Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Underwhelming England reach World Cup in Russia

(Q) WORLD CUP 2018 QUALIFIERS (Q)
Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, England, Spain, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Panama

UNBEATEN but totally underwhelming. Gareth Southgate's England are one of the 23 nations which have now confirmed their place at the World Cup finals in Russia.

Nevertheless, expectations in the national team next summer remain at a low ebb following the latest pair of qualifiers against Slovenia at home and Lithuania away.

Both games finished 1-0 to the Three Lions with Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane as the only scorer.

And, as if to sum up the complete lack of excitement over the 180 minutes, Kane scrambled his goal against Slovenia in stoppage time - while his goal in Vilnius came from the penalty spot.

At least England have qualified - and without the need of a playoff.

Scotland looked set to finish runners-up in the same group as England - but blew their chance by closing their campaign with a 2-2 draw in Slovenia.

Head coach Gordon Strachan lamented an apparent genetic deficiency following this latest failure which made it 20 years and counting since the Scots qualified for a major tournament.

But the 60-year-old's reasoning about a lack of "height and strength" makes little sense considering the success of the likes of Spain in recent times.

Also, it does not take into account that Scotland actually played some decent stuff at times in this campaign. They paid dearly, though, for a terrible start in which they took only four points from the opening four games.

Strachan - who will meet Scottish Football Association chiefs tomorrow - must take responsibility for that, especially as players such as Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong and Matt Ritchie did not always start, even when fit.

Elsewhere among the home nations, Wales missed out, meaning their wait for a World Cup finals appearance will extend beyond 60 years.

Injured Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale could only look on as the Euro 2016 semi finalists fell to their first competitive defeat home in four years against Ireland on Monday.

It was not that match - but, rather, too many draws early on in the group which had left Wales playing catch up - and, in the end, even a draw would have eliminated Chris Coleman's men as the weakest runners-up.

Coleman has been quiet about his future for the moment - but there is a feeling that, after five years in the role, he may be looking for a different challenge.

Of course, for Ireland, Monday night's match in Cardiff was a totally different story as defensive fortitude and James McClean's superb volley ensured they joined Northern Ireland in the playoffs.

The Northern Irish had a fine campaign, winning an unprecedented five qualifiers in a row at one stage.

Indeed, prior to a final day defeat to Norway - when their place in the playoffs had already been assured by other results - Michael O'Neill's men had only lost to world champions Germany.

And, certainly, none of the four seeds - Switzerland, Italy, Croatia or Denmark - will fancy a trip to Belfast - or to Dublin, for that matter.

In the rest of Europe, most of the usual powerhouses made it to the finals without too much sweat - but the Netherlands missed out for a second successive major tournament, finishing behind Sweden and group winners France.

European champions Portugal only just made it through on the final day, beating the slightly unlucky Swiss on goal difference, despite Switzerland having won their nine other games.

But the big story in Europe for football romantics was Iceland - again. Yes, the Icelanders' Euro 2016 jaunt meant that no one could be totally shocked by their success, least of all the English.

Nevertheless, by beating Kosovo last night, Iceland became by far the smallest country by population to reach a World Cup finals ever.

Overnight, in the Americas, the story appeared to be in Quito where Argentina, facing Ecuador away in high altitude, looked as if they might miss out on a first finals appearance since 1970.

It looked even worse for La Albiceleste when Romario Ibarra gave the Ecuadorians a lead inside 38 seconds.

As if a script had been written, though, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi saved the day with his first ever hat-trick in a World Cup qualifier.

Argentina thus qualified behind the only World Cup ever-presents Brazil - who had made it back in March - and Uruguay who rubber-stamped their place with a win last night against Bolivia.

Colombia and Peru played out a 1-1 draw in Lima, a result which sends the Colombians to a second successive World Cup and the Peruvians into a playoff against Oceania champions New Zealand.

Surprise package Peru - looking to make a first World Cup finals since 1982 - will nonetheless go into next month's tie as favourites against the All Whites.

But their presence in the playoff means that there is no room at the World Cup for Paraguay, beaten at home to Venezuela, or two-time South American champions Chile.

The biggest surprise, though, actually came in the North and Central America region.

United States had not missed a World Cup since 1986 but a woeful defeat away to Trinidad & Tobago opened the door - and Panama walked right on through.

A national holiday has been declared in the small Central American nation, most famous for its canal which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Now, Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres has written his name in Panamanian folklore by scoring a late winner against already-qualified group runners-up Costa Rica.

For good measure, Honduras beat group winners Mexico 3-2 at home to take fourth place and a playoff - and leave the Americans stranded and out of the running in fifth.

The Hondurans will face Australia in their two-legged playoff next month after the Socceroos ended Syria's remarkable World Cup journey.

A 1-1 draw in neutral Malaysia looked as if it was going to be followed yesterday by another 1-1 draw between the sides in Sydney as the match went into extra time.

But up popped the ever-green former Everton man Tim Cahill to fire the Aussies ahead and give them a chance of joining the automatic qualifiers from the Asian region - group winners Iran and Japan, and runners-up South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

There are still issues to be decided in Africa with only two of the five places taken at present - by Nigeria and Egypt, the latter making their first finals appearance since 1990.

In the other groups, Tunisia will qualify with just a point next month against Libya, Morocco travel to Ivory Coast in a winner-takes-all contest, while Senegal need just one win from their two games against South Africa.

Only nine World Cup finals places are yet to be decided - four will come from the winners of the European playoffs, three from Africa, and two from the inter-continental playoffs.

The finals draw will take place at the Kremlin in Moscow on Friday 1 December.

UEFA (Europe) 
(Q) Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal
(P) Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Croatia; Sweden, Northern Ireland, Greece, Ireland

Group AWDLFAPts
(Q) FRANCE72118623
(P) Sweden61326919
Netherlands613211219
Bulgaria415141913
Luxembourg1368266
Belarus1276215

Group BWDLFAPts
(Q) PORTUGAL90132427
(P) Switzerland90123727
Hungary415141413
Faroe Islands2354169
Latvia2177187
Andorra1182234

Group CWDLFAPts
(Q) GERMANY100043430
(P) Northern Ireland61317619
Czech Republic433171015
Norway415171613
Azerbaijan316101910
San Marino00102510

Group DWDLFAPts
(Q) SERBIA631201021
(P) Ireland54112619
Wales45113617
Austria433141215
Georgia0558145
Moldova0284232

Group EWDLFAPts
(Q) POLAND811281425
(P) Denmark62220820
Montenegro514201216
Romania343121013
Armenia21710267
Kazakhstan0376263

Group FWDLFAPts
(Q) ENGLAND82018326
Slovakia60417718
Scotland532171218
Slovenia43312715
Lithuania1367206
Malta0193251

Group GWDLFAPts
(Q) SPAIN91036328
(P) Italy72121823
Albania415101313
Israel406101512
Macedonia325151511
Liechtenstein00101390

Group HWDLFAPts
(Q) BELGIUM91043628
(P) Greece54117619
Bosnia-Herzegovina523241317
Estonia325131911
Cyprus31691810
Gibraltar00103470

Group IWDLFAPts
(Q) ICELAND71216722
(P) Croatia62215420
Ukraine52313917
Turkey433141315
Finland2359139
Kosovo0193241

CONMEBOL (South America)
(Q) Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia
(P) Peru v New Zealand in an inter-continental playoff

WDLFAPts
(Q) BRAZIL1251411141
(Q) URUGUAY945322031
(Q) ARGENTINA774191628
(Q) COLOMBIA765211927
(P) Peru756272626
Chile828262726
Paraguay738192524
Ecuador6210262920
Bolivia4212163814
Venezuela2610193512

CONCACAF (North and Central America)
(Q) Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
(P) Honduras v Australia in an inter-continental playoff

WDLFAPts
(Q) MEXICO63116721
(Q) COSTA RICA44214816
(Q) PANAMA34391013
(P) Honduras343131913
United States334171312
Trinidad & Tobago2087196

CAF (Africa)
(Q) Nigeria, Egypt
Group AWDLFAPts
Tunisia41011413
DR Congo31111610
Guinea1045113
Libya1044103

Group BWDLFAPts
(Q) NIGERIA41011313
Zambia212657
Cameroon131576
Algeria0143101

Group CWDLFAPts
Morocco230909
Ivory Coast221738
Gabon122275
Mali032193

Group DWDLFAPts
Senegal220628
Burkina Faso131666
Cape Verde203486
South Africa112664

Group EWDLFAPts
(Q) EGYPT4017312
Uganda221218
Ghana131646
Congo0144111

AFC (Asia)
(Q) Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Group AWDLFAPts
(Q) IRAN64010222
(Q) SOUTH KOREA433111015
(P) Syria3439813
Uzbekistan4156713
China33481012
Qatar2178157

Group BWDLFAPts
(Q) JAPAN62217720
(Q) SAUDI ARABIA613161019
(P) Australia541161119
United Arab Emirates415101313
Iraq325111211
Thailand0286242

(P) Playoff
Syria 1-1 Australia (played in Malaysia)
Australia 2-1 Syria aet
▪️ Australia won 3-2 on aggregate and will play Honduras in an inter-continental playoff

Friday, 11 August 2017

Premier League preview 2017/18: Can Chelsea defend the title successfully?


ARSENAL The Gunners - Emirates Stadium - @Arsenal
Last season 5th ▪️ FA Cup Winners ▪️ League Cup Quarter finals ▪️ Champions League Last 16
Last major trophy FA Cup 2017 ▪️ Premier League seasons 26
Manager
Arsène Wenger (since October 1996)
Players In Sead Kolasinac, Alexandre Lacazette
Players Out Yaya Sanogo, Wojciech Szczesny
So, it finally happened. For the first time in 20 years under Arsène Wenger, Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League. Worse still, the Gunners also finished below north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur for the first time since 1995. That appeared as if it was going to be enough to bring the Wenger era to an end but a customary late rally included a third FA Cup Final win in four seasons, and the Frenchman subsequently signed a two-year extension. For some fans, the damage has already been done and Wenger's position remains untenable. Others are more charitable - but, despite the big money arrival of striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon, Arsenal simply lack enough quality overall to become serious title challengers once again.
Prediction: 5th

AFC BOURNEMOUTH The Cherries - Dean Court - @afcbournemouth
Last season 9th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy None ▪️ Premier League seasons 3
Manager Eddie Howe (since October 2012)

Players In Nathan Ake, Asmir Begovic, Jermain Defoe, Connor Mahoney, Frankie Vincent
Players Out None
This remarkable south coast odyssey continued last season as Bournemouth outscored Manchester United and finished inside the top half of the Premier League. The Cherries remained true to their attack-first style which has served them so well in recent years, and their approach was summed up perfectly by their 4-3 win against Liverpool at Dean Court in December. At the other end of the pitch, things were not so clever as Eddie Howe's men shipped 67 goals for the second season in a row. Experienced goalkeeper Asmir Begovic should help out in this regard while centre back Nathan Ake has now been taken on permanently. Of course, the main focus will still be in attack where - 16 years on from his previous appearance at the club - Jermain Defoe will line up alongside the impressive Joshua King.
Prediction: 11th 

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION The Seagulls - Falmer Stadium - @OfficialBHAFC
Last season 2nd (promoted) ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy None ▪️ Premier League seasons 1
Manager Chris Hughton (since December 2014)
Players In Paschal Gross, Mathew Ryan, Markus Suttner, Mathias Normann, Steven Alzate, Ales Mateju, Davy Propper, Soufyan Ahannach, Josh Kerr, Izzy Brown
Players Out Chris O'Grady, David Stockdale, Elvis Manu, Rob Hunt
Last season, Brighton reached the top flight for the first time since 1983 with a points total (93) which would have often been enough to win the Championship. Indeed, the Seagulls themselves probably should have won the title - but Chris Hughton's men uncharacteristically took their eye off the ball and, by taking only one point out of their last three games, allowed Newcastle United to steal in. The giveaway tempered the celebrations in East Sussex somewhat and, subsequently, the incomings this summer have done little to allay fears that Brighton simply will not have enough quality up front for the top level. At least, in manager Hughton though, they have someone used to the stresses of battling at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Prediction: 17th

BURNLEY The Clarets - Turf Moor - @BurnleyOfficial
Last season 16th ▪️ FA Cup Fifth round ▪️ League Cup Second round
Last major trophy First Division 1959-60 ▪️ Premier League seasons 4
Manager Sean Dyche (since October 2012)

Players In Charlie Taylor, Jonathan Walters, Jack Cork, Phil Bardsley, Adam Legzdins
Players Out Joey Barton, Michael Kightly, George Boyd, Michael Keane, Rouwen Hennings, Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, Andre Gray
Burnley avoided immediate relegation for the first time in the Premier League era last season, mainly on the strength of their form at Turf Moor where they took 33 of their 40 points. By contrast, the Clarets struggled badly on the road, winning just once - at Crystal Palace in April - and, at one stage, lost seven consecutive away games. Yet more travel sickness this season can only result in one outcome as it hardly seems reasonable to expect that such outstanding home form will be maintained, especially following the loss of their best player, Michael Keane, to Everton. Manager Sean Dyche will once again attempt to extract a level of performance from his team which is greater than the sum of its parts - but, even still, this might not be enough.
Prediction: 19th

CHELSEA The Blues - Stamford Bridge - @ChelseaFC
Last season Winners ▪️ FA Cup Runners-up ▪️ League Cup Fourth round
Last major trophy Premier League 2016-17 ▪️ Premier League seasons 26
Manager Antonio Conte (since July 2016)

Players In Willy Caballero, Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata
Players Out Asmir Begovic, Dominic Solanke, Juan Cuadrado, Christian Atsu, Bertrand Traore, Nathan Ake, John Terry, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nemanja Matic, Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kurt Zouma, Izzy Brown, Kasey Palmer
Chelsea stormed their way to a sixth English league title in May, and a fifth of the Premier League era, with a points total (93) bettered only by themselves in 2004-05. Italian coach Antonio Conte switched to a three-man defence and, with N'Golo Kante offering protection in midfield, the likes of Willian, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses supported Diego Costa as his goals fired the Blues to glory. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Costa now no longer wants to play ball and is holding out for a move elsewhere. Big signing Alvaro Morata has come in from Real Madrid as Costa's replacement - but he may take time to adapt to the league - and the squad as a whole could easily be distracted by the Champions League, which is back on the agenda. So, while Chelsea undoubtedly have the tools to become the first team this decade to defend their title successfully, it is no sure thing.
Prediction: 2nd

CRYSTAL PALACE The Eagles - Selhurst Park - @CPFC
Last season 14th ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy None ▪️ Premier League seasons 9
Manager Frank de Boer (since June 2017)

Players In Jairo Riedewald, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Timothy Fosu-Mensah
Players Out Kwesi Appiah, Fraizer Campbell, Mathieu Flamini, Zeki Fryers, Joe Ledley, Steve Mandanda
Spot the odd one out: Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, Frank de Boer. Yes, after half a decade of old-school British bosses in the dugout at Selhurst Park, chairman Steve Parish has opted instead to go Dutch. De Boer arrives having won four league titles in his native Netherlands with Ajax and he will favour a classic possession-based game. Ruben Loftus-Cheek arrives on loan from Chelsea looking to convert his potential into something more - and, with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend on the wings and Christian Benteke up front, Crystal Palace should not struggle for goals, regardless of their style of play. But de Boer will also need to tighten up a defence which conceded 63 times - which was the most the Eagles' have conceded in a top-flight season since 1997-98.
Prediction: 13th

EVERTON The Toffees - Goodison Park - @Everton
Last season 7th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy FA Cup 1995 ▪️ Premier League seasons 26
Manager Ronald Koeman (since June 2016)

Players In Davy Klaassen, Henry Onyekuru, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Sandro Ramirez, Boris Mathis, Josh Bowler, Wayne Rooney, Cuco Martina
Players Out Romelu Lukaku, Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu, Arouna Kone, Conor McAleny, Aiden McGeady
Big-spending Everton have splurged more than £100m on seven players - and there could yet be more to come as manager Ronald Koeman sets about moulding his own squad after taking over last summer. The Toffees, nevertheless, remain in the black with significant funds from the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United further augmented by the departures of Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu. The question then that must be asked is if Everton are any closer to breaking into the top six as a result of this busy transfer window - and the answer, unfortunately for them, is probably not. A player like Lukaku is a rare beast indeed, and there will surely be occasions in this coming campaign that the Merseysiders miss his lethal finishing.
Prediction: 8th

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN The Terriers - John Smith's Stadium - @htafcdotcom
Last season 5th (promoted via playoffs) ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup First round
Last major trophy First Division 1925-26 ▪️ Premier League seasons 1 
Manager David Wagner (since November 2015)
Players In Elias Kachunga, Laurent Depoitre, Aaron Mooy, Tom Ince, Danny Williams, Steve Mounie, Scott Malone, Mathias Jorgensen, Jonas Lossl, Kasey Palmer
Players Out Flo Bajaj, Kyle Dempsey, Joe Murphy, Harry Bunn, Mark Hudson
Huddersfield Town created history in May by becoming the first ever team to be promoted to the English top flight with a negative goal difference - and anyone who had the misfortune of watching the playoff final will know that the squad, as it existed then, would need to be hugely improved. A defence - which conceded 58 goals in the Championship - will surely need more reinforcement than it has received to date - but, instead, the signing of winger Tom Ince rather typifies the Terriers' summer business. The jury out on whether the 25-year-old will ever make it at the top level and the same can only be said for Huddersfield as a whole. Of course, it is not unusual for the playoff winners to be tipped to go straight back down - but then these Terriers are probably the biggest Premier League underdogs since Blackpool in 2010-11.
Prediction: 20th

LEICESTER CITY The Foxes - King Power Stadium - @LCFC
Last season 12th ▪️ FA Cup Fifth round ▪️ League Cup Third round ▪️ Champions League Quarter finals
Last major trophy Premier League 2015-16 ▪️ Premier League seasons 12
Manager Craig Shakespeare (since February 2017)

Players In Harry Maguire, Vicente Iborra, Eldin Jakupovic, Kelechi Iheanacho, George Thomas
Players Out Marcin Wasilewski, Ron-Robert Zieler
After a league title win and a Champions League quarter final in the last two seasons, this campaign for Leicester City may seem rather dull by contrast. A steady midtable place should be expected as the Foxes readjust to life in the middle lane following a whirlwind period. Kelechi Iheanacho had a decent goal record at Manchester City, despite his limited opportunity at Eastlands, and his signing should ease the weight off Jamie Vardy's shoulders. Additionally, Harry Maguire and Vicente Iborra will go some way to freshening what turned into a creaky defence, with 63 league goals conceded in 2016-17.
Prediction: 10th

LIVERPOOL The Reds - Anfield - @LFC
Last season 4th ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup Semi finals
Last major trophy League Cup 2012 ▪️ Premier League seasons 26  
Manager Jürgen Klopp (since October 2015)
Players In Mohamed Salah, Dominic Solanke, Andrew Robertson
Players Out Andre Wisdom, Lucas Leiva, Kevin Stewart
Liverpool took advantage last season of a lack of midweek football to regain their place in the top four - but now manager Jürgen Klopp must defy a recent trend. Not since 2009 have the Reds finished in the top four in consecutive seasons - they followed their runners-up placing in 2009 with league finishes of 7th, 6th, 8th and 7th. Meanwhile, the runners-up place in 2014 was followed by 6th and 8th-placed finishes before last year. After five trophyless seasons at Anfield, there is also pressure on the German to bring in some sort of silverware - but, with most of their rivals around them having strengthened, Liverpool will have to prioritise once the injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.
Prediction: 6th 

MANCHESTER CITY The Blues - Etihad Stadium - @ManCity
Last season 3rd ▪️ FA Cup Semi finals ▪️ League Cup Fourth round ▪️ Champions League Last 16
Last major trophy League Cup 2016 ▪️ Premier League seasons 21 
Manager Pep Guardiola (since July 2016)
Players In Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Kyle Walker, Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Douglas Luiz, Uriel Antuna
Players Out Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Jesus Navas, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Bruno Zuculini, Nolito, Aleksandar Kolarov, Kelechi Iheanacho, Fernando, Aaron Mooy, Joe Hart
Pep Guardiola has sought to rectify the holes in his squad following a disappointing campaign in which Manchester City failed to feature in any finals and finished well off the pace in the title race. The Spanish boss identified the goalkeeping position and his defence as being in need of most repair following costly mistakes at the back throughout 2016-17 - and a £150m outlay on Ederson, Danilo, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker will surely lead to an improvement, even if the amount splashed on Walker in particular is eye-wateringly high. With attackers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus backed up by Kevin De Bruyne, an evergreen David Silva, and a maturing Leroy Sane, the Blues appear well-placed to make a full challenge this time.
Prediction: Champions 

MANCHESTER UNITED The Red Devils - Old Trafford - @ManUtd
Last season 6th ▪️ FA Cup Quarter finals ▪️ League Cup Winners ▪️ Europa League Winners
Last major trophy Europa League 2017 ▪️ Premier League seasons 26 
Manager José Mourinho (since May 2016)
Players In Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Victor Lindelof
Players Out Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Josh Harrop, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Timothy Fosu-Mensah
Manchester United made a return to the winners' enclosure last season with victory in the finals of the League Cup and the Europa League. Additionally, the Red Devils' enjoyed an unbeaten league run of 25 games from October to April - but no fewer than 10 draws at home undermined their challenge for the top four, and eventually Mourinho favoured the Europa League route as a way of getting back into the Champions League. This term, the Old Trafford faithful will expect far more from their side in the Premier League - and Mourinho cannot say that he has not been backed. Big signing Romelu Lukaku provides a longer term solution up front than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the arrival of Nemanja Matic could prove just as important if it allows Paul Pogba to play further forward and with more freedom.
Prediction: 3rd 

NEWCASTLE UNITED The Magpies - St James Park - @NUFC
Last season 1st (promoted) ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup Quarter finals
Last major trophy Fairs Cup 1969 ▪️ Premier League seasons 23 
Manager Rafael Benítez (since March 2016)
Players In Christian Atsu, Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, Javier Manquillo, Mikel Merino
Players Out Kevin Mbabu, Lubo Satka, Florian Thauvin, Haris Vuckic, Vurnon Anita, Sammy Ameobi, Yoan Gouffran, Daryl Murphy
The Rafalution at St James Park truly took flight last season as Newcastle United overcame an early wobble and an April wobble to win the league title in dramatic fashion on the final day. The signings of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie from Premier League clubs were as vital as they were unlikely if Rafael Benítez had decided to leave following relegation at the end of 2015-16 - and the successful Spaniard is understandably the Magpies' most popular manager in years. However, this summer, the former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss has expressed his frustration at the club's transfer dealings - and there is undoubtedly a lack of Premier League experience throughout the squad. The belief on Tyneside, though, is that, as long as Benítez remains in the post, he will be able to cajole enough from this group of players to ensure a safe enough first season back in the Premier League.
Prediction: 14th

SOUTHAMPTON The Saints - St Mary's Stadium - @SouthamptonFC
Last season 8th ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup Runners-up ▪️ Europa League Group stage
Last major trophy FA Cup 1976 ▪️ Premier League seasons 19 
Manager Mauricio Pellegrino (since June 2017)
Players In Jan Bednarek, Mario Lemina
Players Out Jay Rodriguez, Cuco Martina, Martin Caceres
Southampton finished in the top eight for a fourth successive season - and reached the League Cup Final - but that was still not enough to save Claude Puel from the sack. A strange decision on the surface but Saints fans can point to a series of turgid displays, with only 17 goals scored in their 19 home league games. Unfortunately for new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, the summer has been dominated by the demands of wantaway defender Virgil van Dijk, and the Dutchman will surely now move on to new pastures. However, the loss of a big player is nothing new for Southampton as a club - they have coped with worse before - and if Italian striker Manolo Gabbiadini picks up where he left off at the back end of last season, the south coast club will once again do more than just cope.
Prediction: 9th
 

STOKE CITY The Potters - bet365 Stadium - @stokecity
Last season 13th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy League Cup 1972 ▪️ Premier League seasons 10 
Manager Mark Hughes (since May 2013)
Players In Darren Fletcher, Josh Tymon, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Joe Bursik, Tre Pemberton, Kurt Zouma
Players Out Marko Arnautovic, Phil Bardsley, Glenn Whelan, Jonathan Walters, Shay Given, Daniel Bachmann
Stoke City suffered their worst season under Mark Hughes in 2016-17, dropping back to 13th, the equivalent of which was enough to see Tony Pulis moved on back in 2013. Never in serious trouble despite a slow start, the Potters' failure to push on in the second half of the campaign has left Hughes under pressure going into this term. Indeed, the Welshman is as short as 4/1 with some bookmakers to be the first manager to leave his post - and he was certainly not been helped by the decision of Marko Arnautovic to move to West Ham United. With only Darren Fletcher and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as major incoming signings so far, it might just be that - after almost a decade of midtable serenity - this is the year Stoke start to struggle.
Prediction: 15th

SWANSEA CITY The Swans - Liberty Stadium - @SwansOfficial
Last season 15th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Third round
Last major trophy League Cup 2013 ▪️ Premier League seasons
Manager Paul Clement (since January 2017)
Players In Erwin Mulder, Roque Mesa, Cian Harries, Tammy Abraham
Players Out Marvin Emnes, Bafetimbi Gomis, Gerhard Tremmel, Jack Cork, Modou Barrow
The suggestion that Swansea City fans are happy simply still just to be in the Premier League is surely no exaggeration after a traumatic last 12 months. The Swans looked as if they might go down even as late as April until 13 points out of the last 15 secured a final place of 15th which belied their earlier struggles. Manager Paul Clement can take much credit for the Swans' survival - the former Derby County manager tightened up a defence which had conceded 44 goals in the first half of the campaign - but the holes in the squad remain. Indeed, the situation could yet get worse if Gylfi Sigurdsson is lured elsewhere - and, while young striker Tammy Abraham - on loan from Chelsea - has potential, he may find it difficult to plough a lone furrow up front.
Prediction: 18th

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR Spurs - Wembley Stadium - @SpursOfficial
Last season Runners-up ▪️ FA Cup Semi finals ▪️ League Cup Fourth round ▪️ Champions League Group stage ▪️ Europa League Last 32
Last major trophy
League Cup 2008
▪️ Premier League seasons 26 
Manager Mauricio Pochettino (since May 2014)
Players In None
Players Out Kyle Walker, Federico Fazio, Clinton N'Jie, Filip Lesniak
It has been a quiet summer at Tottenham Hotspur as manager Mauricio Pochettino puts his trust firmly in the squad which took the club to their highest league finish since 1962-63. Last season was also the first time since 1964-65 that Spurs remained unbeaten at home throughout a campaign - and it was memorably their first finish above rivals Arsenal for 22 years. But this season looks tougher - due to the construction of their new ground, Spurs' home games have been moved to Wembley, a venue at which they have struggled. Meanwhile, the loss of Kyle Walker to Manchester City has been exacerbated by injury to his replacement Kieran Trippier. On the plus side, Harry Kane will ensure Pochettino's men continue to carry plenty of threat - and there are few centre-back partnerships in the Premier League as reliably solid as Belgian pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
Prediction: 4th 

WATFORD The Hornets - Vicarage Road - @WatfordFC
Last season 17th ▪️ FA Cup Fourth round ▪️ League Cup Second round
Last major trophy None ▪️ Premier League seasons 5
Manager Marco Silva (since May 2017)

Players In Daniel Bachmann, Tom Cleverley, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Richarlison, Andre Grey
Players Out Mathias Ranegie, Mario Suarez, Steven Berghuis, Juan Carlos Paredes, Rene Gilmartin
Another season, another new manager - Portuguese Mario Silva became Watford's eighth boss since the Italian Pozzo family took over in 2012 when he joined in May. Not that the regular changes have done the Hertfordshire club too much harm - a third successive year in the top flight was secured in early April - although late-season performances then left previous manager Walter Mazzarri with an increasingly disenchanted squad and nowhere to turn. Silva himself, of course, arrived in English football only in January, making an ultimately failed attempt at keeping Hull City in the Premier League. That experience, though, should at least prepare him for what could be another tough next 10 months at Vicarage Road.
Prediction: 16th

WEST BROMWICH ALBION The Baggies - The Hawthorns - @WBA
Last season 10th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Second round
Last major trophy FA Cup 1968 ▪️ Premier League seasons 12 
Manager Tony Pulis (since January 2015)
Players In Jay Rodriguez, Zhang Yuning, Ahmed Hegazy
Players Out Darren Fletcher
West Bromwich Albion begin an eighth-successive top-flight season, the Baggies' best run since the late 1970s and early 1980s - but the fact remains that they have never won more than 50 points in a single Premier League campaign. It looked for certain as if that duck was going to be broken last time out - but, having reached 40 points in February, Tony Pulis' men left for the beach and took only five points out of their last 36. In fact, West Brom lost seven out of their last eight and so carry no momentum into the new season. Regardless, Pulis will set his team up, as he always does - to survive and pinch a goal from a set-piece, an area in which they undoubtedly excel. While it is not pretty, it is effective - and should ensure West Brom celebrate a ninth-successive top-flight season next summer.
Prediction: 12th

WEST HAM UNITED The Hammers - London Stadium - @WestHamUtd
Last season 11th ▪️ FA Cup Third round ▪️ League Cup Quarter finals ▪️ Europa League Playoff
Last major trophy FA Cup 1980
▪️ Premier League seasons 22
Manager
Slaven Bilić (since June 2015)
Players In Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, Pablo Zabaleta, Anouar El Mhassani, Sead Haksabanovic, Joe Hart
Players Out Alvaro Arbeloa, Havard Nordtveit, Enner Valencia, Darren Randolph, Ashley Fletcher
Moving house is never easy - but, for West Ham United, last season was especially tough. It would be fair to say that many supporters are still not comfortable in their surroundings at the London Stadium - and the fact that the Hammers start this term with three away games because the arena is being used for athletics reinforces the belief that the arena is simply not suited for football. Slaven Bilić's men may be playing catch up then - but the Croatian boss, who is in need of a good season, appears to have recruited well. Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic will add bite to an attack which was previously far too reliant on Andre Ayew and the oft-injured Andy Carroll. Meanwhile, further solid Premier League experience has been recruited as former Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta is reunited with the on-loan Joe Hart.
Prediction: 7th

All information correct at time of publication. Players In includes all first-team incoming permanent and loan moves. Players Out includes all first-team outgoing permanent moves and loans to other Premier League teams.

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