14 August 2012

2012/2013 Premier League preview: part 2

There's not too long now until the 21st Premier League season begins.

Over the next four days, The Daily Transfer Request will assess all twenty teams, predicting who'll be getting the spoils and who'll be drowning their sorrows come May. Today, I take a look at Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Norwich City.

LIVERPOOL
(Last Season: 8th)
In Brendan Rodgers the Liverpool board now trust - can he bring the good times back to Anfield?
 Everyone's favourite lovechild of Christopher Eccleston and James Nesbitt has to prove himself to a considerably larger fanbase than he had to deal with at Swansea City. A subscriber to the theory that you CAN play flowing football and get results, Rodgers is hoping to rejuvenate a team that looked stale under Kenny Dalglish at times. But early results have not been promising and fewer people are predicting a top four finish than in recent years.
 TRANSFERS IN: Rodgers has so far stuck to what he knows, targeting some of his former Swansea players. He controversially missed out on Gylfi Sigurdsson, but did pay a fairly-steep £25million for Swans midfielder Joe Allen and Roma striker Fabio Borini.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Craig Bellamy was the biggest victim of a duffers cull that also included Alberto Aquilani, Fabio Aurelio, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez. England striker Andy Carroll could also be on his way after the Reds finally twigged that £35million was a fair bit much for someone of his calibre.
 STRENGTHS: When he's not making headlines for the wrong reasons, Luis Suarez makes them for his deadliness in front of goal. In midfield, Steven Gerrard remains a talismanic presence, Lucas Leiva returns from a long-term injury, and big things are expected of teenager Raheem Sterling.
 WEAKNESSES: Liverpool's home form last season was shocking - they only won six league games at the former fortress that was Anfield. Doubts remain over whether the English trio of Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson can ever perform adequately for the Reds, while this could be the season where the increasingly unreliable Jamie Carragher is finished off.
 PREDICTION: 5th. Rodgers is a gifted coach, but also a realistic one, who can't expect to instantly break back into the top four.

MANCHESTER CITY
(Last Season: 1st)
Now that Roberto Mancini has delivered a league title, the next task is to keep hold of it.
 If Sergio Aguero had hit the post or fired wide against QPR, Manchester City would not be in this position right now. Mancini must realise this, and call on his City players to show no mercy, particularly against other teams in the top half. Do that, and they could become the prize combination of an irresistible attacking force (i.e. David Silva and Sergio Aguero) AND an immovable defensive object (i.e. Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany).
 TRANSFERS IN: So far, they've signed... er, just Jack Rodwell so far from Everton. But Mancini will make improvements before the month is out, particularly in the centre of defence where he wants to bring in Daniel Agger from Liverpool. He might also be interested in a Mr van Persie from a particular London club.
 TRANSFERS OUT: One ex-England player was released and another was loaned out. Owen Hargreaves's return to Manchester was as successful as the Spice Girls' comeback tour, and left-back Wayne Bridge's career has literally headed down south to Brighton & Hove Albion.
 STRENGTHS: Opposing teams dread going to the City of Manchester Stadium - only Sunderland managed to take points off City when they were at home last term. Little wizard Silva and goal machine Aguero are unstoppable at their best, while Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli can scare the living daylights out of keepers when they're not sulking.
 WEAKNESSES: Were goalkeeper Hart to be unavailable, City would look fairly vulnerable if they had to field the Satoshi Tajiri creation Costel Pantilimon in his place. Another chink in the armour is centre-back Stefan Savic, who is still young but drastically needs to cut out the errors. Their away form could be a little bit better, also.
 PREDICTION: 2nd. City have the capacity to dominate English football for some time... but you know what Fergie's like when he's angry!

MANCHESTER UNITED
(Last Season: 2nd)
Sir Alex Ferguson was beaten at his own games last season, so what does the master do next?
 After over 25 years at the helm, some Manchester United fans are losing support for Ferguson, because of what happened last time out, and also his relations with the hated Glazer family. Back on the pitch, he has decided to bring in a new generation of young stars, with the last of Fergie's Fledglings preparing to bow out. United can potentially win the league with their current squad, but one marquee signing can really make the difference.
 TRANSFERS IN: Japan winger Shinji Kagawa is not just at Old Trafford to sell shirts, as some United fans might have you believe. 18-year-old Nick Powell is a raw central midfielder who could in the long term replace Paul Scholes.
 TRANSFERS OUT: It's a mixed story for United. Tomasz Kuszczak and Michael Owen were unsurprisingly let go (and frankly, Owen should think about retirement), but the useful Park Ji-Sung's sale to Queens Park Rangers has cost the Red Devils a hard-working midfielder.
 STRENGTHS: Wayne Rooney bagged 27 league goals last season, so he's not a bad player, is he? Neither is Antonio Valencia, who is proving to be a real asset on the wing, and the return of skipper Nemanja Vidic will be warmly welcomed. As for the English kids, expect defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to go from strength to strength.
 WEAKNESSES: The United defence tends to spring leaks more often now, especially when Ferguson is without his captain Vidic. David de Gea made more than his fair share of errors in his first season, although the 21-year-old is slowly maturing and becoming more dependable. A bigger concern is Ashley Young, who disappointed at the European Championship and is earning a reputation as a diver.
 PREDICTION: 1st (Champions). United are hungrier and show more togetherness than City, so that could give them a 20th league title overall.

NEWCASTLE UNITED
(Last Season: 5th)
Can Newcastle boss Alan Pardew live up to increased expectations at St James' Park?
 The Magpies surprised many last season by nearly qualifying for the UEFA Champions League when most people predicted mid-table mediocrity. Pardew's man-management skills have come to the fore, producing wonderful results and doing the impossible - making owner Mike Ashley fairly popular! Last season, United signed several Francophone bargains (thanks largely to the scouting knowledge of Alan Carr's dad), and more can be expected before summer ends.
 TRANSFERS IN: Few Britons know about midfielder Romain Amalfitano, but he won promotion to Ligue 1 with Reims last term, so the 22-year-old must have potential. Two other purchases for the long-term are Coventry City sensation Gael Bigirimana and Australian centre-back Curtis Good. A top signing for the here and now would be nice though, particularly in defence.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Former striker Alan Smith was perhaps the most high-profile departure from Newcastle. TOWIE wannabe Danny Guthrie was carted off to Reading, and the Magpies also sold keeper Fraser Forster and striker Leon Best, the latter of whom then did in his cruciate ligaments.
 STRENGTHS: The Senegalese duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, the latter of whom scored 13 goals in his first 14 appearances for Newcastle, should continue to score goals aplenty. Their other two Muslim players are equally important - Hatem Ben Arfa for his creativity and Cheik Tiote for his midfield enforcement. Defender Fabricio Coloccini was imense last season, having been a joke earlier in his Toon career.
 WEAKNESSES: Now that they're in Europe, the Magpies will need to add some depth to their squad. Were there to be a spate of injuries, Newcastle might have to depend on inexperienced youngsters like Slovenian midfielder Haris Vuckic, who isn't yet Premier League standard.
 PREDICTION: 6th. Some might predict after the Lord Mayor's Show for United, but they've learned from the past and can consolidate their place.

NORWICH CITY
(Last Season: 12th)
Chris Hughton is just the man to make sure that Norwich don't get second-season syndrome.
 Carrow Road reeled when Paul Lambert jumped ship, but a similarly-hungry replacement in Hughton was lined up, and fears died down. The former Newcastle United coach has retained the Canaries' British heart, and crucially persuaded top scorer Grant Holt to sign a new three-year contract rather than seek greener grass. Although Hughton's tactics won't be as pretty as Lambert's, they should do the job of keeping Norwich up without too many scares.
 TRANSFERS IN: Norwich's midfield has been further packed by two more Championship players in Robert Snodgrass and the young Jacob Butterfield. A couple of holes in the defence has been filled, with Michael Turner slotting into the centre and Steven Whittaker taking the right-back place of Kyle Naughton (now back at Tottenham Hotspur).
 TRANSFERS OUT: Two of Norwich's three non-British and Irish players are out. Zak Whitbread has gone permanently, and another defender - Daniel Ayala - will spend the season on loan at Nottingham Forest. Forward Aaron Wilbraham's brief date with the Premier League ended when his contract was not renewed.
 STRENGTHS: The squad is chock-full of players who remember playing in the lower leagues, and hold no fears of top-flight opponents. John Ruddy's form in goal earned him an England call-up, and Steve Morison went from non-league to 9 Premier League goals in three years. The really key players, like playmaker Wes Hoolahan and anchorman David Fox, can be found in midfield.
 WEAKNESSES: Some Norwich fans fear that Hughton's tactics will not be as attack-minded as his predecessor's, nor as flexible. The element of surprise has now gone, and the Canaries will be desperate to avoid becoming one of the 28% of teams that have dropped out of the PL in their second season up.
 PREDICTION: 15th. Norwich can prove once again that you don't need superstars to stay in the most glamorous league in football.

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