second half.

2. Charles N’Zogbia has to be better. Right? N’Zogbia is Villa’s big money signing of the summer and scored 10 goals from the wing for Wigan last season. His debut for Villa? Not so much. After a couple nice crosses in the first half (as well as a shot he ballooned over the bar), N’Zogbia was ineffectual at best in the second half. He looked nervous, and we all know he’s a better player than he showed today. Or he better be, or this is going to be a long season.

3. Emile Heskey isn’t good enough. I guess what worries me about this match is the level of caution we played with – which isn’t surprising with new manager Alex McLeish. But the team never set out to get three points in the second half. Most endemic of this was the fact McLeish left Emile Heskey in for the entire match. Heskey is a veteran player who has logged thousands upon thousands of minutes in the Premier League. He also is a forward who rarely scores, and he showed why today, heading well wide or over in two good first half opportunities and then passing up a good chance to shoot and then losing the ball in the second half. I get the point of playing a player known for setting up teammates along with one of the better forwards in the league in Darren Bent, but Heskey offered very little to justify his inclusion.

4. Villa need better wing play. As noted, N’Zogbia struggled. Gabriel Agbonlahor was game on the left wing, but he’s not a winger – he’s a forward. I’d much rather see him play up front with Bent and let Marc Albrighton (who was substituted in for N’Zogbia in the second half) play on the left wing (or right with N’Zogbia on the left). It doesn’t do much good to have one of the league’s premier goalscorers if there is no one there to give him the ball – and that was the big concern with Ashley Young and Stewart “I’ll do anything for a buck” Downing leaving.

5. Warnock is back! Stephen Warnock was frozen out under previous manager Gerard Houllier, but he’s back in the team under McLeish, and, aside from Given, was probably Villa’s best player. Nice to see him out there and playing well.

Match grade: B

Premier League season preview

Norwich fans are excited about this season's Premier League, fat

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Here are my (informal) predictions from the upcoming Premier League season. The teams are ranked in the order I (kind of) think they’ll finish in, plus I’ve included a little bit of info on each of the teams. Enjoy!

Player of the season: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Top scorer: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

1. Manchester United
Last Season: 1st
Key Signings: Ashley Young, F, Aston Villa; David De Gea, GK, Atletico Madrid; Phil Jones, D, Blackburn Rovers
Key Losses: Paul Scholes, MF, retired, Edwin Van Der Sar, GK, retired; John O’Shea, MF, Sunderland; Wes Brown, D, Sunderland; Owen Hargreaves, MF, released
United come into the season again as favorites after adding Ashley Young to their attack. The big questions for the team are whether or not David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard prove an adequate replacement for Edwin Van Der Saar, and who will take the place of Paul Scholes in midfield. If Tom Cleverly or Anderson step up, this team should win, what, it’s 20th title?

2. Manchester City
Last Season: 3rd
Key Signings: Sergio Aguero, F, Atletico Madrid; Gael Clichy, D, Arsenal; Costel Pantilimon, GK, Timisoara; Stefan Savic, D, Partizan
Key Losses: Jerome Boateng, D, Bayern Munich; Shay Given, GK, Aston Villa
Manchester City fans are still waiting to see what happens with Carlos Tevez saga – rumour has it that he might go to Inter Milan on loan. If he does stay, that creates a bit of a logjam at forward, with him and new signing Sergio Aguero (who might be better than Tevez anyway), Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Emanuel Adebayor as well as wingers David Silva, Adam Johnson and possible Samir Nasri, if he ever signs from Arsenal. Regardless, City have a strong enough squad that you’d have to think they should compete for 1st in the Prem and make some noise in the Champions League. Anything less than 2nd would probably result in Roberto Mancini getting fired.

3. Chelsea
Last Season: 2nd
Key Signings: Romelu Lukaku, F, Anderlecht
Key Losses: Yuri Zhirkov, D, Anzhi Makhachkala
After lots of rumours of players being bought and sold by Chelsea, really no one has left the team and no one has been purchased except for Romelu Lukaku – and that hasn’t even been confirmed by the team yet. It remains to be seen whether Chelsea will add more to the squad; Lukaku probably won’t be a regular day-to-day starter. In their current position, Chelsea are one of the better teams in England, but it’s hard to see them sticking with the two Manchester teams without a couple high-profile signings.

4. Arsenal
Last Season: 4th
Key Signings: Gervinho, F, Lille; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, MF, Southampton
Key Losses: Gael Clichy, D, Manchester City; Denilson, MF, Sao Paulo
According to reports, both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are set to leave the squad very soon. Whether the Gunners remain viable contenders even for a Champions League spot is dependent on who is signed to replace them – as well as who is brought in to shore up the defense (Birmingham’s Scott Dann has been mooted). As things stand right now, though, no one has left, so they still edge out Liverpool and Spurs in my book.

5. Liverpool
Last Season: 6th
Key Signings: Jordan Henderson, MF, Sunderland; Stewart Downing, MF, Aston Villa; Charlie Adam, MF, Blackpool; Jose Enrique, D, Newcastle
Key Losses: Milan Jovanovic, F, Anderlecht
Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has indeed splashed the cash this offseason, buying a whole slew of players with experience in the Premier League. Perhaps not the flashy signings that many Liverpool fans would have wanted, but in some cases (Downing, Enrique), players who will improve upon what’s already there. But with that said, I don’t think any of the signings are likely to make the team title contenders, and they were woeful in preseason.

6. Tottenham Hotspur
Last Season: 5th
Key Signings: Brad Friedel, GK, Aston Villa
Key Losses: Jonathan Woodgate, D, Stoke City
Spurs haven’t changed their team much from last year’s team which reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League and finished fifth, but with the money spent by City and Liverpool, it’s hard to see them challenging that seriously for a Champions League spot. They were particularly frustrating in attack last year, with only Rafael Van Der Vaart (in midfield) scoring goals with any regularity. And you wonder if the team doesn’t get off to a strong start if he’ll want to move to another team.

7. Sunderland
Last Season: 10th
Key Signings: Ji Dong-Won, F, Chunnam Dragons; Connor Wickham, F, Ipswitch Town; Craig Gardner, MF, Birmingham; Sebastian Larsson, MF, Birmingham; John O’Shea, MF, Manchester United; Wes Brown, D, Manchester United; David Vaughn, MF, Blackpool
Key Losses: Jordan Henderson, MF, Liverpool; Steed Malbranque, MF, Saint-Etienne
The amount of good players Sunderland have signed in the offseason mean that anything less than a European spot this year will probably result in Steve Bruce losing his job. So the challenge for Bruce will be incorporating seven new players who all probably think they should be starting into what was already an OK team. If he can do that, they should be solid challengers for a European spot, though Champions League is probably a bridge too far.

8. Stoke City
Last Season: 13th
Key Signings: Jonathan Woodgate, D, Tottenham Hotspur; Matthew Upson, D, West Ham
Key Losses: Abdoulaye Faye, D, West Ham; Eidur Gudjohnsen, F, AEK Athens
Stoke have been one of the better managed – if not the most exciting in attack – teams in the league and have transitioned from being a borderline EPL team into a solid contender for Europe (where they’re playing this year). In Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate, manager Tony Pulis has made a couple fairly astute signings of experienced English defenders. If they can stay healthy. They should once again challenge for a European spot.

9. Everton
Last Season: 7th
Key Signings: None
Key Losses: James Vaughn, F, Norwich City
Everton are generally solidly a 5-7th place team in the league and deservedly so. However, on the back of a summer which has seen no new additions – albeit also no big subtractions – and with the squad aging, it looks likely they will drop back a bit. Supposedly defender Joseph Yobo is on the verge of a move to Turkey as well.

10. Aston Villa
Last Season: 9th
Key Signings: Shay Given, GK, Manchester City; Charles N’Zogbia, MF, Wigan
Key Losses: Ashley Young, F, Manchester United; Stewart Downing, MF, Liverpool; Brad Friedel, GK, Tottenham Hotspur; Nigel Reo-Coker, MF, Bolton Wanderers; John Carew, F, West Ham; Robert Pires, MF, released
Villa somehow rallied at the end of a terrible season last year to finish ninth. Unfortunately, despite having a decent squad with the addition of N’Zogbia and Given, the amount of players that have left the team – and the quality, in some cases (that means you, Ashley Young) means the team will likely not improve on last year’s finish.

11. Fulham
Last Season: 8th
Key Signings: John Arne Risse, D, Roma
Key Losses: Zoltan Gera, MF, West Brom; Diomansy Kamara, F, Eskisehirspor; John Paintsil, D, Leicester City; Jonathan Greening, MF, Nottingham Forest
Fulham qualified for the Europa League by the most sexy of routes possible – the fair play table. Unfortunately, this means that they’ve already play something like 8 European games, which probably means they’ll get off to a good start and then collapse in March or so. They have a decent squad and decent manager, and they should be a mid-table team this year.

12. Bolton Wanderers
Last Season: 14th
Key Signings: Nigel Reo-Coker, MF, Aston Villa; Chris Eagles, MF, Burnley; Tyrone Mears, D, Burnley; Tuncay, F, Wolfsburg
Key Losses: Johan Elmander, F, Galatasaray; Matthew Taylor, MF, West Ham; Joey O’Brien, MF, West Ham; Ali Al-Habsi, GK, Wigan
Despite being often praised for playing a more attractive style under manager Owen Coyle last season, Bolton faded badly in the second half of the season – particularly when Stewart Holden went down with injury. After losing Johan Elmander and Daniel Sturridge (return to Chelsea from loan) this offseason, and with Gary Cahill potentially headed for Arsenal or another big club, it’s not hard to envision this team getting embroiled in another relegation battle.

13. Newcastle United
Last Season: 12th
Key Signings: Demba Ba, F, West Ham; Sylvain Marveaux, MF, Rennes; Yohan Cabaye, MF, Lille
Key Losses: Sol Campbell, D, released; Kevin Nolan, MF, West Ham; Wayne Routledge, MF, Swansea City; Luis Enrique, D, Liverpool
Newcastle have made some intriguing signings in the offseason, but have also lost some key players in Nolan and Enrique. Joey Barton could also be leaving after his very public feud with management. Unfortunately for Magpies fans – among the best in England – if the new signings don’t bed down   quickly, this could be a very long season.

14. West Brom
Last Season: 11th
Key Signings: Ben Foster, GK, Birmingham; Zoltan Gera, MF, Fulham; Martin Fulop, GK, Ipswich Town; Shane Long, F, Reading
Key Losses: Abdoulaye Meite, D, Dijon; Gianni Zuiverloon, D, Mallorca; Giles Barnes, MF, Doncaster Rovers; Scott Carson, GK, Bursaspor; Boaz Myhill, GK, Birmingham
West Brom rallied and finished the season strongly under Roy Hodgson. In Ben Foster, they have improved upon their goaltending, and Shane Long – signed from Reading – could be a good player in the Premier League, I’m not sure. The problem with this team is their defense. If Hodgson can fix that (they gave up 71 goals last season), they will be a mid-table club. If he can’t, they’re headed for a relegation battle.

15. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Last Season: 17th
Key Signings: Jamie O’Hara, MF, Tottenham Hotspur; Roger Johnson, D, Birmingham; Dorus DeVries, GK, Swansea City
Key Losses: Marcus Hahnemann, GK, released; David Jones, MF, Wigan
Wolves made two very good signings in Jamie O’Hara and Roger Johnson. Their play last season was extremely uneven, but if Kevin Doyle can stay healthy, they should be able to move ahead of the morass at the bottom of the table.

16. Queens Park Rangers
Last Season: 1st in Championship
Key Signings: Jay Boothroyd, F, Cardiff; Kieron Dyer, MF, West Ham; Danny Gabiddon, D, West Ham; DJ Campbell, F, Blackpool
Key Losses: Mikele Leighterwood, MF, Reading; Gavin Mahon, MF, released; Pascal Chimbonda, D, released
QPR have been one of the big spenders in the Championship for the past couple years, so it’s a bit of a surprise they haven’t bought many players this offseason. In DJ Campbell, they have a forward who has shown he can score goals against England’s finest, and Jay Boothroyd has been very productive in the Championship. And if Kieron Dyer can stay healthy (ha ha!), they’ll have a good player in midfield. But the success of the team pretty much solely rests on whether they hang on to Adel Taraabt. If he doesn’t leave for a bigger club, they can probably finish mid-table. If he leaves, they’re probably doomed.

17. Blackburn Rovers
Last Season: 15th
Key Signings: David Goodwillie, F, Dundee United; Raca Petrovic, MF, Partizan Belgarde
Key Losses: Phil Jones, D, Manchester United; Benjani, F, released; Zurab Khizanishvili, D, Kayserispor; Nikola Kalinic, F, Dnipro
It’s a bit of a toss-up between Wigan and Blackburn as to who is my pick to get relegated with the two non-QPR promoted teams. The thing that Blackburn has over Wigan is a couple shrewd spring signings in Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica. And they better be good, because the team’s forward line (David Goodwillie, Jason Roberts, Rochina, Junior Hoillet) at least on paper, is probably the worst in the league. Though I do think Hoillet is going to be a good player. Eventually.

17. Wigan
Last Season: 16th
Key Signings: Ali Al-Habsi, GK, Bolton; David Jones, MF, Wolverhampton Wanderers; Nouha Dicka, F, Strasbourg
Key Losses: Charles N’Zogbia, MF, Aston Villa; Antonio Amaya, D, Real Betis; Daniel De Ridder, MF, Grasshoppers; Steven Caldwell, D, Birmingham; Tom Cleverly, MF, Manchester United (Return from loan)
News just recently came out that Wigan was attempting to sign West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie. Though he’d be a great signing, you’d have to think that A) West Brom wouldn’t sign him, and B) He wouldn’t want to come to Wigan. Nonetheless, it at least indicates that Wigan is attempting to buy a player to replace Charles N’Zogbia. They need someone, because as much as I like manager Roberto Martinez, forward Hugo Rodallega and defender Maynor Figueroa, the rest of the team is only marginally Premier League quality.

19. Norwich
Last Season: 2nd in Championship, promoted
Key Signings: James Vaughn, F, Everton; Steve Morison, F, Milwall; Ritchie De Laet, D, Manchester United; Bradley Johnson, MF, Leeds United; Anthony Pilkington, MF, Huddersfield Town; Kyle Naughton, D, Tottenham Hotspur
Key Losses: Jens Berthel Askou, D
I always enjoy promoted teams, because they play hard, and at least for half a season, it gives you the impression that, if players want it badly enough, they can compete with the overpaid, professional whiners in the top clubs. Unfortunately, it usually ends with them being relegated. But still. If I had to pick one of the three teams I would like to see stay up, it would probably be Norwich. They have signed a couple decent players – Vaughn, De Laet and Naughton) but their roster is still pretty woeful, and their attacking lineup is Blackburn Rovers-esque (Simeon Jackson, Morison, Grant Holt, Chris Martin). In fact, THIS is the worst attacking lineup in the league. Sorry.

20. Swansea City
Last Season: Won Championship playoff, promoted
Key Signings: Danny Graham, F, Watford; Wayne Routledge, MF, Newcastle United; Leroy Lita, F, Middlesbrough; Jose Moreira, GK, Benfica; Steven Caulker, D, Tottenham Hotspur; Michel Vorm, GK, Utrecht
Key Losses: Dorus De Vries, GK, Wolverhampton Wanderers; Darren Pratley, MF, Bolton Wanderers; Gorka Pintado, F, released
Swansea took care of their goaltender woes with the loss of De Vries by signing Moreira and Vorm. In Danny Graham and Leroy Lita, they’ve signed a couple players who have shown they are OK Championship players. Unfortunately, in Pratley, they have lost one of their midfield engines. I wouldn’t actually be shocked if this team started strong – possibly the best of the promoted bunch – before crashing and finishing in last place.

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