Ongoing English Premiership 2007-08 Preview

Teams 1 through 10 will come this week, please argue, discuss, criticize…and welcome to Center Holds It!

11. West Ham United (15)

With the Carlos Tevez transfer saga now firmly behind them, the Hammers need to turn their sights inwards to make sure they keep the locker-room cancer that is Craig Bellamy from spreading his disease. If he plays by the front office’s rules, it could be a good year for Bellamy. If not, expect one and done – just like Liverpool. New faces include Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg who was cast aside after a year chock full of injury. Scott Parker joins from Newcastle where he enjoyed possibly the most successful unsuccessful anyone could. The most important new face, however, is Dean Ashton who returns from a season-long injury and looks to make his presence known immediately. Rumors are swirling about who will next step foot in at Upton Park and they include Eidur Gudjohnsen who is itching to move back to the Prem as well as Kieron Dyer, whose offer was scrapped today. Without Tevez – believe it or not – I think this team will jell. With Ashton and Bellamy in front and Bobby Zamora in tow, you should see scoring production but another quality defender could help. Expect middle of the road for last year’s underperformer of the season.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Freddie Ljungberg, as many are wondering does he have the gas in his tank to, along with Scott Parker, lead this team to something other than a relegation battle. If Ljungberg is healthy and on point, you could see a Hammer turn-around with the possibility of European competition looming.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Robert Green
LB: Jonathan Spector (Julian Faubert might have started if he wasn’t sidelined)
CB: Anton Ferdinand
CB: Matthew Upson
RB: Lucas Neill
LM: Luis Boa Morte
CM: Scott Parker
CM: Lee Bowyer
RM: Freddie Ljungberg
ST: Dean Ashton (back from injury)
ST: Craig Bellamy

12. Everton (6)
I would have put them higher up, but injury always hits this squad. No changes in injury luck this year as Tim Cahill has just been ruled out for the start of the season. If the physios do their job and luck is on David Moyes’ side and Mikel Arteta can cover for an injured Cahill, Everton could possibly repeat last year’s ambitious 6th place, European competition run. If Andy Johnson stays healthy though, there won’t much to keep the Toffees from decent offensive production. The rest of the striker corps is young and untested, especially since James Beattie was bought by Sheffield United. It consists of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan, who could be injured for the start of the season. Expect Anichebe to do well as his time increases, but unless they make more purchases for depth reasons, I can’t really see Everton making much of a splash this year. Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott certainly hope to make that last statement false as their defensive work alone last year attracted a lot of attention from Premiership sides and clubs abroad with deep-pockets. Tim Howard will hope that Phil Jagielka’s acquisition from Sheffield United will provide cover on the flanks, as the former Blade is capable of playing pretty much every position on the field – including goalkeeper.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Andy Johnson, the team’s performance hinges on Johnson’s health because when he is on the field, you can expect a goal or two. It’s been that way since his first Premiership run-in with Crystal Palace. Truth is, AJ is pretty young and, if his body doesn’t fail him, we could have competition for Drogba at the top of the scoring charts.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Tim Howard
LB: Phil Neville
CB: Joseph Yobo
CB: Joleon Lescott
RB: Phil Jagielka
LM: Manuel Fernandes
CM: Tim Cahill (with the injury expect Lee Carsley)
CM: Leon Osman
RM: Mikel Arteta
ST: Andrew Johnson
ST: Victor Anichebe (if James Beattie goes like he’s rumored to)

13. Fulham (16)

The three Americans are, believe it or not, the key to this team’s fate this year. If Clint Dempsey progresses and becomes the kind of attacking creative force that Lawrie Sanchez wants, if Brian McBride, defying age, keeps finding the net, and if Carlos Bocanegra keeps providing defensive and offensive support – this team could sit higher than 13th. Papa Bouba Diop will be healthy and that is a huge returning piece for the Cottager midfield. The biggest question mark is Lawrie Sanchez’s new signings as they are numerous and many can’t seem to see where they’ll fit in. Paul Konchesky from Charlton, Adrian Leijer from the A-League’s Melbourne Victory, Chris Baird from Southampton, Lee Cook from the Queens Park Rangers, and David Healy from Leeds United are just some of the ‘can they convert to Premiership soccer form’ captures or will they revert to Championship side soccer? On top of that, quite possibly, before this weekend is up, you could be seeing Watford’s young’un Hamuer Bouazza and Reading’s Korean winger Seol Ki-Hyeon in a Fulham uniform. The key though is depth and if the signings prove to be effective, the Cottagers won’t be European competition contenders but they will revel in the fact that they won’t need to fight, tooth and nail, for survival.
CHI’s Play to Watch: Moritz Volz, the German right-back has been coming of age at Craven Cottage and, still young, he looks to keep the push of progress going forward as his eye is on a German call-up at some point.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Antti Niemi
LB: Carlos Bocanegra (could potentially play in a defensive midfielder’s role)
CB: Zatyiah Knight
CB: Paul Konchesky
RB: Moritz Volz
LM: Stephen Davis
CM: Papa Bouba Diop
CM: Simon Davies or Alexei Smertin
RM: Clint Dempsey (until Jimmy Bullard comes back from injury or another signing announced)
ST: Brian McBride
ST: Diomansy Kamara

14. Birmingham City (-)

It’s either young, talented 21-year old Colin Doyle or 35-year old veteran Maik Taylor in goal for the Blues as they try and keep the momentum going. Why are they staying up? To be honest, most of it is just a hunch. You’re going to find that striker Garry O’Connor, rescued from the Russian tundra (not really tundra…but Russia yes), will prove to be a quality striker within the Premiership. He could potentially start over the much more seasoned and former Coventry City targetman Gary McSheffrey, who’s a hard worker through and through. All in all, their best money has been spent in the back with Franck Queudrue coming from Fulham, Liam Ridgewell from Aston Villa, and Stuart Parnaby from Middlesbrough. All three were fringe players that got little opportunity at their former clubs, but could greatly influence the outcome of each close game that the Blues play. Two stars in the making highlight the line-up, both former Arsenal young’uns (seems like everyone is). They are Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba, who should transition his effect from Championship quality to Premiership quality rather smoothly. Look for Birmingham to be the Reading of last season.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Fabrice Muamba, will also look to make sure that the money that Birmingham spent for him does not go to waste. He has been a standout at every level and will look to make that so in the Premiership. He’s got a keen eye for the flow of a match as well as creativity, which is something – except for maybe Aaron Lennon – that the English youth squads lack.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Colin Doyle
LB: Franck Queudrue (new signing from Fulham)
CB: Liam Ridgewell (new signing from Aston Villa)
CB: Stuart Parnaby
RB: Stephen Kelly
LM: Fabrice Muamba
CM: Olivier Kapo
CM: Sebastian Larsson
RM: Mehdi Nafti
ST: Cameron Jerome
ST: Gary McSheffrey

15. Reading (8)

The Royals had an extremely successful first Premiership campaign, but is a sophomore slump on the way? I think if they finish mid-table this year, then that’s a respectable follow-up to last year’s surprise season. Things that help: Bobby Convey is back from injury and slowly regaining form with limited time in the preseason friendlies. Leroy Lita had a fantastic showing at the Euro U-21 Championship and has turned some heads recently. New signing Khalifa Cisse has been backed for good things as he comes over from the Portuguese SuperLiga. Andre Bikey, the strong and aggressive center back, returns on a permanent basis. Shane Long, Kevin Doyle and Dave Kitson all played above their supposed potentials last year and, if producing, could make Steve Coppell’s job a bit easier. The negatives though: Steve Sidwell has moved on to Chelsea – a surprising destination but certainly not the fact that he is moving on. He felt his talent was too big for the club. Marcus Hahnemannfor now is injured and could miss the beginning of the season. The Royal talent pool is thin and finances are certainly hard to come by. Most importantly, though, when on the field last year – Reading’s most influential player was Korean Soel Ki-Hyoen who has been ostracized to the point of fresh transfer bids rolling in for the hard-working wing midfielder possible move to Fulham). If injuries don’t hit the club, a mid-table finish will be sufficient – but if the wheels even threaten to come off the wagon, relegation is a possibility. A recent Nantes recruit, Emerse Fae could be a vital part of that midfield as James Harperand Shane Long would most likely not cut it.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Bobby Convey, if he can stay healthy and he gets a chance to overthrow Shane Long on the left the Philadelphia native can help shock the Royals’ offense into prolific action.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2
GK: Marcus Hahnemann
LB: Nicky Shorey
CB: Michael Duberry
CB: Ibrahima Sonko
RB: Andre Bikey
LM: Seol Ki-Hyeon
CM: James Harper
CM: Emerse Fae (new $5 million signing from Nantes)
RM: Khalifa Cisse
ST: Kevin Doyle
ST: Leroy Lita

16. Bolton (7)

The Wanderers are due for a bad year, although their consistency keeps proving everyone wrong. Yet ever season they prove a middle of the table stalwart, but with Nicolas Anelka in transfer limbo, El-Hadji Diouf always in some sort of a limbo, and a less than productive offseason, we could see some problems. Sammy Lee’s first full year at the helm will either be a resounding success or a threatening flirtation with relegation. The club has done well to hang on to Kevin Nolan while recruiting the services of Gavin McCann and J’Lloyd Samuel from Aston Villa and big striker Heidar Helguson from Fulham. The loss of Tal Ben-Haim in the back is crucial but Nicky Hunt looks to captain the modified back four to trusty service which now consists of one new face, Gerald Cid. Danny Guthrie joined on loan from Liverpool to inject even more youth into a roster that includes Cid, Dzemaili, and now Guthrie. The midfield looks to be Bolton’s strength as veteran Gary Speed leads Iranian Andranik Teymourian, Idan Tal, and Mikel Alonso joins on loan from Real Sociedad, If Anelka stays, another signing for the back reveals itself, and Sammy Lee can keep the ship afloat – Bolton can hit the middle of the table. I don’t think they’ll be 7th or above though.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Kevin Nolan, the 25-year old that has been the driving force behind the Wanderer’s for years, is due for a spot of attention. Look for a breakout year as his crunching tackles start to balance out with opportunities at goal.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Jussi Jaskaleinen
LB: J’Lloyd Samuel
CB: Adboulaye Meite
CB: Fitz Hall
RB: Nicky Hunt
LM: Ricardo Vaz Te (as Stelio Giannakopoulos is out until mid Sept)
CM: Gavin McCann
CM: Gary Speed
RM: Kevin Nolan
ST: Nicolas Anelka
ST: El-Hadji Diouf

17. Middlesbrough (12)

Gareth Southgate could not be any happier with how his offseason as gone (well of course he could, but in the financial terms that were given to him, he has done well). Former Real Madrid defender Jonathan Woodgate has decided to stay permanently, while crafty playmaker Sanli Tuncay has joined from Turkey. Those two alone could warrant a raise, but he also added little-used Arsenal forward Jeremie Aliadiere and dependable Charlton right-back and English international Luke Young. Why the murky outlook then? The loss of Mark Viduka to Newcastle is worse than you think, as it has unsettled fellow striker Yakubu and robbed Middlesbrough of a strong presence and target in the penalty box. Together, the two produced 26 goals – 14 for Viduka. If Sanli Tuncay starts at striker with Yakubu, who could just as well attack from the midfield, another partnership could form but Southgate could still just opt for a 4-5-1. Look for Lee Cattermole to keep developing and demand a spot in Southgate’s starting line-up.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Yakubu, how he responds will set the tone for the whole squad. Both extremes are possible: the Nigerian could find away to settle himself and hit for 20 or he could bail out and ask for a transfer come January. Either way, I don’t think Aliadiere will have much effect.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Mark Schwarzer
LB: Emmanuel Pogatetz
CB: Ronald Huth
CB: Jonathan Woodgate
RB: Luke Young
LM: Stuart Downing
CM: Lee Cattermole
CM: Fabio Rochemback
RM: Julio Arca
ST: Yakubu
ST: Sanli Tuncay

18. Wigan (17)

Wigan missed relegation by a hair last year and nothing has been done in the offseason to change the fact that it is a great possibility this year. They have managed to shake off some attention towards fullback Leighton Baines, but little has been done to match his ambitions. Big French target man Antoine Sibierski and Titus Bramble have joined up from Newcastle, Jason Koumas from West Brom, Michael Brown from midfield-rich Fulham, but there is very little in the way of goal production, unless one thinks that the aging Sibierski, Henri Camara, and Emile Heskey can still score at least 30 together. Doubt it. The only other hopes are that the midfield can help produce enough chances to grab a few and then sit back and defend. Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia is a lock to start that can attack and tackle, while Andreas Granqvist, who served a decent loan spell with Wigan last season, has joined permanently. Wigan Athletic and relatively new manager Chris Hutchings will join Sheff United (whom they squeaked by last year by 1 goal) down in the Championship.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Jason Koumas has been the attacking midfielder of the English Championship the past several years. He was finally joined a Premiership team and will be itching to prove himself. With 31 goals over the past 3 full seasons (as he sat one out with injury), Koumas could provide that attacking spark needed to support their striker contingent.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)
GK: Chris Kirkland
LB: Leighton Baines
CB: Andreas Granqvist
CB: Titus Bramble
RB: Mario Melchiot (as Ryan Taylor is out until October)
LM: Antonio Valencia
CM: Denny Landzaat
CM: Paul Scharner
RM: Jason Koumas
ST: Emile Heskey
ST: Henri Camara

19. Sunderland (-)
Roy Keane’s Premiership managerial debut looks to be a tumultuous one though survival is certainly not out of the question. Keane has used his transfer budget wisely and brought in the likes of Dickson Etuhu from Norwich City, Paul McShane from West Brom, Scottish starlet Russell Anderson from Aberdeen, and Greg Halford from Reading. These signings could boom or bust but the true transfer expectations are attached to former Red Devil Kieran Richardson and Championship leading scorer Michael Chopra. Keane’s selections are formidable but the real test is how those promoted respond to Premiership action. Sunderland has been to known to be a one up-one down kind of team, but Roy Keane aims to change that. He will be depending upon the play of former Arsenal youth product Anthony Stokes (who was lights out for Falkirk on loan last season), former Ranger Ross Wallace, and most importantly young’un Grant Leadbitter who had a breakout year in Championship last season notching 7 goals and 3 assists. For all we know, another Reading awaits as Stokes could equal Lita, Chopra could equal Kitson, but the defense does not have the physical presence that an Ibrahima Sonko, Andre Bikey, or Ingimarsson has.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Anthony Stokes, see the Next Generation tag over to the right for why.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)

GK: Marton Fulop
LB: Paul McShane
CB: Nyron Nosworthy
CB: Carlos Edwards
RB: Greg Halford
LM: Kieran Richardson
CM: Dickson Etuhu
CM: Liam Miller
RM: Grant Leadbitter
ST: Michael Chopra
ST: David Connolly or Anthony Stokes

20. Derby County (-)

They have tried furiously to strengthen their squad and they truly have, but is it enough? Robbie Earnshaw is a great signing and, in turn, could be the Rams’ saving grace if he produces as he has in the Championship. This is doubled if Steve Howard can do the same. The captures of Tyrone Mears from WHU and Andy Griffin from Portsmouth aren’t going to win you survival, although Claude Davis coming in from relegated Sheff Utd should help the backfield a bit. An inspiration to the Rams will be coveted starlet, Giles Barnes who if meshed well with Man Utd cast-off David Jones and jettisoned former Celtic winger Stephen Pearson, they could push Derby into contention. Unfortunately, this year seems to be the year of the relegation battle for the Rams and there’s nothing you or Eddie Johnson can do about it.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Robbie Earnshaw, the 26 year old Welshman and a club record transfer, has the Premiership experience to propel a team, albeit in a relegation-mired season. Earnshaw scored 11 goals in a West Brom’s short stint at the top. He was transferred the next year to Norwich City where he excelled. That experience will be vital as both of Derby’s other stars, Steve Howard and Giles Barnes will look to him for guidance by example.

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)

GK: Stephen Bywater
LB: Andy Griffin
CB: Claude Davis
CB: Andy Todd
RB: Tyrone Mears
LM: Matt Oakley
CM: Stephen Pearson
CM: Giles Barnes
RM: David Jones
ST: Robert Earnshaw
ST: Steve Howard


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