16 August 2012

2012/2013 Premier League preview: part 4

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 Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic.

Click on the links for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the TDTR season preview.

(Last Season: 11th)
Michael Laudrup's first job in British football will be to keep Swansea in the Premier League.
 The legendary Dane takes over from Brendan Rodgers, who was practically a deity at the Liberty Stadium. Laudrup has vowed to continue the flee-flowing passing game that earned the Swans plenty of supporters as well as a mid-table finish last season. The Swans will be hoping that players like Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham continue where they left off in the 100th anniversary season.
 TRANSFERS IN: Laudrup has plenty of knowledge of Spanish football, hench the acquisitions of two Spaniards and another player based in that country. Chico adds depth to their defence, Michu is a free-scoring midfielder, and Dutch playmaker Jonathan de Guzman is a free-kick specialist. A fourth signing is that of the on-loan Kaiserslautern forward Itay Shechter.
 TRANSFERS OUT: There haven't been too many notable departures as such, but Swansea failed to hang onto Joe Allen or their sought-after loan signing from last season, Gylfi Sigurdsson. Chico is expected to fill the centre-back vacancy left by Steven Caulker, who has completed his loan and returned to Sigurdsson's new side Tottenham Hotspur.
 STRENGTHS: One of the best signings of last summer was Michel Vorm, the Dutch goalkeeper who is very nimble and a great shot-stopper. Full-backs Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor both adjusted to the top flight with aplomb. Then, of course, we come to their main attacking threats in Sinclair, Graham and the underrated Nathan Dyer.
 WEAKNESSES: Swansea aren't very good at fighting back from behind. In one particular match in April, a more tactically-astute Newcastle United soaked up pressure before hitting them on the counter-attack. They seem to lack a Plan B, which makes defeat almost inevitable when they concede the first goal, and this is one thing that Laudrup must correct from their Rodgers days.
 PREDICTION: 11th. Swansea have enough attacking quality to continue their progress and hold onto a mid-table spot.

(Last Season: 4th)
Is Andre Villas-Boas the right man to get Tottenham a place back in the UEFA Champions League?
 The Premier League's youngest manager at 34 years of age, Villas-Boas was a failure at Chelsea but quickly returned to London when Harry Redknapp was controversially axed. At Stamford Bridge, he swiftly lost a dressing room dominated by superstar names, and at White Hart Lane, he might have the same problem with Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. The Portuguese holds the key to how an ambitious Spurs team perform this season.
 TRANSFERS IN: The first new face at Spurs was the former Swansea City loanee Gylfi Sigurdsson. Boosting the centre of their defence following the retirement of inspirational captain Ledley King was the Belgian international Jan Vertonghen.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Injuries brought an end to skipper King's career at White Hart Lane. Croatian duo Vedran Corluka and Niko Kranjcar were followed through the exit door by Steven Pienaar and pit-stoppers Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha. Villas-Boas' public spat with Modric increases the likelihood of a third Croat departing the club before too long.
 STRENGTHS: Spurs have quality players in several positions, and the arrival of Vertonghen should bolster a strong defence which also includes Younes Kaboul and Kyle Walker. Attacking-minded left-flanker Bale tends to excel in the first half of a season, if not so much the second. And even if they lose Modric, they still have a deadly attacking midfielder in Rafael van der Vaart.
 WEAKNESSES: The last time that a demanding Iberian manager replaced a laid-back boss at White Hart Lane, it was Juande Ramos, and things didn't go too well for him. Tottenham need a new captain, and there are doubts over whether Michael Dawson's the right man. They could do with a better goalkeeper than the ageing Brad Friedel, who at 41 is six years older than Villas-Boas!
 PREDICTION: 7th. Tottenham is probably the wrong club for Villas-Boas, and Spurs are at great risk of going backwards.

(Last Season: 10th)
West Brom's new manager Steve Clarke must continue the stable legacy left by Roy Hodgson.
 New England boss Hodgson secured 11th and 10th-placed finishes in his two seasons at The Hawthorns, but is replaced by a long-time assistant manager who is in his first role as number 1. Clarke has received a lot of credit for building strong defences, although what the Baggies really wanted was an attacking boost. A number of new acquisitions will give West Brom more potency in front of goal.
 TRANSFERS IN: Goalkeeper Ben Foster's loan from rivals Birmingham City became permanent over the summer, while Clarke made three strikers among his first signings. Loanees Yassine El Ghanassy and Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku, who are both Belgian, will link up with Swedish veteran Markus Rosenberg. Argentine defensive midfielder Claudio Yacob's first taste of European football will be on these shores.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Paul Scharner was a surprise departure from The Hawthorns, but less so Keith Andrews, Nicky Shorey and butterfingers keeper Marton Fulop. Simon Cox was sold off to ambitious Championship side Nottingham Forest. Sadly, there will also not be a sequel to 'Tchoyi Story 3' after Somen Tchoyi was let go.
 STRENGTHS: West Brom are never a pretty team to watch, but they can pass the ball quite well. The likes of Chris Brunt on the left-wing, Graham Dorrans in the centre, and Youssuf Mulumbu in the holding role don't get the credit that they deserve. Centre-back Jonas Olsson caught the eye last season with some solid displays.
 WEAKNESSES: The gulf in ability between their first XI and their second string is large, which is another way of saying that they need more strength in depth. Despite coming with a high recommendation from some bloke called Jose Mourinho, Clarke is untested as a manager, and might in the end turn out to be another failed assistant-turned-boss.
 PREDICTION: 17th. Without the security that Hodgson brought to the table, West Brom look like surprise candidates for the drop.

(Last Season: 3rd in Championship)
West Ham look like the strongest of the three promoted sides under Sam Allardyce.
 Big Sam has spent big on some top-quality coups which could make the Hammers one of this season's surprising success stories. Their squad is a good mixture of hungry English players like vice-skipper Mark Noble and gifted foreigners like Ricardo Vaz Te. Fans at Upton Park have always been entertained by flowing football, but under Allardyce, a pragmatic get-the-job-done approach is now the order of the day.
 TRANSFERS IN: Too many to mention them all, so I'll just pick out the bigger names. Allardyce is already very familiar with goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen from their time at Bolton Wanderers, and hopes to have found an excellent Bosman in midfielder Mohamed Diame. France anchor Alou Diarra cost just £2million, and Mali forward Modibo Maiga was also a fairly cheap signing.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Long-standing keeper Robert Green let his contract expire before moving across London to Queens Park Rangers. Local strikers Frank Nouble and Freddie Sears left after failing to realise their potential, and Pablo Barrera returned to Mexico. If you want to get some news stories out of Ravel Morrison, go to Birmingham - he's there on loan, now.
 STRENGTHS: Captain Kevin Nolan is the man that keeps West Ham ticking, creating and scoring a sizeable chunk of the team's goals. The 30-year-old is a consistent performer, as is the team as a whole. His deputy Noble and defender James Tomkins are the two prominent local boys, and the strongest links to the Hammers' hardcore supporters.
 WEAKNESSES: Their away form's good, but they really need to sort things out at home. On twelve occasions last season did West Ham come away from Upton Park without winning. Vaz Te scored the Irons' play-off winner, but that was one of only ten league goals last season, so he and fellow striker Carlton Cole must deliver on a more regular basis.
 PREDICTION: 13th. Big Sam doesn't do relegation battles, so expect a comfortable season in or around mid-table.

(Last Season: 15th)
Another battle with the drop has passed, and Roberto Martinez is still at Wigan.
 The young Spanish coach could have his pick of Premier League clubs, but his loyalty to owner Dave Whelan is either admirable or misguided. Some breathtaking results at the back end of the last campaign have given the few Wigan supporters plenty of reason to be optimistic. However, the impending exit of Victor Moses and the lack of a star striker means that the Latics are once again set to battle against the drop.
 TRANSFERS IN: Moses may soon be on his way, but Wigan have already replaced him with on-loan Arsenal winger Ryo Miyaichi. Scottish starlet Fraser Fyvie arrives from Aberdeen, and defender Ivan Ramis signs from Spanish side Real Mallorca. Striker Arouna Kone will want to continue his prolific form from last season, when he scored 15 times for La Liga surprise packages Levante.
 TRANSFERS OUT: Wigan look set to sell average winger Moses to Chelsea for at least £10million - I don't know how Whelan does it! Four confirmed departures from the DW Stadium are those of Mohamed Diame to West Ham United, Hugo Rodallega to Fulham, Steve Gohouri to the job centre and Chris Kirkland... to the physio room, er I mean Sheffield Wednesday.
 STRENGTHS: At their best, the Latics team is greater than the sum of its parts, as bigger clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal have discovered. When Moses plays at the peak of his own abilities (which isn't too often), he's a real danger. There have also been great improvements from captain Gary Caldwell and keeper Ali Al-Habsi.
 WEAKNESSES: Like a spotty teenager with bad breath and a BO problem, Wigan can't score. The closest they got to having someone reach double figures last season was Chelsea flop Franco Di Santo, who scored, erm, seven. Conor Sammon has shown that he was £600,000 well spent by scoring, in his first 34 appearances for Athletic, one solitary goal.
 PREDICTION: 19th (Relegated). Wigan's luck isn't going to hold out forever, and if their stars flee, they won't survive another season.

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