2013/14 Premier League Prologue – Part 2

Can Suarez (r.) leave his penchant for troublemaking in the past to create a bright future for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool? (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The Clergy (continued):



The post-Rafa Benitez years have not been too kind to the Reds, but Brendan Rodgers now is finally getting Liverpool to move in the direction towards the top four following a promising finish to 2012-13. The team freshened up the squad in the transfer market, albeit quietly, while also being able move out the hangers-on/older guard that either flopped miserably (Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jonjo Shelvey) or were ready to leave the squad (Pepe Reina). Striker Iago Aspas comes over from Spanish side Celta Vigo, and he has the scoring touch – as well as the get-under-your-skin attitude – reminiscent of Luis Suarez. Simon Mignolet, formerly of Sunderland, will now be between the sticks, and his player of the year performance last year was the main reason the Black Cats avoided relegation.

Obviously, the biggest headline for Liverpool is the on-going reconciliation between the team and Suarez, stemming from biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – he still has six games to serve of a 10-game suspension for that incident – and his public request for a transfer away from Anfield (Arsenal has made multiple overtures towards obtaining the striker). Suarez formed a great chemistry with Daniel Sturridge in the latter part of last season up front, and combining those two with Aspas, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, plus Steven Gerrard pulling the strings in the midfield, and Liverpool have everything in place to make a serious run at fifth (or better). It won’t be the Champions League places just yet, but they could make a real good run at that this year.




The end of an era at Goodison Park may very well be followed by an even more glorious one, as Everton were able to replace former gaffer David Moyes with former Wigan boss Roberto Martinez. Martinez has long been known as being a sharp football mind, and although his team was relegated last season, his wits and strategy were the driving force for Wigan in staying up in the Premier League as long as they did before finally incurring the drop – but not before winning the FA Cup vs. Manchester City. Wigan did not have the financial resources to compete with the big boys, and Martinez got the best out of them, so that has to bode well for the Toffees given that similar financial restraints have been part of the club’s fabric in recent years.

Martinez’s biggest asset he brings to the table is his scouting network, being able to find talent in smaller regions/leagues of the world where the bigger clubs don’t look. And for this season, keep an eye on Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu (DAY-loo-fay-oo), an attacking winger who was lighting up the La Liga Segunda Division with the Barcelona ‘B’ team. If he’s anything close to what Kevin Mirallas brought to the team last season after his transfer to Merseyside, it will be good business indeed.

Defender Leighton Baines and striker Marouane Fellaini are still on the squad, fending off transfer requests and overtures (for now) from Manchester United and former manger David Moyes and still creating the backbone of a very talented side.



Swansea City

Swansea is quickly becoming the breeding ground for bright, young head coaches in Great Britain, and for evidence of that, just take a look at the two team previews immediately above this one. Roberto Martinez became coach at Swansea in 2007 and promptly took them to the League One title. After Martinez came Brendan Rodgers, who took the Swans up to the Premier League and finished 11th in their debut EPL season in 2011-12.

Michu’s 18 goals propelled Swansea to 9th in the EPL and the League Cup title, the club’s first major piece of silverware (Michael Regan/Getty Images Europe)

Danish legend Michael Laudrup took over for Rodgers and led Swansea to a ninth-place finish last season, as well as the League Cup title (and a campaign in European football that goes along with it). Laudrup’s philosophy of attacking, eye-pleasing football – almost a mini-FC Barcelona in Wales – kept in line with the managers before him, which always makes Swansea a “second favorite team” with fans who like to see that style of football. The Swans probably made the shrewdest bit of business of any team in all of Europe last season, as striker Michu was signed from La Liga side Rayo Vallecano for a fee of £2 million. All he did was finish fifth in the league in goals (18), just behind the likes of van Persie, Suarez, Bale and Christian Benteke.

But Swansea did not rest of what they had last season, signing last season’s Dutch player of the year, Wilfried Bony, from Vitesse for a club-record transfer fee of £12 million.  The move makes even more sense, when considering that Michu, by trade, is a midfielder, so he can now sit in behind Bony and be even more comfortable on the pitch with his position than he has been before.

Even after the Swans stayed up after 2012, experts expected a drop-off last season, only to be sadly mistaken. Much more expectations are on the shoulders of Swansea this season, but they seem to be more than up for the challenge. How they handle playing in Europe and using their depth will dictate how far high they will finish in the table.




Fans at St. Mary’s were perplexed when their side, on a decent run of form and fresh off of coming from a two-goal deficit at Stamford Bridge to forge a 2-2 draw at Chelsea in January, fired manager Nigel Adkins, the man that had coached Southampton back into the Premier League after a seven-year absence.

Southampton appointed former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino, and after the Saints beat Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, fans were convinced that Pochettino could take this team to the next level and not just be happy with surviving.

The Saints are known for churning out talent from their famed youth system (Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan to name a few recent examples), and the upgrades to their roster should make them more formidable this season. Their biggest acquisition in the off-season – which has a special place in my heart because of me being from Kenya – was former Celtic defender Victor Wanyama, who will become the first Kenyan to play in the Premier League.  His experience playing with championship sides in the Scottish Premier League, as well as being a rock for the Celtic team that reached the knockout round of the Champions League last season, is a welcome addition.

And leading the front line again will be 31-year-old Rickie Lambert, who amazingly just scored his first international goal for England in a friendly vs. Scotland earlier this week. He is one of the best free-kick takers in the Premier League, and proved himself as a Premier League-quality player, even with his “advanced” football age.



Norwich City

Norwich City did not guarantee their spot in the Premier League for the 2013-14 season last year until the last couple of games, but an upgrade in personnel has Chris Hughton’s side thinking Europe by the end of this season…and for good reason.

The biggest question they had to address was up top, and although Grant Holt had a dynamic 2011-12 season, he took a step back last year and now is gone form the team. Their options on the front improved, however, namely in the forms of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper.

Van Wolfswinkel somehow flew under the radar at Sporting Lisbon (28 goals in 55 appearances for the club) and Norwich were the Premier League side that secured the Dutchman’s services. Add to that the prolific scoring from Hooper, who always was one of the main striking stars in the Scottish Premier League for Celtic, and Norwich can put constant pressure on opponents’ back lines. And in their own back line, they added Martin Olsson, the Swedish international who stayed on with Blackburn Rovers after they were relegated in 2012 before making the move this off-season to Carrow Road.

Part 3: The Commoners: Aston Villa, Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Sunderland, West Ham United, Cardiff City, Stoke City, Hull City, Crystal Palace

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