Queen’s Park Rangers
Last season: 1st in the Championship
QPR have had a strange summer, dominated mostly by dealings in the boardroom between shareholders, with Lakshmi Mittal looking to take over the club and buy out fellow shareholders Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, who are keen to sell. Upheaval means the club don’t have a shirt sponsor, and uncertainty is so great that they lost a player in the summer to the championship because of concern over the club’s future.
They have brought in Danny Gabbidon from West Ham, as well as the perpetually injured Kieran Dyer, and attacking talents Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell. They should add a couple more sources of goals for the Hoops, who rely on Adel Taraabt for much of their good work. In the Championship last year this worked, with Taraabt simply too good for the opposition. In the Premier League however, it could be a lot tougher for him to dictate the play and QPR could be found to be too reliant on him.
Defensively, QPR may be the best of the promoted sides, but going forward doubts persist if Taraabt can’t work his magic. Whether Campbell or Bothroyd can thrive in a team which isn’t naturally attacking, and therefore creating numerous chances, is doubtful, and so must be their hopes of remaining in the division without more investment and a more varied style of play.
Last season: 13th
Stoke City have taken Bolton Wanderers’ place as the upstarts no-one fancies going to much (even Leo Messi and Barcelona on a Tuesday night according to Andy Gray). They do what they do and they do it well, usually relying on tall bulky players up front to hold up high balls, seeking to knock the ball long whenever possible to put pressure on their opponents.
Probably the least comfortable team to play in the league, the Rory Delap throw continues to provide opposition defenders with nightmares, and its effectiveness has still not been entirely nullified. This summer they have been linked with almost every 6 foot plus centre forward in the country, and should sign Wilson Palacios from Tottenham. Palacios runs around a lot, is powerful, but hasn’t got the positional sense or tactical discipline required for a team in Europe, as Spurs are. He should be a perfect fit at the Britannia.
Everyone’s least favourite club will probably survive with room to spare, though the Europa League could provide a distraction for them. However, they were drawn against FC Thun in the preliminary qualifying round, a team who they will struggle to beat, and so an early exit from Europe could negate that potential problem.
Prediction: A finish in the Premier League’s third quartile
Last season: 10th
The most active team in the transfer window, Steve Bruce has continued his varied approach to management, bringing in players from former club Manchester United, the young Conor Wickham from Ipswich, and a couple of unknown foreign players who could turn out to be gems.
David Vaughan is an excellent capture on a free from Blackpool, and though neither John O’shea or Wes Brown are quite good enough for United, they should be great players for a mid table Premier League side. Craig Gardner and Sebastien Larsson were two of Birmingham’s best players last year, and Bruce knows them well from his time at the club.
Sunderland though are a strange team, who usually start well and fall off in the second half of the season. They are also both well organised and a good passing team, who can get the ball down, play and create chances, as well as get stuck in when necessary. Last year they dominated a number of teams at home, including Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Essentially, they are the North East’s answer to Everton, except they get worse as the season goes on, but either way, they should be expected to be the team to pose the greatest challenge to the Merseysiders’ status as the “best of the rest” and 7th place.
Prediction: 8th on the last day.
Last season: 3rd in the Championship, play off winners
Swansea play football on the floor, passing the ball and patient in possession as they claimed their title of the “Barcelona of the Championship” last season. Swansea have a small squad, but they have a talented group of players who have grasped Brendan Rodgers’ passing style and ran with it, all the way to the Premier League.
Though their squad is small, it got them out of the Championship, and they have brought in some useful talents, such as Wayne Routledge, Leroy Lita and Danny Graham in a bid to survive. Jose Moreira has also arrived from Benfica, and the club will be hopeful of emulating Blackpool, and hopefully surviving.
In their favour is the passing game they play, and Swansea will be able to dominate games against teams in the lower half of the Premier League. Unlike Blackpool, they aren’t gung-ho, and their patience in possession may be the difference between them and Ian Holloway’s men, who showed that a small squad and budget can be overcome by a cohesive team and attacking style of play. They could shock the Premier League and stay up, considering the weakness of some of the teams towards the bottom end of the league.
Prediction: Narrow survival