The Premier League season is nearly here and over the next few days I will give my predictions ahead of the new campaign. In the second part of my preview, I look at the safe mid-table sides.
14. Stoke City
The Potters have enjoyed a number of Premier League seasons over the years and despite a mid-table 13th place finish last season, I wasn’t impressed with their performances over the course of last season.
I think Mark Hughes’ side could be set for a disappointing season and with some players leaving the bet365 stadium, including Marko Arnautovic moving to West Ham, I think Stoke will once again finish the bottom half of the table
They still have a few quality players in the squad that should be enough to just about stay clear of being dragged into a relegation fight. However, they will hope to see better performances from Xherdan Shaqiri and Saido Berahino to stay away from a scrap of survive.
Darren Fletcher should turn out to be a solid signing, while fans will also hope Chelsea man Kurt Zouma will turn out to be an inspired loan signing to toughen up the backline alongside Ryan Shawcross.
There is a part of me that think Stoke could really struggle and find themselves right in the battle for safety, but I think they have just a bit more quality than the sides I expect to be down there, to finish safely in mid-table come May.
13. Crystal Palace
There are high ambitions at Selhurst Park after the arrival of former Dutch international Frank de Boer as Crystal Palace’s new manager, but those feelings could soon turn to disappointment.
De Boer enjoyed great success with Ajax as both player and manager and despite a short ill-fated spell with Inter Milan, I do think Palace have captured a great manager that they will hope lead the Eagles to success.
However, I think that success will take time because I don’t think this squad of players is good enough to challenge for European football. Christian Benteke is without a doubt a huge presence up front having scored 15 goals last season, but they still only managed a 14th place finish.
They also have talented players on the wings in the form of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend and a key man in the centre of park in the shape of Yohan Cabaye, but the defensive options are a worry.
I am predicting Palace to have a solid season and with a few new faces in before the end of the transfer window, they could push for a top ten spot. However, I don’t think Europa League qualification is a realistic target.
12. West Bromwich Albion
They don’t play the most attractive football in the world but Tony Pulis has made a pretty decent team of the Baggies in the past few seasons, with West Brom enjoying a very good season last year to finish just inside the top ten.
They did fade away in the latter stages of the season after Berahino moved to Stoke and despite losing another key man to Stoke in the form of captain Darren Fletcher, I don’t think the Baggies have anything to worry about this season.
Jay Rodriguez will hope to resurrect his career after making the switch from Southampton to The Hawthorns, as fans hope he can form a lethal partnership with Solomon Rondon. up front.
They have a very experienced backline with the likes of Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley, which proved to be a very solid base towards earning some very good results last season.
They definitely need to add depth to their defensive options before the deadline and while I don’t think they will be as successful as last season, Pulis should guide the club to another safe mid-table finish.
Despite leading the Saints to an eighth place finish and a place in the EFL Cup final, Claude Puel was dismissed as the club’s manager because the club have even more ambitions that they want European qualification this season.
It will be interesting to see how new gaffer Mauricio Pellegrino handles the pressure in his first spell in England but luckily for him, he inherits very good squad that should give him a solid first season at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Manolo Gabbiadini will be a man to keep an eye on this season up front for the Saints, while a number of young players will hope to make the step up including Jack Stephens and Josh Sims to help Southampton to another top ten finish.
There is still uncertainty over the future of Virgil van Dijk who has handed in a transfer request to force a potential move to Liverpool and his seemingly imminent departure will be a massive blow for Pellegrino’s side.
Nevertheless, the Saints have built a solid squad over the past few years that should be good enough for at least a safe mid-table finish. However it van Dijk on the move, I don’t think this Saints squad are just there yet to qualify for Europe.
Eddie Howe deserves all the credit of leading Bournemouth from League One to ninth place in the Premier League in the space of just five seasons and I think the good times will keep on rolling at the Vitality Stadium.
Howe has got the best out of his players over the past few seasons playing an exciting counter attacking style of football and with some quality additions in the summer transfer window, the Cherries could be aiming for Europa League qualification this year.
Jermain Defoe left Sunderland on a free transfer after the Black Cats relegation despite scoring 15 goals last season and the former Tottenham man could prove to be one of the bargains of the season if he keep his excellent form going.
Asmir Begovic has also arrived from Chelsea to add much-needed improvement between the posts, but Bournemouth still need to improve on their defence, which suffered a few embarrassing moments last season.
I really like the look of the Bournemouth squad and with a quality manager in Howe, the only is up. I reckon Bournemouth will snatch another top ten finish this season.
9. Leicester City
It was one hell of a ride for Leicester fans last season as they went from Premier League winners, to fighting relegation to reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and eventually finishing in a mid-table 12th place.
Craig Shakespeare has steadied the ship after the Foxes somehow went from champions to strugglers under Claudio Ranieri, but the Foxes should not worry about being dragged into another relegation fight this season.
One of the biggest tasks Shakespeare will have in the week’s ahead will be trying to keep hold of Roma and Inter Milan target Riyad Mahrez, but I think the want away man will get his move but I don’t think his departure will be too much of a blow to this side.
The Foxes have splashed out £25m on promising striker Kelechi Iheanacho from Man City to add to an already stacked striker options, where as I think they should be spending the money to add depth to their defensive options.
Even if Mahrez leaves, the Foxes still have plenty of quality players such as Jamie Vardy and Demarai Gray for them to enjoy a good season. It will be a tough table in mid-table but I think the Foxes are good enough to finish in the top ten.
Don’t forget to check back to Balls and Brawls tomorrow for part three of my Premier League season preview, as I look as the sides who will be pushing for European football this season and which of them will snatch that fourth Champions League spot.