One year ago, Everton made the best decision that they’ve made in a long, long time. Manchester United’s laughable insistence to hire Everton’s David Moyes left the Toffees with a big choice to make as to who would take the club forward. They hit the jackpot.
Step forward Roberto Martinez – the former Wigan manager came to Everton waxing lyrical about progressive, possession-based football; his kind of football. It was the same approach that city rivals Liverpool took, hiring a forward-thinking manager implementing a modern approach to football at a lower Premier League side. Both can safely say it was a risk worth taking.
In one season at the helm, Martinez has shown more to inspire Evertonians than Moyes did in an entire decade at the club. Gone are the primitive, old-school tactics that just don’t cut it at a team aspiring to be more than Premier League brutes. Everton now boast the most attractive football that many people have ever seen them play.
At the forefront to that were two loan signings – Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry – both of which Martinez has rightly persuaded to sign permanently. His faith in young players has also heralded the emergence of English talents Ross Barkley and John Stones, while bringing the absolute best out of attacking fullback Seamus Coleman.
Everton will be looking to improve on a very impressive first season under Martinez, but it will not be easy to achieve their goals. With top four in their crosshairs, they’ll know that they have many competitors for the Champion’s League places. However, with Martinez leading the way, they could spring a surprise.
Player to watch: You just simply can’t look past record signing Romelu Lukaku. The former Chelsea man is touted as one of the best young strikers in world football, and his 15 league goals on loan at Everton last year showed that, despite his age, he can hit the back of the net. He’ll need to at least maintain that tally this season, and if he is to live up to his potential he’ll have to start coming close to breaking 20 for his club. He is the man that Everton will rely on to score the goals, and his continued development will coincide with the club’s progress.
Last season Hull City appeared in only their second ever Barclay’s Premier League season, and, like so many other promoted clubs, they were expected to go straight back down.
But the Tigers showed an astuteness in the transfer market that many of the league’s bigger clubs completely lack – manager Steve Bruce identified weaknesses in the squad, and they were dealt with. Two transfer windows while playing Premier League football saw the club bring in Tom Huddlestone, Nikita Jelavic and Shane Long, among others.
The addition of players with significant top-flight, and in some cases even big-club, experience was crucial in Hull’s season. Despite a few wobbles, the club finished a solid 16th place – never too far from the relegation zone, but never truly looking like they would face the drop.
Many of the Premier League’s lower clubs panic in the transfer market, throwing wages and big fees at players in an attempt to stay in the top flight – but, just like the previous season, Hull have gone about their business with cool heads. Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore have both been added on permanent deals to add to an already talented midfield, while the signing of tricky winger Tom Ince could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer.
Hull have kept their important players while strengthening across the board, and they look set for a successful season. They may not threaten the European places, but there are many clubs in the Premier League in worse shape than the Tigers – they won’t pull up any trees, but they have the foundation to maintain their status in the league for this season and beyond.
Player to watch: It sounds odd to say, but last season Hull City had one of the best centrebacks in the Premier League on their books. The addition of Curtis Davies last season ended up being one of the best buys in the club’s short Premier League history. Davies, who after only one season has solidified his status as captain and mainstay in Hull’s back line, impressed so much so last year that English fans were clamoring to give him a chance on the national team. The 29-year-old is rock solid at the back, and his continued presence will be needed to inspire his club to yet another successful Premier League campaign.
Who? Many of the new generation of Premier League viewers will be asking that very question. Leicester City, on the surface, seems like relative nobodies – but they boast a greater history than half the league has to offer.
The Foxes have won three League Cups, while also finishing as runners-up four times in the illustrious FA cup. On top of that, they actually came within one place of winning the league title back in 1928/29. They may not be one of the powerhouses of the current English game, but they certainly aren’t a minnow either.
And while many would assume them to be the weakest of the promoted teams, they were actually far and away the strongest team in the Sky Bet Championship last year, finishing first place on a massive 102 points – nine more than second-placed Burnley and a massive 22 points ahead of eventual playoff winners QPR.
To add to their Championship-winning group of players, manager Nigel Pearson five experience British faces on free transfers, saving their modest transfer budget in an attempt to secure a key player or two if they become available.
Perhaps the most unfashionable of teams in the Premier League, Leicester won’t have many neutrals cheering them on come the start of the season. But if they can continue in the same vein that saw them rampage to the Championship title last year, they may just win a few people over. Of all the promoted teams, including money-fueled QPR, they could just be the most likely to last the year.
Player to watch: Five players have been added to Pearson’s squad without costing them a cent, but it’s the sixth name that stands out; the £7 million signing of Brighton star Leonardo Ulloa will be the name that excites Leicester fans. Ulloa was an instant success in his only season at Brighton, scoring 23 goals for the club and leading them to a playoff spot. Their failure to gain promotion opened the door for a departure, and Leicester made the move to bring the striker to the club. The Argentine has proven he can score regularly in second tier football (prior to last season, he had also finished as top scorer for Almeria in Spain’s second division), but he will need to show that he can also do it at the top level. If he can translate his success to the Premier League, it will bode extremely well for Leicester City’s survival chances.
Last season marked the return of one of world football’s biggest clubs. After half a decade of uninspiring performances, Liverpool Football Club finally woke up.
Sparked by the arrival of manager Brendan Rodgers two summers ago, the Reds slowly removed the shackles formed by previous owners and managers. The results of all of Rodgers’ hard work were on full display last season, as Liverpool put in breathtaking performance after breathtaking performance – and in the process coming the closest they’ve been to a league title since they last won it in the 1989/90 season.
Led by the record-breaking Luis Suarez, Liverpool were an unstoppable attacking force, overwhelming teams (big and small alike) with their fast, slick brand of football. The development of players like Raheem Sterling, Phillipe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge saw the Reds boast a side with huge talent, but even bigger potential – continued development will see Liverpool competing for the title more frequently than not.
But they’ll have to do so without the jewel in their crown. The £75 million sale of star Luis Suarez to Barcelona means that despite their fantastic showing last season, the Reds will need to rebuild. Rodgers has wasted no time in doing so – already adding hungry, talented footballers like Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic to his side.
The loss of Suarez is undeniable, but Liverpool are collecting an increasingly impressive number of talented youngsters to fill the void. If the club are to have a similar level of success as last season, it will be up to a few of these players to fill the extraordinary boots of the departing Uruguayan. It will be a season of transition, but if things go right, it could just as easily be a season of glory.
Player to watch: Daniel Sturridge is clearly the man that Liverpool will hope can fill the goalscoring boots of Suarez, but it’s wonderkid Raheem Sterling who could end up replacing the Uruguayan’s impact. Even at just 19 years of age, Sterling became an integral part of the side in the latter half of last season – even outperforming Suarez in the final stretch. His development has been a joy to behold, and there are few players his age with a similar level of talent and potential. Coming off the back of a fantastic pre-season and promising World Cup, Sterling looks poised to become a key player in the Reds front line. His understanding with the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho and Henderson is key to Liverpool’s fluid, interchanging attacks. Expect big things from the fleet-footed youngster this season.
It’s odd to think that a decade ago, Manchester was virtually a one-club city. While United continuously dominated the modern Premier League, Manchester City lingered in mid-table (and worse). It was a rivalry based solely on location – because in all other aspects, City were dwarfed by their historic neighbours.
But that all changed in 2008 when Manchester City were purchased by the absurdly wealthy Sheikh Mansour. He promised to turn the club into a dynasty within a decade; he’s come good on that promise four years early. City now boast the strongest squad in the Premier League, and despite a close challenge from Liverpool, eventually lifted their second league title in three years.
The club are entering the second season under manager Manuel Pellegrini, and they already look like favourites to retain their title. Pellegrini has the Citizens playing a beautiful brand of football, blowing teams away with their progressive, attacking fullbacks and relentlessly prolific frontmen. The strength in depth at the club is absolutely staggering – with superstars like Dzeko and Jovetic hungry for a chance to gain a foothold in City’s starting XI.
Scarier yet, they’ve already added more incredible players to choose from. Adding the likes of goalkeeper Willy Cabellero, rightback Bacary Sagna and centreback Eliquim Mangala, City now truly have two top-class players available for every position on the field. They could split the squad in half and have two teams capable of challenging for the Premier League title.
And challenge they will. The Sky Blues are no longer just “noisy neighbours” – they’re now far and away the strongest side that the league has to offer. But with City’s embarassment of riches comes huge expectations. Failing to win the league (or at least a major trophy) could seal an exit for Pellegrini. He’ll have watched previous manager Roberto Mancini bring success to the club, only to receive the axe for the slightest slip. Pellegrini certainly has the tools available to compete on all fronts, though, and it looks set to be yet another successful season. There is indeed a Blue Moon Rising.
Player to watch: The attacking talent available to Manchester City is endless, and as soon as somebody suffers a dip in form there is a player waiting in the wings to take up the mantle. It’s at the back where City will be hoping for stability, and new man Eliquim Mangala will be tasked with a role that so far, nobody has been able to fill – partnering Vincente Kompany. In club-captain Kompany, City have one of the best (albeit injury prone) centrebacks in the league. But for far too long they have partered Kompany with mediocrity: the far too young Nastastic; the aging Kolo Toure; and the incredibly average Jolean Lescott. It’s time for somebody to step up and create an imposing pairing. You’d bet your house that Mangala will be the one to do it.