English Premiership

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2005, 12:00am


Coach: Arsene Wenger

Last season: Second

No major decline last season - they actually accumulated more points (78) against the non-elite than they had in their unbeaten 2003-04 campaign - and still the most dangerous attacking side in the Premiership. Patrick Vieira's departure has brought the doomsayers out in force, but his importance to the Gunners might be overrated - they won six and drew two of the eight Premiership and Champions League games he missed last season. The only addition to the squad is Belarus international midfielder Alexander Hleb after Wenger missed out on his big summer target, Julio Baptista.

Strengths: Very good on the road. Last season they won more away games (13 out of 19) than during the previous unbeaten title-winning campaign.

Weaknesses: Need to improve in the mini-league of the Big Four teams (only five points from a possible 18 last season). Dropped points too easily at home last season.

Key transfers, In: Alexander Hleb (Stuttgart, GBP10m).

Out: Patrick Vieira (Juventus, GBP13.7m), Edu (Valencia, free).

Predicted finish: First

Aston Villa

Coach: David O'Leary

Last season: 10th

Dropped four places last season, even though their record was broadly similar to 2003-04. Summer signings have given the squad better cover, though the rumoured GBP20m available to David O'Leary has failed to materialise. Serious improvement needed in attack, where Kevin Phillips has replaced Darius Vassell. More likely to fall again, though not far.

Strengths: Consistently one of the better home sides, especially against the non-elite. Only four defeats out of 20, home and away, against bottom-half teams last season.

Weaknesses: Poor on the road against the better home teams and in general against the elite. Need to pick up more points this season against their rivals for a European place.

Key transfers, In: Aaron Hughes (Newcastle, GBP1.5m), Kevin Phillips (Southampton, GBP1m), Patrik Berger (Portsmouth, free).

Out: Darius Vassell (Manchester City, GBP2m), Thomas Hitzlsperger (Stuttgart, free).

Predicted finish: 12th

Birmingham City

Coach: Steve Bruce

Last season: 12th

The Blues look a comfortable mid-to-low-table side but no better than that - the biggest worry is that they haven't found a replacement for Robbie Savage since he left in January. Mikael Forssell has joined on a permanent basis and promises goals (he scored 18 on loan in 2003-04), assuming he is over his serious injury. Walter Pandiani adds more strength up front, along with Emile Heskey.

Strengths: Powerful and resilient, especially at St Andrews. Improvement in attack will give them winning chances at home to bottom-half teams.

Weaknesses: Poor away since Robbie Savage's departure to Blackburn, losing five of seven.

Key transfers In: Mikael Forssell (Chelsea, GBP3m), Mehdi Nafti (Racing Santander, fee undisclosed), Walter Pandiani (Deportivo La Coruna, GBP3m), Nicky Butt (Newcastle, loan).

Out: Darren Carter (West Brom, GBP1.5m).

Predicted finish: 13th

Blackburn Rovers

Coach: Mark Hughes

Last season: 15th

Mark Hughes has moulded a team in his own image - making few friends with a tough, uncompromising approach - and they are one of the few bottom-half finishers from last season with enough in their overall record to suggest they could climb into the top 10. The midfield was also solid after Robbie Savage joined in January. The key to further progress is whether Craig Bellamy can come up with the goals to improve their weak home record. Shefki Kuqi looked a better signing once Bellamy joined up.

Strengths: Have been ranked seventh and ninth in the Premiership on away form in the past two seasons, despite finishing only 15th overall both times.

Weaknesses: Home form correspondingly poor - they were worse than all three relegated sides last season.

Key players, In: Craig Bellamy (Newcastle, GBP5m), Shefqi Kuqi (Ipswich, free).

Out: Jon Stead (Sunderland, GBP1.8m).

Predicted finish: Eighth

Bolton Wanderers

Coach: Sam Allardyce

Last season: Sixth

A more attacking approach on the road drove them into the top half in 2003-04, and last season it was their improved home performances that carried them even higher. Not too many changes (El-Hadji Diouf was already on loan), but Mexican striker Jared Borgetti is a typically unusual signing. This season might depend on how Sam Allardyce's 'geriatricos' cope with the additional burden of Uefa Cup football. They might fall back a little, but not far.

Strengths: A test for all the big teams - apart from Chelsea, they were the only side to take points off all the other top-half sides. Well suited to playing on the break away to bottom-half teams.

Weaknesses: Often struggle when forced to take the initiative against lower-ranked sides, winning just six home games against the 14 teams that finished below them last season.

Key transfers, In: El-Hadji Diouf (Liverpool, fee undisclosed), Jared Borgetti (Pachuca, GBP1m).

Out: Fernando Hierro (retired).

Predicted finish: Seventh

Charlton Athletic

Coach: Alan Curbishley

Last season: 11th

No points from eight games against the Big Four last season suggested the quality was missing (Danny Murphy and young winger Jerome Thomas were two notable exceptions) and Alan Curbishley has been busy trying to remedy the situation. There are standout additions in attack (the pacy Darren Bent, who looked Premiership class with 20 league goals for Ipswich last season) and midfield (Alexei Smertin, who played a small part in Chelsea's success last term). Charlton could rise again if their new signings click.

Strengths: Low defeat rate away to bottom-half teams (just 21 per cent in the past three seasons) has always kept them well clear of relegation trouble.

Weaknesses: Always struggle in the spring - after being knocked out of the FA Cup in mid-February, they took just eight points from their last 12 league games.

Key transfers, In: Darren Bent (Ipswich, GBP3m), Alexei Smertin (Chelsea, loan).

Out: Paul Konchesky (West Ham, GBP1.5m).

Predicted finish: 14th


Coach: Jose Mourinho

Last season: First

Jose Mourinho has plugged his biggest gap (left-back) with Spain international Asier del Horno, who brings the added bonus of a serious goal threat from free-kicks. Shaun Wright-Phillips offers more pace and trickery down the flanks, with the big question being: who will finish off the moves? Hernan Crespo, back from loan at Milan, has the class if he can finally settle in English football.

Strengths: Set new standards last season, combining defensive excellence with ruthless efficiency against lesser sides (18 wins out of 20 against the bottom half).

Weaknesses: Lack adventure against better teams - they won 1-0 in seven of their 18 games against top-half sides last season and drew four others 0-0. It's a fine line to tread.

Key transfers, In: Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City, GBP21m), Asier del Horno (Athletic Bilbao, GBP8m).

Out: Scott Parker (Newcastle, GBP6.5m), Mateja Kezman (Atletico Madrid, GBP5.3m), Juan Veron (Inter Milan, loan), Mikael Forssell (Birmingham, GBP3m), Alexei Smertin (Charlton, loan).

Predicted finish: Second


Coach: David Moyes

Last season: Fourth

A season of two halves in 2004-05 - 40 points in the first 19 games, but only 21 in the second half of the campaign (the rot really set in after Thomas Gravesen's move to Real Madrid). It all depends which represents the true Everton. Defence was the key last season, but contract rebel Alan Stubbs has been allowed to leave and Per Kroldrup will need to show the same strength.

Strengths: High-tempo game at Goodison Park consistently proves too strong for bottom-half sides (66 per cent home win rate since Moyes took charge in March 2002).

Weaknesses: Low-scoring side heavily reliant on getting the first goal. Away form deteriorated sharply after Christmas - only one win in 11.

Key Transfers, In: Per Kroldrup (Udinese, GBP5m), Simon Davies (Spurs, GBP3.5m), Mikel Arteta (Real Sociedad, GBP2m), Phil Neville (Manchester United, GBP3.5m).

Out: Steve Watson (West Brom, free), Alan Stubbs (Sunderland, free).

Predicted finish: 11th.


Coach: Chris Coleman

Last season: 13th

Widely regarded as relegation candidates, but their form over the second half of last season (seventh-best in the Premiership) doesn't exactly support that notion. Their away form was well exposed by the end of last season, however, and they have gradually lost the ability to raise their game against the best. Have lost two of their best players (Edwin van der Sar and Andy Cole), and bigger clubs are still sniffing around Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque.

Strengths: Always above-average at home - their 36 home points alone would have been enough to keep them up last season.

Weaknesses: Deteriorating away form against better teams - they took just five points on the road against the 12 teams that finished above them last season.

Key transfers, In: Heidar Helguson (Watford, GBP1.3m), Jaroslav Drobny (Panionios, GBP300,000), Niclas Jensen (Borussia Dortmund, GBP700,000).

Out: Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United, GBP2m), Andy Cole (Manchester City, free).

Predicted finish: 15th


Coach: Rafael Benitez

Last season: Fifth

Their Champions League triumph gives them a great platform, and Steven Gerrard showed his faith by rejecting a move to Chelsea, but they need to find another 20 points just to get into third place. Their attack never fired last season, but Djibril Cisse and Fernando Morientes will get their first good run in the Premiership, while Peter Crouch's height gives them a different outlet. Still the most obvious candidates for the fourth Champions League spot. Strengths: Very powerful at home, especially against bottom-half teams (seven wins out of 10 for the past two seasons).

Weaknesses: Away form needs drastic improvement - just five away wins last season and a mere two points from nine visits to top-half sides.

Key transfers, In: Peter Crouch (Southampton, GBP7m), Jose Reina (Villarreal, GBP6m), Mohamed Sissoko (Valencia, GBP5.6m), Boudewijn Zenden (Middlesbrough, free).

Out: El-Hadji Diouf (Bolton, fee undisclosed), Vladimir Smicer (Bordeaux, free), Chris Kirkland (West Brom, loan), Anthony Le Tallec (Sunderland, loan).

Predicted finish: Fourth

Manchester City

Coach: Stuart Pearce

Last season: Eighth

Underrated improvers last season even under Kevin Keegan, possibly because nobody could credit that he had built a good defensive team around Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne. Stuart Pearce has been tested by a troubled pre-season and now has to cope without Shaun Wright-Phillips. Only five Premiership forwards scored more than Andy Cole's 12 last season and much will hinge on his partnership with fellow new boy Darius Vassell, hardly a prolific striker.

Strengths: Much better defensively last season (they were the only team to shut out Chelsea twice in the league) and dropped fewer silly points - they lost just three out of 20, home and away, against bottom-half sides.

Weaknesses: Often struggle away to top-half teams - just six wins out of 28 since their return to the Premiership.

Key transfers, In: Darius Vassell (Aston Villa, GBP2m), Andy Cole (Fulham, free).

Out: Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea, GBP21m).

Predicted finish: 10th

Manchester United

Coach: Sir Alex Ferguson

Last season: Third

United have been in transition for two seasons, building a team around young superstars Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, but may not be the finished article yet. Park Ji-Sung is a typically attacking signing, but the best summer move came for Edwin van der Sar, consistently the Premiership's best goalkeeper since his arrival in 2001.

Strengths: Formidable at home and have plenty of big-game players, as they proved with last season's brilliant but unrewarded FA Cup final display. Six wins out of nine away to top-half teams in each of the past two, non-title winning seasons.

Weaknesses: Have lacked consistency in the past two seasons, especially when it comes to dominating lesser sides.

Key transfers, In: Park Ji-Sung (PSV, GBP4m), Edwin van der Sar (Fulham, GBP2m).

Out: Roy Carroll (West Ham, free), Phil Neville (Everton, GBP3.5m), Kleberson (Besiktas, GBP2.5m).

Predicted finish: Third


Coach: Steve McClaren

Last season: Seventh

Long-term injuries to top players (notably George Boateng and Mark Viduka) stunted an otherwise highly promising 2004-05 campaign, but they look the most solid team outside the Big Four. Aiyegbeni Yakubu's arrival gives them more pace and fire up front, which has been one of their main deficiencies and flying winger Stewart Downing (who has signed a new five-year contract) will be looking to build on his promising debut season.

Strengths: Play a solid away game, making them hard to beat against bottom-half sides. Also strong at home against low-ranking opponents.

Weaknesses: Main area for improvement is their away form against the top sides (18 of their 22 away points last season came against bottom-half teams).

Key transfers In: Aiyegbeni Yakubu (Portsmouth, GBP7.5m), Emanuel Pogatetz (Bayer Leverkusen, GBP1.8m).

Out: Boudewijn Zenden (Liverpool, free).

Predicted finish: Fifth


Coach: Graeme Souness

Last season: 14th

Probably the most difficult team to assess. More potential than most outside the Big Four, but doubts remain over their weak front line and Graeme Souness's ability to turn the club around Scott Parker and Emre (bit-part players elsewhere) have class but something to prove, and Craig Moore is just a stop-gap in central defence. Much depends on the spine of Shay Given, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Kieron Dyer and Alan Shearer.

Strengths: All-round quality still makes them more than a match for most Premiership teams outside the elite - only five defeats from 38 games against bottom-half sides in the past two seasons.

Weaknesses: St James' Park no longer a fortress - their win rate against top-half teams has dropped to around 30 per cent in the past two seasons.

Key transfers, In: Scott Parker (Chelsea, GBP6.5m), Emre Belozoglu (Inter Milan, GBP3.8m), Craig Moore (Borussia Monchengladbach, free).

Out: Craig Bellamy (Blackburn, GBP5m), Andy O'Brien (Portsmouth, GBP2m), Aaron Hughes (Aston Villa, GBP1.5m), Laurent Robert (Portsmouth, loan), Patrick Kluivert (Valencia, free), Nicky Butt (Birmingham, loan).

Predicted finish: Ninth


Coach: Alain Perrin.

Last season: 16th

Alain Perrin is an unknown quantity as a Premiership boss and he is starting from scratch because the Harry Redknapp factor has well and truly disappeared - Pompey were easily the Premiership's worst team over the second half of last season (just 13 points from 19 games). Perrin has made plenty of changes, but the biggest plus could be the return of striker Svetoslav Todorov, who scored 26 goals in Portsmouth's promotion season and has looked sharp in pre-season after two years out with injury.

Strengths: Home form has kept them up for two seasons, though a record of four wins from 12 games since Redknapp's departure does not bode well.

Weaknesses: Only four away wins out of 38 since joining the Premiership and looked even more vulnerable after Amdy Faye left in January (one point from eight games without him).

Key transfers, In: Andy O'Brien (Newcastle, GBP2m), Collins Mbesuma (Kaizer Chiefs, fee undisclosed), Laurent Robert (Newcastle, loan), Azar Karadas (Benfica, loan), Sander Westerveld (Real Sociedad, free).

Out: Yakubu (Middlesbrough, GBP7.5m), Patrik Berger (Aston Villa, free), Shaka Hislop (West Ham, free).

Predicted finish: 18th


Coach: Mick McCarthy

Last season: First (C'ship)

It's hard to shake the memory of Sunderland's last days in the Premiership in the 2002-03 season, when they lost their last 15 games (nine of them under Mick McCarthy). The ex-Ireland boss couldn't really be blamed then and he has built a solid enough side since, but there are few signs of the quality needed to avoid another season of struggle. Much will depend on their performances at the Stadium of Light.

Strengths: A strong home side in the Championship last season and start, on paper at least, with the edge over Wigan and West Ham.

Weaknesses: Away record not a patch on their home form. Lost 10 overall last season, and promoted teams with that sort of profile usually struggle.

Key transfers, In: Jon Stead (Blackburn, GBP1.8m), Kelvin Davis (Ipswich, GBP1.25m), Alan Stubbs (Everton, free), Anthony Le Tallec (Liverpool, loan).

Predicted finish: 19th

Tottenham Hotspur

Coach: Martin Jol

Last season: Ninth

No surprise that they returned to the top half last season and there are grounds for believing they can go higher. From the time of Martin Jol's appointment in November, only the Big Four accumulated more points than Tottenham. Jol still has to settle on his best side, however, after splashing out on a string of Britain's best young footballers and the experienced Edgar Davids.

Strengths: Performed very well at home after their incredible 5-4 loss to Arsenal in Jol's first game in charge (eight wins out of 12 - their only subsequent defeat coming against Chelsea).

Weaknesses: Away form was patchy last season. They were good enough to take points off four of the top five, but all five away wins came in the first half of the season.

Key Transfers, In: Tom Huddlestone (Derby, GBP2.5m), Wayne Routledge (Crystal Palace, fee undisclosed), Paul Stalteri (Werder Bremen, free), Edgar Davids (Inter Milan, free), Aaron Lennon (Leeds, fee undisclosed).

Out: Simon Davies (Everton, GBP3.5m), Thimothee Atouba (Hamburg, fee undisclosed).

Predicted finish: Sixth

West Bromwich Albion

Coach: Bryan Robson

Last season: 17th

Found genuine improvement to escape the drop last season, showing top-half form through the second half of the campaign, but lack of wins (only six all season) suggests it will be an uphill struggle again. The defence is slow and the midfield uninspiring, so expect another backs-to-the-wall battle.

Strengths: Became hard to beat under Robson (just five defeats from 19 after a 5-0 home drubbing by Liverpool at Christmas).

Weaknesses: The worst away team last season and need a big leap on the road to trouble even the middle-ranking teams.

Key Transfers, In: Darren Carter (Birmingham, GBP1.5m), Diomansy Kamara (Modena, GBP1.5m), Steve Watson (Everton, free), Chris Kirkland (Liverpool, loan).

Out: Rob Hulse (Leeds, GBP1.1m), Darren Purse (Cardiff, GBP750,000), Jason Koumas (Cardiff, free).

Predicted finish: 17th

West Ham United

Coach: Alan Pardew

Last season: Sixth (C'ship)

Alan Pardew has bought two goalkeepers and virtually a new defence. Israel's Yossi Benayoun is the one class signing, bought to play in the hole up front.

Strengths: Momentum is with them after their charge through the playoffs at the end of last season.

Weaknesses: Defence is the big worry - 56 goals conceded last season in the Championship. Only Palace, the year before, were promoted with more goals-against in recent seasons, and they went straight back down.

Key Transfers, In: Danny Gabbidon and James Collins (Cardiff, GBP3.2m), Clive Clarke (Stoke, GBP275,000), Yossi Benayoun (Racing Santander, GBP2.5m), Shaka Hislop (Portsmouth, free), Roy Carroll (Manchester United, free), Paul Konchesky (Charlton, GBP1.5m).

Predicted finish: 20th

Wigan Athletic

Coach: Paul Jewell

Last season: Second (C'ship)

Paul Jewell deserves another crack at the Premiership, having performed miracles to keep Bradford there for two seasons. He finally managed to spend some of chairman Dave Whelan's GBP25m kitty on midfielder Damien Francis, who adapted well to the Premiership last season with Norwich, and the speedy but moody Henri Camara. Jewell has two of England's best young full-backs in Leighton Baines and Ryan Taylor. It will get easier after an opening-day clash with Chelsea, and they may surprise a few people.

Strengths: The best-balanced of the promoted teams, showing a similar level of form home and away last season.

Weaknesses: Lack of Premiership experience in most areas.

Key Transfers, In: Pascal Chimbonda (Bastia, free), Stephane Henchoz (Liverpool, free), Ryan Taylor (Tranmere, GBP750,000), Henri Camara (Wolves, GBP3m), Damien Francis (Norwich, GBP1.5m).

Predicted finish: 16th