bettingexpert's Club By Club Premier League Preview - The Midtable

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Which "midtable" club may surprise this season? Which may fall into relegation contention? Today Michael Cox continues our Premier League club by club preview.

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Everton

Realistically, no-one is entirely sure how talented Roberto Martinez is. He certainly has many qualities, having demonstrated an ability to get unheralded footballers playing positive, proactive passing football, and the FA Cup victory over Manchester City shows that, on his day, he can be an excellent tactician.

It remains to be seen how he adjusts to coaching a side with grander expectations, however, and whether the tactical tricks from his Wigan days – when it sometimes felt like he said ‘Let’s be different for the sake of it, we’ve got nothing to lose’ transfer successfully to more skilful players.

That said, Everton might be the perfect side for Martinez. Reports from pre-season friendlies suggest Everton have smoothly switched between a back four and a back three within games – with John Heitinga dropping into the defence, and Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines motoring forward to become rampaging wing-backs. With Arouna Kone set to bring goals upfront, and plenty of players connecting him and the midfield, Everton could be excellent this season. Martinez clearly wants a more adventurous style of football than David Moyes, but the focus upon width should be retained.

Last Word

Much depends on the future of two players Moyes wants to take to Old Trafford – Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian might not be a significant loss if Martinez wants to play 3-4-3, since Leon Osman and Darron Gibson could play the midfield roles without any major problems – but Baines was the most prolific chance creator in Europe last season, and his departure would be a huge blow. Can Martinez replace them, having previously depended upon recruiting relative unknowns from Spain, South America and Scotland? Everton need a different class of player, and Martinez’s project may take time.

Everton Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesWilliamHillBetVictor
To Win Premier League 251.00 301.00 501.00 501.00 201.00
Top 4 Finish 21.00 23.00 17.00 21.00 21.00
Top 10 Finish 1.25 1.20 1.20 1.14 1.12
To Be Relegated 29.00 26.00 34.00 25.00 26.00
To Win FA Cup 21.00 21.00 21.00 21.00 21.00
To Win League Cup 21.00 21.00 15.00 17.00 17.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

Newcastle

Alan Pardew is now the second-longest serving manager in the Premier League – and if that level of stability is hugely surprising for a club like Newcastle United, you can rest assured that he starts the new campaign as the favourite to be the first manager dismissed. The arrival of Joe Kinnear was clearly unhelpful in a number of ways, and has contributed to Pardew’s precarious position – but it shouldn’t obscure the simple fact that Pardew hugely underachieved last season. Certainly, there were significant problems with playing in the Europa League throughout much of the campaign – a situation neither Newcastle nor Pardew are particularly accustomed to – but it didn’t adequately explain why such a strong squad finished in 16th place.

Newcastle’s excellent recruitment over the past few years has created a genuinely excellent first XI on paper, and while reliable squad men like Danny Simpson, Steve Harper and James Perch have departed, there’s no reason for Newcastle to be languishing in the bottom half of the table for a second consecutive season.

It’s worth pointing out that players like Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Vurnon Anita, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoann Gouffran weren’t even in Newcastle’s most-used starting XI last season, for various reasons. They’re all genuinely top-class footballers, and should Pardew manage to get the best out of these individuals, Newcastle could challenge for a European place once again – although, considering last season’s Europa League struggles, it’s a questionable objective.

Last Word

There’s an overriding fear about the lack of cohesion at the club, however, both on and off the pitch. Aside from Loic Remy, the signings have dried up – but perhaps Pardew simply needs a settled, familiar squad, and to concentrate on getting them into shape.

Newcastle Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365BetfredLadbrokesWilliamHillPaddy Power
To Win Premier League 1001.00 751.00 1501.00 1501.00 1001.00
Top 4 Finish 51.00 81.00 101.00 51.00 41.00
Top 10 Finish 2.38 2.38 2.50 2.25 2.25
To Be Relegated 9.50 9.00 10.00 10.00 10.00
To Win FA Cup 41.00 26.00 26.00 51.00 34.00
To Win League Cup 41.00 21.00 21.00 26.00 26.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

Southampton

The controversial mid-season decision to replace Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino proved ultimately successful, although Southampton were broadly on the right course even before the managerial switch. Still, Pochettino seems more of a visionary than Adkins – someone who can put Southampton on the right track to becoming a truly established Premier League side once again.

However, there’s a concern about whether the intense pressing seen in the second half of the previous campaign can be sustained over 38 games, especially as Southampton don’t have a particularly large squad. Their home record last season was peculiar – they lost to three of the bottom four, yet beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Clearly, the first part of that record needs to change, especially as the victories against top sides probably won’t be repeated.

Their two major signings indicate ambition but might not be particularly shrewd moves. Dejan Lovren is a Croatian international and excellent on his day, yet his form over the past 18 months has been shaky and he might struggle with a high defensive line. Victor Wanyama is more likely to be a success in the centre of midfield, although it’s always difficult for a young Premier League newcomer to have an immediate impact unless the rest of the side is functioning well. Besides, Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin was one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League last season, so it would be a shame if his role was compromised.

Last Word

There’s no reason to suggest Southampton have anything to fear from this campaign, however, and a top ten finish is achievable. With Pochettino’s Bielsaesque approach of pressing and a high defensive line, they may be one of the more unpredictable Premier League sides, mixing great attacking performances with dodgy defensive displays.

Southampton Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesStan JamesBetVictor
To Win Premier League 2001.00 1501.00 2001.00 1501.00 1501.00
Top 4 Finish 81.00 151.00 101.00 151.00 101.00
Top 10 Finish 2.50 2.50 2.75 2.63 2.38
To Be Relegated 8.00 9.00 8.00 8.00 10.00
To Win FA Cup 51.00 51.00 41.00 51.00 51.00
To Win League Cup 51.00 41.00 34.00 41.00 41.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

West Ham

Aside from the top seven, the Premier League is becoming increasingly tight – last season, just 13 points separated 8th from 18th, the difference between a European charge and relegation. Therefore, almost every club in the 2013/14 Premier League has a decent chance of (a) qualifying for the Champions League, or (b) suffering relegation to the Championship.

One of the few clubs who stand little chance of finishing inside the top four, or the bottom three, is West Ham United. Sam Allardyce’s side started excellently last season, and were never realistically involved in the relegation dogfight.

Their major transfer business has been securing the permanent signing of Andy Carroll – a classic Allardyce striker who challenges for aerial balls, knocks the ball down for oncoming midfielders, and occasionally contributes goals himself. A stellar season from West Ham’s number nine is the best chance of them exceeding expectations – one suspects the board would be entirely happy with another tenth-placed finish, but Allardyce finished in 8th, 6th, 8th and 7th during his final four seasons at Bolton, proving his methods can produce even better results.

Razvan Rat has the potential to be one of the summer’s most astute purchases – the Romanian left-back was occasionally excellent at Shakhtar Donetsk, and assuming he still has the drive and motivation to finally prove himself in a genuinely top league at the age of 32, he should provide energy down the flank.

Last Word

There might be further activity from Allardyce this summer – he’s been known to successfully recruit out-of-contract, top-class internationals on short-term deals – but it will change little. An upper-midtable finish seems a certainty, and while it won’t be the most exciting campaign in West Ham’s history, many other clubs would settle for a ‘boring’ top-half finish.

West Ham Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesBetfredBetVictor
To Win Premier League 2001.00 2001.00 2001.00 2001.00 3001.00
Top 4 Finish 101.00 151.00 101.00 151.00 126.00
Top 10 Finish 2.75 3.10 2.75 3.25 3.50
To Be Relegated 9.00 9.00 8.00 7.00 11.00
To Win FA Cup 29.00 51.00 34.00 41.00 51.00
To Win League Cup 41.00 51.00 29.00 34.00 41.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

West Brom

Steve Clarke’s side will unquestionably miss the goalscoring of Romelu Lukaku, who found the net more regularly – in terms of minutes – than any other striker in the Premier League last summer. Yet even West Brom were surprised at how good the Belgian was, and for long periods they were content to use him as a supersub, with Shane Long the primary striker.

Although Lukaku eventually established himself as first choice, Long’s quality shouldn’t be underestimated. A hard-working but clinical striker, he should be assisted ably by Nicolas Anelka – the Frenchman has generally been used upfront as the main forward throughout his career, but has frequently stated his preference for playing as a number ten.

West Brom’s real strength is down the spine – the hugely underrated Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson form a reliable centre-back partnership, while Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu aren’t far away from being the Premier League’s best central midfield pairing, given injury problems and failed transfer targets at wealthier clubs.

The departures of Gonzalo Jara, Jerome Thomas, Zoltan Gera and Marc-Antoine Fortune have furthered the Baggies’ two major problems – a lack of genuine quality down the flanks, and a relatively weak squad. Anelka in for Lukaku is an acceptable ‘trade’, but otherwise Clarke has lost quality without any replacements, and further strengthening is needed before the end of the transfer window. Uruguayan centre-back Diego Lugano is world-class on his day, but endured a horrendous 2012/13.

Last Word

Expect Clarke to continue playing patiently and methodically. West Brom generally start matches defensively in two strict banks of four, before opening out and using the bench well, although Clarke needs more options to ensure West Brom aren’t dragged into a relegation scrap.

West Brom Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesWilliamHillBetVictor
To Win Premier League 1501.00 1501.00 2001.00 2001.00 1501.00
Top 4 Finish 101.00 151.00 101.00 101.00 101.00
Top 10 Finish 2.50 2.62 2.50 2.62 2.38
To Be Relegated 8.00 9.00 8.00 8.00 10.00
To Win FA Cup 34.00 51.00 34.00 51.00 51.00
To Win League Cup 51.00 67.00 34.00 34.00 41.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

Aston Villa

Paul Lambert’s debut campaign at Aston Villa was fascinating. Taking over from the hapless, hated Alex McLeish, Lambert clearly wanted to build for the future – he ignored a variety of experienced but declining regulars, and put his faith in youth. Young squad members became first-team regulars, youth team players were promoted to back-ups, and the lower leagues were plundered for talented raw footballers.

Clearly, it meant a period of difficulty while the squad adapted – and in truth, Villa struggled far more than Lambert expected, at one stage being odds-on for relegation. But the project eventually worked, and now that transition period is out of the way, and last season’s rookies now have a season of experience under their belts, Villa should shine this season.

Christian Benteke was crucial to Villa’s survival, and the renewal of his contract is Lambert’s most significant business of the summer. Certainly, there have been Premier League newcomers who have suffered from personal ‘second season syndrome’ – from Kevin Philipps to Benni McCarthy – but there’s no reason to suspect the Belgian striker will have similar problems. Premier League defences quickly became aware of his qualities last season, but discovered they simply lacked the physical capabilities to stop him.

Having previously favoured the lower leagues for new signings, Lambert’s recruitment of Bulgarian Aleksandar Tonev, Denmark’s Jores Okore and Nicklas Helenius, Dutchman Leandro Bacuna and Spaniard Antonio Luna demonstrates he can look abroad for young talent, and there’s been a particular emphasis upon strengthening the flanks. With Benteke waiting in the middle for crosses, that makes sense.

Last Word

Again, Villa may suffer from Lambert putting so much faith in youth – but this should be a gentle, steady season resulting in a midtable finish.

Aston Villa Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesBetfredPaddy Power
To Win Premier League 2001.00 2001.00 2001.00 1001.00 2001.00
Top 4 Finish 126.00 151.00 151.00 126.00 126.00
Top 10 Finish 2.88 2.88 2.50 2.88 3.00
To Be Relegated 8.00 8.00 9.00 7.00 6.00
To Win FA Cup 51.00 51.00 34.00 34.00 51.00
To Win League Cup 34.00 41.00 29.00 26.00 41.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

Swansea

Whereas Swansea lost manager Brendan Rodgers, midfielder Joe Allen and winger Scott Sinclair last season and were forced to reinvest money to maintain their midtable status, this summer has been exclusively about improving the side. There have been no significant departures, manager Michael Laudrup has remained despite incessant speculation about his future, and with European football at the Liberty Stadium for the first time, there’s every reason for Swansea to feel positive.

Their recruitment, too, has been excellent. £12m signing Wilfried Bony was superb in his final season with Vitesse Arnhem, scoring 31 goals in 30 appearances, and was understandably linked with clubs with far more resources than Swansea. Elsewhere, Jordi Amat could form a reliable partnership with Chico, Alejandro Puzuelo is raw but boasts great technical quality, and Jose Canas is a typically calm, disciplined Spanish central midfielder. It’s unlikely that Michu will replicate his amazing goalscoring tally from last season – his shot conversion rate is simply unsustainable – but he might form a great partnership with Bony, whose raw pace should allow Michu to play a deeper role based around link-up play.

Last Word

The major concern is the Europa League – Swansea aren’t used to the demands of European football, and the impact upon fitness levels and the lack of time to prepare for weekend fixtures has proved problematic for other clubs. With most newcomers accustomed to a mid-season winter break, that could mean Swansea suffer late in the campaign – and while it’s difficult to see them being drawn into a relegation battle, this could hamper their chances of a third consecutive top ten finish.

Swansea Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetBetfredWilliamHillStan James
To Win Premier League 1501.00 1501.00 1501.00 2501.00 1001.00
Top 4 Finish 101.00 151.00 151.00 67.00 101.00
Top 10 Finish 2.75 3.00 3.00 2.75 2.25
To Be Relegated 7.50 8.00 7.00 8.00 9.00
To Win FA Cup 34.00 51.00 34.00 51.00 34.00
To Win League Cup 41.00 41.00 26.00 26.00 34.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

Fulham

Fulham are rarely involved in high-profile stories within the football season, let alone in the summer break – so it was something of a novelty to see them in the headlines thanks to Shahid Kahn’s takeover.

For now, the impact of the change in ownership has been negligible, and Fulham’s transfer business has been understated. Mark Schwarzer and Chris Baird have departed – both played important roles at the club, but weren’t unexpected departures – while the signing of three experienced internationals in Maarten Stekelenburg, Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta won’t have a major impact upon the way Martin Jol’s side plays.

Stekelenburg is the best signing of the three – a World Cup finalist three years ago and a minor upgrade on the ageing Schwarzer, he’s a confident, reliable goalkeeper. Amorebieta is an excellent defender on his day, but far too hasty with his decision-making, and forever in trouble with referees. One of the peculiar aspects of Jol’s reign has been his preferences at centre-back – the underrated Aaron Hughes has often been omitted, which has made Brede Hangeland (who needs Hughes sweeping up behind him) less effective. A combination of Hangeland and Amorebieta will be fierce, but rather prone to pace and trickery. Boateng, meanwhile, is a decent all-rounder but nothing more.

Last Word

It will be more of the same from Fulham – two disciplined banks of four keeping their shape and languid, sporadic brilliance upfront. Dimitar Berbatov had a highly successful first season at Craven Cottage, inevitably attracting praise for his wonderful touch, but also scoring consistently. Bryan Ruiz, who plays just behind, offers further guile, while the arrival of Adel Taarabt gives Fulham yet more creativity – at the expense of defensive discipline. The exciting attacking talents should receive much praise, but this should be another quiet, understated season for Jol’s side.

Fulham Odds For 2013/2014

 bet365SkybetLadbrokesBetfredBetVictor
To Win Premier League 2001.00 2001.00 3001.00 2001.00 3001.00
Top 4 Finish 126.00 201.00 201.00 151.00 151.00
Top 10 Finish 3.50 3.50 3.75 3.75 3.50
To Be Relegated 7.50 7.00 5.00 6.00 9.00
To Win FA Cup 51.00 51.00 41.00 41.00 51.00
To Win League Cup 51.00 41.00 29.00 34.00 34.00

Odds as at 8th August 2013.

 

Read part 1 and part 3 of Michael's club by club Premier League preview.

 

 

Follow Michael on Twitter: @Zonal_Marking

And read more of his work at ZonalMarking.net

A firm believer in traditional shirt numbers. I also write for ESPN, The Guardian, FourFourTwo & others.