Monday, September 1, 2014

2014-15 Premier League Transfer Window Recap/Predictions

Since the transfer window hilariously ends after the season starts, I try to hold off on final predictions until the window shuts, which it now has. A record amount of cash has been spent, and big names have come and gone. Now we can finally recount and reflect, and prognosticate. The order is going from worst to first, so that you actually read the whole way through.

20. Burnley

The Premier League newboys made no bones about the fact that they don't spend funny money on players, and while that's a nice philosophy to have, the club has to compete with many clubs that do. So their window, which brought in some lower quality Premier League players like Marvin Sordell, Steven Reid, George Boyd and Matthew Taylor, is not inspiring. They've proven to be tough already at Turf Moor, but they're going to have to find a way to scalp games on the road against relegation rivals and this squad doesn't suggest that they can. It would be a great story if they stayed up, but it's highly unlikely.

19. Crystal Palace

If they were able to keep hold of Tony Pulis, then they would not be down in the bottom 3. His importance to their turnaround last season was nothing short of immense, and had he stayed there would have been a solid platform on which to build. Now Neil Warnock is in charge, and his last spell in the league didn't go so well. The team isn't really that talented, and Pulis got the best out of them. I have my doubts that Warnock can do the same despite the re-introduction of Wilfried Zaha. The squad has quality in spots with players like Joe Ledley, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and now James McArthur, but their manager was the difference last year, and it will be again, but in the wrong direction this time.

18. QPR

What would deadline day be without Harry Redknapp and his in-car interviews? Apparently not much to Sky Sports since they didn't have one today, but old 'Arry was just as busy as ever. He signed former Spurs players of his in Sandro and Niko Kranjcar, and some quality from Serie A in Edu Vargas and Mauricio Isla earlier in the window. Yes the Rio Ferdinand signing was/is hilarious, but it's a Harry special and who doesn't love those? So why are they here? Glenn Hoddle's 3-5-2, which QPR can't play with this personnel. Their 3 centerbacks are slow and old, and the wingbacks aren't good enough natural defenders. They also lack quality up top behind Austin and Vargas, which is a shame since their midfield is very good. Unfortunately, that won't be good enough to keep them up.

17. West Bromwich Albion

Until a Pulis meltdown, Albion were prime candidates to go down. They're still not good by any means, but now there are clearly 3 teams worse than them. Their signings didn't inspire much confidence and they still don't, but adding players like Silvestre Varela, Georgios Samaras and Sebastian Blanco add a little spice to an otherwise dull, predictable squad. Alan Irvine hasn't proven to be as tactically inept as Sheffield Wednesday supporters led me on to believe... yet, at least. They'll need good performances from their somewhat older back 4 throughout the season, and the goals to come from not only record signing Brown Ideye, but also Saido Berahino and the other new signings. If they hold up at the back, they may just squeak it out and stay up.

16. Leicester City

They've already proven to be a scrappy bunch with the draws against Everton and Arsenal, and that was until they signed Esteban Cambiasso. He will provide amazing leadership and grit in the middle of the park, which the Foxes weren't necessarily lacking before, but he'll add to it. Their strength has and will continue to be wide play, and that's already shown itself to be true with players like Mahrez, Knockaert and Albrighton. If they can continue to get goals from Ulloa and a few from their other strikers, they'll have no issue staying up. In that process, the King Power Stadium will be a difficult place to go and take 3 points from. They were, and still are the best of the promoted lot.

15. Aston Villa

Despite their flying start, they'll have a good chunk of bumpy moments. Most of the signings from past windows which had some promise haven't panned out, so a small army of players are now out on loan from Villa Park. The ones they've brought in don't inspire much confidence at all, but the cohesion of the remaining squad will be important to their survival. Mainly, the fact that they haven't sold Ron Vlaar is proof enough that they'll stay up, even with a struggle. Carlos Sanchez and Aly Cissokho aren't bad players, but they're nothing compared to what other clubs around them have done. Paul Lambert will keep them up, but just, and since that's where Villa have been since he took over, where is the progress?

14. Sunderland

The Black Cats won't be in nearly as big a hole as they were a year ago, but the squad still has some obvious deficiencies. The midfield has good grit and toughness with players like Jack Rodwell in tow, and has good creativity in wide areas with players like Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giacherrini, but the defense still leaves something to be desired despite the fact they've improved it. Sebastian Coates and Patrick Van Aanholt are good players, but are they amazing by Premier League standards? No. Their issues are going to come up front, with striking issues still prevalent, and exacerbated with no Fabio Borini. The midfield will likely provide enough goals, and their defense will be nowhere near as bad as it was under Paolo Di Canio, but the squad could certainly be better than it is. Maybe we'll even have a Danny Graham sighting at some point this season... but for Sunderland supporters hopefully there isn't.

13. Hull City

Hey big spender... Who knew they'd be so active in securing some quality players on deadline day to add to an already solid squad. Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez, Mo Diame, and even Hatem Ben Arfa are all quality additions to a squad that did lack it at points last season and in the early points of this one. With the lack of major outgoings as well (Boyd and Long being the notables), Hull now find themselves with a very solid backbone that allowed them to take some unusual risks, and they may well pay off. Hull's 3-5-2 has actually worked once in awhile (cough Mr. Van Gaal cough), and the additions will help out since their midfield did need a little more guile in it. Without the Europa League distractions, Hull will likely find themselves well secure in their Premier League status, and further cement themselves in the top flight.

12. Stoke City

The transition from sparker (Pulis) to Sparky has gone pretty well in the Potteries thus far. Now in his second year in charge, Mark Hughes continues to blend the old and the new pretty well, and his squad shows it. There are still Pulis players in there such as Steven N'Zonzi, Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross, but I doubt under Pulis Stoke would have signed 2 players from Barcelona. Also, Mame Diouf has already proven to be a good player up front, and with the likes of Bojan, Peter Odemwinge, Victor Moses and Peter Crouch around him, Stoke do have a pretty formidable attack. Where could they slip up? The defense isn't all that deep, and there is a lack of true creativity in the middle of the park. Also, there is early season hilarious inconsistency, especially in struggling to beat 10 man Hull and Villa at home, yet going to the Etihad and winning. Expect that to continue.

11. Swansea City

What a start to the season for the Swans. 3 wins out of 3, and they looked pretty comfortable in doing so. Despite the exodus of Spanish players, Swansea's style is firmly entrenched, and seeing players like Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have success has to be good news for England supporters (why hasn't Dyer gotten a call-up yet is beyond me). They've added considerately in spots, like buying Fede Fernandez from Napoli, and getting back Gylfi Sigurdsson who will fit in better at Swansea than he did at Spurs. And they still have Wilfried Bony, and that's crucial. Their other additions are solid, and Garry Monk is starting to come into his own as a manager. They won't continue this torrid pace, but they'll certainly not have the struggle they did a year ago.

10. West Ham United

Finally they bought different types of players! Mauro Zarate, Enner Valencia, Carl Jenkinson, ALEX SONG (!!!!!). West Ham are trying desperately to get out of the old Big Sam stereotypes, even if he insists on starting Carlton Cole alongside Mauro Zarate. Adding Morgan Amalfitano should add a little creative spark to a midfield that was all bite and no bark. The difference between them being garbage and them challenging for Europe will be the players that have been around for awhile stepping their game up, and avoiding cataclysmic disasters like the ones against Spurs and Southampton. They now have the squad to do it, but can Big Sam push the Hammers on further up?

9. Newcastle United

Last summer the question was "why didn't Mike Ashley back Alan Pardew"? He didn't, and after Newcastle's great start they naturally fell off a cliff after Yohan Cabaye was sold. This summer Pardew has been backed with some quality additions such as Remy Cabella, Siem De Jong, Emmanuel Riviere among others, and he's also seen the emergence of a young player like Rolando Aarons who has already made his impact felt. And getting the cancer that was/is Hatem Ben Arfa out of that dressing room can only help. If only Newcastle's back 4 was any good... and their manager... Since those 2 things haven't really changed yet, Newcastle's ceiling is just where it was before, and that has to be frustrating to the St. James' Park faithful.

8. Southampton

So the mass fire-sale that coincided with Mauricio Pochettino heading to London meant that the Saints were in deep trouble right? Guess not. Ronald Koeman has already shown some great things with his style, and now he has players to prove it. He didn't have to sell Morgan Schneiderlin or Jay Rodriguez (yet), and he's brought in quality players like Dusan Tadic, Toby Alderweireld, and Saido Mane (who is sneaky good by the way). The clarion calls from Saints faithful to buy players finally were heard, and Southampton may now have a better squad than they did all of last season, which is hard to imagine. There aren't as many young players involved as before, but the few that are there are still very good and will have an impact. All is looking up roses on the South Coast again after a dreary few months at sea.

7. Everton

Last year was such a fun one at Goodison Park thanks to Roberto Martinez, his tactics, and the way young players developed under his tutelage. This season has started a little different, especially since his defense has been incredibly leaky already, and the business has been less than stellar. Despite the greatness that was spending 28 million pounds to permanently buy Romelu Lukaku, their squad is still thin in other areas, and that will be tested dearly this season with a tough Europa League group ahead of them. The back 4 hasn't really been addressed, and if the issues with Distin/Jagielka continue, then problems could seriously mount. Injuries haven't helped, especially to players like Ross Barkley who added another dimension last season. The success of last season unfortunately looks fleeting.

6. Tottenham

Last season's transfer window was all about the big bucks spent in replacing Gareth Bale, and then laughing at Spurs because only one of the players had a good season. Mauricio Pochettino's job is to get the best out of them (which he has already started to do), and have the club playing a consistent style for once. The first 5 games under his watch have already shown that to be the case. The signings have addressed the need for depth at the back, and they are all very solid and can prove dividends immediately, as Eric Dier already has. Benjamin Stambouli should add the pressing capabilities that Pochettino wants in his midfield 2, and the other defenders are all players with room to improve. Their is a lack of depth at striker, and just a step down in quality of signing compared to the 5 teams above them, but this was a season Spurs needed to build on with a new manager regardless of whether the signings were awesome or not. 6th and a cup run will be enough to tide Spurs fans over, and the signs are already positive.

5. Manchester United

(Insert obligatory United can't play 3-5-2 joke here). So yes, early on the tactical system for Louis Van Gaal hasn't worked, and it will take time for the new players to bed in and understand a vastly different tactical system than those customary in England. So long as Tom Cleverly isn't starting, then United is probably going to be fine. They've spent truckloads of money bringing in quality like with Falcao, Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria, and while their attack now looks frightening once it clicks, the back 4 is still a big question mark especially if the system stays. The thought of Phil Jones in a back 3 is still frightening. It is also hilarious to see players like Anderson and Marouane Fellaini at the club when players like Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa have left, but them's the breaks. It will take Van Gaal some time to bed in the big money new boys, and while many supporters and media folk may not let him, it is imperative that they do. Unfortunately that process will hinder their chances of an immediate return to the Champions League, but the process is what's key this season above all else.

4. Arsenal

Arsenal finishing 4th? What a surprise. Their signings this summer have shown their new financial clout, especially in getting a quality player like Alexis Sanchez and another solid striker in Danny Welbeck, who will help offset the loss of Olivier Giroud. But the main issues for Arsenal still exist, and haven't been addressed. They still have no defensive midfielder of note, and it's already bitten them in their first 3 PL games this season. They have next to no depth along the back 4, with only 6 first-team defenders available, and given Arsenal's injury record that number won't be 6 for long. Those issues are what keep Arsenal from being a title contender, and keep them rooted in 4th. The attack is scary, and the defense is just as scary. Arsenal can't be content with the same old same old every year despite now ending their trophy drought... right?

3. Liverpool

At first I was skeptical about their spending spree in replacing Luis Suarez, but the early signs have been positive. Despite the fact that Steven Gerrard is a holding midfielder for Brenden Rodgers and that is a disaster waiting to happen, the other signings have been effective thus far. Mario Balotelli provides a solid complement to Daniel Sturridge, and the fullback signings have already proven to be great thus far. Dejan Lovren improves their centerback corps, and the other players are young ones that can and will improve under a great manager. The lack of a holding midfielder and top class goalkeeper are still issues, and the extra fixtures will put this newly enlarged squad under the microscope, but if there's any manager that can pull this off it would be Brenden Rodgers. While the title seems a bit out of their grasp, it should be fun to watch Liverpool play again.

2. Manchester City

The defending champions looked every bit like ones in their first 2 games. In their 3rd? Not so much. That being said they've already done great business adding to an already impressively deep squad, especially with Fernado who looks to be a coup for 12 million pounds. The midfield is still strong in spots and creative in others, and with Stevan Jovetic looking to have improved dramatically, City can now expect goals from 3 very talented forwards. Even though the squad looks thin in some spots overall, they are still incredibly deep and will make a run in every competition they are in. A goal for this season has to be improving their Champions League lot, which may be hard in a brutal group, but Manuel Pellegrini should be able to pull it off. But one team is still a touch better, and they were a year ago aside from one thing...

1. Chelsea

Jose Mourinho spent all of last season trying to convince everyone Chelsea couldn't win the title, and in the end he was right, even though he shouldn't have been. Already we've seen one of his points proven, and that's with Diego Costa being a relative coup already. Their forward line is better now too with Torres and Eto'o gone for Costa and Loic Remy, and in adding Cesc Fabregas they've made an already stacked midfield even more ridiculous. There is quality everywhere, and the 6 goal outburst against Everton shows what they are capable of. They need to win trophies this season, and the early signs are that they will be favored to do so at every turn.

So these are the predictions, and hopefully they go better than last year. And hopefully Jose Mourinho doesn't respond to this with more mindgames... don't think I could take any more than he dished out last season.

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