Welcome to the preview of the 2014/15 English Premier League season. It’s felt like an eternity since we saw Manchester city lift the trophy as champions for the 2013/14 season but we’re now only weeks away from the start of what should be an even more open and more competitive season for 2014/15. Last season was incredible for a number of reasons, in particular the rise of Liverpool and the fall of Manchester United. But this season is promising to be so much more. Manchester United look better under Van Gaal already, Everton should be better after another season under Martinez, and Tottenham should improve under Pochettino. Not to mention the star signings coming in for Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea. If you thought last season was good, then just wait till 2014/15 kicks off – it’s going to be even better!
**Odds as at 6th August from Sportsbet
*Should be a pretty tight tussle from 15th to 18th as usual.
EPL 2014/15 Futures Options:
To finish in the top 10
Best Bets: Stoke at $2.63 & Newcastle at $2.10 look really good to me.
Team to concede the least Goals
Best Bet: Chelsea at $2.25
Smokey: Everton at $34 – conceded the 3rd least goals last season with 39. 2011/12 only saw 40 conceded and the same was seen in 2012/13. Consistent!!
Team to score the most Goals
Best Bet: Manchester City at $2.63
Next Best: Arsenal at $6.5 – Sanchez in combination with Walcott & Ozil could be a catalyst for a high scoring Arsenal this season.
Top Goal scorer
Best Bet: Sergio Aguero at $5.50 (assuming he maintains his fitness)
Next Best: Wayne Rooney at $13– could be given a new lease of life under Van Gaal
Smokey: Lukaku at $19
Most Clean Sheets
Best Bet: Chelsea at $2.25
Smokey: Tottenham at $41 – Defence is a big focus for Pochettino this season.
Top 4 Contenders
Manchester City ($3.40)
First 5 matches: Newcastle (A), Liverpool (H), Stoke (H), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H)
The reigning champions will no doubt be a contender to back up their 2013/14 season and don’t need to make drastic changes to ensure they are a contender. For me they have two areas where they need to improve with the first being defensive depth and the second keeping Aguero at full fitness. Their defensive cover last season was a little suspect with the ageing Demichelis brought in to provide some experience and cover at the back where they really only had Kompany, Lescott, and Nastasic as central options. With Lescott now gone they certainly look to have found a solid replacement in the incoming Mangala who will likely partner Kompany. Keeping their defence fit will also be paramount with Kompany only able to make 19 appearances whilst the promising Nastasic will also be hoping for a clean run from injuries this season. Likewise with their defence, the injury interrupted season for Sergio Aguero where he made just the 20 starts probably kept them closer to their competitors than they may have liked. Regardless though he still had a return of 17 goals and if they can get 25-30 starts out of him this season they will certainly be fighting at the top again. One player to watch though this season I think will be Stevan Jovetic. He too has had some fitness concerns but this could be the season where he breaks into the starting XI and makes an impact.
Season finish prediction (Top 2): One of the sides to beat for the title but they’ll need to be on their game early with a relatively tough run to start with Liverpool in game two. They also face Arsenal & Chelsea in games 4 and 5 to perhaps have the toughest opening round of games of the top contenders.
Manchester United ($5.5)
First 5 matches: Swansea (H), Sunderland (A), Burnley (A), QPR (H), Leicester (A)
Manchester United will look to get back to winning ways under new manager Van Gaal and there’s a lot of work to do. There’s no doubting Van Gaal’s credentials especially after a very strong World Cup with the Dutch. There is however a lot of work to do with his new players as they’ll need to adapt quickly to his preferred formation of 3-4-1-2 if they want to ensure they can push for a top 4 spot this season. They do have a couple of things in their favour though with a favourable opening 5 games as well as no distractions of European football which will keep their players fresher than their main rivals. We saw how well Liverpool did without European football last season, though some circumstances will be different with Liverpool having had time under Rodgers to adapt to his playing style. I’m confident that Man United will be better this season but I’m not 100% confident that they can push for a top 4 spot when we now have 7 sides jostling for 4 spots. The other concern I have for them is they are yet to really make a splash in the transfer market though it is somewhat understandable given the World Cup priorities of Van Gaal and the lack of Champion’s league football to attract star quality.
Season finish prediction (in the range of 4-6): Expect to see an improved Manchester United this season but the jury is still out for me. Preseason has shown some really good signs and it looks like the players a taking well to Van Gaal. They need some reinforcements though to really push themselves back into the top 4 though.
First 5 matches: Burnley (A), Leicester (H), Everton (A), Swansea (H), Manchester City (A)
Chelsea have perhaps made the biggest statement of intent in their transfer dealings thus far with the likes of Diego Costa, Drogba, and Cesc Fabregas headlining the major changes. They’ve also made a solid signing in Filipe Luis to fill the left back void with the departure of Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand. These are some great signings for an already very strong squad that went close to claiming the league last season. Costa and Luis may take some time to adjust to the league as many foreign players need to, but Fabregas should be able to slot in pretty comfortably to form a fearsome midfield. There is however one player that I’m sure the majority of football fans don’t understand why he’s not in the side. That player of course is Lukaku who finds himself now permanently at Everton in what is a fantastic move for the Toffees. I’m not sure what Mourinho doesn’t like about him for such a player so young that is purely an absolute beast on the field. Perhaps it’s just to strengthen Everton to a point that Everton becomes an even bigger threat to Chelsea’s main title rivals, assuming of course that Chelsea themselves don’t drop points to Everton.
Season finish prediction (Top 2): For me, Chelsea will be fighting it out with Manchester City for the title this season. Both have arguably the most depth and best balanced squads in the league. A decent looking schedule in their first 5 games should put them in good stead for the season with their main tests coming against Everton and Manchester City away. This could be Mourinho’s year.
First 5 matches: Crystal Palace (H), Everton (A), Leicester (A), Manchester City (H), Aston Villa (A)
Another side intent on pushing for the title this season will be Arsenal and having come fairly close last season, they’ve made some good moves in the transfer market to push on this season. Alexis Sanchez headlines the major move for Wenger after a fantastic World Cup and I think he could form a pretty dangerous partnership with Walcott in time. They have however thus far failed to bring in some striker support for Giroud which I think over the course of the season will be critical if they want to push for the title this season. They of course have support in Podolski and the young Sanogo but they really need another striker in to provide cover and competition. Sanogo could be one to step up this season and has shown good signs in preseason especially with his 4 goals against Benfica, but translating that form into the season isn’t easy. I also think Arsenal lack a little bit of grunt in midfield in the form of a holding midfielder and it remains to be seen if they’ll get someone in by the time the season starts. Apart from these two areas, their squad is looking very strong and there’s no doubt Arsenal will be up there by season’s end. They have a few tests early to start the season with an away fixture at Everton and a home meeting with Manchester City in their first 5 games. If they can navigate their way through those then they should have a pretty solid start to the season.
Season finish prediction (3-5): Arsenal have proved themselves as a top 4 contender for years and this year looks no different. They have however in recent years fallen away in not really breaking into the top 2-3 sides. I’m not yet convinced they have the personnel to push for the title this season and with the competition increasing with 7 sides more than capable of a top 4 finish it could end up being a hard slog. The signing of Sanchez could push them into the top 3.
First 5 matches: West Ham (A), QPR (H), Liverpool (H), Sunderland (A), West Brom (H)
It was a tough season for Tottenham in 2013/14 highlighted unfortunately by some heavy defeats to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. The impact from the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in combination with management that they players didn’t seem to buy into really hampered their season. They did buy some talented players with the Bale money but the problem of them having no premier league experience in combination with injuries really made it difficult for Spurs to get a run on. Whilst I’m a Tottenham fan and trying to avoid bias as much as I can, there’s certainly some good signs for Tottenham in 2014/15. The signing of Pochettino as manager seems to be having a great effect on the players thus far from what I’ve seen during pre-season. There is of course the danger of reading too much into results from pre-season friendlies, but as an avid fan I can see the difference in game style, player attitude, and optimism. It is of course difficult to ensure this translates into a good start to the season. Tottenham had a great start to 2013/14 winning 6 of their first 9 matches but it was when they copped a surprise defeat at home to Newcastle that the wheels really began to fall off with a 6-0 defeat a week later. As yet they’ve yet to make a real splash in the transfer market but I’m sure there will be the usual late flurry of business as the window draws to a close. Spurs have a pretty strong squad as it is and I think the addition of a fit and firing Lamela along with Eriksen and Soldado in their second EPL seasons could see Tottenham surprise a few.
Season finish prediction (4-7): I have no doubt Tottenham will improve this season under Pochettino, but whether that translates into their final league position come may remains to be seen. A couple more key signings could change their fortunes but with the likes of Everton improving along with the expected Manchester United revival could see a really cutthroat battle for top 4 places. Not beyond them, but certainly not guaranteed I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spurs finish in 5th or 6th.
First 5 matches: Southampton (H), Man City (A), Tottenham (A), Aston Villa (H), West Ham (A)
Perhaps the surprise packet of 2013/14 in how close they came to grabbing the title given that at the start of the season no one really rated them as a title contender. Their push towards the title was driven by Suarez and Sturridge who contributed 52 goals between them, of which Suarez knocked in 31. Perhaps what set them apart was Suarez’s assists where he contributed 12. With Suarez now gone to Barcelona the thought on most people’s minds is how are they going to replace him? For me it’s simple really, he cannot be replaced. Some might say that it looks like Liverpool are trying to replace him with multiple players and that they are doing a “Tottenham” with the Bale money. Whilst I don’t disagree wholeheartedly with this argument, I don’t exactly agree with it either. Liverpool were always going to bring in a multitude of players as they were crying out for depth throughout the 2013/14 campaign and that was without European football. With Champion’s league this year, they had to bring in players in the likes of Lambert, Lallana, Lovren, Emre Can, and Markovic and they all look to be quality signings and will certainly go some way to easing the void left by Suarez.
Season finish prediction (3-5): It’ll be an interesting season for Liverpool without Suarez. I like what they’ve done in the transfer market thus far but I think it’s really important to note the following. The key for Liverpool is not replacing Suarez’s goals, but tightening a defence that let through 50 goals. All of Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea, Southampton, and Crystal Palace had better defensive records in this respect. If they do that, they’ll be good for top 4 again.
First 5 matches: Leicester City (A), Arsenal (H), Chelsea (H), West Brom (A), Crystal Palace (H)
Everton were fantastic last season with a solid attack led by the then on-loan Lukaku but backed up with the 3rd best defence in the league. With Everton signing Lukaku on a permanent basis and the expected rise of youngsters such as Barkley and Stones, this Everton side should be a menace again this season. The signing of Barry on a free too is a good bit of business and I’m sure there’s a few more to come especially with the added pressures and schedule of the Europa league. The rigours of an extra competition could take some adjusting for Everton much in the way it has affected Tottenham’s performances in the league over the years and I think the fact they don’t have a huge squad depth wise could work against them in the end. I certainly don’t expect a massive drop in output but I think the adjustment to Europa league and still trying to push into the top 4 could be a massive ask. They also have a really tough run to start their league campaign with Arsenal and Chelsea at home in their first 3 games and two losses there could really put them onto the back foot as the season kicks into gear.
Season finish prediction (5-8): Coming off a fantastic season I’m sure Everton will be focused on consolidating their position but with the added rigours of the Europa league I’m not confident they can sustain their performances. A few more quality signings could go a long way, although spending 28 million pounds on Lukaku could result in some shrewd loan moves. No top 4 for me for Everton this year but they’ll be up there.
Looking Good for the Top 10
First 5 matches: Manchester City (H), Aston Villa (A), Crystal Palace (H), Southampton (A), Hull (H)
Newcastle have made some good moves in the transfer window after some pretty barren transfer dealings over the past year. Siem De Jong should slot in nicely to fill the void that Cabaye left. Expect improvement from Newcastle this season on their 10th placed finish in 2013/14. The signing of Loic Remy on a permanent basis is still on the cards and would be a fantastic one if they can get it over the line. A tough first match at home to Manchester City repeats their start to the 2013/14 season but they can ill-afford another 4-0 loss.
Season finish prediction (6-8): It should be a stronger season from Newcastle after plenty of ups and downs last season. Their signings will all add to this squad and if they can add a Connor Wickham as is rumoured then we should see Newcastle pushing back into the top 7 or 8 sides after finishing 10th last season.
First 5 matches: Manchester United (A), Burnley (H), West Brom (H), Chelsea (A), Southampton (H)
Swansea had an ok season in 2013/14 and whilst they can be optimistic of a better finish in 2014/15, it depends on keeping perhaps their most important player. I have Swansea pegged as a potential top 10 finisher but this is based on them keeping Bony. If they don’t manage to keep Bony, as is looking the case then we’ll likely see Swansea finish in a similar area to their 12th placed finish last season. They have brought in some decent players in particular Sigurdsson as a goal scoring midfielder along with Gomis. The loss of Vorm and Davies to Tottenham hurts but with Neil Taylor back to fitness and Fabianski coming in from Arsenal they pretty much have ready-made replacements.
Season finish prediction (10-13): I can’t see Swansea dropping into the relegation zone come May 2015 however I can’t see them pushing into the top 10 without Bony either. A likely finish similar to last season looks about right.
First 5 matches: Aston Villa (H), Hull (A), Manchester City (A), Leicester (H), QPR (A)
Mark Hughes proved a lot last season most of all being that he can manage having endured previous tough stints at QPR, Fulham, and Manchester City. At the start of the season I wouldn’t have thought Stoke could have finished in the top 10 in 2013/14 but they did and another top 10 finish beckons this season. Stoke have always been a tough side to beat, especially at home, but they have always lacked that attacking flair which is something they’ve started to address this transfer window. Strikers and midfielders were the priorities and thus far I think they’ve done a really good job in bringing in Diouf from Hannover, the promising Bojan from Barcelona and Steve Sidwell on a free from Fulham. Bojan is one that has perhaps yet to fully realise his potential but some first team football could be exactly what he needs and he could relish being that attacking and creative outlet that Stoke needs.
Season finish prediction (8-10): Plenty to be optimistic about for Stoke this season with a strong squad made stronger through some key signings that should see them maintain their top 10 position in 2014/15 if not better it.
First 5 matches: Arsenal (A), West Ham (H), Newcastle (A), Burnley (H), Everton (A)
Things could have been very different for Palace last season had it not been for the impact of Tony Pulis. Having taken just the 3 points from their first 10 games they were odds on for relgation but Pulis came in and turned this side around to not only ensure their survival but push towards a top 10 finish falling just short in 11th. It’s a finish that will give them plenty of confidence heading into the new season but they’ll need to be careful to not get too ahead of themselves as the hard work begins with a tough encounter against Arsenal.
Season finish prediction (9-12): There’s a lot to like about Palace and there should be improvement under Pulis after a strong second half to 2013/14. They’ve added sparingly thus far to their squad in the likes of Frazier Campbell from Cardiff and Hangeland but they need a few more key signings to ensure they can keep up the pace with their strong finish last season. Regardless though I think we’ll some more consistent performances from Palace throughout the season. it’s important to note their defensive record where in their first 10 games they conceded 21 goals but just 27 in their remaining 28 games. Expect a tight defence to be the cornerstone of Pulis’s Palace this season.
My top 10 Prediction:
- Manchester City
- Manchester United*
- Crystal Palace
*Some big name signings could push United into the top 4. For me Liverpool are the most at risk of dropping out. Their star young players have little experience in negotiating both the league and Champion’s league.
Likely to Finish 11th – 17th
First 5 matches: Tottenham (H), Crystal Palace (A), Southampton (H), Hull (A), Liverpool (H)
West Ham’s finish to 2013/14 felt about right in 13th position and they can certainly feel a little more ambitious about the upcoming season. Always a tough side to play at home they’ll need to bank on their home form if they want to push for a top 10 finish. They injury blow to Andy Carroll though is a big one and having missed most of last season he’s set to miss a big chunk of this season as well which I’m sure is the last thing big Sam was looking for. They’ve been ambitious in the transfer market but so far I think they’ve fallen a little short of what they’d like and whilst the signings of Jenkinson (on loan from Arsenal) and Zarate are a small step in the right direction, I can’t help but feel the loss of Carroll again for the start of the season puts them well on the back foot.
Season finish prediction (11-13): I don’t expect West Ham to be relegated but I can’t see them improving on their 13th placed finish in 2013/14. A couple of big signings in the last few weeks of the transfer window could of course change their fortunes a little but at this stage it’s looking like a long season for West Ham ahead.
First 5 matches: Hull (H), Tottenham (A), Sunderland (H), Manchester United (A), Stoke (H)
QPR are back in the top flight having endured a shocker of a 2012/13 season where they really just got everything wrong. One thing they did do right though was appoint Harry Redknapp who is a quality manager and he’s got them back into the top flight for another crack at staying up. It’s easy to write QPR off but I believe they’ve learnt a lot from their mistakes the last time. Don’t expect big money signings on high wages this time around, they’ll sign smart and within their means. So far they’ve brought in some quality defenders in Caulker and Rio Ferdinand whilst also bringing in Isla from Juventus on loan to bolster their right full-back position. If they can somehow keep hold of Loic Remy to lead their attack along with Charlie Austin then I think they have all they need to do much better this time around.
Season finish prediction (12-16): Can’t doubt the skills of Harry Redknapp. He’ll know exactly what they need to do and with a few more additions to the squad, they’ll have every shot of staying up this time around. Expect to see a much better team this time around without the need to gel a multitude of players from all over the place.
First 5 matches: Stoke (A), Newcastle (H), Hull (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H)
Villa began last season on a high beating Arsenal away to open their season but from there it was a long road as they hung around mid-table for the majority of the season before fading and flirting with relegation late on. This season doesn’t look as easy either with the off-field distractions around the sale of the club something Lambert is keen for his players to ignore as much as they can. It hasn’t stopped their transfer business too much whilst also bringing in Roy Keane as an assistant. The players they’ve brought in are by no means stars but they all bring something that will improve the squad. The most notable of course are Senderos, Joe Cole, and Kieran Richardson with all 3 sure of seeing regular first team action.
Season finish prediction (13-15): I can’t see Villa being relegated this season but I can see them ending up roughly where they began. The key will for them will be keeping Ron Vlaar and getting Benteke up and firing. Do this two things and they’ll survive for another season.
First 5 matches: Liverpool (A), West Brom (H), West Ham (A), Newcastle (H), Swansea (A)
When you look towards a new season there’s always a sense of optimism, the new players that might come in and the improvements in performance that could be made. For Southampton though, there is no doubt a hollow feeling amongst the supporters. Their manager is gone along with their best 4-5 players as well. It doesn’t bode well for the upcoming season and they have a massive task on their hands to replicate last season. The positive though is they have money to spend, but I don’t think the money will maintain their position. For me Southampton are in danger of dropping and it might not necessarily be because of the talent they bring in and the time for those players to gel, but more so if they don’t get positive results early, it could derail their season.
Season finish prediction (14-17): It’s either a season of consolidation or one of absolute calamity as we could see Southampton fighting to avoid the drop this season. They’ve brought in some decent talent, but I wouldn’t bank on them having an instant impact. There’s still time to go in the transfer market so a couple quality additions could help them consolidate after losing some of their best players. Long season, but they should stay up.
Most likely to be in the fight to avoid Relegation
First 5 matches: Chelsea (H), Swansea (A), Manchester United (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sunderland (H)
The runner’s up in the Championship behind Leicester in 2013/14 will no doubt be on a high ahead of their adventure in the Premier League 2014/15 season. They have a great welcome in their first game as well at home to Chelsea which will no doubt fire them up and something Chelsea should be wary of. There’s a lot to like about Burnley’s attack with particular mention of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings who produced 41 goals between them and will no doubt be the focal point of the upcoming season. Thus far in the transfer market they’ve been smart in bringing in some players with Premier League experience but I certainly wouldn’t expect any major signings at this stage.
Season finish prediction (18-20): There’s a chance of survival for Burnley but I can’t help but feel in the end it could be too much for them to stay up when May 2015 rolls around. Relegation favourites here.
First 5 matches: QPR (A), Stoke (H), Aston Villa (A), West Ham (H), Newcastle (A)
Hull are a very good football side. They’re gritty and determined and showed plenty of fight last season. They’re reward this season is the Europa league and whilst it’s often viewed as negative, it’s something I think the fans and players should very much look forward to. As a result they’ve brought some good players in to build a good base of depth with Tom Ince and Snodgrass in particular some good pieces of business. If Hull can adapt well to the added fixtures of the Europa league and get some good results in the league then I’m sure they’ll do enough to be safe. I do however feel in the back of my mind they’ll be pretty close to relegation due to the added burden of the Europa League early on.
Season finish prediction (15-18): Hull’s finishing spot could rest on their qualification in the Europa League. Qualification could make things difficult in the first half of the season to get results whilst failure to qualify could be a blessing in disguise. A top 15 finish beckons without the Europa League whilst a chance of relegation is a real possibility if they cannot navigate their way effectively through the Europa League.
First 5 matches: West Brom (A), Manchester United (H), QPR (A), Tottenham (H), Burnley (A)
It was a tough finish for Sunderland last season but a fantastic final run of games saw them survive when really everything was against them. They won 4 of their last 5 games to ensure survival which included wins over Chelsea and Manchester United. They’ll need to hit the ground running though for this season as they have a few tough asks in their first 5 games against Manchester United and Tottenham but they would surely now have a bit more belief about the team heading into a new season.
Season finish prediction (16-19): I think we’ll see a slightly more consistent Sunderland for 2014/15 although I don’t think they’ll push much further up the table as I can see them in a relegation battle towards the end of the season. In the end though I think they’ll do enough to survive. A couple more signings of similar quality to Jack Rodwell wouldn’t hurt either.
First 5 matches: Everton (H), Chelsea (A), Arsenal (H), Stoke (A), Manchester United (H)
The Championship winners head into the new season no doubt full of optimism like a lot of sides in the league but I dare say they may get a bit of a reality check with an incredibly tough opening 5 games. It’s not always easy to translate good form into the Premier League and it was no more evident than what we saw with the 2012/13 Championship winners in Cardiff who were relegated after one season. One thing they have done well so far is bring in some cheap personnel with Premier League experience such as Matthew Upson and Albrighton which should serve them well throughout this tough season.
Season finish prediction (16-19): If they can sneak some points in their first 5 games then I give them every chance of survival but if they get pummelled then I’m not sure if they’ll have the quality to survive as much as I’d love to see them stay up.
First 5 matches: Sunderland (H), Southampton (A), Swansea (A), Everton (H), Tottenham (A)
The Baggies were pretty lucky to survive relegation last season and will look to move back up the table this season. They’ve been pretty active in the transfer market thus far with their biggest signing no doubt Joleon Lescott who will no doubt help to shore up their defence that was by no means the worst but does have room for improvement. They do however need to improve a little offensively and perhaps the signing of Ideye from Dynamo Kiev could help with that. The Nigerian has scored 33 goals in 74 appearances however he’ll need to hit the ground running if he’s to take that form into the Premier League.
Season finish prediction (16-18): There are reasons to be a little optimistic with a new season however personally I’m not yet convinced that the Baggies can improve drastically on last season. The competition looks so tight all around and you could really throw in a Villa, Hull or Sunderland
My Bottom 10
12. West Ham
15. Aston Villa
18. West Brom
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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