While the friendly bets, the not so friendly banter and the pseudo “life on the line” statements are flung around amongst football fans like a food fight on the Adams Family dinner table, you always have a bunch who is thinking about something completely different.
Yes, discussions over who is going to lift the Premier League trophy and who looks to be in bad shape and destined for relegation right from the first kick-off will ensue with the start of any new League season. But as usual, when the season consummates, the scenes are completely different in some aspect or the other. It is like watching a Christopher Nolan movie that engages you through its rich script, diverting your attention from your own predictions about the movie. And then, without a warning, the movie just ends and you walk out, dumbfounded.
We, at TheHardTackle, have come out with a list of five Premier League teams which could stir some surprises this season. The signings they have made, the mindset they employ and the expected rise in form they could gain as the Premier League season progresses.
Let’s face it. No matter which team other team you support, you were talking about Swansea City last season at some point. Going backstage a bit, Brendan Rodgers did a phenomenal job to make Swansea the first Welsh side to compete in the Premier League. And once they arrived on stage, we know what happened.
Swansea was already a breath of fresh air to the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers instilled an effective style at the club which reaped benefits beyond expectations, finishing eleventh at the end of the season with a commendable goal difference (-7) considering they were in the bottom half of the League table.
But, just as Manchester City are touted to fall for the ‘second season’ syndrome, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Swansea were also expected to pick up this myth for the 2012/13 Premier League season. And pick up they did; the departure of three influential figures from a club like Swansea could qualify as a mass exodus.
However, the club has done well to heal its wounds. Bringing in the legendary Michael Laudrup has once again woken everybody up to the prospect of Swansea outperforming themselves from last season. The respect and reputation his name carries enabled him in signing eight new players just for about £20 – £25 million.
Most of these players have not even featured for their new club as yet and Laudrup has gotten off to a good start to this year’s Premier League campaign – picking up seven points out of a possible nine and sitting pretty on second place in the standings.
New arrival Michu from Rayo Vallecano has already notched up four goals from three games so far while record signing Pablo Hernandez and Ki Sung-Yeung are waiting in the corridors, sending out a vibe of trepidation for any team coming up against this new look Swansea side.
Swansea might have had their stamp on the brand of football coming from Spain but this time around, they have a stronger squad and a man with tonnes of experience on the football pitch coming in as manager to take them higher. Watch out, Swansea are only going to get better.
Loftus Road breathed a huge sigh of relief last season when the club was fighting for its life in the top flight on the last day of the Premier League season at the home of Manchester City. Although City won and QPR were celebrating their escape from relegation in the dressing room, club chairman Tony Fernandes was already thinking of the road plan ahead for Rangers.
Sacking Neil Warnock was probably the right thing to do in retrospect depending on whether new manager Mark Hughes has what it takes to not only keep QPR in the Premier League but also build upon its League position from last year.
Rangers were one of the busier clubs in the summer transfer window this year and have made some quality additions to their squad. Hughes brought in twelve new players this season after spending just about £18.5 million.
The good thing about these new signings is that there is a good mix of young as well as experienced players. On one hand you have the likes of Ji-Sung Park, Julio Cesar, Andy Johnson and Ryan Nelsen while on the other, the likes of Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, Fabio da Silva and Samba Diakete provide add the youth aspect to QPR to a certain a degree of quality.
They might be in the relegation zone at the present but given a little more time for the high number of signings to get acclimatized to the new club and manager, Rangers are bound to be on the rise this time around. Surely, with a squad like this, they won’t be fighting for relegation.
Nigel Adkins’ side finished second in the Championship last season, a point behind winners Reading. While the Premier League once again welcomes one of its own, Southampton makes a return with a much stronger team, on paper as well as on the pitch. Once again, the summer signings added to the existing roster have made all the difference for the Saints.
Out of the seven signings made this summer, Maya Yoshida, Nathaniel Clyne and Gaston Ramirez are the ones who will grab eyeballs from Southampton fans. Yoshida, who captained Japan at recently concluded London Olympics is a vital addition to a quality lacking central pairing in Fonte and Hooiveld. Nathaniel Clyne, who was earlier scouted by Manchester United by rejected a move to Old Trafford for more first team football, will provide much needed stability at the back. With age on his side (21), the right-back also has the ability to make forward runs and aid in attack.
Gaston Ramirez’ much dragged transfer saga with Southampton and Liverpool looped into the vortex finally concluded towards the fag end of the transfer window when Bologna accepted a fee of €13.5 million for the Uruguayan midfielder. With the presence of highly-rated Adam Lallana in midfield, Adkins can stay confident of the team’s chances of not just survival, but also a decent finish upon their return to the Premier League after a long hiatus of seven years.
Southampton were done hard in their opening three fixtures, having had to face both the Manchester clubs on alternate matchdays. Hence, one can understand their poor start to the Premier League campaign. However, the game against Manchester United was enough proof that the Saints are here to stay. Not just that, they will also be carrying a threat to the rest of the League clubs and are more than capable of causing an upset to any side they are up against.
West Ham United
When West Ham got relegated in 2003, Upton Park was soaked in tears by players and fans alike. Glenn Roeder was eventually sacked the following season but it was hardly a consolation for club of such a high stature. Although the club did make a return to the Premier League two years later, they did lose a little bit of their shine and the excitement they would usual cause amongst fans. And now, once again, the Hammers make a return to compete with the best in the nation, this time headed by Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce is known to be a stickler for the methods he believes in and has the grit and determination required to excel in the Premier League. West Ham have made some shrewd signings upon their arrival – signing Andy Carroll on loan towards the end of the transfer window is the highlight of them all. The Geordie didn’t exactly enjoy his time at Liverpool ever since his move from Newcastle and the Reds’ new manager Brendan Rodgers thought it best to keep the player active by loaning him out.
While Carroll’s arrival could be a boon in disguise, the likes Yossi Benayoun, Matt Jarvis, Alou Diarra, Mohammed Diame, Jussi Jaaskelainen, James Collins and Matt Jarvis has ensured that the club has bolstered its squad on all grounds and is in good stead to take the bull by its horns.
West Ham may not be currently phasing through an era of young prodigies like Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand but has nonetheless taken off with a good start to the campaign – something which is key to newly promoted clubs in the Premier League.
You can clearly tell that Martin Jol is an attack-minded manager when he makes six summer signings – three centre-forwards and three wingers. Fulham enter the new Premier League season with an aim to not only better their ninth place finish last year, but also prepare themselves for tough competition for a European spot.
Hugo Rodallega, Dimitar Berbatov and Mladen Petric are the three forwards signed by the club for just £4.4 million, Rodallega and Petric coming in as Bosman signings. Leaving the existent squad apart, the duo of Rodallega and Berbatov is diminutive enough to cause havoc within any opposition defense.
Lack of first-team chances at Manchester United forced the Bulgarian striker to look elsewhere for more first-team opportunities and after a whirlwind of a transfer window for the forward, Berbatov may have just made a great move in order to maintain his form and class by joining Fulham.
After an opening day thrashing of Norwich City (5-0), the Cottagers are looking much more lively and attack-minded as Martin Jol would have wanted. Their quest for European football means they are going to prove themselves tough for the rest of the Premier League this season.