15 August 2012

2012/2013 Premier League preview: part 3

There's not too long now until the 21st Premier League season begins.

Over the next four days, The Daily Transfer Request will assess all twenty teams, predicting who'll be getting the spoils and who'll be drowning their sorrows come May. Today, I take a look at Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.

(Last Season: 17th)
QPR have avoided relegation, but now Mark Hughes must guide them further up the table.
 Last season began with the Loftus Road faithful in optimistic mood, but survival wasn't secured until the final day. Now, though, their hopefulness seems more justified, with Hughes bringing in some exciting new signings like goalkeeper Robert Green and workhorse Park Ji-Sung. The revolution under wealthy businessman Tony Fernandes, which could have been strangled at birth, is finally underway.
 TRANSFERS IN: We've previously mentioned Green, as well as Park, who is one of two signings from Manchester United, along with on-loan full-back Fabio da Silva. Andrew Johnson and Ryan Nelsen have considerable PL pedigree, but both are the wrong side of 30. Ex-Blackburn Rovers forward David 'Junior' Hoilett could be the best free transfer this summer.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Sparky has trimmed his large squad, releasing four players (including Danny Gabbidon and Fitz Hall) and letting goalie Paddy Kenny continue his relationship with former QPR boss Neil Warnock at Leeds United. He still has eight (yes, EIGHT) forwards on his roster, so more will have to go.
 STRENGTHS: Adel Taarabt's talent has never been in doubt, and there were signs at the back end of the last campaign that the high-maintenance Moroccan is adjusting to this division. Samba Diakité and Djibril Cisse can both trouble opposing teams when they're not troubling the referee's notepad. Then there's the Rangers spirit that shows itself every now and then, like in their comeback from 2-0 down against Liverpool.
 WEAKNESSES: The squad has undergone more plastic surgery than Katie Price and is very unstable. Discipline is an even bigger problem - there were nine red cards for Hoops players last season. No, Joey Barton did not pick up all of them, but the deposed captain is a major liability when his temper flares up.
 PREDICTION: 10th. QPR are one of the league's more unpredictable teams, but should finish considerably clear of danger.

(Last Season: 1st in Championship)
The Championship winners, coached by Brian McDermott, might falter on their top-flight return.
 The man responsible for getting them in the PL initially, Sir John Madejski, has passed on ownership to an even richer man in Russian tycoon Anton Zingarevich. The Royals have made significant improvements to their squad, but need to consolidate their place before Zingarevich really spends big. It remains to be seen whether McDermott, who has never managed at this level, is the man to do that first bit.
 TRANSFERS IN: Nicky Shorey was a hit in Reading's first ever Premier League season, and he is hoping for a triumphant return. Two other defenders have joined in the shapes of Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa, while the midfield duo of Danny Guthrie and Garath McCleary have also signed. What the Berkshire club really needed, though, was a striker that can score regularly, and they've now bought one in Pavel Pogrebnyak.
 TRANSFERS OUT: The traffic through the transfer door at the Madejski Stadium has pretty much been one way. To date, the only permanent exit from Reading has been midfielder Michail Antonio to Sheffield Wednesday, where he was a hit on loan last season.
 STRENGTHS: Reading showed in the Championship that they can take a lead into the half-time break and hold onto it by the final whistle. That is down to a very watertight defence, with Adam Federici making the saves, and the consistent Kaspars Gorkss in the heart of the backline. The Royals also have a player in midfielder Jimmy Kebe who, when he blows hot, blows VERY hot.
 WEAKNESSES: Pogrebnyak adds some class to an attack which, Adam Le Fondre aside, has some difficulty in finding the net. They can't even score from the penalty spot - only two out of their seven kicks from the spot last season were converted. Concerns will also be raised about 35-year-old left-back Ian Harte, whose experience is unrivalled at the Madejski, but is seriously lacking in pace.
 PREDICTION: 20th (Relegated). If the Royals can't trouble opposition keepers, it's hard to see them staying afloat.

(Last Season: 2nd in Championship)
After eight years away, Nigel Adkins has got Southampton back in the Premier League.
 Despite having no experience of managing in the top division, Adkins guided the Saints to successive promotions with his positive, glass-half-full attitude. His style of possession football has brought the best out of his fellow Merseysider, striker Rickie Lambert, and youth graduate done good Adam Lallana. But a nightmare early-season run-in could bring a quick end to the Saints' romantic rise back up.
 TRANSFERS IN: Northern Ireland midfielder Steven Davis is Southampton's only signing with prior PL experience. He is joined by three youngsters in keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, full-back Nathaniel Clyne and striker Jay Rodriguez. Meanwhile, the Saints are fighting accusations from Blackpool that they tried to 'tap up' exciting winger Matt Phillips.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Southampton's squad doesn't have a great deal of depth, and the only sale so far has been that of left-back Dan Harding to Nottingham Forest. They do have six strikers though, so the chances are that one of them will be flogged before September.
 STRENGTHS: Journeyman Lambert has come off the back of a wonderful season in which he scored 27 league goals. Rodriguez and Billy Sharp aren't too bad, either, and even midfielder Guly do Prado hits more than his fair share of goals. The St Mary's club are good when it comes to holding leads, although that will be tested this season.
 WEAKNESSES: Saints fans have some reservations about a defence which shipped four goals to Udinese in a recent pre-season friendly. The issue of squad depth is bound to rear its head at some point in the season, but St Mary's is home to a number of talented kids like left-back Luke Shaw. However, you can't look at the squad and pick out a player that is bona-fide Premier League class.
 PREDICTION: 18th (Relegated). Southampton will be popular additions to the PL, but if they start badly, it could set the tone.

(Last Season: 14th)
Stoke are never pretty, but Tony Pulis's men are very effective, particularly at home.
 With brute force, counter-attacks and the long throws of Rory Delap, the Potters have established themselves in the Premier League. But last season did not go as well as anticipated, as a team expected to challenge for the top half instead only managed their worst ever PL finish of 14th.
 TRANSFERS IN: Winger Michael Kightly has joined Stoke from relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers, and young midfielder Jamie Ness will want to impress following his arrival from Rangers. The Potters expect to bring Macedonia left-back Goran Popov to the Britannia Stadium on loan shortly.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Salif Diao and Ricardo Fuller, who had both been with the club since its Championship days, were let go at the end of the last campaign. Also waving goodbye were Tom Soares, the former Crystal Palace man who had not impressed, and Andrew Davies, along with ex-England defender Jonathan Woodgate.
 STRENGTHS: Their home is their castle - the Britannia is a harrowing place to go to for other teams. Stoke's other strength is, erm, their strength, particularly in central defence, where captain Ryan Shawcross and the giant Robert Huth team up excellently. And for such a physical side, their disciplinary record isn't as bad as one would expect.
 WEAKNESSES: The Potters can defend, but they sure can't shoot. Even with Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters in their ranks, Stoke scored fewer goals than any other PL team last season, and were also the least accurate with their shots. On the wing, Jermaine Pennant lacks consistency and continues to have problems off the pitch.
 PREDICTION: 16th. Most teams have figured out what Stoke are about, so don't be too surprised to see them stagnate.

(Last Season: 13th)
This is Martin O'Neill's first full season in charge of mid-table specialists Sunderland.
 Last summer's array of signings at the Stadium Of Light failed to deliver under Steve Bruce, who was sacked in November with the Mackems looking like relegation contenders. In came O'Neill to steady the ship, and this time, he has been more conservative in the transfer market. A good start to the season is vital for the Northern Irishman, and a free-scoring striker is desperately needed.
 TRANSFERS IN: No strikers, but O'Neill has persuaded his former defender at Aston Villa - Carlos Cuellar - to come on board. The Spaniard is so far the only new face to be seen at the Stadium Of Light.
 TRANSFERS OUT: As talented as he was, Asamoah Gyan let his ego get the better of him, and Sunderland will be glad to finally be shot of the Ghanaian. Britain's most expensive keeper, at £9million, Craig Gordon was scrapped for approximately £9million less than that. The Black Cats also sold defensive duo George McCartney and Michael Turner to Premier League rivals.
 STRENGTHS: You will find Sunderland's top talents in midfield. Sebastian Larsson takes a mean free-kick, James McClean made a major breakthrough last season, and Stephane Sessegnon always provides a threat to defenders. O'Neill will be glad to see Fraizer Campbell back at full fitness, particularly because...
 WEAKNESSES: ...Sunderland don't have a consistent goalscorer (last term, the on-loan Nicklas Bendtner managed a miserly eight goals). Aside from Campbell, their only other recognised strikers are Ji Dong-Won and teenager Connor Wickham. For a captain, Lee Cattermole doesn't show much of an example - his disciplinary record from the last three seasons reads 31 yellow cards and 4 reds.
 PREDICTION: 9th. Sunderland are good for the top half under O'Neill, but unless they start scoring goals, they can forget Europe.

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