Ryan Butler’s Premier League Preview: Episode 1

Welcome to my Premier League Preview.

With just a matter of weeks to go before the new football league season gets underway we find ourselves in the midst of a competitive pre-season schedule all over the world and already I am frothing at the mouth at the prospect of the season we have ahead of us. Talking points going into the season are who will settle better in Manchester, Pep or Jose? Who’s regime will prove to be the most effective, Klopp’s or Conte’s? And what about Leicester, can the miracle men take their golden touch onto European football’s grandest stage?

Over the next 8 months we will find out the answers those questions and many more, but what about now? What are each club expecting this year? Well I can’t answer that for you but what I can do is make a quick assessment of how each side are shaping up so far. How will I do it? What I have done is taken each side assessed personnel-wise what they need to thrive, what a realistic expectation for them and my advice for the club going into the new season. Sound good? Great, so lets start with the three promoted clubs, firstly a trip to the Riverside.

Middlesbrough impressed me last year, mainly down to the management style of Aitor Karanka and how he went from walking out on his team to gaining automatic promotion on the final day in what was a roller coaster of a season for football in the North-East. In terms of what they need personnel-wise I would say at this moment in time they actually don’t need anything. They have done their business early and they have done some efficient business. The inclusions of Alvaro Negrado and Victor Valdes are two statement signings. Yes the former being on loan but he has the ability to fire Middlesbrough to a very handy finish in the league table. His striker partner in Jordan Rhodes will also be one to watch. The squad also has quality all over including wingers Stuart Downing and fellow new boy Viktor Fischer, along with experienced performers like Gaston Ramirez, Grant Leadbitter and David Nugent meaning that the Teesiders look best equipped for the new season out of the promoted sides. I expect them to stay up and their target would be to start building for the 2017/18 season. In terms of my advice for Mr Karanka it would be to make Jordan Rhodes into a Premier League scorer, something I am almost certain Aitor can do.

Next we have Lancashire’s finest, Burnley. Sean Dyche’s men took the Championship crown and deservedly so. Over the course of last season they were the better and I would point out they were the team I tipped to go up, I also called Northampton to win League Two but I digress. In terms of what Burnley would need to succeed in the Premier League I find myself sat here looking at their squad and there is quality all over but experience? Not in the midfield. Quite simply they have one of the most exciting forwards in the league in Andre Gray, two unbelievable keepers in Tom Heaton and Paul Robinson and a real leader at the back (should he stay) in Michael Keane, but what Burnley lack is a midfielder to hold it all together, dare I say it, they need a Joey Barton-type of player. Apart from that the squad is as good it can be within the budget structure they set themselves, a dip in the loan market would be the ideal. How do I see Burnley’s season going? I think they are going to go back down so their target should be and is to stay up. My advice? Just don’t finish bottom. Leave that to Hull.

Speaking of Hull, the resignation of Steve Bruce this week has tore up all prepare work the Tigers had done with just three weeks until kick off. Hull’s assessment will be quick. They need a quality manager, whether they are experienced or not it will remain to be seen, but a quality manager to even try to save them. Hull need to aim to stay up, nothing too fancy. And my advice for the club is simple. In this day and age of crazy, exotic, foreign owners is to not become as big a farce as possible so Hull, do not be as stupid and farcical as the likes of Blackpool. Cardiff and the most ridiculous of them all Leeds United.

A lot of teams ahead of this season have new managers and we will look at a few of them now. It’s time for a quick threesome….behave, clean your thoughts and lets head back up the North-East.
This week in case you missed it, saw the announcement that Sam Allardyce has taken the reigns as England manager. No sooner had his round behind sat in the hotseat we found out his successor was already named in David Moyes. Moyes is the master of taking a job before the position is even available, after the way he was swanned in at Old Trafford and now has been named as the manager of Sunderland. So with just three weeks to get his troops ready how should he go about it? I’d say his main concern is to find a decent enough striker to partner Jermaine Defoe. Fabio Borini is up there but I don’t see him as the man to do that. Sunderland have the players to deliver the service and we all know how effective Defoe can be with the right partner. Dare I say it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a reunion of Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch. I can see it now. If they find the right partner their squad is good enough for a lower mid-table finish and that is a realistic target. My advice to the chosen one, just don’t ruin Big Sam’s work from last season.

David Moyes was installed as Sunderland boss before Big Sam had barely had time to move his stuff down to Soho

Next we have Everton and their new manager Ronald Koeman. Quite simply what Everton need will depend on potential departures. Having seen the loss of Tim Howard earlier in the summer we expect John Stones and probably Romelu Lukaku to depart Goodison Park so Ronald will need to replace and rebuild. If the two transfers do happen Koeman needs to build a solid spine. He has already brought in former Holland international Maarten Stekelenburg, a keeper I have admired for a while might I add. I would use him as a 5 piece spine. I’d go for the Euro 2016 winning Jose Fonte from Southampton a man he knows all about. Another would be Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin for point 3 of the spine, Ross Barkley as your point 4 and then a striker of Alexandre Lacazette’s quality as your king pin. They need to be aiming for the top 6 and European qualification but it won’t be easy. My advice is try your hardest to keep Lukaku, for me he is harder to replace than Stones.

At Koeman’s old club, Southampton they have already made one of my favourite signings of the season in England u21 winger Nathan Redmond. My advice to Southampton would be to get him the ball as much as possible and give Redmond the chance to run and stretch the defence. What I have noticed about the Saints’ squad is the lack of firepower as it stands. Yes they have Shane Long and Charlie Austin but other than that they have lost too much of their power by losing both Pellè and Manè respectively. More firepower is needed. I still don’t see Southampton doing anything other than finishing just inside the top half.

The next three teams are three of the more established Premier League teams who will be hoping to really start benefiting from the SKY TV money. Firstly, last years FA Cup finalists, Crystal Palace. What they need is simple. A quality striker. Yes, you scoff at what I might say but Christian Benteke would fit the role perfectly. As it stands Palace only have Fraizer Campbell and Connor Wickham as their registered strikers and they would make good back up strikers to a king pin up front. With the danger they possess with their wide men in Sako, Bolasie, Zaha and new boy Andros Townsend they have bundles of quality and delivery. If they sign a striker like Benteke then I can’t see why they can’t qualify for Europe, be that via the league or through one of the domestic cups. My advice, try not to go 14 games without winning a league game again.

West Brom will struggle I think. I just don’t see how they have improved or can possibly improve at the moment. They are in fact my tip to go down. It looks like Berahino is off finally and that would really only leave them with Rondon and Lambert up front. That alone isn’t good enough. Yes they have the likes of Leko, McManaman, McClean and new addition Matt Phillips but they are Championship quality players. That’s my advice because it seems that is what Tony Pulis is doing, preparing for the Championship. Their aim is to stay up but right now I just don’t see it.

A hotter prospect for this season are Stoke City. The Potters find themselves on the brink of bringing in Berahino (although they face competition) and if they were to sign the West Brom forward, or a forward of that calibre then they will boast a frightening front line along with Bojan, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Afellay and Mame Biram Diouf. Mix that with a solid midfield and defence they are hard to break down. A real expectation should be a push towards European qualification, similarly to Palace it could come from a cup run but they are in good stead. My advice is when Jack Butland is back fully fit prepare to keep clean sheets. They will be hard to beat.

Before we dive into the big boys lets look at the next run of teams. Firstly the transitional Swansea City. Swansea are a weird team. They have a couple of quality players in Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson and that seems to be enough to keep them going. For me it won’t be enough if they lose Ayew and Gomis. They need to keep Ayew and replace Gomis, ideally with a return for Wilfried Bony but that should be job number one. They should be looking to stay up this year but expect to be searching for a new manager within the next 12 months as I don’t see Swansea improving anytime soon.

Watford are another side under new management this season and their job is sweet and simple. Aim to finish lower mid table as they did last season, firstly they should eye up staying up and go from there. In terms of personnel I would look at bringing in Premier League experience in key areas to back up what they already have. My tip, keep Ighalo and Troy Deeney at all costs.

The job at Bournemouth is a clear one. More of the same please. Bournemouth suffered a couple of big injuries last year in the likes of Callum Wilson, Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings, so to have these three back as soon as possible will be like new signings. They have replaced Matt Ritchie with England u21 winger Jordan Ibe and have done most of their deals early. One inclusion that will improve their side is the loan signing of Nathan Aké from Chelsea. My advice is simply to keep Eddie Howe for as long as possible.


By keeping Eddie Howe, Bournemouth have made one of the signings of the pre-season

I don’t want to spend too long discussing West Ham United as my advice will clear up, but they need nothing in terms of personnel. They look all set to keep Payet and will have a hungry manager with an even hungrier side who will be looking to open their new stadium with success. Their target is to merely re-qualify for Europe as that would be the ideal in the early days of the new stadium, year in, year out European football. My advice? Start reimbursing and paying back the tax payer should be the main concern of any decent club.

Now we are moving towards the main 6 sides in the league. And the next side will anger people because of where I have included them, as not one of the main 6 teams. Leicester City are the champions but I don’t see them getting anywhere near replicating that this term, as the Severn Sport show has taught us this last year is I do not believe nor do I like fairy tales. But I am not one of those who now believe they will get relegated. What they need to do is not let expectation weigh them down as everyone will now be expecting them to be up there once again. One thing to do in order to help that? Keep Riyad Mahrez, no matter what. My advice for Leicester isn’t advice but more a challenge, qualify from your Champions League group. Make an impact on the biggest stage.

What I have done for the top six teams is split them into three sets of two. The Manchester duo, the North London double act and everybody’s favourite rivalry, the Gerrard’s Slip of Liverpool vs Chelsea. And it is with these two that we begin.

Liverpool have done good business already this post season. They have signed quality as well as quantity and for once they haven’t sold one of their best players. They look set to sell Christian Benteke – I personally wouldn’t but I understand why Klopp wouldn’t want to keep a player whose playing style differs to that of the manager. They sold Jordan Ibe as previously mentioned but what they have done reportedly, is include a pretty fair and decent buy back clause so if the young man has the season of his life then they would get first refusal. They have included Saido Manè and Gino Wijnaldum in what is becoming a dynamic forward line with the likes of Coutinho, Firminho and Origi acting as the support for Sturridge and Ings. What is missing is that top quality, world class striker that Liverpool are known for having. Should they fill that void (once Benteke and Balotelli both depart) then they will be set for the new season. I can seriously see Liverpool getting a top 4 spot. And yes, just typing this has killed me a little. But under the right management with the right signings they really do look a threat. Plus also lets not forget they have snapped up the man who will frighten every team, Alex Manninger. My advice would be to come up with a decent excuse as to why it has gone wrong for the Redmen for the end of the season as they aren’t in Europe this year so they cannot use that….I couldn’t resist.

Having done a lot of business early, Liverpool will be looking to regain a European place

In the Blue corner we have four time title winning Chelsea. Who, like a number of teams are under new management after the appointment of Antonio Conte after a fairly decent Euro 2016 for his average on paper Italy side. He has already laid down a couple of markers with two marquee signings in Michy Batshuayi and N’golo Kante. Plus let’s not forget that the bulk of this Chelsea side are still the same side that won the league title two seasons ago. Every team is capable of a bad season, a blip as it were and that is all it was for Chelsea. They still have the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, Cesc Fabregas and Oscar going forward and after his contract saga last season their captain John Terry will still be there. As long as there isn’t any off the field antics going on Chelsea will be back up there. Realistically a top 4 finish should be the worst Chelsea fans will want or expect. The only piece of the puzzle missing for me is a decent right back. The preference over the last few years are that Cesar Azpilicueta has been played mainly at left back. In an ideal world Cahill and Terry will be utilised with Kurt Zouma at the back leaving Ivanovic to play right back, there simply must be a better right back option out there. My advice? Replace Costa with Romelu Lukaku. Done.

Now just to annoy people we will spend minimal time discussing the North London duo. Why? Because there isn’t much to discuss to be honest. Let us start with Arsenal. And I don’t know how but year upon year the same rumours, same stories, same every thing seem to be coming out of Arsenal. First they are going to sign Higuain, then they aren’t then are going to sign (Insert Strikers name here) this year it was Vardy, then they don’t. Then the Higuain rumour resurfaces again after Arsenal fans realise that Danny Welbeck is injured (again) and that leaves Olivier Giroud as their man man with Yaya Sanogo and Theo Walcott the only real options. So Arsenal fans panic, call for Wenger to spend big, sometimes he does but never on what Arsenal actually need and that is a top quality striker. Sound familiar? Its beyond a joke now. Arsenal need a striker to mount the serious title challenge their fans will be craving. My advice? Try not to fade away after Christmas. Simple.

Their rivals in white, Tottenham on the other hand don’t need to do anything ahead of the new season. They have bought players early and have kept onto the likes of Kane and Alli that performed so wonderfully for them last year. Quite simply they need to build on last year, get Kane firing on all cylinders and quickly as he will be scrutinized by the game after his horrendous Euro 2016 and most importantly they MUST keep Pochettino. Like Leicester and Mahrez if he goes that is the end of that chapter.

I have left the two biggest teams for last. And to stop any arguments, yes, Man City are bigger than Chelsea and Liverpool so please stop getting riled up. Oh, you don’t agree? Well isn’t handy you have your phone there so you can actually call someone who gives a toss. Quite simply the two Manchester clubs are the biggest teams in the division right now. Thanks to their players, their stature and their newly appointed managers. The Pep vs Jose saga continues but how do they look? Let’s start with City.

Man City possess the best striker in the league. Simple. Sergio Aguero (like Joe Hart) is head and shoulders above the rest. He is frighteningly good. He averaged a goal every 95 minutes last season. That is crazy. That is the kind of stat you would expect Sky Sports News to constantly throw around if it belonged to Messi or Ronaldo. They have strengthened in the middle as well as adding Nolito to the front line it puts them in a great position to regain their Premier League crown. What they need is a more solid back line. Kompany is a man mountain but he is crumbling. It is sad to say it about a player as good as he is but Kompany is getting on and fading quickly. I can see Pep bringing in new blood, John Stones the main man being linked so that is Pep’s main priority. City will be looking for a top 2 finish, nothing less to be honest. The only advice is to be wary of the expectation weighing down on the new manager. A lot of people will expect instant success so it will be interesting to see how Pep would deal with the pressure if it doesn’t go his way straight away.

Now I didn’t initially plan on leaving Manchester United til last but here we are. The new era. The third new era in four years. Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson it has been anything other than plain sailing as a United fan. We saw the chosen one arrive which saw Rooney throw his toys out of the pram to secure a contract worth £300k a week. We saw United fall from grace dramatically, from Champions to chumpstains (shoutout to my boys Edge and Christian for that one) the chosen one left, the crazy Dutch one came in and with that came the big money buys and questionable sells. In came Falcao and Di Maria and over time out went Welbeck, Hernandez, Nani, van Persie and others that left us scratching our heads as performance levels dropped. Last season we defended well to start with but lacked the firepower to cause many teams trouble. The amount of times I checked a United score at half time and it read as 0-0 was a joke. The introduction of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are two of the brightest sparks around Old Trafford for a while. And after winning the FA Cup we are left with the Special one and the arrogant one. Mourinho and Ibrahimovic are now running the joint. Is that enough? Not yet. The incoming Mkhitaryan and Bailly have looked good in pre-season and United are set to keep one of the world’s best keepers in David De Gea the only pieces of the jigsaw left are a more solid defensive structure. A centre back and a central defensive midfielder are the priorities. I do not think Pogba is the answer but at least Mourinho knows the question. For me, it is a season of top 4 or else. A team like United who claim to be the biggest in the country needs consistent Champions League football once again or the claims are nothing but false. My advice? Do not let Zlatan be another Falcao or Di Maria as too much money and hype has gone into another potential Nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams.

Having Luke Shaw back from a broken leg will act as a new signing for Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United side

Thanks for sticking with me for a big, bumper preview. There is more to come over the next couple of weeks including the people I think need a great season ahead of the start of the 2016/17 football season.

Ryan Butler