With the new Premier League season just a week away, here’s my quick guide to each team, with predictions for where they will finish.
Arsenal supporters are a funny bunch. There are few teams in the Premier League who’s supporters think they are both the best club in the league but at the same time dismiss the team’s chances of any silverware at every possible opportunity.
The Gunners finally got their hands on a trophy last season by lifting the FA Cup, and it appears that Arsene Wenger is hungry for more. Gone are the days of frugality, during which a number of Arsenal followers called for Wenger to be sacked, and now the chequebook is very much open.
In come World Cup stars Alexis Sanchez ($58.8m) and Mathieu Debuchy ($20m), the latter to replace the departed Bacary Sagna. And Arsenal have managed to keep hold of their stars from last season, who helped the Gunners lead the league for the vast majority of the year.
Expect big things from Arsenal once again, but I don’t see them lifting the trophy at the end of the year.
With Randy Lerner hoping to sell up and move on, Aston Villa haven’t spent a single penny in this summer transfer window. But that doesn’t mean the club has taken a step backwards.
Switzerland’s Philippe Senderos will partner Ron Vlaar in defence, who was one of the standout players at the World Cup, while former Chelsea and England winger Joe Cole also joins on a free transfer.
Striker Christian Benteke remains their biggest goal threat, and former Manchester United captain Roy Keane has become Paul Lambert’s assistant manager to add a bit of spice to an otherwise beige team.
Say hello to one of the Premier League’s new boys. But do it quick, they probably won’t be here for very long. Manager Sean Dyche admits his side are a work in progress but unless he completes this work quite soon they will be nailed on certs for relegation.
Championship Player of the Year Danny Ings is their main goalscorer, and with new signing Steven Reid – an experienced campaigner – in midfield, Burnley could be a solid team. But I don’t think they will.
They need to bring in some difference-makers quickly, otherwise the inevitable will happen come May next year.
Jose Mourinho managed to pull off one of the best bits of business in the history of football, by selling Brazilian ‘defender’ David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain for $85m before the World Cup. Had he left it until after the big tournament, where Luiz was roundly considered one of the worst performers, he would have struggled to sell him for $8.
Mourinho addressed the Blues’ striker problems by bringing in Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid and welcomed back club legend Didier Drogba, who at 36 will likely only feature in two-thirds of the games this year.
Chelsea lost veterans Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole over the summer, but brought in Cesc Fabregas to shore up the midfield and provide the goals that Lampard has done throughout his career.
Palace went from relegation certainties to a strong mid-table finish last season under Tony Pulis. And the Englishman has taken a different approach to transfers this summer than his predecessor Ian Holloway did last year.
In comes striker Frazier Campbell from Cardiff for a bargain $1.5m and Fulham defender Brede Hangeland on a free transfer to bolster an already mean defence.
Their problem last season was scoring goals, and that could remain the case this year as well, but with Pulis’ style of play they know they will pick up scrappy victories along the way.
Now we come to one of the best and worst pieces of business this summer. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku banged in 15 goals for Everton last season while on loan from Chelsea. And now Roberto Martinez has brought him in permanently (good), but for a price of $47m (bad).
Sure, Lukaku could single-handedly push Everton to a European place, but such an inflated transfer fee could cost Martinez his job if it backfires. Everton also boast one of English soccer’s most exciting prospects in Ross Barkley, who shone briefly at the World Cup in July.
Gareth Barry joins on a free transfer from Manchester City, having also been on loan at Goodison Park last year, so the squad is certainly in a good place.
Another team who can be charged with overspending on transfers. Steve Bruce’s team will compete in the Europa League for the first time in their history and have already splashed the cash.
But spending $13.5m on midfielder Jake Livermore and slightly less on Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass could be seen as poor business. However, Tom Ince joins on a free transfer and could provide the spark Hull need this season.
Hopefully a European campaign won’t take too much out of Bruce’s squad this year, they could do well on both fronts.
Another of the promoted clubs, and another who will struggle without significant investment in the playing squad. Leonardo Ulloa could score at will last season in the Championship for Brighton, and the Foxes have splashed $13.5m on him.
Other than that, Leicester have not really strengthened their squad by bringing in any Premier League quality players – simply adding depth to the team that dominated the second tier last year.
Expect to see the Foxes snatch the odd victory in unexpected places, but on the whole they will do well to spend much of the season outside of the relegation zone.
Luis Suarez’s antics at the World Cup left Liverpool with little option but to sell him. After being suspended for the first part of last season, the Reds were unwilling to see their star man absent again this year.
Instead they sold him to Barcelona for a massive $126m and have set about strengthening their squad, although they’ve yet to find a real replacement for the Uruguayan who scored 31 league goals in 33 matches last year.
Southampton trio Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren come in for a combined $82m, and Serbian midfielder Lazar Markovic for $33.5, but Liverpool will be weaker without Suarez.
After the big spending of recent years, it appears that Manchester City finally have a squad they are happy with. Sagna joins from Arsenal for nothing, while Fernando is their only big money signing of the summer at $33.5m.
That’s it really. City will still be as strong as last year, with Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas, David Silva and co. Expect them to be lifting the trophy at the end of the year.
After the horror-show that was 2013/14, the only way is up for United. The biggest change is in their management, with Louis Van Gaal replacing David Moyes after a strong World Cup leading the Netherlands.
And the Dutchman has splashed the cash on Ander Herrera ($48.7m) and English left-back Luke Shaw ($45m), with more signings inevitable before the transfer window closes.
Even as someone who doesn’t follow United, it was hard for me to see them struggle so much last year.
Alan Pardew’s love affair with French players continues, with Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere the latest Gallic players to grace Tyneside.
Pardew also brings in Dutch pair Siem de Jong from Ajax and Daryl Jaanmat from Feyenoord, while club legend Shola Ameobi has been released.
For once, Newcastle might actually live up to their billing this season, and I, for one, expect them to do well.
Last time the West London side were in the Premier League they spent money like there was no tomorrow, bringing in a plethora of star names, none of whom actually wanted to play for them. They were duly relegated in spectacular fashion.
This year, manager Harry Redknapp has been more reserved in his signings. Rio Ferdinand is the biggest coup after his release by Manchester United, and he could be joined in defence by Steven Caulker, one of the few Cardiff City players to come out of last season with any dignity.
But it might not be enough to propel Rangers to Premier League safety, and they’ll spend a lot of time around the relegation zone.
EVERYBODY OUT!! In one summer, all of the hard work done by Southampton has come unravelled. They’ve lost their manager and most of their star players in the space of three months.
Lallana, Lovren and Lambert left for Liverpool, Shaw for Manchester United, and promising defender Callum Chambers jumped ship for Arsenal. New manager Ronald Koeman is used to rebuilding tasks, but this could be his biggest yet.
He’s brought in striker Graziano Pelle and midfielder Dusan Tadic, both untested in the Premier League, but Koeman will face a challenge to hold on to stars Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez.
The challenge for any foreign star coming to the Premier League is whether they can perform at their best ‘on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke’. That’s what former Barcelona prodigy Bojan Krkic will have to do after joining the Potters.
He was tipped as the next big thing in Spanish football, but never really showed his promise and now gets the chance to play under former Barca player Mark Hughes at Stoke.
They got their first ever top-ten finish last year, and could be on course to repeat that again.
Jack Rodwell was supposed to be the next big thing in English football, until he made the mistake of moving from Everton to Manchester City in 2012, making just 16 league appearances in two years.
But the midfielder joins Sunderland for $16.8m and Costel Pantilimon also makes the move from Manchester, having kept England goalkeeper Joe Hart out of the team for much of last season.
Diego Poyet will no doubt look to add to his squad soon, but I don’t expect any miracles to happen with the Black Cats’ season.
Since sacking Michael Laudrup last season, the Swans’ have not got much better. The goals from Michu dried up and Swansea found themselves struggling towards the bottom of the league.
Well, Michu has been shipped out on loan to Napoli, while Gylfi Sigurdsson returns to Wales after a stint with Tottenham and should provide something of a spark from midfield.
Wilfried Bony will need to score a lot of goals this year to keep Swansea in the Premier League.
It couldn’t be much different to last summer’s Gareth Bale-inspired buying spree. When Spurs sold Bale to Real Madrid they tried to replace him with Erik Lamela. That failed.
But Lamela gets another chance to shine under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, who is keen to add his former Southampton stars Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriquez to the squad.
Pochettino’s management style should lead Spurs to good things this year, but they still wont break into the top four.
West Bromwich Albion
New manager Alan Irvine has admitted he hasn’t actually seen new record signing Brown Ideye play live, but insists that’s not a problem.
Premier League veterans Craig Gardner and Joleon Lescott both join on free transfers and should be able to walk straight in to the starting lineup at the Hawthorns.
Last season was disappointing for the Baggies, and while this year won’t promise much more, they should avoid relegation once more.
Bizarrely, new Hammers singing Enner Valancia, who scored three goals for Colombia in Brazil, has said he put pen to paper with the East London club on the assumption they were a top-four side.
Now, West Ham won’t be as bad as they were last year, but they are not going to challenge for Europe. Injury plagued striker Andy Carroll is sidelined again for the start of the year and Sam Allardyce will look to bring in another frontman.
Cheikhou Kouyaté is exactly the kind of crunching midfielders that Upton Park regulars love to see in claret and blue, so should find his feet quickly.