By Steve Tongue
Club-by-club preview ahead of the start of the Premier League season on Saturday, August 8:
Goalkeeper Petr Cech may be the only major signing but manager Arsene Wenger is confident that after retaining the FA Cup and moving up from fourth to third in the league last season, his team can make further progress.
Having avoided relegation by only three points, manager Tim Sherwood must now do without departed top scorer Christian Benteke and England midfielder Fabian Delph. Villa’s prospects will depend on the quality of their replacements.
Whatever happens, it will be a historic campaign for the south-coast club in their first season at the highest level. Under bright young manager Eddie Howe they could surprise a few people with the quality of their football.
Jose Mourinho, the only manager other than Alex Ferguson to win the Premier League for two years running, will try to do so again with a squad very similar to last season’s – and may find it tougher this time.
Signing Paris St Germain’s France midfielder Yohan Cabaye, who links up again with Alan Pardew, his former manager at Newcastle United, was an impressive declaration of intent as the south London club attempt to consolidate in mid-table.
After eight successive seasons in the top eight, Roberto Martinez’s team dropped to 11th last term and supporters will be hoping Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley and Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu are not the only new recruits.
Claudio Ranieri returns to management in England 11 years after leaving Chelsea, following the sacking of Nigel Pearson. He could find Pearson, controversial but popular with players and fans, a difficult act to emulate.
A new era begins without talisman Steven Gerrard but with half a dozen new signings, including strikers Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings. They should score enough goals to improve on last season’s disappointing sixth place.
UEFA’s relaxation of Financial Fair Play rules has already helped City. They have spent more than £50 million on Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph in an attempt to regain the title.
After two uneven seasons, United supporters are hoping this year’s recruits, including Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, will have them challenging for honours again.
Former England head coach Steve McClaren’s reputation is on the line with a return to Premier League management after nine years. It should not be difficult to improve Newcastle.
Promoted back to the Premier League after one season in the Championship, Norwich will need further recruitment to improve their chances of staying up.
Ronald Koeman has to pull off the same trick as last season in replacing key players – Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne this time – with lesser-known signings. It will be difficult.
Finishing comfortably in the top half of the table was a good result for Stoke under the experienced Mark Hughes. A repeat, ideally with a longer run in the domestic cups, would be an impressive achievement.
Veteran Dutch coach Dick Advocaat changed his mind about leaving after saving the north-east club from relegation. He has strengthened the defence but will need more goals than last season’s joint second-worst 31.
Bafetimbi Gomis proved a valuable replacement for striker Wilfried Bony as the Welsh club finished a commendable eighth. Now they hope Ghana’s Andre Ayew will take some of the scoring burden off him.
Delighted with Harry Kane’s 31 goals in all competitions last term, Mauricio Pochettino has concentrated on buying defenders. Another Europa League campaign will test the depth of his squad again.
Spanish coach Quique Flores has been busy in his first few months as a manager in England, after replacing Slavisa Jokanovic who was unable to agree a new contract. Staying up is the only target.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Another side who avoided relegation after changing managers, Albion climbed to 13th place under Tony Pulis. He needs to keep top scorer Saido Berahino out of the clutches of bigger clubs.
WEST HAM UNITED
The season began early with Europa League qualifying matches for Slaven Bilic, successor to Sam Allardyce. He has been given money to spend for the club’s last season at Upton Park.