Preview of the Premier League season, with transfer news and tactical predictions!
In his fourth Premier League season preview Alex Keble looks at the relegation battle, analysing which team faces the drop in a season of monumental importance to the English game…
As the new £5 billion pound TV deal looms large over English football, the 2015/16 Premier League relegation battle is of huge significance to those clubs facing the drop.
Over the next few years parachute payments of around £80 million and yearly gains for relegated clubs of over £100 million could create powerhouses of those clubs currently floating just above the dotted line of relegation, leaving the Championship cut off from the Premier League.
The message is simple. Keep your heads above water for the next 9 months and join the most decadent party in the world. But if you sink, the repercussions may be felt for decades to come.
A meteoric rise to the peak of English football has been heartening, and the aesthetics of Eddie Howe’s tactics suggest that the fairytale may continue. Bournemouth held more possession (58.6%) and scored more goals (98) than any other Championship club last season, playing a brand of short-passing football that showed versatility when necessary.
Like Swansea and Southampton before them, Bournemouth will not carry an under-dog mentality and could flourish if they take their momentum into the start of this campaign. What’s more, some astute acquisitions have added talent in the right areas; Tyrone Mings is a powerhouse full-back that will add solidity to their back four, whilst Christian Atsu adds great pace on the wings and Max Gradel is a proven goalscorer.
Their biggest weakness is inexperience, with very few of Bournemouth’s players having featured at this level before. Howe knows that two or three new signings are still needed before they can feel confident.
With an excellent attacking mentality, Bournemouth should stay up. Don’t back them to be relegated at 23/20, and do back them to beat Villa on the opening day at 19/20.
Before the heroics of last season’s great escape had even settled in the minds of Leicester fans, news of Nigel Pearson’s departure sent them plummeting back to Earth.
His replacement, Claudio Ranieri, is renowned for his cautious tactical approach and squad rotation policy, which could be a surprise success at Leicester. However, the loss of Esteban Cambiasso is of monumental significance; his phenomenal passing (average 36 per match) pulled the strings in the Leicester midfield, whilst his defensive work (2.3 tackles, 2.1 interceptions per match) shielded the defence expertly. His is a talent that cannot be replaced.
Most worryingly, Leicester have failed to sign any high profile players to date, aside from the inevitable transfer of Robert Huth from Stoke. The capture of Shinji Okazaki, a 29-year-old who scored just 12 goals last season for Mainz 05, is hardly exciting – particularly at the hefty price of £7 million.
Leicester’s key strength last season was their unflinching morale, and a counter-attacking tactical simplicity that suited hard-working players like Jamie Vardy and Marc Albrighton. Under Ranieri, their frightening lack of pace at the back and overall dearth in creativity could become brutally exposed.
Like Bournemouth, Norwich fought their way out of the Championship with attractive football that centred around a dynamic, pacey trio at the top of a 4-3-3 formation. Nathan Redmond, Wes Hoolahan, and Cameron Jerome were a joy to watch; Jerome hit 20 league goals, whilst Redmond made 13 assists and Hoolahan 10.
It is difficult to determine whether or not Alex Neil’s team will hold their own this season. Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu, and Cameron Jerome have all had difficulty at this level, and the squad depth at Norwich leaves much to be desired.
Robbie Brady is a very good signing, but significant recruits are still needed if Norwich are to stand any chance of survival. With ageing central midfielders and explosive wingers, it is highly likely that Norwich will gradually resort to counter-attacking, deep-lying tactics as the season progresses. If they do not make a confident start to the campaign, things could get very ugly, very quickly.
Having dangled precariously above the dotted line for some eight years, it would be devastating if Sunderland finally fell so close to the new TV money. Last season their gritty, tireless work ethic helped drag them to safety, but Dick Advocaat will know that long hoofs to Steven Fletcher will not win them 40 points.
There is a core of players at Sunderland that possess the grit and technical assurance of a Premier League team – namely Jordi Gomez, Jack Rodwell, Sebastian Larsson, and Lee Cattermole – but elsewhere Sunderland are a mixture of experienced Championship players and European attackers that have struggled in this country.
New signings are desperately needed, but if Ricardo Alvarez and Emanuele Giaccherini can rediscover the superb form that saw them shine at Inter and Juventus respectively, Sunderland will have enough in attack to stay up.
Don’t back Sunderland to go down at 9/4.
Having stormed to promotion after a run of 15 wins from their last 19 matches, Watford are perhaps a little under-prepared for life in the Premier League; momentum alone will not bring them safety, particularly given that they have a new manager, Quique Flores.
65% of their goals last season were scored by Odion Ighalo (20) Matej Vydra (16) and Troy Deeney (21), but since none of these players have Premier League experience, serious strengthening was needed.
It is slightly troubling that Watford have already signed 11 players this summer, with Etienne Capoue the pick of the bunch. Whereas Bournemouth have added modestly to a group of players that have formed a cohesive bond based on possession football, Watford seem to have fallen for the familiar tactic of desperate summer purchasing. This policy rarely works.