Having reviewed the title chasers and top 4 hopefuls in part 1 of our English Premier League Season Preview, now it’s time to turn our attention towards the mid table sides. Mid table mediocrity may not be such a bad thing when you are competing in arguably the strongest league in the world as that basically means you have enough quality to avoid the relegation tussle. Teams that will not be so lucky or simply don’t have what it takes to avoid the survival fight will be featured in part 3 of our season preview.
David Moyes continues to work wonders while operating on a tight budget, but until now, the Toffees lacked that cutting edge needed to enter the race for European places. Despite staying without Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, Everton finally look ready for that final push, seeing that they now have a formidable attack to complement the rock-solid defence and hard-working midfield. Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas should help January signings Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic improve team’s scoring record, while it appears that Marouane Fellaini could be given the role that belonged to Tim Cahill after reveling in attacking midfield position in pre-season. All things considered, Everton are bound to improve on their last season performance.
Last season: 7th
Important arrivals: Kevin Mirallas (Olympiakos), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham), Steven Naismith (Rangers).
Important departures: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Tim Cahill (New York).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-1-1): Howard – Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines – Osman, Neville, Gibson, Pienaar – Fellaini – Jelavic.
Prediction: Top 8 finish
Pick: Everton to achieve a top 6 finish
Once usual suspects for the relegation struggle, Fulham managed to establish themselves as genuine mid table side over the years and their name isn’t even mentioned any more when people talk about the most likely candidates for the drop. Their travel sickness is no longer such a big problem, while the Cottagers remain one of the strongest hosts in the elite division, so another mid table finish looks on the cards. Senior players Murphy, Johnson and Etuhu have moved on, while Petric, Rodallega and Riether arrived in the summer, making sure the squad are at least as strong as last term. If nothing unpredictable happens, you can bet on another mid table finish for Fulham.
Last season: 9th
Important arrivals: Hugo Rodallega (Wigan), Mladen Petric (Hamburger SV), Sascha Riether (Koln).
Important departures: Dickson Etuhu, Danny Murphy (both Blackburn), Andy Johnson (QPR).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Schwarzer – Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise – Ruiz, Diarra, Dembele – Duff, Petric, Rodallega.
Prediction: Top 10 finish
Pick: Fulham to finish in top half
Following the heavy spending over the last couple of years, the club chiefs seem to have decided to cut back on their expenses, meaning that Sunderland go into the new campaign with virtually unchanged squad. The most important thing is that key players Stephane Sessegnon, Lee Cattermole and James McClean have stayed at the club, but this side lack both quality and strength in depth to enter the race for European places. The Black Cats should have enough in them to avoid the relegation fight, but they could struggle to ensure a place in the top half of the standings.
Last season: 13th
Important arrivals: Louis Saha (Tottenham), Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa).
Important departures: Michael Turner (Norwich).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-1-1): Mignolet – Bardsley, Cuellar, O’Shea, Richardson – Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, McClean – Sessegnon – Campbell.
Prediction: Mid table finish
Pick: Sunderland to finish in top half
West Brom have been on the constant uptrend over the last few years and the Baggies seem to have made the transition from relegation strugglers to genuine mid table side. With Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rosenberg arriving to improve what were already a very good side and talented Steve Clark at the helm, I seriously doubt the team will far any worse than last term. Nurturing a slick passing style, the Baggies have won over many neutral EPL fans and I am relishing seeing them in action next term. With no major changes in the summer, the Midlands side look well prepared for another top 10 challenge.
Last season: 10th
Important arrivals: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, loan), Marcus Rosenberg (Werder), Claudio Yacob (Racing Club), Yassine El Ghanassy (Gent, loan).
Important departures: Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest), Paul Scharner (Hamburger SV), Nicky Shorey (Reading), Keith Andrews (Bolton).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Foster – Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell – Mulumbu, Brunt – Gera, Morrison, Odemwingie – Rosenberg.
Prediction: Top 10 finish
Pick: West Brom to finish in top half
Stoke are slowly becoming very predictable and while that may be a bad thing for their fans and neutral viewers, Tony Pulis and his players must be over the moon for managing to survive the league campaign without too many problems. It is hardly surprising that the Potters restrained themselves from making big moves in the summer transfer market, although Michael Kightly was signed to add some speed and quality to attack. Even so, set-pieces remain team’s strongest weapon and goals scored from throw-ins, corners and free-kicks are likely to keep the Potters in the league one more time. Don’t expect anything special from Stoke, but lower mid table position should not evade them.
Last season: 14th
Important arrivals: Michael Kightly (Wolves), Geoff Cameron (Houston).
Important departures: Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough), Danny Collins (Nottingham Forest).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-2): Begovic – Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson – Kightly, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington – Crouch, Walters.
Prediction: Mid table finish
Pick: Jon Walters to be team’s top league goalscorer
Having finished the last league campaign just two points above the bottom three, Villa were expected to invest heavily into the playing squad this summer, but that hasn’t quite happened. New signings Holman, El Ahmadi, Vlaar and Lowton all look like decent players, but until they get acclimatized to the Premier League standards, Villa could have lost some precious points. With no decent replacement for Darren Bent, new boss Paul Lambert will need his number one striker fit for most of the season or else Villa could enter the survival fight for the second season running. Despite the heavy expectations at Villa Park, I predict another difficult campaign for the Midlands side.
Last season: 16th
Important arrivals: Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Karim El Ahmadi, Ron Vlaar (both Feyenoord), Matthew Lowton (Sheffield United).
Important departures: James Collins (West Ham), Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-1-1): Given – Lowton, Vlaar, Dunne, Clark – Agbonlahor, Ireland, Delph, N’Zogbia – Holman – Bent.
Prediction: Lower mid table
Pick: Darren Bent to be team’s top league goalscorer