After a dramatic off-season that included two major tournaments (three, if you count the Olympic tournament, which is currently in progress) and many big-named players switching clubs, the 2016 Premier League Season is finally upon us. While the EPL is arguably the deepest league in the entire world, there have to be some teams that don’t get to experience finishing up at the higher end of the table, teams that have the guts but just simply don’t have what it takes to get the glory. Here is Part 1 of my projection for the upcoming season, starting at the bottom of the table:
- Hull City
Hull City have bounced back and forth between the Premier League and the Championship over the past few years, and you would think that they would have an advantage over the two other teams promoted with them because of their previous experience in staying up. However, the club is currently in a state of disarray- they do not have a manager, with caretaker Mike Phelan set to start the season in charge after the resignation of Steve Bruce. One of the team’s best players, Mo Diame, left for Newcastle in the Championship, citing the possibility of a better future. They haven’t made any major signings, and their squad is woefully thin. I just don’t see any way that they can stay up.
Sean Dyche is a fantastic manager, and his disciplined style of play, and his players’ typically flawless execution of it, will give the Clarets a chance to hang around the top flight next season. However, outside of fleet striker Andre Gray and goalie Tom Heaton, the team just doesn’t have many Premier League-level talents, and like relegation rivals Hull, have not been able to secure any signings to help bolster their campaign to stay up. The team will enjoy the money that the EPL will give them, and the experience of playing top-flight football, then they will drop back down to the second division.
It seems like Sunderland ends up in a relegation battle every season, and I don’t expect this one to be any different. The current players have shown that they are fully capable of stepping up their game to maintain their Premier League status, but I just don’t see it happening this year. The club is transition between managers, and while both Sam Allardyce and David Moyes are fantastic coaches, the old manager, Allardyce, has a coaching style that is better suited to a relegation right than his replacement, Moyes. Also, the squad is woefully thin- there are only 20 first-team players on the current roster. The defense looks very weak after the departure of Wes Brown (released) and DeAndre Yedlin (returned to Tottenham), and could get weaker if Lamine Kone completes his move to Everton. There hasn’t been anyone signed to help ease the burden on the aging Jermain Defoe. I just don’t think the Black Cats have what it takes to survive another season.
Swansea have been very popular since their arrival in the Premier League back in 2011, when Brendan Rodgers was at the helm. Their attractive, possession-based game won them a League Cup in 2012 and has helped them maintain their longest top-flight stay in club history. However, teams started to figure out how to overcome the Swans’ possession domination last season, and the club struggled throughout the season. They have made moves to upgrade last year’s faltering attack, but their defense will be sorely lacking after captain Ashley Williams inevitably departs for Everton. The team is good, but they’ll be in for a season even tougher than the one they had last year. They’ll have just enough to stay up, but they’ll need some serious improvements if they expect to recapture the success they had when they first arrived in the Premier League.
- West Brom
The Baggies are not blessed with overwhelming talent, but are blessed with hard-working players, embodied by the aptly-named vice-captain Chris Brunt, and a manager, Tony Pulis, whose direct style is well-suited to this roster and to a relegation battle. The team could use a couple more signings to help settle fears over the possible departures of mainstays Jonny Evans and Sadio Berahino, but with or without them, I feel that the team has what it takes to hover above Sunderland and Swansea while staying in the league for next season.
The Cherries, like their promoted counterparts, Watford, weren’t expected to do anything last season; in fact, they were favored by many to drop back down to the Championship, especially after star striker Callum Wilson went down with an injury early in the season. However, some great managing by the young Eddie Howe, and a few brilliant results mid-season, including back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, secured them a place in the EPL this season. The club knew it needed to add more pieces to stay up this season, and it did so wisely by investing in solid youngsters Brad Smith, Emerson Hyndman and Jordan Ibe. With a strengthened squad and a full season of Wilson up ahead, I expect Bournemouth to take a (small) step forward from last season.
- Crystal Palace
Alan Pardew’s Eagles got off to a flying start last season, and it looked like they may turn into real European contenders. That was before the offense dried up, and the Eagles slumped so badly that they were close to getting really deep into a relegation battle. The team has made some good signings- they inked Andros Townsend and Steve Mandanda to bolster a core that already includes Yannick Bolasie and Yohan Cabaye, but Bolasie might depart for Everton, and the team still doesn’t have a truly dependable striker to put an end to their scoring woes. Palace won’t be relegated, but their year won’t be particularly exciting, either.
Last year, the Hornets were promoted to England’s top league for the first time since 2007, and they weren’t expected to do all that much. However, the Pozzo family had built this team up to be the crown jewel of their portfolio of three pro teams, and the club ended the season in an impressive 13th place. The team has managed to hang on to its biggest names- forwards Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo- and have a deep roster, with numerous players capable of filling multiple different roles and playing in different formations. I worry slightly about overall defensive talent, and also about new manager Walter Mazzarri, who has a style of coaching that is more defensive than pragmatic. This is why I feel that Watford will finish slightly lower than they did last year.
Middlesbrough have been on the verge of regaining their place in the Premier League since manager Aitor Karanka took over back in 2013, and this past season finally saw the former Jose Mourinho confidant lift his team to the big show. The team had a decent, but seemingly below Premier League quality core upon coming up to the first division, but Karanka invested wisely in some players to bolster his squad. He got Victor Valdes and Brad Guzan to fight for the #1 goalkeeper spot, Marten de Roon and Gaston Ramirez to upgrade the midfield, and Alvaro Negredo to join the underrated Jordan Rhodes up top. I still think they could add another defender or two to bolster their back line, but otherwise, I feel this team has enough to stick around for another season.
The last three years, the Southampton team has been purged of its core. 2014 saw Nathan Clyne and Rickie Lambert leave, while last summer, Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin left for Manchester United. Both of the corresponding seasons, though the Saints responded with a fantastic finish in the league. This year, though, with manager Ronald Koeman leaving along with Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, and Victor Wanyama, I think the team from St. Mary’s will finally drop off a little. They’ll still be good enough to hang with the big boys in some games- Claude Puel is a very good manager, and his top players, defender Jose Fonte, midfielder Jordy Clasie, and striker Shane Long, are no slouches, but they don’t have the true game-changers, or the depth, to finish as high as they have the last two years.
The Toffees are an interesting team. They have a solid core to build off of with Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, with some solid veterans like Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines in support of them. However, over the past couple seasons, they have played below the overall sum of their parts. They have a new owner, Farhad Moshiri, that is ready to spend, and a new manager, Ronald Koeman, that seems perfectly suited to this kind of team. The defense seems a little shaky after the departure of John Stones (enforcements are expected, but they won’t come close to matching Stones’s talent), and I think it will take a while for Koeman to get the squad to play his style instead of the more possession-based game of his predecessor, Roberto Martinez, and because of that, I feel the blue side of Liverpool will have to slog through another mediocre season before things change around.
- Stoke City
This season will be Mark Hughes’s 4th season at the helm of the Potters, and he has drastically reshaped the team’s image from what it was under Tony Pulis. Led by Swiss dynamo Xherdan Shaqiri, the team is incisive and attack-focused, yet disciplined at the back. The have the talent to make a run at a spot in Europe, but sometimes too much is forced on either Shaqiri or fellow winger Morgan Arnautovic, and that makes Stoke a one man team that is easy to stop. They need to discover cohesiveness as a team in order to really make a push towards the top, and while Hughes has assembled a very solid squad from top to bottom, with their current team balance, I just don’t think they have that yet.
You can check out Part 2 of this preview on my new soccer website, gunnerupdates.com