With the kickoff to another Premier League season just days away, Stuff.co.nz's football writers, SAM WILSON and WILLIAM DAVID WILSON, look at the prospects of the 20 teams competing in the top tier of English football.
After ending a near nine-year wait for a trophy with a 3-2 win over Hull City in the FA Cup final in May, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger earned something of a reprieve from long-suffering fans. The Gunners led the way for much of the 2013/14 campaign before injuries and a lack of signings in the January transfer window saw their title challenge predictably falter in the New Year and the calls for Wenger's head grow louder. But the famously frugal Frenchman has shown willingness to splash the cash this summer to avoid the same fate this season, snapping up Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona for $60 million and securing the services of French international right-back Mathieu Debuchy for $24 million to replace the departing Bacary Sagna. Promising young defender Calum Chambers has also joined the North London club from Southampton, with the 19-year-old providing options across the back and in a more advanced role. The addition of a world-class defensive midfielder in the mould of Real Madrid's Sami Khedira and a prolific forward to ease the burden on Olivier Giroud before the window closes could turn the Gunners into serious contenders for their first Premiership crown since 2004 and the fourth of Wenger's tenure.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
In: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), Calum Chambers (Southampton), David Ospina (Nice)
Out: Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Niklas Bendtner (released), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Park Chu-young (released)
One to watch: After a patchy first season as he adjusted to the pace of the English game, Mesut Ozil will be expected to hit the ground running and justify his $84 million price tag this coming campaign.
Last season: 4th
Paul Lambert continues to work minor miracles at Aston Villa, securing the Midlands club's top flight status last season despite having one of the smallest and most inexperienced squads in the league. With American owner Randy Lerner putting the club up for sale in May as he scales back his investment at Villa Park, Lambert can expect to be working on a shoestring budget again this season, with Premier League survival the No 1 priority. The signings of accident-prone Swiss defender Philippe Senderos and former England international Joe Cole are unlikely to stir the Villa faithful, but the appointment of Roy Keane as Lambert's assistant could prove a shrewd piece of business if the fiery Irishman can galvanise the club's talented younger players like Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann. Ex-Manchester United star Kieran Richardson has also penned a two-year deal following Fulham's relegation to the Championship and the versatile 29-year-old will provide much-needed cover on the left side of defence or midfield. In attack, Lambert will need star Belgian striker Christian Benteke to rediscover his goal-scoring touch when he makes his long-awaited return from injury if his side are going to repeat the trick and avoid relegation this term.
Manager: Paul Lambert
In: Philippe Senderos (Fulham), Joe Cole (West Ham), Kieran Richardson (Fulham)
Out: Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), Nathan Delfouneso (released), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, loan), Antonio Luna (Verona, loan)
One to watch: Central defender Ron Vlaar saw his stock rise at the World Cup in Brazil after a series of commanding displays at the heart of the Netherlands defence. Villa fans will be hoping the 29-year-old can replicate his international form at club level this season.
Last season: 15th
A surprise package in the Championship last season, the odds are firmly stacked against Burnley surviving in the top flight for the first time in the Premier League era. Clarets boss Sean Dyche was an uncompromising centre back in his playing days and his side were extremely well-drilled and hard to beat, losing just five of 46 games and conceding a miserly 37 goals, the lowest in the division. The "ginger Mourinho" will need to cajole even more out of his players this season, and it remains to be seen whether prolific strike duo Danny Ings and Sam Vokes can find the net as regularly when up against world-class defences. Lukas Jutkiewicz and Marvin Sordell have been recruited from Middlesbrough and Bolton respectively to share the goal-scoring burden, while experienced Irish ball-winner Steven Reid will add some bite to the Clarets midfield. Winger Michael Kightly made his move permanent after a successful loan spell and will be joined at Turf Moor by the versatile Matt Taylor, who can operate at left-back or on the left side of midfield. With meagre financial resources and a squad short of star quality, Burnley are understandably many bookies and pundits' favourites for relegation, but former Watford boss Dyche has made a habit of proving the doubters wrong in his short and promising managerial career.
Manager: Sean Dyche
In: Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough), Michael Kightly (Stoke City), Marvin Sordell (Bolton), Matt Gilks (Blackpool), Matt Taylor (West Ham), Steven Reid (West Brom)
Out: Chris Baird (West Brom), Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth), David Edgar (Birmingham), Keith Treacy (released), Brian Stock (released), Nick Liversedge (released)
One to watch: Former England Under-21 striker Marvin Sordell reunites with Clarets boss Sean Dyche at Turf Moor and will need to improve on his return of seven goals from 31 appearances for Charlton last season if Burnley are to have a fighting chance of survival.
Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Though last season's title race will be remembered for Liverpool's spectacular collapse with the finish line in sight, third-placed Chelsea must be wondering how they ended the campaign empty-handed. Over the course of the season the Blues defeated champions-elect Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool home and away, annihilated Arsenal 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and took four points off Manchester United. However, surprise defeats at lowly Aston Villa and Crystal Palace and a stunning home loss to relegation-threatened Sunderland left Jose Mourinho and his team to ponder what might have been. The Chelsea boss has moved swiftly to address his side's shortcomings last term, namely profligate finishing and an inability to break down compact, defensive-minded teams. The Blues' relatively poor Premier League goal return of 71 saw prolific Spain striker Diego Costa recruited at a cost of $64 million and an ageing Samuel Eto'o pushed towards the exit door. Mourinho also raided Atletico Madrid for left-back Filipe Luis, suggesting Cesar Azpilcueta may switch to his preferred position of right-back, allowing either Branislav Ivanovic or Gary Cahill to partner John Terry in the Blues' defence. Ex-Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas joined the club from Barcelona to add some creativity to the midfield, while highly-rated Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was recalled from a successful loan spell at Atletico Madrid to provide competition for Petr Cech. The departures of club stalwarts Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have been offset by the return of Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, with the Chelsea icon rumoured to be taking up a coaching role at Stamford Bridge when he retires. Mourinho has won the league title in his second season at every club he's managed since FC Porto and it would take a brave man to bet against him doing it again.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
In: Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Mario Pasalic (Hadjuk Split), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Didier Droga (Galatasary)
Out: Frank Lampard (New York City FC), David Luiz (PSG), Demba Ba (Besiktas), Ashley Cole (Roma), Samuel Eto'o (released), Mark Schwarzer (released), Sam Hutchinson (Sheffield Wednesday), Henrique Hilario (released), Wallace (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Bertrand Traore (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach, loan), Oriol Romeu (Stuttgart)
One to watch: The arrival of former Arsenal idol Cesc Fabregas at Stamford Bridge took many by surprise, given his turbulent history with both the club and ex-Real Madrid boss Mourinho. It will be fascinating to see where Fabregas slots into the Blues' midfield and whether he can fill the creative void left by Frank Lampard's summer departure.
Last season: 3rd
When Tony Pulis took the reins at Selhurst Park in November following Ian Holloway's resignation, the South London club were six points adrift of safety and looked odds-on to make a swift return to the Championship. However, the 56-year-old Welshman quickly steadied the ship by shoring up the porous Palace defence and employing a counter-attacking system that utilised the pace of Dwight Gayle, Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon on the break. A remarkable run of five straight wins saw the Eagles soar to a comfortable 11th place finish, and they even had the luxury of deciding the destination of the title with a 3-3 home draw that effectively ended Liverpool's challenge. The much-maligned Pulis earned plaudits for Palace's eye-catching attacking style, a far cry from the one-dimensional, long-ball tactics that defined his tenure at Stoke. This season will be about turning the Eagles into an established Premier League force, something Pulis managed with aplomb at his previous club. Former England striker Frazier Campbell is the only notable signing and joins Palace from relegated Cardiff, where he scored nine goals last term, while long-serving goalkeeper Julian Speroni has been rewarded with a one-year contract extension after another outstanding season between the posts. A few more additions to the squad and Palace should have more than enough to stave off any relegation fears at Selhurst Park.
Manager: Tony Pulis
In: Frazier Campbell (Cardiff), Chris Kettings (Blackpool), Brede Hangeland (Free)
Out: Jonathan Parr (Ipswich), Dean Moxey (Bolton), Aaron Wilbraham (Bristol City), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff), Danny Gabbidon (released), Neil Alexander (released), Ibra Sekajja (released), Alex Wynter (Portsmouth, loan), Kwesi Appiah (Cambridge, loan)
One to watch: Eagles goalkeeper Julian Speroni kept a remarkable 12 clean sheets as Tony Pulis' side finished a respectable midtable in the Premier League last season. The 35-year-old Argentine will need to produce more heroics between the posts if Palace are to consolidate their top flight status.
Last season: 11th
Despite being a fixture in the Premier League's top eight for much of the last decade, Everton caught many observers by surprise last season with a stylish brand of attacking football that saw them flirt with Champions League qualification. Renowned for their defensive discipline and pragmatism during David Moyes' reign, new coach Roberto Martinez introduced a more attack-minded philosophy at the club. The players quickly bought into the ideas of the charismatic Spaniard, who exploited the loan market last summer to bring in promising Belgian attacker Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea and experienced midfielder Gareth Barry from Manchester City. Martinez also continued his long-standing commitment to developing young players by giving the likes of Ross Barkley and Spanish loanee Gerard Deulofeu plentiful opportunities to make their mark in the first team. The Toffees' progress under Martinez was underlined by an impressive 1-0 win at Manchester United in early December, an away victory against a major Premier League force that had eluded Moyes throughout his lengthy tenure. After a 3-0 rout of Arsenal in early April, Martinez's pre-season pledge to deliver Champions League football to Goodison Park started to feel less like hyperbole and more of a distinct possibility. However, a mini slump that began with a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace and coincided with Arsenal rediscovering their early season form meant the Toffees would have to wait at least another year to dine at the top table of European football. Even with Barry and Lukaku making their moves permanent and the addition of talented Bosnian international Muhamed Besic, a top four spot looks beyond their reach this time around. But the Merseysiders' have enough quality in their squad to at least secure a place in the Europa League.
Manager: Roberto Martinez
In: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Brendan Galloway (MK Dons)
Out: Apostolos Vellios (released), Mason Springthorpe (released), Magaye Gueye (released)
One to watch: Young centre-back John Stones earned rave reviews for his mature performances across the backline last season and the 20-year-old is being touted as a future England captain.
Last season: 5th
Returning to the Premier League after three seasons in the Championship, Hull City enjoyed the most successful campaign in the club's 110-year history, consolidating their top flight status with relative ease and reaching the FA Cup final for the first time. Despite suffering an agonising 3-2 defeat to Arsenal in the end of season showpiece, Hull qualified for the Europa League courtesy of their appearance in the final. However, the upcoming season promises to be a testing one for the Tigers. Competing in Europe will inevitably stretch their limited squad, as will having to play catch-up on the teams around them with Sunday or Monday fixtures. But Hull boss Steve Bruce has done some smart business in recent transfer windows and the recruitment of strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic from West Brom and Everton respectively last January gives his side a cutting edge in the final third. This summer Bruce has brought in industrious midfielder Robert Snodgrass from Norwich and young English prospect Thomas Ince, beating off interest from Italian giants Inter Milan. The Tigers still need a few more reinforcements, particularly in defence, if they are to avoid the "second season syndrome" that has accounted for numerous recently promoted over the years, but the attacking threat of Long and Jelavic and the class of Tom Huddlestone in midfield should just about ensure they keep their heads above water.
Manager: Steve Bruce
In: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City), Jake Livermore (Tottenham), Thomas Ince (Blackpool), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)
Out: Matty Fryatt (Nottingham Forest), Cameron Stewart (Ipswich), Robert Koren (Melbourne City), Joe Dudgeon (released), Abdoulaye Faye (released), Conor Henderson (Crawley), Eldin Jakupovic (released), Dougie Wilson (released)
One to watch: The son of former Manchester United and England midfielder Paul, Thomas Ince has played most of his promising professional career outside the Premier League for Blackpool. This season will be an opportunity for the 22-year old winger to prove he belongs at the top level.
Last season: 16th
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Nigel Pearson ended Leicester's 10-year absence from the Premier League in style by guiding the club to the Championship title last season. The rampant Foxes won 31 of their 46 games and scored 83 goals as they amassed 102 points and secured promotion with six games to spare. A mean defence marshalled by captain Wes Morgan provided the foundation for Leicester's successful season with 17 clean sheets, while the front pairing of David Nugent and Jamie Vardy contributed 36 goals to the cause. That impressive goal return didn't stop Pearson from breaking the club's transfer record with the $16 million purchase of striker Leonardo Ulba from Brighton, where the Argentine scored 25 goals in 52 appearances. But the former Hull City boss has otherwise been prudent this summer with four of his signings - Marc Albrighton, Jack Barmby, Matthew Upson and Ben Hamer - arriving at the King Power Stadium on free transfers. Former England defender Upson adds valuable experience to a young squad, many of whom have yet to play at the top level. Ex-Manchester United trainees Danny Drinkwater and Matty James were outstanding in the Foxes midfield last season but the Premier League is a notoriously unforgiving competition and the club's young players won't be afforded time to adjust to life among the elite. The lack of depth and experience in Leicester's squad points to a swift return to the second tier of English football for the Midlands club.
In: Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton), Matthew Upson (Brighton), Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa), Ben Hamer (Charlton), Jack Barmby (Manchester United)
Out: Lloyd Dyer (Watford), Neil Danns (Bolton), Sean St Ledger (released), Zak Whitbread (Derby), Paul Gallagher (Preston, loan), Marko Futacs (released), Ben Nugent (Yeovil, loan)
One to watch: All eyes will be on All Whites striker Chris Wood as one of only two New Zealanders plying their trade in the English top flight. However, reports in England suggest the Aucklander's experience of the Premier League could be brief with the Foxes considering offloading Wood to Championship side Wolves as he falls down the pecking order at King Power Stadium.
Last season: 1st (Championship)
Liverpool had one hand on the Premier League trophy last season before a costly slip by captain Steven Gerrard at Anfield surrendered the initiative to eventual champions Manchester City with two games left to play. It was a cruel end to a magnificent campaign for Brendan Rodgers' side, who had defied all expectations to come within a whisker of the club's first league title since 1990. On a brighter note, the Reds will return to the Champions League after a five-year hiatus courtesy of their second place finish. Controversial Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was the star of Liverpool's swashbuckling season, scoring 31 times in the league despite missing the first eight games through suspension. His understanding with strike partner Daniel Sturridge, who helped himself to 21 goals, bordered on telepathic and made them one of the most feared front pairings in Europe. England youngster Raheem Sterling also enjoyed a breakout campaign on the wing as Liverpool played with a swagger that had supporters and the media purring in admiration. However, the defensive frailties which ultimately cost them the title were laid bare in one tumultuous night at Selhurst Park in May. The Reds somehow managed to throw away a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace with just 12 minutes left on the clock, and the sight of Suarez leaving the field in tears would be one of the defining images of the season. This summer Rodgers has sought to address those weaknesses as he revamps his squad in the wake of Suarez's $180 million departure for Barcelona. Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren was signed from Southampton to bolster the backline, with striker Rickie Lambert and midfielder Adam Lallana also swapping St Mary's for Anfield next season. Promising German Under-21 international Emre Can arrives at Anfield from Bayer Leverkusen, while Serbian starlet Lazar Markovic was lured from Portuguese champions Benfica. But with so many new faces in the squad and the distraction of a European campaign, it is going to be difficult for Rodgers' side to match last season's efforts. Suarez is one of the world's outstanding talents and his absence is likely to be keenly felt on Merseyside.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
In: Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Ricky Lambert (Southampton), Lazar Markovic (Benfica), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Divock Origi (Lille), Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, loan)
Out: Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Andre Wisdom (West Brom, loan), Iago Aspas (Sevilla), Luis Alberto (Malaga, Loan), Divock Origi (Lille, loan), Pepe Reina (Bayern Munich)
One to watch: After enduring the heartbreak of Liverpool's failed title bid and England's dismal World Cup showing in a nightmare three months, can inspirational captain Steven Gerrard summon enough strength out of those ageing legs to make one last push for the Premier League crown?
Last season: 2nd
Manchester City took full advantage of late slip ups by Liverpool and Chelsea to be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons. But despite capturing the Premier League and the League Cup in Manuel Pellegrini's first season in charge, there is still a lingering feeling of underachievement around City's expensively assembled squad. At their best the Sky Blues were irresistible last season, annihilating Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal with six-goal salvos at the Etihad and sweeping aside Manchester United home and away by an aggregate score of 7-1. The imperious form of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko saw the champions rack up an incredible 102 league goals, yet Pellegrini's men were worryingly brittle at the back at times, losing 3-2 at relegated Cardiff and suffering calamitous defeats to Aston Villa and Chelsea. City also had to rely on other results at the business end of the season, with Steven Gerrard's fateful slip against Chelsea offering the relieved Abu Dhabi-backed club a lifeline in the title race they refused to relinquish. The club's European campaign was once again underwhelming given their unrivalled riches, and Pellegrini will be expected to improve on the limp last 16 loss to Barcelona this time round. The 60-year-old coach has opted to fine-tune rather than radically overhaul his squad this summer, recruiting experienced right-back Bacary Sagna from Arsenal to provide cover for Pablo Zabaleta and Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero to keep Joe Hart on his toes. Chelsea legend Frank Lampard has also joined the club on loan until January, when the new MLS season starts and the Englishman will turn out for City-owned franchise New York City FC. A few years ago, it was often said that if you finished above Manchester United then you would be crowned champions. In the new Premier League era, perhaps the same can now be said of their cross-city rivals.
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
In: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Fernando (Porto), Frank Lampard (Chelsea, loan), Willy Caballero (Malaga)
Out: Joleon Lescott (West Brom), Gareth Barry (Everton), Costel Pantilimon (Sunderland), Alex Nimely (released), Jack Rodwell (Sunderland)
One to watch: Despite falling out with club officials for apparently disrespecting him on his birthday, Yaya Toure is expected to remain a Manchester City player this season and the talismanic midfielder will be key to their hopes of retaining the title.
Last season: 1st
A wretched campaign under David Moyes saw Manchester United surrender their Premier League title in embarrassing fashion, finishing a lowly seventh to miss out on European qualification for the first time in 25 years. Following Sir Alex Ferguson's trophy-laden tenure at Old Trafford was never going to be an easy task, but if the club, and Sir Alex himself, got it horribly wrong with the appointment of Moyes, they moved quickly to put it right by handing the managerial reins to Louis Van Gaal. A forthright, charismatic coach with a clear attacking philosophy, Van Gaal is very much in the mould of Ferguson. The experienced Dutchman boasts an impressive CV having captured major honours with some of the biggest clubs in the world including Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, as well as guiding the Netherlands to third place in the World Cup in Brazil before taking up his post in Manchester. United's hierarchy has splashed the cash in the transfer market this summer to ensure there will be no repeat of last season's dismal showing, acquiring Spanish midfielder Anders Herrera and England international left-back Luke Shaw for a combined fee of around $120 million. This injection of youth has been counterbalanced by the exit of ageing club greats Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra as Van Gaal ushers in a new era at Old Trafford. Fine pre-season form, including a 3-1 humbling of European champions Real Madrid and a 7-0 mauling of L.A. Galaxy has some optimistic fans already dreaming of reclaiming the title from neighbours City, but a more realistic target for Van Gaal's first season in charge would be a return to the Champions League via a top four finish. Without the distractions of European football there is a good chance Van Gaal can accomplish that objective, but more surgery to an under-performing squad is required to turn United into serious title contenders.
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
In: Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina)
Out: Rio Ferdinand (QPR), Alexander Buttner (Dinamo Moscow), Federico Macheda (Cardiff City), Nemanja Vidic (Internazionale), Jack Barmby (Leicester)
One to watch: Skilful Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera has looked a good acquisition in pre-season and will bring some much-needed guile to the centre of United's midfield.
Last season: 7th
Since finishing fifth and narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification in the 2011/12 season, Newcastle United have endured a trying couple of years both on and off the pitch. A nerve-shredding battle with relegation in 2012/13 was followed by a more respectable 10th place finish last term, but widespread supporter anger directed at unpopular owner Mike Ashley and manager Alan Pardew ensured it was anything but a serene campaign for the Geordies. The embarrassment caused by Pardew's seven-game ban for head-butting Hull's David Meyler, along with Ashley's apparent willingness to sell key players like Yohan Cabaye without bringing in adequate replacements saw discontent in the St James' Park stands rise. However, during the close season the club has made moves to appease its passionate, long-suffering supporters. Pardew has served his suspension and vowed to curb his aggressive ways, while Ashley has backed his manager in the summer transfer window. Several new faces have arrived on Tyneside in recent months, with Montpellier playmaker Remy Cabella and Ajax marksman Siem de Jong just two additions that should go some way towards convincing the Geordie faithful the club still harbours some ambition. Newcastle are certainly capable of matching last season's mid-table finish, but it is unlikely they will be consistent enough to challenge for the European places. The Magpies have a solid spine in goalkeeper Tim Krul and centre-back Fabricio Coloccini, but scoring goals could be a problem for them this season. Pardew's side relied heavily on Loic Remy for goals but the speedy Frenchman has since returned to parent club QPR. Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran are hardly prolific, so the pressure will be on De Jong to find the net regularly, something his brother Luuk failed to do once while on loan at the club from January last season.
Manager: Alan Pardew
In: Remy Cabella (Montpellier), Jack Colback (Sunderland), Facundo Ferreyra (Shaktar Donetsk, loan), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Siem de Jong (Ajax), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife), Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco)
Out: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Shola Ameobi (Released), Romain Amalfitano (Dijon), Dan Gosling (Bournemouth), Sylvain Marveaux (Guingamp, loan), Jonathan Mitchell (Derby), Conor Newton (Rotherham), James Tavernier (Wigan), Michael Richardson (released)
One to watch: A talented playmaker adept at playing wide or in the No 10 position behind the strikers, Remy Cabella will be charged with filling the creative void left by Yohan Cabaye's departure.
Last season: 10th
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Though Harry Redknapp was unable to prevent QPR dropping from the top flight after replacing Mark Hughes in the dugout in November 2012, the veteran manager has since turned the West London club's fortunes around. Following relegation to the Championship the 67-year-old began to put his stamp on the club, rebuilding a divided, expensively assembled squad and ridding it of mercenaries like Jose Bosingwa merely looking for one last big pay day. In their place Redknapp recruited young and hungry players such as Charlie Austin and Danny Simpson to play alongside experienced old heads Richard Dunne and Clint Hill. This blend of youth and experience, coupled with a much-improved team ethic, saw Rangers promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt via the playoffs last season. With the backing of charismatic owner Tony Fernandes, Redknapp has been as busy as ever in the transfer market this summer as he looks to avoid a swift return to the second tier. Veteran defender Rio Ferdinand has been brought in to tutor promising England international Steven Caulker at the back, while Jordon Mutch also arrives from relegated Cardiff to bolster the midfield options at Loftus Road. Redknapp's famed wheeling and dealing has also secured the services of Juventus' exciting Chilean International Mauricio Isla and talented but troubled West Ham youngster Ravel Morrison on one-year loan deals. The immediate priority of any club promoted to the Premier League is survival, and with Redknapp now well-established at the club, a much-improved team spirit and a number of astute signings over the last few transfer windows, QPR look well-placed to achieve that feat.
Manager: Harry Redknapp
In: Steven Caulker (Cardiff), Jordon Mutch (Cardiff), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Mauricio Isla (Juventus, loan), Ravel Morrison (West Ham, loan)
Out: Yossi Benayoun (Maccabi Haifa), Julio Cesar (Toronto FC, loan), Hogan Ephraim (Released), Esteban Granero (Real Sociedad), Aaron Hughes (Brighton), Andrew Johnson (Released), Tom Hitchcock (MK Dons), Luke Young (Released), Stephane Mbia (Released), Ji-Sung Park (Retired), Gary O'Neil (Norwich City)
One to watch: Touted as a future England regular, Steven Caulker was reportedly being tracked by several big clubs this summer before opting to join Rangers with the promise of regular first-team football. The 22-year-old has the added bonus of playing alongside former England skipper Rio Ferdinand at Loftus Road.
Last season: 4th (Championship)
The close season has been something of a nightmare for Saints fans. The South Coast club defied the odds to finish eighth in the Premier League last season, with the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw earning international recognition with England. So while there was bound to be plenty of interest in the Saints' young English talent, much of it arising from their exemplary academy, the number of sales sanctioned by the board post-season has been alarming. Since the departure of executive chairman Nicola Cortese in January, the club's future direction under reluctant owner Katharina Liebherr has been shrouded in uncertainty. Cortese's departure provided then-manager Mauricio Pochettino with the perfect excuse to leave for Tottenham Hotspur, and since then there has been a mass exodus on the playing front. Liverpool snapped up three important first-team players in Lallana, Lambert and Dejan Lovren, while troublesome Italian striker Dani Osvaldo joined Inter Milan on loan and England prospects Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers left for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. Saints chairman Ralph Krueger has ruled out any further sales, but both midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and striker Jay Rodriguez have been heavily linked with Tottenham. Saints fans will hope Krueger keeps his word and allows new boss Ronald Koeman to reinvest the transfer funds into the depleted playing squad. After a summer of upheaval at St Mary's, it is difficult to assess how Southampton will fare this season. Koeman should be a good fit for the club, given his excellent track record of nurturing young players, and the Dutchman will look to turn the next generation of academy talent into first team regulars. James Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett and Sam Gallagher are likely to play a key role, while new arrivals Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic will be expected to hit the ground running. The departure of so many key players is bound to affect morale around the club, but Southampton still have enough quality to finish comfortably in mid-table.
Manager: Ronald Koeman
In: Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, loan), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord), Dusan Tadic (FC Twente), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan, loan)
Out: Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Danny Fox (Nottingham Forest), Guly (Released), Dani Osvaldo (Inter Milan, loan), Andy Robinson (Bolton Wanderers, loan), Jack Stephens (Swindon Town, loan)
One to watch: With Rickie Lambert now at Liverpool and Jay Rodriguez sidelined with a serious knee injury, the pressure will be on Graziano Pelle to provide the goals to keep Southampton afloat in the Premier League.
Last season: 8th
Stoke made a shaky start last season as the players came to terms with the departure of long-serving manager Tony Pulis and adjusted to the methods of his replacement Mark Hughes. But the Potters rallied to finish ninth, their highest ever Premier League finish, winning plaudits along the way for their more expansive passing game. After a poor spell at QPR, Hughes was not exactly welcomed with open arms at the Britannia Stadium. However, the Welshman has won over the Stoke faithful with an improved brand of football while retaining the combative style that became Pulis' trademark. Hughes admirably stuck to his guns during a winless run throughout September and October as he sought to change the perception of Stoke as a long-ball side. The Staffordshire club maintained their strong home record under his management, winning 10 of their 19 games at the Britannia Stadium and losing just three. Stoke claimed the notable scalps of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United last season, but their away form remains a concern, with just three wins on the road compared to 11 defeats. Hughes has a strong and well-balanced squad at his disposal, with an excellent goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, a solid centre-back pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross and a talented midfield featuring the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Stephen Ireland and Charlie Adam. If new signings Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf can improve the club's goal return and help them pick up points away from home, there's no reason why the Potters can't finish in the top 10 again this season.
Manager: Mark Hughes
One to watch: Former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic's career hasn't quite gone to plan since emerging as the star of Spain's 2007 European Under-17 Championship winning team. Still only 23, Krkic has a lot to prove and could end up being one of the bargains of summer.
Last season: 9th
The Black Cats looked destined for relegation to the Championship last season before staging an improbable late escape to finish 14th. A poor start led to the inevitable sacking of Paolo Di Canio in September when key members of the Sunderland squad approached chairman Ellis Short to protest about the Italian's authoritarian regime. Uruguayan Gus Poyet took his place in the dugout and immediately oversaw an upturn in fortunes, guiding the Wearside club to the Capital One Cup final where they were narrowly beaten by Manchester City. After a strong cup run it was assumed Sunderland would continue their steady rise up the table, but a desperate run of form marked by a damaging 5-1 defeat at Tottenham in April appeared to have sealed their return to the second tier, with a tricky run of fixtures ahead. However, the recall of young England striker Connor Wickham to the starting lineup coincided with an extraordinary run of form that saw the Black Cats earn a credible draw at Manchester City and famous wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, ending Jose Mourinho's proud 78-game unbeaten Premier League home record in the process. Four straight wins ensured top flight football would be returning to the Stadium of Light for another season, and this time round Sunderland should steer clear of relegation trouble. If Wickham continues his goal-scoring exploits and new recruit Jack Rodwell rediscovers the form that had him earmarked as a future England captain, then Poyet's side can start looking towards the top half of the table rather than nervously over their shoulders.
Manager: Gus Poyet
One to watch: A $20 million capture from Manchester City in the close season, Jack Rodwell will be looking to stake a claim for a spot in England's midfield after finding his first-team opportunities limited at the Etihad Stadium.
In: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City), Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea), Jordi Gomez (Wigan Athletic), Billy Jones, (West Brom),Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes, loan)
Out: El-Hadji Ba, (Bastia, loan), Phil Bardsley (Stoke City), Jack Colback (Newcastle United), Carlos Cuellar (Released), Craig Gardner (West Brom), Joel Dixon (Hartlepool, loan), Andrea Dossena (Released), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Nacho Scocco (Newells Old Boys), Oscar Ustari (Newells Old Boys), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest)
Last season: 14th
A mid-table finish doesn't tell the whole story of Swansea's turbulent third season in the top flight. The Swans' campaign started on a sour note before a ball was even kicked when chairman Huw Jenkins became involved in an ugly spat with Michael Laudrup's agent, putting the Dane's future as manager in doubt. A run of six defeats in eight games, along with concerns over dressing room cliques, saw Laudrup sacked after less than two seasons in charge. Replacing Laudrup in the hot seat, initially on an interim basis, was long-serving centre-back Garry Monk, and the move paid immediate dividends when the Swans thrashed bitter rivals Cardiff 3-0 in the Welsh derby. After a brief upturn in fortunes, Swansea began to struggle again before three wins in their last four games secured their Premier League status. But this season promises to be even tougher for the Welsh club, whose survival hopes may rest on whether they can keep Wilfried Bony at the Liberty Stadium. The Ivorian striker is attracting interest from bigger clubs after a prolific debut campaign in which he found the net 25 times in all competitions. Highly rated left-back Ben Davies has left the club for Tottenham, with Dutch winger Marvin Emnes returning to South Wales after a successful loan spell along with former fan favourite Gylfi Sigurdsson. However, doubts remain over Monk's managerial credentials, and the 35-year-old will need new signings Bafetimbi Gomis and Lukasz Fabianski to settle in quickly if the Swans are to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.
Manager: Garry Monk
In: Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham), Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough, loan), Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal), Raheem Hanley (Blackburn)
Out: Ben Davies (Tottenham), Michel Vorm, (Tottenham), Chico (Released), Daniel Alfei (Northampton, loan), Leroy Lita (Barnsley), Gwion Edwards (Crawley Town, loan), Michu (Napoli, loan), Curtis Obeng (Stevenage, loan), Alejandro Pozuelo (Rayo Vallecano)
One to watch: With Michu on loan at Napoli and Wilfried Bony's future in doubt, former Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis will be responsible for converting Swansea's neat passing moves into goals.
Last season: 12th
Another season of instability at White Hart Lane in 2013/14 saw trigger-happy chairman Daniel Levy fire another two managers, with Andre-Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood becoming the ninth and tenth victims of his tenure. The campaign began with an influx of new arrivals and the world record sale of the club's biggest asset to Real Madrid. It was widely quipped that Tottenham had "sold Elvis and bought The Beatles" when Welsh winger Gareth Bale departed, but unfortunately for Spurs, those new arrivals - which included Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen and Vlad Chiriches - have largely flopped thus far, with Danish schemer Eriksen the only unqualified success. The loss of Bale was keenly felt with Spurs often struggling for goals, Soldado unable to replicate his Valencia form and controversial Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor in exile until Sherwood took over as boss. Villas-Boas ultimately paid the price for a series of humiliating home defeats, including a 3-0 pasting by neighbours West Ham and 5-0 destruction at the hands of Liverpool, which pushed the limited patience of Levy too far. Sherwood improved the mood around White Hart Lane and by and large the results, but Spurs' record against the top four and his own outspoken nature ultimately cost him his job. So the Lilywhites are back to square one this summer, with new manager Mauricio Pochettino brought in from Southampton to deliver Champions League football, which Levy seemingly believes is the club's birthright. Given the upheaval of last summer, arrivals post-season have sensibly been kept at a minimum, with Pochettino bolstering his defensive options with the signing of Ben Davies and Eric Dier. The Argentinean will require time to mould the squad in his image and implement his favoured high-pressing game, but with Levy in the boardroom time is often at a premium. On paper Spurs boast a squad with depth and quality, but it is difficult to see them improving on last season's sixth place finish. Perhaps a Europa League victory would provide the best route to the Champions League top table the chairman so badly craves.
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
In: Ben Davies (Swansea), Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon), Michel Vorm (Swansea)
Out: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Heurelho Gomes (Watford), Jordan Archer (Northampton, loan), Shaquile Coulthirst (Torquay, loan), Iago Falque (Genoa), Grant Hall (Birmingham City, loan), Alex Pritchard (Brentford, loan), Jonathan Obika (Charlton, loan), Kevin Stewart (Liverpool)
One to watch: Argentine winger Erik Lamela's promising career has stalled badly since arriving at White Hart Lane last summer, but during pre-season the 22-year-old has shown glimpses of the form that convinced Spurs to pay AS Roma $60 million for his services.
Last season: 6th
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
A couple of seasons ago, West Brom were flying high in the Premier League, earning widespread praise for their attacking play under Scottish coach Steve Clarke as they finished in eighth place. But those heady days already seem like a distant memory. Clarke was surprisingly sacked in mid-December after a poor start to the season left the Baggies just two points from the drop zone. Since then, West Brom have been a model in how not to run a football club. Keith Downing briefly took charge on a caretaker basis before handing over the reins to former Real Betis manager Pepe Mel. The popular Spaniard struggled with both the language and the English game, recording the first win of his tenure at the eighth attempt with a 2-1 success at Swansea. A nervy 1-0 win at relegation rivals Norwich in April proved decisive as Albion narrowly escaped relegation to the Championship. So while it was no surprise to see Mel depart post-season, the appointment of Alan Irvine has hardly set supporters' pulses racing. The Scot has never managed in the top flight and previously struggled in the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday. He has inherited a squad with a multitude of problems, including an ageing defence and a lack of firepower since Romelu Lukaku's departure. Nigerian striker Brown Ideye will need to adapt quickly to the rigours of English football following his summer move from Dynamo Kiev, while Joleon Lescott and Craig Gardner's experience could prove crucial on their return to the Midlands. Irvine has also brought in promising Liverpool youngster Andre Wisdom and Costa Rican international Cristian Gamboa to strengthen the backline, but a nightmare run-in means the pressure will be on West Brom to pick up enough points by early April to secure Premier League football for a sixth successive season.
Manager: Alan Irvine
One to watch: Experienced England international Joleon Lescott has been brought in to bolster a Baggies defence which shipped 59 goals in 38 games last season.
In: Chris Baird (Burnley), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, loan), Jason Davidson (Heracles), Cristian Gamboa (Rosenborg), Brown Ideye (Dynamo Kiev), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover 96)
Out: Scott Allan (Hibernian), Donervon Daniels (Blackpool, loan) Cameron Gayle (Shrewsbury Town), Billy Jones (Sunderland), Steven Reid (Burnley), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Markus Rosenburg (Malmo FF), George Thorne (Derby County)
Last season: 17th
WEST HAM UNITED
Sam Allardyce is one of the early favourites for the sack this season as West Ham fans grow increasingly restless at the uninspiring football on offer at Upton Park. The club's board has ordered "Big Sam" to introduce a more entertaining style of play and secure a top 10 finish in their penultimate season before moving to the Olympic Stadium. But Allardyce has been at odds with owners David Gold and David Sullivan this summer over several transfer targets, as well as the future of tearaway midfielder Ravel Morrison. To add to his woes, striker Andy Carroll picked up yet another serious injury that will keep him sidelined for first few months of the campaign. A disastrous pre-season tour of New Zealand in which they were beaten by the Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC further dampened expectations at the club. With Carroll out injured, new signings Mauro Zarate and Enner Valencia will lead the attack for the goal-shy Hammers, for whom captain Kevin Nolan top-scored last season with a paltry seven. Former Irons striker Teddy Sheringham has been drafted in as a forwards coach to try and solve their problems in front of goal. At the other end, Allardyce can rely on James Collins and All Whites captain Winston Reid to maintain their strong defensive record and keep his side out of relegation trouble. A summer of transition at Upton Park means a mid-table finish and a good cup run would represent a successful season for the Irons.
Manager: Sam Allardyce
One to watch: Argentine striker Mauro Zarate has been been one of West Ham's most impressive performers in pre-season and brings some flair to an attack that lacks a cutting edge.
In: Mauro Zarate (Velez Sarsfield), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town),Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht), Diego Poyet (Charlton), Enner Valencia (Pachuca)
Out: Joe Cole (Aston Villa), Jack Collison (Wigan, loan), Stephen Henderson (Charlton), Sean Maguire (Sligo Rovers, loan), Matthew Taylor (Burnley), Ravel Morrison (QPR, loan), Raphael Speigel (Crawley, loan), George Moncur (Colchester, loan), Blair Turgott (Dagenham, loan)
Last season: 13th
PROJECTED LEAGUE TABLE
2. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
6. Tottenham Hotspur
8. Stoke City
9. Newcastle United
11. West Ham United
14. Crystal Palace
15. Hull City
16. Aston Villa
17. Swansea City
18. West Bromwich Albion
19. Leicester City
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