It's Time For Kick-Off! Our Tips For The Season

Last updated : 15 August 2013 By Footy Mad - Editor

NU-Mad predicted the title winners for the last three seasons ... and our tips for the coming season are ...


RELEGATION FOR: Crystal Palace, Cardiff, Sunderland.

FA CUP: Man City

LEAGUE CUP: Liverpool



jManager: Arsene Wenger

Last season: Fourth

Major ins: Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre, free).

Major outs: Chuks Aneke (Crewe, loan), Andrey Arshavin (Zenit St Petersburg, free), Francis Coquelin (Frieburg, loan), Denilson (Sao Paulo, free), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, loan), Craig Eastmond (Colchester, free), Gervinho (Roma, undisclosed), Vito Mannone (Sunderland, undisclosed), Jernade Meade (Swansea, free), Ignasi Miquel (Leicester, loan), Andre Santos (Flamengo, free), Sebastien Squillaci (released), Sanchez Watt (Colchester, free).

This is a big season for Arsenal.

The debate around their policy decisions will run and run just as the on-going trophy drought will eventually end, I and feel the upcoming campaign will be their best for years.

United, City and Chelsea all have new managers, and two of those three will feel under pressure right from the start of the campaign

Arsenal have strengthenedand their rivals have questions to answer. Be it the brand new regimes in Manchester or the Special One's return to Chelsea, each of the sides who've proved much too good for the Gunners in recent years has to cope with transition even if, as is the case with Chelsea, the common consensus is that change is for the better.

For Arsenal to take advantage they need Jack Wilshere to play at least 30 Premier League games because in him they have the luxury of a genuinely world-class player who is playing for the club he's supported from childhood. He's the team's real leader and along with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta gives Arsenal a core that even their superiors would admire.

At the back, it'll be interesting to see if Thomas Vermaelen can work his way back into the team having been rightly dropped for some extremely poor displays last season, notably in the 2-1 defeat to Spurs at White Hart Lane which threatened to condemn Arsenal to the Europa League. This remains an area of weakness for Arsenal despite the continued excellence of Laurent Koscielny. Only he and Kieran Gibbs look good enough to play for any side in the division and the decline of Bacary Sagna has also been cause for alarm, especially with Carl Jenkinson perhaps another season away from being good enough to pin down a regular starting spot.

Clearly, Arsenal need strengthening in attack, too. Olivier Giroud can and will do better - he could surprise a few if asked to lead the line - but the feeling is he'll be playing second fiddle to a more illustrious name come the end of the transfer window. If that replacement can score upwards of 20 goals, Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta can stay fit, Theo Walcott can continue his rate of improvement and a new defender or two arrives at the Emirates, Arsenal will have a genuine chance to win the title.

So, how best to approach Arsenal from a betting perspective? Well, I do think 20s about Cazorla in the top assists betting represents good each-way value. Clearly this market is just about as competitive as ever, but Cazorla was third last year despite the fact that Arsenal lacked a top-class striker. If Luis Suarez comes in then this price will look huge as it's about right as things stand, even if we don't allow for Giroud improving and Walcott finding more opportunities through the middle.

For those wanting a banker, backing Arsenal to finish in the top four looks solid. Whatever happens come September 3, Arsenal should have enough in the locker to again finish in the four and I reckon they have a shout of getting inside the top two.


gManager: Paul Lambert

Last season: 15th

Major ins: Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen, undisclosed), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, undisclosed), Antonio Luna (Sevilla, undisclosed), Jores Okore (FC Nordsjaelland, undisclosed), Jed Steer (Norwich, undisclosed), Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznan, undisclosed).

Major outs: Graham Burke (Shrewsbury, loan), Richard Dunne (QPR, free), Brett Holman (released), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, free), Jean Makoun (Rennes, undisclosed), Andy Marshall (released), Stiliyan Petrov (retired), Derrick Williams (Bristol City, free).

Aston Villa spent much of last season battling frantically to avoid relegation before a late charge of five wins and two draws in their final 10 games saw them end up 15th and five points above the drop zone.

Will this campaign be more comfortable for Paul Lambert, who came under increasing pressure throughout a difficult first six months in the Villa Park hot seat? The Scot will now be looking towards the top half of the table, but I feel he will fall well short again.

He has a very young squad and they could start with renewed confidence following their strong finish last season, but I'm not so sure. They are boosted by Christian Benteke's decision to sign a new contract despite having handed in a transfer request at the start of the summer.

The big Belgium international was one of the stars of the Premier League last season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions and you'd think he's only going to get even better with the benefit of a year's experience behind him - history shows that's often the case with foreign strikers.

At the other end of the pitch, Villa's fragile defence was one of the worst in the top flight last season, shipping 69 goals, so Lambert has brought in Spanish youngster Antonio Luna from Sevilla as well as Denmark international Jores Okore to help strengthen things up at the back.

Villa's other signings so far - striker Nicklas Helenius, midfield duo Leandro Bacuna and Aleksandar Tonev plus goalkeeper Jed Steer - are also all in their early 20s so it's clear Lambert is a manager building for a long-term future.

Some will doubt whether these non-household names will help them achieve a top-10 finish ... and sadly I am one of them.



hManager: Malky Mackay

Last season: Championship champions (promoted)

Major ins: John Brayford (Derby, undisclosed), Steven Caulker (Tottenham, undisclosed), Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen, undisclosed), Gary Medel (Sevilla, undisclosed), Simon Moore (Brentford, undisclosed).

Major outs: Heidar Helguson (released), Nat Jarvis (released), Stephen McPhail (released).

In the last 21 years, just eight winners of the Championship have been immediately relegated back from whence they came so the odds are in favour of the Bluebirds retaining their status at the end of the season.

There certainly seems to be plenty of optimism in south Wales with a long-standing debt set to be sorted in a new deal for the club involving Sam Hammam, while two mouth-watering fixtures in the top flight against fierce rivals Swansea will be hugely anticipated.

Veteran Craig Bellamy is positive Cardiff will stay up and rightly makes the point that not being overawed on the big days will be key. Key fixtures against middle-tier teams will be vital but avoiding wallopings from some of the division's elite can ensure vital confidence does not ebb away.

However, I still think they are in the front-running to fill one of the relegation berths.

Manager Malky Mackay has increased competition at the back with the arrival of the promising Steven Caulker from Spurs in addition to Derby's John Brayford and the record-signing of midfielder Gary Medel from Sevilla has created excitement.

Imposing centre forward Andreas Cornelius is a Denmark international and another fresh arrival at just 20-years-old. He will have something to prove at this level but Mackay has seen enough from him to splash out £8.5million to FC Copenhagen.The wily Bellamy could produce enough to save them, but I feel it will be touch-and-go.

This is a settled side with a decent manager and an excellent fan base so all-in-all they do have the appearance of a team that will be better than just being involved from day one in the relegation scrap.

They do have an element of the unknown on their side as a newly promoted team but like Blackpool and others in recent years ... that novelty soon wears off.



jManager: Jose Mourinho

Last season: Third

Major ins: Cristian Cuevas (O'Higgins, undisclosed), Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen, undisclosed), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, free), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse Arnhem, undisclosed).

Major outs: Patrick Bamford (MK Dons, loan), Yossi Benayoun (released), Billy Clifford (Yeovil, loan), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, loan), Cristian Cuevas (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Paulo Ferreira (released), Todd Kane (Blackburn, loan), Milan Lalkovic (Walsall, loan), Florent Malouda (Trabzonspor, free), Marko Marin (Sevilla, loan), Oriol Romeu (Valencia, loan), George Saville (Brentford, loan), Ross Turnbull (Doncaster, free), Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse Arnhem, loan).

Rafa Benitez guided Chelsea to more Premier League points than in their previous two seasons, two major cup finals - winning one - but still his tenure remained one of the most unpopular in recent times at Stamford Bridge.

So one of the year's worst-kept secrets duly became a reality as Jose Mourinho was installed by owner Roman Abramovich for a second spell in charge as the Russian goes in search of the dual Holy Grail - a domestic championship and the Champions League.

Will Mourinho bring back the glory years of 2004 and 2005 when he delivered the championship on successive occasions? The two Manchester clubs have new managers - nowhere near as good as those that have left (in my opinion), and I feel this could be Chelsea's year.

He is sure to relish the rivalry with the two Manchester clubs but he suggested it could be up to two years before his new-look side start to deliver silverware. I disagree.

He does have the evergreen Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and John Terry to call upon while the blossoming talent of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Oscar should thrive under his tutelage - who knows, he may even be able to get Fernando Torres to recapture his very best form.

The Spaniard remains a prized asset and there is little doubt he has the quality around him to create chances. It is up to Mourinho to relight the fire that made him arguably the most dangerous striker on the planet in his time at Liverpool.

Chelsea have more than enough about them to return to the summit of English football and there could be quite a party at Stamford Bridge when the campaign comes to an end.



iManager: Ian Holloway

Last season: Fifth in the Championship (promoted via the play-offs)

Major ins: Jose Campana (Sevilla, undisclosed), Stephen Dobie (Brighton, undisclosed), Dwight Gayle (Peterborough, undisclosed), Elliot Grandin (Blackpool, free), Kevin Phillips (Blackpool, free), Jerome Thomas (West Brom, free).

Major outs: Jason Banton (MK Dons, loan), Jermaine Easter (Millwall, undisclosed), Alex Marrow (Blackburn, undisclosed), Andre Moritz (Bolton, free).

Palace booked their place back in the big time after winning the play-off final in May against Watford but it is set to be a quick return to the Sky Bet Championship.

They are 8/15 with Sky Bet to go down and a squad that lacks any depth of real quality has a huge amount on their plate to muster enough points for a fighting chance.

The Eagles have cashed in on class act Wilfried Zaha, while likely targets Carlton Cole and Dan Gosling have both turned down a move to south London - it highlights the task Ian Holloway will have attracting players to Selhurst Park.

Arsenal and West Ham flop Marouane Chamakh has agreed a deal with the club but did he show anything with his previous employers to suggest he will net a vital 15-20 league goals? I didn't think so either.

The charismatic Holloway earned plenty of plaudits in the first half of his Premier League season with Blackpool but then the wheels came off badly as the Tangerines plunged into trouble and back down a division. Holloway's motivational credentials are not in question but he simply does not have the quality to work with this time around.

He will have to cope for a considerable period without the prowess up front of 30-goal hitman Glenn Murray after he suffered a nasty knee injury in the play-offs so the onus looks likely to rest with the resilient Kevin Phillips in front of goal at 40-years-old.

The unproven Dwight Gayle will get a chance after a meteoric rise from non-league football via Peterborough but will have little time to adjust to his new surroundings and needs to have a Christian Benteke-like effect for his side.



jManager: Roberto Martinez

Last season: Sixth

Major ins: Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan, free), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan), Arouna Kone (Wigan, undisclosed), Joel Robles (Atletico Madrid, undisclosed).

Major outs: Jake Bidwell (Brentford, undisclosed), Thomas Hitzlsperger (released), Conor McAleny (Brentford, loan), Jan Mucha (released), Phil Neville (retired).

Assessing the season ahead for Everton is really about asking one question - where do the Blues go, post-David Moyes? After last season's impressive sixth-place finish, I think the answer could even be higher!

Although they were backed, to an extent, for relegation when Moyes left for Manchester United, the bookies could well be wrong, because I feel Martinez is a better manager than Moyes.

That may change if both Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini depart before the transfer deadline but even then the slump would surely go only so deep.

Without their star pair, plenty of quality would still remain. Phil Jagielka remains one of the best central defenders in the league, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas can mesmerise opponents from wide or central positions and up front Arouna Kone is a good addition and may help Nikica Jelavic rediscover the lethal form he showed in 2011/12. That's if he can keep Victor Anichebe, who enjoyed an impressive second half of last season, out of the team.

Indeed if new boss Roberto Martinez keeps hold of Baines and Fellaini then maybe Everton will continue to compete with more resourceful clubs. While there has been plenty of talk about Martinez being a lucky boy to walk into a job like this just weeks after taking Wigan down, the fact is this squad is much better than any he had at the DW Stadium, in particular the defence, a word often thrown in the Spaniard's face when the quality of his management is up for discussion.

Talk of the Champions League at his introductory press conference may well have been fanciful, but Everton should be OK, backed up by a strong home record which now reads one loss in 23 league games. No other team had a better figure in their home defeats column last term.



gManager: Martin Jol

Last season: 12th

Major ins: Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao, free), Derek Boateng (Dnipro, free), Ange-Freddy Plumain (Lens, free), Sasha Riether (Cologne, undisclosed), Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma, undisclosed), Abel Taarabt (QPR, loan).

Major outs: Chris Baird (released), Dan Burn (Birmingham, loan), Simon Davies (released), Mahamadou Diarra (released), Mladen Petric (released), Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea, free) Csaba Somogyi (released), Ryan Williams (Oxford, loan).

Martin Jol's side ensured their Premier League safety by the end of March last season, which was a good job considering they lost six of their seven matches before their final-day win away at Swansea.

Of course, it can be argued they took their foot off the gas with little to play for, but alarming runs such as that one are why the Cottagers are as short as 4/1 for relegation.

And I think Fulham will have to worry about the drop this season, even though there were some positives to take from last season - Dimitar Berbatov's 15 goals and their best points return away from home since 2004 to name but two.

Berbatov is a key man again and how Fulham perform depends on the consistency of the talented Bulgarian. If he chips in with 15 goals again, the safety of mid-table should be within their reach.

We've seen it time and time again in the Premier League that the difference between those that go down and those that stay in the division is a player that regularly gets goals. Berbatov is that man for Fulham and his talent alone can keep them up.

But will he get the goals? The Cottagers had the look of a one-man team last season and their signings don't inspire us to back them to do anything but avoid relegation ... if they can achieve that.



hManager: Steve Bruce

Last season: Second in the Championship (promoted)

Major ins: George Boyd (Peterborough, undisclosed), Curtis Davies (Birmingham, undisclosed), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland, undisclosed), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan, free), Danny Graham (Sunderland, loan), Steve Harper (Newcastle, loan), Allan McGregor (Besiktas, undisclosed), Yannick Sagbo (Evian, undisclosed).

Major outs: Sonny Bradley (Portsmouth, free), Tom Cairney (Blackburn, loan), Mark Cullen (Luton, free), Andy Dawson (Scunthorpe, free), Jamie Devitt (Chesterfield, free), Daniel East (Portsmouth, free), Corry Evans (Blackburn, undisclosed), Jack Hobbs (Nottingham Forest, loan), Paul McKenna (released), Seyi Olofinjana (released), Mark Oxley (Oldham, loan), Jay Simpson (released).

Unsurprisingly, Premier League new boys Hull are among the favourites for an instant return to the Championship and there won't be many non-Tigers supporters expecting them to survive ... but guess what ... I think they will.

Steve Bruce's men clinched the second automatic promotion spot ahead of Watford on the most dramatic of final days but if the bookies are to be believed, those memories of celebration will soon be forgotten during a long hard struggle to beat the drop.

Hull's 'problem' last season was their lack of a genuine goalscorer as none of their squad managed to reach double figures and while this underlines how their success was built around a real team effort, it obviously won't be as easy to share the goals around in the top flight as well as keeping it tight at the back.

Bruce has so far bolstered his strikeforce by bringing in Yannick Sagbo from French club Evian and Sunderland flop Danny Graham on loan, as well as sealing the transfer of George Boyd, who scored four goals after joining them on a temporary basis in February.

However, it's doubtful whether any of these players will be a revelation for a club who managed just 61 goals in 46 games last season but I think there could be three clubs worse than them.



gManager: Brendan Rodgers

Last season: Seventh

Major ins: Luis Alberto (Sevilla, undisclosed), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, undisclosed), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland, undisclosed), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, free).

Major outs: Krisztian Adorjan (FC Groningen, loan), Jamie Carragher (retired), Andy Carroll (West Ham, undisclosed), Conor Coady (Sheffield United, loan), Peter Gulasci (Red Bull Salzburg, free), Henoc Mukendi (Partick Thistle, loan), Michael Ngoo (Yeovil, loan), Pepe Reina (Napoli, loan), Jack Robinson (Blackpool, loan), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea, £5million), Jay Spearing (Bolton, undisclosed), Suso (Almeria, loan), Danny Wilson (Hearts, free).

Liverpool improved last season under Brendan Rodgers by nine points but I'm still not convinced he the type of manager Liverpool fans want ... or deserve.

Whether they will have to try to achieve such things with or without Luis Suarez is the big question, though the feeling is the Uruguayan will get his own way and engineer a move away from Anfield.

Such a scenario wouldn't necessarily harm the Reds. They played some of their best football last season when Suarez was banned and in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge they have two players capable of filling his boots as the 'spark' in attack.

Clearly, though, Liverpool's chances of getting in the top four, the Holy Grail to them, would greatly increase if their best player were to remain at the club. But I think he is sure to move on.

The problem for Liverpool is there are five teams (at least) with better players and deeper squads and if they can break in amongst that lot it will be an achievement.

In the league it's very easy to see them finishing sixth, while their best chance of any sort of success will be in the cups ... and I really fancy them for the League Cup.



dManager: Manuel Pellegrini

Last season: Second

Major ins: Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk, undisclosed), Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina, undisclosed), Jesus Navas (Sevilla, undisclosed), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla, undisclosed).

Major outs: Wayne Bridge (Reading, free), Jeremy Helan (Sheffield Wednesday, undisclosed), Maicon (Roma, undisclosed), Filippo Mancini (released), Ryan McGivern (Hibernian, free), Karim Rekik (PSV, loan), Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga, free), Carlos Tevez (Juventus, undisclosed), Kolo Toure (Liverpool, free), Reece Wabara (Doncaster, loan).

I didn't expect to say this, but Manchester City look just about the most stable of the big clubs at the moment. While Manchester United and Chelsea squabble over Wayne Rooney, Liverpool and Arsenal do likewise over Luis Suarez and Spurs try desperately to hang on to Gareth Bale, City have gone about their business quietly and efficiently.

But, although I fancy them to finish above Man Utd, I don't think they will win the title.

The acquisition of Fernandinho looks a superb bit of business, and with Jesus Navas adding much-needed width plus reinforcements having arrived up front courtesy of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, City look to have the best squad in the Premier League.

They've also got rid of Roberto Mancini, who spent most of the season having a battle with Mario Balotelli. It showed he had lost control of the dressing room, and he was a man who looked defeated long before the season ended. Manuel Pellegrini comes with risks attached to a certain extent,but  fresh impetus is what City needed.

And Pellegrini says they're not done yet. Rumours linking Pepe with a move to Manchester persist and with no significant outgoings, they look like being the team to beat currently. Indeed, I'd be very surprised if they're outside the top two come May.

What I really like is that Pellegrini has directly targeted the areas which needed strengthening and he's done his business nice and early. Last year, City offered little when Yaya Toure was absent or David Silva wasn't at his best, primarily because they were too narrow and their best strikers were both dragged away from the middle too often.

That shouldn't be a problem now that Navas has arrived and his pace and trickery should allow Sergio Aguero to concentrate on scoring goals, while allowing for the more physical threat of Negredo and Edin Dzeko to remain central to City attacks.

At the back, there was no issue. City had the league's best defensive record and in Matija Nastasic they have a player capable of becoming the best of his kind in the division. With Joe Hart behind and these creative additions in front, expect City to find the 1-0 wins which eluded them last term when they're not at their best.

Expect them to be much closer to the title but will it be enough?


gManager: David Moyes

Last season: Champions

Major ins: Guillermo Varela (Penarol, undisclosed).

Major outs: Reece Brown (Watford, free), John Cofie (Barnsley, free), Paul Scholes (retired), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Ipswich, loan).

Champions last season by 11 points after easing up once the title was in the bag, Manchester United are a similar price to win the league this time around as they were at the same time last year at 13/5. But I don't think they will get into the top two!

Of course, the reason being is the change of manager. How do you replace a man like Sir Alex Ferguson? The simple answer is you cannot, and David Moyes has a near-impossible task. simply because he hasn't won a thing in his entire career!

OK, there was the Charity Shield on Sunday, but he hardly deserved it ... Fergie got the team to Wembley.

It's just so hard to envisage Moyes accumulating anywhere near the same number of points from a similar bunch of players that Fergie did, and, given improvement is expected from Manchester City and Chelsea, it's very difficult to think the Red Devils can retain their title.

The genius of Sir Alex Ferguson, with a little help from Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, papered over some cracks in the Old Trafford squad and the lack of a dominant midfielder is likely to be in evidence this term.

They should still batter their inferiors. Robin van Persie has only just turned 30 and he looks capable of being the best striker in the division once again, which will of course help United's cause.

And you sense Moyes wants to make a statement in the transfer market with at least one big signing. If he pulls off something spectacular, who knows, United might just hold off the charge from City and Chelsea ... but I very much doubt it.

At the time of writing, with Wayne Rooney's future up in the air, Moyes' men look likely to drop more points and, this season at least, they may have to settle for third or dare I say it ... even fourth.



gManager: Chris Hughton

Last season: 11th

Major ins: Leroy Fer (FC Twente, undisclosed), Javier Garrido (Lazio, undisclosed), Gary Hooper (Norwich, undisclosed), Carlo Nash (Stoke, free), Martin Olsson (Blackburn, undisclosed), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham, undisclosed), Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon, undisclosed).

Major outs: Tom Adeyemi (Birmingham, free), Leon Barnett (Wigan, undisclosed), Lee Camp (released), George Francomb (AFC Wimbledon, free), Simeon Jackson (Eintracht Braunschweig, free), Chris Martin (Derby, free), Declan Rudd (Preston, loan), Korey Smith (Oldham, free), Jed Steer (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Andrew Surman (AFC Bouremouth, loan), Marc Tierney (Bolton, free), Elliott Ward (AFC Bournemouth, free), James Vaughan (Huddersfield, undisclosed).

There's an understandable feeling of optimism among the Norwich faithful heading into what should be an enjoyable stress-free season for the Canaries.

Chris Hughton's men never really found themselves in real danger of the drop during the previous campaign despite a slow start and a mid-season wobble but nevertheless a run of three victories in their last five games was needed to end any lingering fears and lift them up to a highly-creditable 11th-place finish.

This was an improvement of one place on their first season back in the top flight under previous boss Paul Lambert and although they actually accrued three fewer points it can be regarded as another big step towards becoming a well-established Premier League club.

Of course it's crucial to set greater targets and show some ambition rather than be content to stand still in mid-table and I feel that's exactly what Hughton has in mind based on his summer transfer dealings.

Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who joined from Sporting Lisbon, has previously been linked with bigger clubs and looks set to become an instant hit with the Norwich fans, while Gary Hooper will be eager to prove he can be just as prolific in the Premier League as he was up in Scotland at Celtic.

Holland international midfielder Leroy Fer is also tipped to make a positive impact having earned rave reviews from his time in the Eredivisie, while Swedish star Martin Olsson and England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond are also impressive signings.

With all this in mind I can only see another season of steady development for Norwich.



gManager: Mauricio Pochettino

Last season: 14th

Major ins: Dejan Lovren (Lyon, undisclosed), Victor Wanyama (Celtic, undisclosed).

Major outs: Danny Butterfield (released), Richard Chaplow (Millwall, free), Steve de Ridder (FC Utrecht, free), Ryan Dickson (Colchester, free), Vegard Forren (Molde, undisclosed), Frazer Richardson (Middlesbrough, free), Daniel Seaborne (Yeovil, free).

Plenty of observers were left scratching their heads last season after the Saints' decided to dispense with the services of Nigel Adkins and replace him with the untested Mauricio Pochettino.

But the gamble paid off as they comfortably survived their first season in the top-flight playing an attractive brand of high intensity, pressing football and at times showed some real potential for the future with eye-catching wins over Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool at St Mary's.

The major issue now will be to avoid a sophomore slump and the bookmakers tend to think they will remain safe as they are a best price of 10/1 to go down.

Pochettino has bolstered his squad with the addition of Croatia international defender Dejan Lovren and the exciting Victor Wanyama from Celtic - the latter was a new club transfer record of £12.5million to beat the money spent last year on Gaston Ramirez.

The Uruguayan has been a potential target for Inter Milan so Southampton will likely be keen to try to boost their attacking options with last season's goalscorer Rickie Lambert having turned 31.

However, there could be a chance though for Jay Rodriguez to play a more prominent role. He started to thrive in the second half of last season under Pochettino and is fancied improve on his tally of nine goals from 37 appearances.

Lambert is even-money to be the leading goalscorer again but the gifted Rodriguez can provide a stern challenge for that mantle.

A skilful player who has shown a real eye for a goal both here and at Burnley, Rodriguez can only improve at the age of 24 under the watchful eye of his promising manager.



hManager: Mark Hughes

Last season: 13th

Major ins: Marc Muniesa (Barcelona, free), Erik Pieters (PSV, undisclosed).

Major outs: Rory Delap (Burton, free), Matthew Lund (Rochdale, free), Carlo Nash (Norwich, free), Michael Owen (retired), Mamady Sidibe (released), Matthew Upson (Brighton, free), Dean Whitehead (Middlesbrough, free).

For so far in 2013 they've won just three Premier League games and two of the sides they beat are now trying to find their way back to the Promised Land via the Championship. As far as form goes, Stoke's is awful.

The problems lie in both defence and attack, too. Stoke haven't scored three goals in a game so far in 2013 - bar an FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace - but that never used to matter as one tended to be enough.

However, they managed just three clean sheets in the second half of the season compared to nine in the first, and it's all of these downturns which eventually led to Tony Pulis' tenure coming to an end.

In comes Mark Hughes, a manager whose record is perhaps stronger than public perception would have you believe. He worked wonders on a limited budget at Blackburn and will have to do the same here, although he has splashed out on defender Erik Pieters for £3million.

Pieters has Champions League experience and should help drag that clean sheet record back to what we'd expect, and while not what all fans wanted, my feeling is that Hughes represents close to a perfect successor to Pulis even if attacking reinforcements may well be necessary.

This isn't to say I'm expecting Stoke to flourish - Pulis did such an incredible job that following his success will be close to impossible. I reckon they will struggle but could stay up - partly due to the lack of strength at the bottom of the division this year.



jManager: Paolo Di Canio

Last season: 17th

Major ins: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar, undisclosed), El-Hadji Ba (Le Havre, free), Cabral (Basel, free), Ondrej Celustka (Trabzonspor, loan), Modibo Diakite (Lazio, free), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus, £6.5million), David Moberg Karlsson (Gothenburg, undisclosed), Vito Mannone (Arsenal, undisclosed), Valentin Roberge (Maritimo, free), Duncan Watmore (Altrincham, undisclosed).

Major outs: Titus Bramble (released), Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull, undisclosed), Danny Graham (Hull, loan), Matt Kilgallon (Blackburn, free), James McClean (Wigan, undisclosed), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool, undisclosed), Alfred N'Diaye (Eskisehirspor, loan).

Sunderland stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season and how much credit you give Paolo Di Canio for keeping them in the division goes some way to determining how you think they'll go this campaign.

I have to say, I thought Di Canio's appointment was bizarre at the time and looking at how things transpired at the bottom I don't think Martin O'Neill would have achieved the goal that was safety.

We'll never know, but we do know Sunderland will have to improve this season if they are to stay up and, looking at their signings, whether they can do such a thing is debatable.

Newcastle don't have a true signing to their name (only a loan deal), but they do have a settled side ... and bringing in TEN new players is a massive gamble. There is no backbone to work off, and how many of those ten know the demands of the Premier League - the greatest league in the world?

At least Steven Fletcher leads their attack and Sunderland's final position in the table will largely depend on the form of the talented forward.

Injured for the final two months of last season after picking up an injury when on international duty, you would think he's capable of scoring around 15 goals and such a tally would go a long way to seeing Sunderland to safety.

However, their squad looks brittle, In Simon Mignolet they have lost an excellent goalkeeper and if the likes of Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon do get injured you would have to fear for the Black Cats.

One thing I would say is they won't go down without a fight. When the going got tough at the business end of last season, Di Canio fired up his team and the result was three red cards in their last seven games.

A season of struggle is a real worry for the Black Cats, and I think they could hit the trap door - too many new players without Premiership experience.



hManager: Michael Laudrup

Last season: Ninth

Major ins: Jordi Amat (Espanyol, £2.5million), Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem, £12million), Jose Canas (Real Betis, free), Jonathan de Guzman (Villareal, loan), Jernade Meade (Arsenal, free), Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis, undisclosed), Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool, £5million).

Major outs: Kemy Agustien (Brighton, free), Kyle Bartley (Birmingham, loan), David Cornell (St Mirren, loan), Mark Gower (Charlton, free), Alan Tate (Yeovil, loan).

This will be a fantastic season to be a Swansea fan but how long will they hold onto the manager?

The extra burden - and a welcome one at that - of the Europa League is sure to take its toll domestically as the months tick by and we've seen from Newcastle's example last term that Premier League form can suffer when a squad is stretched.

That is one thing Michael Laudrup has been acutely aware of and a busy summer so far has seen the Swans chief perform wonders in the transfer market to acquire the likes of Wilfried Bony, Jonjo Shelvey and, once again, Jonathan de Guzman on a season-long loan.

Bony in particular is a very exciting addition and his superb display in the first leg of the Europa League qualifier against Malmo gives a glimpse of what to expect over the new campaign.

I reckon Swansea can surprise quite a few sides in Europe and it would be a massive surprise to me if they aren't still competing on the continent after Christmas.

That means they might have to accept a slight slide in the mid-table ranks as priorities have to be juggled, especially if another run in a domestic cup is forthcoming.

Swansea fans shouldn't be worried by that prediction in any way. A season ticket at the Liberty Stadium is something to be treasured and that has been the case for a number of seasons now.

But that could all change if Laudrup flies the roost!



hManager: Andre Villas-Boas

Last season: Fifth

Major ins: Nacer Chadli (FC Twente, £7million), Paulinho (Corinthians, undisclosed), Roberto Soldado (Valencia, undisclosed).

Major outs: David Bentley (released), John Bostock (Royal Antwerp, free), Nathan Byrne (Swindon, undisclosed), Steven Caulker (Cardiff, undisclosed), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, undisclosed), William Gallas (released), Grant Hall (Swindon, loan), Bongani Khumalo (Doncaster, loan), Massimo Luongo (Swindon, loan), Ryan Mason (Swindon, loan), Alex Pritchard (Swindon, loan), Adam Smith (Derby, loan).

It certainly doesn't take a rocket scientist - or more accurately a seasoned football pundit - to tell you that much of Spurs' hopes this season rest on the future of Gareth Bale.

At the time of writing the Welsh wizard, who scooped both the PFA Players' Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year as well as the Football Writers' gong thanks to his consistent world-class displays during the last campaign, is still at White Hart Lane despite Real Madrid's strong interest in bringing him to the Bernabeu.

Every Spurs supporter will doubtless be keeping everything crossed that it stays that way.

If Tottenham do end up selling - for a fee which could reach £100million - it would be easy to flippantly assume that their quest of finishing in the top four this season is over before it's even begun.

However, while losing Bale is obviously a massive loss, Andre Villas-Boas will at least have the cash to splash (if the deal is done quickly enough) on a handful of top quality reinforcements which would potentially put them right back in the hunt for a Champions League spot.

Already they've brought in Roberto Soldado, who scored 30 goals in 46 games for Valencia last season, for around £26million, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho for a reported fee of £17million and £7million Belgium international Nacer Chadli - so they've certainly showed signs of preparing for Bale's potential exit.

There are surely more targets in mind, such as Toulouse's £10million-rated midfielder Etienne Capoue, but if they stopped buying now and actually managed to keep their star man then missing out on the top four again would have to go down as a huge - and extremely costly - failure.

This Bale saga might run until the very end of the transfer window, so it would make perfect sense to wait until September 3 before wading into any season-long specials about Tottenham but one bet worth considering now is Soldado to be the club's top scorer.

At 28, the Spain international is at his peak and on the back of another prolific season in La Liga and the Champions League, he should be confident of hitting the ground running in new surroundings. If Bale leaves then his price will inevitably shorten and in any case, the Welshman will find it tough to score quite as many as last season's astounding tally of 21.



gManager: Steve Clarke

Last season: Eighth

Major ins: Nicolas Anelka (Shanghai Shenhua, free), Diego Lugano (PSG, free), Goran Popov (Dynamo Kiev, loan).

Major outs: Scott Allan (Birmingham, loan), Marc-Antoine Fortune (Wigan, free), Zoltan Gera (released), Gonzalo Jara Reyes (Nottingham Forest, free), Jerome Thomas (Crystal Palace, free).

Steve Clarke's men started last season well but it was that start, not to mention the general lack of quality in the Premier League, that was responsible for their eighth-placed finish because in the second half of the campaign they picked up just 16 points, losing 11 of their 19 matches.

The Peter Odemwingie affair hardly helped matters but it should be remembered that his goals helped West Brom into their strong position in November and if, as expected, he moves on then those goals will be missed, particularly given last season's top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, is also now gone.

The pair bagged 22 league goals between them and that's a lot to replace. It would appear Steve Clarke is looking to Nicola Anelka to fill much of that void. However, it should be remembered this is a 34-year-old who left Chelsea for Shanghai Shenhua not so long ago, one who played just three games for Juventus after signing for them in January. OK, he's scored a few in pre-season but I need more convincing than any hat-trick against Cork City can do.

At the other end, experienced Uruguayan defender Diego Lugano looks a decent addition but I still think that the 8/1 that's left about West Brom going down is not the worst price in the world when you consider that there is rarely a great deal between the sides in mid-table and the one that occupies 18th place at the end of the season. Indeed the gap between West Brom and Wigan last term may have been 10 places but in points terms it was just 13.

While there are definitely more likely relegation candidates, but a bet at decent odds is worthy of consideration.



gManager: Sam Allardyce

Last season: 10th

Major ins: Adrian (Real Betis, free), Andy Carroll (Liverpool, undisclosed), Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk, free), Danny Whitehead (Stockport, undisclosed).

Major outs: Carlton Cole (released), Rob Hall (Bolton, undisclosed), Gary O'Neil (released).

I never thought I would ever say this ... but Sam Allardyce has put together a hell of a squad of players.

West Ham fans should remember that as taking a side that won the Championship play-offs to a finish of 10th in their first season back in the Premier League is not a bad effort at all.

It will be more of the same for the Hammers this term with Upton Park continuing to prove tough for anyone to visit and even a slight improvement in away form will see an improved placing.

Only QPR and Reading picked up less on the road last season and just four more points would have seen Allardyce's men end the campaign up in eighth.

That position, putting pressure on the Merseyside duo of Liverpool and Everton, is well within sight and is a realistic target for the Hammers.

The absolutely crucial news from the summer is the retention of Andy Carroll on a six-year deal from Liverpool.

Carroll definitely has his critics but his presence at the centre of the attack fits perfectly with Big Sam's style of play and that is far from a bad thing if more goals come his way.