Premier League Preview: Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland
The Premier League kicks off this weekend, and today we're looking at Newcastle, newly promoted Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.
2014/15 finish: 15th
The Magpies will hope for a relatively quiet season after another farcical campaign under Alan Pardew and latterly John Carver last season. Pardew's departure, though welcomed by fans, led to a dramatic drop in form under caretaker and local lad John Carver, which was only compounded by Pardew's subsequent success at Crystal Palace.
This season, with Steve McClaren taking the reins, Newcastle will look to avoid any relegation fears and produce consistent, and importantly for the St James Park faithful, entertaining football.
Owner Mike Ashley said at the end of last season that he wouldn't sell the club until they'd won a trophy, and if McClaren can steady the ship, a tilt at a cup might be their biggest priority this season.
Key Transfer: Aleksander Mitrovic- One thing Newcastle need is a proven goalscorer, and whilst Mitrovic is only proven in the Belgian league, the money spent on him suggests the club believe there is enough potential there to have an impact in the north east.
Star Player: Moussa Sissoko- The box to box playing Frenchman has enough quality to be a standout player for Newcastle this season, provided they can keep hold of him.
Season Expectations: Mid table/ Top half Finish
FTD Says: Whatever you might think of Steve McClaren, he is not a manager to turn down a challenge. If he can juggle the boardroom politics and get the fans on side, preferably with an increasingly elusive win over rivals Sunderland, then he should be able to consolidate his position and start getting this combustive club back on track. Top half would be ambitious but they shouldn't have too much to worry about in terms of relegation.
2014/15 finish: Championship (play-off winners)
Alex Neil was a revelation after being appointed Norwich manager last season, guiding them to the play-off finals where they comfortably saw off Middlesbrough. An immediate return to the Premier League means that the majority of their squad have played in the top flight before, but that also means that they will have their relegation in the back of their minds.
All three promoted sides played attractive football on their way to promotion last season, and Norwich have added a bit of flair and pace in the signing of Robbie Brady from Hull. They have however also bought some experience in former West Brom pair Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu, as well as loaning full back Andre Wisdom from Liverpool.
At present Norwich's biggest concern will be up front, with their main strikers all having struggled in the Premier League in the past. Cameron Jerome and Gary Hooper in particular will be looking to prove themselves at the highest level.
Key Transfer: Robbie Brady- The forward stood out in a Hull City side that were relegated last season, and with wide men integral in Norwich's style of play, he could be given the chance to shine once more, although he'll be hoping this time to do enough to keep his side up.
Star Player: Bradley Johnson- The midfielder was in excellent form for Norwich last season, with his tally of 15 goals was bettered only by Cameron Jerome. He is one of many players who will remember the pain of relegation, and if they are to stay up this season, his contribution will be crucial.
Season Expectations: Relegation
FTD Says: All three promoted sides face a tough ask avoiding the drop this season, but with the majority of the squad having played top flight football before, if one side can stay up, it is the Canaries.
2014/15 finish: 7th
Tipped for relegation by many this time last year, Southampton blew those expectations away under Ronald Koeman ti secure a Europa League spot last season.
Whilst the exodus of star players has not been as severe as last summer, Toby Alderweireld, Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin will all be missed at St Marys this season. However, after last season's shrewd recruitment, fans will be hoping new signings can fill the void left by three players who were all brilliant last season.
With Ryan Bertrand signed permanently from Chelsea, Steven Caulker loaned from QPR and Cedric Soares brought in from Sporting Lisbon, Koeman seems to have reinforced his back line sufficiently, whilst Jordy Clasie could prove to be a more than ample replacement for Schneiderlin in the middle of the park.
Spanish striker Juanmi has been brought in as well to boost the attack, and with Jay Rodriguez's return from injury after missing virtually all of last season, Southampton will be confident of replicating their fine form from last season.
Key Transfer: Jordy Clasie- working under his former manager and compatriot Koeman, the Dutch international is tipped for big things, and under Koeman's watchful gaze, and Southampton's attractive style of football, he could well be another great find for the club.
Star Player: Grazianno Pelle- The Italian was among the flurry of signings last summer that had a great debut season at Southampton. Whilst his form dropped later on, this is a striker who could well be aiming for 20 goals this season.
2014/15 finish: 9th
Another club who surprised a few people last season, under Mark Hughes Stoke have slowly moved away from the physical, direct football associated with former boss Tony Pulis, and into a team that play like, well Barcelona, according to chairman Peter Coates.
They've certainly shown their ambition to emulate the Spanish giants in the transfer market by signing Barca winger Ibrahim Afellay. They have also signed Real Madrid youngster Sergio Molina and former Real player Joselu to add more Spanish flare.
With proven Premier League experience in Shay Given and Glen Johnson also arriving, as well as Marco van Ginkel on loan from Chelsea, Hughes looks to have assembled a well balanced squad as they look to push further up the table.
Key Transfer: Joselu- The Spanish striker is the club's most expensive signing to date, and with a few fellow Spaniards in the ranks, he will be hoping he can come good on the promise that attracted Real Madrid.
Star Player: Bojan- The former Barcelona midfielder show glimpses of real genius last season, before an unfortunate injury put an end to his season. As long as he can regain his fitness, he should only improve for Stoke.
2014/15 finish: 17th
The Black Cats seem to have found a winning formula (of sorts) when it comes to Premier League survival. The past few seasons have seen them appoint somewhat left field managers halfway through a season, who then inspire their ailing squad to safety with barely a kick to spare, before they are subsequently replaced by the next manager the following season.
Dick Advocaat was one of those managers, replacing Gus Poyet midway through the season with the club seemingly doomed, and yet after a 0-0 draw at the Emirates with one goal to go, the veteran manager was moved to tears as Premier League safety was confirmed.
The club's decision to keep him on for another season, given that he initially turned down the job on his wife's orders, does raise questions about the club's long term future, given that he almost certainly leave at the end of the season whether they stay up or not, but for him personally, avoiding relegation is all he is concerned with.
Key Transfer: Jeremain Lens- The pacey forward is certainly well thought of by those in the know, and could provide a bit of attacking threat to a team that struggled so badly at times to find the back of the net.
Star Player: Jermain Defoe- Already a hero after his sublime volley to beat fierce rivals Newcastle last season, he is one of the most proven Premier League strikers around, and whilst he's not getting any younger, he is as close to a guarantee of goals that Sunderland can look for.
Season Expectations: Relegation battle
FTD Says: It's hard not to see Advocaat being sacked at some point during the season, given the club's previous record with managers. If that does happen, and Sunderland find themselves in a relegation dog fight once more, you have to wonder if they can pull off another great escape.