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The Farm Club Preview: English Premier League Part III

August 16, 2012

Soccer

If they’re called Three Lions, why is there only one?


It’s Thursday. That means a whole hell of a lot of good things for us pertaining to the English Premier League. That means two more days until you can wake up on Saturday morning, still half drunk from all the cheap beer and whiskey you drank the night before, turn on your TV, and watch Arsenal v. Sunderland on ESPN 2. For those rooting for specific sides, 5 other matches will be taking place at the same time, but won’t be available to see in my knowledge without some luxury television package. Those who are interested enough can find alternate routes to watching the matches, but we won’t speak about those on this blog.

Over the last two days, I have been reviewing and previewing the seasons for the top eight finishers in the EPL in the 2011-12 season.

Part I

Part II

See Part III after the jump!

Today, we’ll kick it up a notch with reviews of six clubs. I chose to do it entirely this way because I felt that the first two, honestly, hold more interest in the eyes of the casual football fan. These next two are going to really dive deep for some of you new readers into clubs that you probably haven’t heard of before. And if you have, it might have just been because you’ve played some FIFA and wanted to play as one of the top clubs in England, so scrolling through you saw the names of these and scoffed at their 70 overall ratings. That’s where you’re wrong though. The English Premier League is full of talent in every club. It’s the most popular in the world and arguably is the most competitive and talented. Any of these clubs have the ability to push into the top eight and even the top five, such as Newcastle United did earlier this year. A lot of these clubs have been around for close to or even more than 100 years and have won top division titles, hold records and have histories full of fantastic moments and triumph in Cup tournaments. These are the teams I’m most interested in, and while I won’t give away the clubs I specifically root for, I can tell you that none of them can spend like Manchester United or Tottenham. You know that whole idea of rooting for the underdog? That’s something that the English have continually done for years. It’s a trait that their children are born with, I’m quite sure…at least those born to non-Manchester United fans.

Fulham

2011-12: Martin Jol returned to the English Premier League to manage a Fulham squad to 9th in the final table results. Quick fact: His brothers’ nicknames are Dick and Cock (real names Richard and Cornelius). I’m not sure what Martin did wrong, but I’m upset he wasn’t named at least William. But, I digress.

The Cottagers are the very definition of a mid-table club. Finding their way back to English top flight for the first time since the 1960’s under their current owner. Martin Jol is attempting to change that and in his first year tied the club with giants Liverpool, both earning 52 points in the EPL, which was good for second highest Fulham has ever recorded in the EPL. The difference between the two clubs, goal differential, can seem annoying and minute, but it means a lot to gauge a club over the 38 matches in the season. Fulham is the first club on the list to own a negative goal differential, and the trend continues for the rest of the teams to be seen (outside of the promoted clubs, obviously).

Martin Jol has continually been known as a manager who prefers offensive to defensive quality, and while it wouldn’t be safe to say anything entirely at this point, we’ll have to wait and see if Fulham will continue along that kind of thinking. His immediate changing of the 4-5-1 that Fulham had used for years to a combination of the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 reinvigorated the side that had a good second half, winning 2 matches in each month January-May.

An evidence of Jol’s attacking strategy can be seen in Texan standout Clint Dempsey’s 17 goals, the highest total in his career.

AGF: 1.3 AGA: 1.3

 

Offseason: July started with some major moves in the Fulham camp. Mladen Petric was brought in on a free transfer to help cover the losses that the board I’m sure knew they would be in for. Petric is an attacking minded midfielder/forward that could see extensive time on the pitch in Jol’s scheme. The Croatian has been in the German leagues his whole career and is getting up there in age at 31. But for a free transfer, he could be quite the deal.

First teamers Andrew Johnson and Danny Murphy both made their moves onto other clubs, Murphy being brought on to a relegated Blackburn Rovers side to bring experience and leadership in efforts to bring the club back to the EPL this year. Pavel Pogrebnyak who saw some playing time last year has moved on to the newly promoted Reading in the efforts of getting some more first-choice football.Role player Dickson Etuhu has been moved for some extra cash and Clint Dempsey is not going to be moved, to Liverpool or anywhere, by all accords. These moves leave Fulham with two large holes to fill in their starting eleven.

In efforts to fill these and bolster the club, Fulham has brought in long-time Wigan Athletic player Hugo Rodallega and loaned in Sascha Riether from FC Cologne specifically to help their back line. Rodallega is an interesting player, and should get some extensive playing time this season as he became more of a first-choice substitute at his former club. Jol also attempted a move for Derek Boateng, whom he made a pursuit for in January, but had the offer shot down, once again.

In the end, the offseason surely isn’t over for a squad that seems incomplete. Lacking in the central midfield, look for another transfer to be brought in to boost the numbers. The important part is: Moussa Dembele offers have been denied to this point. He showed the kind of brilliance last year this team will need to bring another solid season to the ol’ Cottage and Fulham’s season could be completely dependent on keeping him around, especially this close to the start.

2012-13: They simply haven’t done enough to bring talent this offseason to the club. An injury or two and this club could be in some real trouble. I just have a feeling that they will disappoint after having one of their best seasons last year. I’m thinking mid-table again, but a little lower as clubs just behind them have made more moves to cement their places in the Premier League and move up in the standings.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 13th

 

West Bromwich Albion

2011-12: The Baggies totaled 47 points last season which was good for 10th, their best finish ever in the English Premier League and best since 1981 overall in the top league of English football. The club has always been one to move between the top and second flights of English football, but this makes their second mid-table finish, quite a few spots safe from relegation. Roy Hodgson, highly decorated manager for countless clubs came in during the 2010-11 season to replace Roberto Di Matteo and bring the club out of the basements of the EPL. Successfully he guided them to a 11th place finish, after they had fallen to 17th.

The capturing of prolific Championship-side Reading goalscorer, Shane Long, proved dividends for the club that had for so long missed a man with an eye for the net outside of previous offseason’s transfer Peter Odemwingie.

2011-12 was quite an interesting one for the Baggies, as they actually finished securing 26 points on the road and by the middle of the season January transfer window had actually the 3rd best away record in the EPL, behind only Manchester City and Manchester United. However, in stark contrast to their excellence on the road, West Brom had only won 2 at their home stadium, The Hawthorns.

Even with all these triumphs for the club, one would think they could have done even better. Many of their key players fell to injury throughout the campaign, including Zoltan Gera, whom was slated to be a key contributor to the squad’s dreams of staying within the top division of football for a third consecutive year, something that hadn’t happened for thirty years in the see-saw history of West Brom.

AGF: 1.2 AGA: 1.4

 

Offseason: Manager Roy Hodgson’s contract only lasted until June and while West Brom would have surely liked to see the man come back, larger opportunities called for the aging manager who accepted the job as England’s new skipper.

West Brom purchased their loaned-in goalkeeper Ben Foster from Birmingham City this June, allowing for some certainty at the position for the man who started 37 of Albion’s EPL matches last season. Surely, this is a solid transaction that makes a lot of sense for the team. But that has been honestly the largest transfer for the club who never spends much money on transfers. Most seem to be loaned or free, outside of Shane Long who in the previous offseason was bought for £4m.

The club has brought in some interesting talent in loans, however, in the famed Romelu Lukaku and Yassine El Ghanassy. Lukaku hasn’t found his place yet at Chelsea, and has been moved to Albion in search of some more playing time. If he can find a place, maybe Chelsea will let him leave, but it seems doubtful the Baggies would drop the cash necessary for the transfer of the 19-year-old phenom. This is a development move by the Blues and surely West Brom is welcoming of it in the attempts of staying top flight once again this year and consolidating their ranks amongst England’s best.

Another free transfer name that could make an impact for the first team squad is Markus Rosenberg, a 29-year-old forward/midfielder from Bundesliga side Werder Bremen who has shown some talent for finding the back of the net.

The only significant loss West Brom has posted this offseason is Nicky Shorey to Reading, a first choice defender that is being brought in to help the newly promoted side. Which is great, overall, for the often pick pocketed team.

West Brom will not spend any more money during this transfer window, as the club sticks to a pretty strict budget. With consolidation in the EPL, we might see the spending open up a bit, but it takes year 3 with the same kind of finish to open those pocketbooks. Maybe another free transfer or loan could take place, but outside of that, this team seems pretty set.

2012-13: With a new manager in Steve Clarke, a man who has been linked to so many previous permanent positions, there has to be some reason he hasn’t been given his chance until now. He’s 48, and while that isn’t specifically old for a manager and he’s been around a long time in some top flight clubs (ie. Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham), I don’t see him coming in and pushing West Brom any higher than they finished this year. They suffer from some of the same kind of situation that Fulham does in this respect with a low ceiling in my opinion. While they stay in the Premier League, they lose some ground.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 14th

 

Swansea City

2011-12: The Swans hail from Wales and are the first Welsh club to play in the English Premier League. The next up could be Cardiff City, who presently are the in the Championship and have played in the playoffs quite a few times for their bid to make it into the EPL. It could be interesting to see two Welsh clubs in the EPL, as they have their own top flight football division themselves, but of a much lesser caliber.

Anyways, Swansea again climbed to mid-table against all odds in 2011-12 on the back of now-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen, a fantastic young midfielder who appeared in 36 EPL matches for the club.

Swansea played solid at home all year, accumulating 31 points in their 19 matches, good for 9th best in the EPL, keeping them afloat much of the year. Away was another story, as they couldn’t average 1 goal/game and only could squander 16 points throughout the campaign on the road. Like many of our mid-table clubs, we saw a real rise in their play in the second half of the season, where Swansea picked up 8 of their 12 wins in the last 5 months, keeping them safely from the relegation zone.

The Welsh club was able to grind out some impressive performances within their first year in the EPL, including a 3-2 finish over Arsenal, a 1-0 over Manchester City, 3-0 over Fulham and a 1-0 over Liverpool to upset the Reds hopes of moving above their inner city rival Everton into 7th place, a place that would have given them approximately £4m more in winnings from the League.

AGF: 1.2 AGA: 1.3

 

Offseason: Incredibly quiet when it comes to positives for the mid-table side after an impressive showing. As I said, “now-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers” has left to pursue a larger club. Following him was the drawn out move of star young midfielder Joe Allen who was the heart of this team.

New manager Michael Laudrup has had success in Denmark and hopes to keep Swansea near the middle of the table again this year. Once a club gets to the EPL, it’s about staying up. Of course, if you’re Newcastle United, you can make a daring move in an effort to become more competitive now. And maybe that’s what Swansea is doing by taking the money for Joe Allen. Liverpool wanted him bad, and while the fee was undisclosed, it seems to be in the £15-20m range for the young midfielder based on what the clause in his contract allowed for his sale. This could be a wonderful signing for Liverpool, but even a better move for Swansea to free up some more cash to improve this squad late.

Through this whole dragged out Allen transfer, Swansea has made a couple nice pickups and while it may not be enough at this point, new manager Laudrup is known for his eye for young talent. Chico, a defender from Genoa, Kyle Bartley, a 21-year-old defender who was on loan to Rangers last season and Miguel Perez Cuesta, an attacking midfielder who scored 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano will be given ample opportunity to make a difference, as well as loaned-in Canadian Jonathan De Guzman.

This squad will make a pricey signing before the end of the transfer window to assuage the fans of the loss of Welshman Joe Allen, but will make more moves expectedly in the January transfer window, especially if relegation is on the horizon.

2012-13: Swansea City has lost much more than they have gained since their quick move into the mid-table of the Premier League. This season, they still haven’t made the moves they need to make to move any higher on the table. They will start out dreadfully, near and in the relegation zone until a couple good January transfers come in to correct the error of their ways using Joe Allen transfer money. A few good draws and clutch wins leave them barely out of the relegation zone at the end of the season.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 16th

 

Norwich City

2011-12: Yes, those guys with the obnoxiously bright kits (I like them, to be honest). It fits their name though; the Canaries made their newly promoted season in the EPL really worthwhile and fun to watch. The matches were many a time high scoring, albeit they weren’t always on top, but nevertheless their high-octane all or nothing seeming football was a charm. Some notable matches include a 4-2 victory versus Newcastle United and two harsh losses against champions Manchester City with an aggregate of 11-2.

The team made its way into the Premier League with manager Paul Lambert, who successfully guided the club from League One to the EPL in 2 years, a feat that included winning League One and finishing near the top of the Championship in order to gain promotion.

The year saw Grant Holt, a Norwich stalwart continue with his spectacular play, against much stronger competition then he initially had played against his first year at the club at the League One level. It’s not often that a player in such a role is held in that position through three different divisions, but Holt seems to genuinely have a knack for it as he gets older, having spent his whole career before Norwich at the League One and Two levels. He was able to net 15 goals in 36 matches for the Canaries; making his third year quite possibly the most important he’s had at the club thus far.

Steve Morison, the Millwall standout also had a successful season in his first year with Norwich and in the EPL, accumulating 9 goals and 4 assists in 34 appearances for the club. In addition, the lower leagues continued to provide for Norwich as the transfer of Anthony Pilkington gave them a young attacking midfielder who put up 8 goals in 30 appearances. Wesley Hoolahan, a midfielder for the side since 2008 continued with his impressive career at the club by appearing in 33 matches.

AGF: 1.4 AGA: 1.7

Offseason: The man who has taken Norwich through three fantastic and historic years put in his request to move on. While Norwich of course didn’t wish for Lambert to move on, the Aston Villa job was too tempting for the manager. Chris Hughton, the manager who promptly brought Newcastle United back to the English Premier League with a winning percentage over 55%, an unbeaten record at home and a points total over 100…and then was dumped, has come in and is attempting to maneuver this club towards consolidation; something he was not allowed to attempt as part of the Toon.

Hughton will undoubtedly bring the 4-4-2 formation back around for Norwich as a base, which should be a change as they’ve used the 4-5-1 and 4-4-1-1 mostly last year under Lambert’s reign.

As you might have noticed, the 1.7 Average Goals Against number is quite high, as the Canaries gave up 66 goals, good for tying fourth highest in the EPL. They’ve followed the lead and robbed the in-debt Scottish club, Rangers, of another one of their players in Steven Whittaker, who should hold fortify their defense. In addition, they have moved purchased Sunderland defender Michael Turner, who is quite solid in his own right as well. Finally, just today, they added a loaned-in Javier Garrido from Italian side Lazio, making a potential third starting defender added in one offseason alone to help fix their leaky back four.

Robert Snodgrass, after his fantastic season with Leeds United, was assuredly making a move to the Premier League. He had been linked to West Ham and basically any mid-lower table level club that needed a winger. His 13 goals and 15 assists speak for him and he should offer quite the support for Holt and Morison up front.

Zak Whitbread, a holdout from their League One days has been moved, quite possibly because of his inability to keep up with the Premier League talent. I would say the Canaries have been able to hold onto all essential players and bought well to keep them competitive in this league and are well towards holding their own.

2012-13: Norwich City has done exactly what they need to do in bringing in some great transfers that fill their holes they needed filling since moving so quickly through the leagues of England. They have found some diamonds in the rough in the form of cheap and free transfers. Snodgrass makes his Premier League debut with his new team worthwhile as he fortifies himself as one of the top upcoming wingers in the EPL. Look out for a Norwich side that has only added to their powerful attack and brought in some very capable defenders. This team is building right and will stay in the EPL for at least another season.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 10th

 

Sunderland

2011-12: For the first part of the season, Sunderland was doing absolutely horrid. Up until Steve Bruce’s firing at the end of November, the club only managed 11 points in 13 matches. With the installment of Martin O’Neill as the new manager however, life was reborn for the club as they took double the points over the same amount of matches, placing them safely en route to a season away from the relegation zone.

If you watched the EURO, I’m sure you remember the kind of performance Nicklas Bendtner put up for his home country. The Danish striker was loaned-in by the Black Cats and has the kind of talent that should mean continual double-digit goal seasons, but Arsenal is still hoping he can come into his own in domestic matches. At 24, he is still young, and scored 8 goals in 28 appearances for Sunderland last season.

The buying of Sebastian Larsson from relegated Birmingham City proved well for the club as his 32 starts and fantastic play in the FA Cup was greatly needed. Forward

Stephane Sessegnon really made an impact with more playing time last season (36 matches, all starting) with 9 assists and 7 goals himself. He looks to remain an important part up front for the Black Cats. In addition, Dong-Won Ji looks to be impressive young player. While the huge majority of his appearances, 17, we off the bench, he will remain an integral part to Sunderland’s future under O’Neill.

Offseason: Sell, sell, sell. It seems like that’s exactly what Sunderland has been doing to this point in the offseason. Here’s the list of players that have left the squad: Trevor Carson, George McCartney, Asamoah Gyan, Jordan Cook, Michael Liddle, Marcos Angeleri and Michael Turner. And none of those are loans. Let’s be honest though, Carson was Bury’s best goalkeeper and he wanted to be there, McCartney was insanely important to West Ham’s promoted squad last year and hadn’t played for the Black Cats since 2009.

So out of all that, the only real loss in terms of production is Michael Turner, who was sold to Norwich.

In retrospect, I think what Sunderland really has been doing is standing still until the Saha signing. They’re not a team with a lot of cash to spend, and when they can make it, even if it’s pinching nickel and diming their way to being able to afford Louis Saha’s wages, that’s fine. They’ve been in the hunt for relegated Wolves’ Steven Fletcher, who seems to be a bit out of the price range for O’Neill’s squad.

Nevertheless, look for Sunderland to add another striker to the squad before the end of the transfer window. I’d assume it’d be more along the lines of a loan than anything else.

2012-13: While Sunderland enjoyed a time under O’Neill in which they gained a lot of points in the table, the last two months of last year was just as bad as the time under Bruce. This team just doesn’t have the talent to continue out playing the new competition in the League. Sunderland drops, staying near the relegation zone all year and barely stays out thanks to yet another manager change.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 17th

 

Stoke City

2011-12: Stoke under Tony Pulis has been a team that has overachieved in their tenure in the Premier League. They’ve always operated on a very small budget but continue to stay usually in the lower to middle ranks of the table, while always doing something surprising every year. For instance, in 2010-11, Stoke reached the FA Cup final, something no one could have predicted from the side and their progress in the Cup put them in the Europa League for 2011-12. However, in the 2011-12 campaign, Stoke finished the lowest in the league they have since promotion.

The wins Stoke was able to get always came in close games, as Pulis tends to stick to a “long ball” style of play, which doesn’t take for the most enjoyable action overall for the viewer, but has been able to secure the side in the league as of now. Some mentionable matches include a 1-0 win over Liverpool, a 2-1 over Tottenham and a 1-1 draw versus Manchester United. Their inability to score really effected them last season, as they posted less an average of 1 goal/game throughout the year and scored more than 3 goals in a match only once against the relegated Blackburn Rovers and scoring 2 or more in doing only 9 times.

Stoke really didn’t see quite a difference in play throughout their season, which is to be seen under Pulis. Consistency with what you have, truly, is what Stoke City brings to the League.

In a team with such a tight budget, some of your best players have to play a lot and you can’t cycle out with different types of talent as much. Some of the most important to Stoke were Jonathan Walters, a forward who contributed 7 goals and 5 assists, who started all 38 matches and Peter Crouch, the ridiculously tall striker brought in from Tottenham, struck 10 goals in 32 appearances for the club. Ryan Shawcross continues to be their top defender, his consistency irreplaceable for the team since he joined back in 2007-08. And finally, old Reds player Jermaine Pennant continues to be a formidable player from the wing feeding Crouch.

AGF: 0.9 AGA: 1.4

Offseason: Stoke has continued along with their tight budgetary concerns this offseason after spending an unusual amount last season on Peter Crouch to move him from Spurs.

The club has allowed aging defender Johnathan Woodgate to move to Middlesborough on a free transfer, as well as selling annually loaned Danny Collins to Nottingham Forest. Some young developing players have been cleared out on loan to the lower level English leagues, but outside of that, no immaculate sales that happened of the core of their players, which could be the most startling and important thing for this small club.

The keeping of Jermaine Pennant has been essential as talk of his move from Stoke has been around all offseason. The winger cannot be allowed to go without an adequate replacement, which could have been why Stoke reportedly was in the bidding for Wolves’ Matt Jarvis, but actually ended up adding one of the club’s other wingers, Michael Kightly. Kightly joins a side that is in need of some more firepower and is being hoped to push fellow wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington and find some playing time. He is a few years away from his last major time with Wolves, while they were in the Championship and he played brilliantly (19 assists). Since, he hasn’t been able to find the pitch nearly as much.

Finally, it seems that Goran Popov, left back from Dynamo Kiev has been loaned-in. The work permit has been rejected, and we’re not completely sure what will come of it. If he does eventually make the move, it could be a swell addition to a back line that allowed many more goals than the team scored last year.

2012-13: This season ends the magic for Stoke City, as they continue their fall in the Premier League. They’ll flirt with the relegation zone all year, but their mediocre football and ability to stay in and grind out matches guarantees them yet another year in the EPL. Without any major funding or movement in transfer windows, this team surely has a low ceiling.

Predicted Final Table Standing: 15th

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About Mike Gazdik

Born in Detroit, raised in Warren, MI and now located in Grand Rapids, Mike has lived in Michigan his whole life: totaling 22 years. He currently is Vice-President of The Farm Club, a blog that is growing daily with new writers and readers. He enjoys offering research driven articles on many different subjects, but mostly American football. The goal of The Farm Club is to give aspiring college writers the ability to write on what topics really get them ticking, while sharing their insight and feelings with a large reader base. www.thefarmclub.net If you think you'd like to contribute to The Farm Club, contact the blog on Twitter, Facebook or through email. Information is listed on the blog's webpage.

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  1. A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Your EPL Team | TheFarmClub.net - August 19, 2012

    […] Michael Gazdik and his in-depth preview of your newly beloved EPL team this season, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part […]

  2. The Farm Club Preview: English Premier League Part IV | TheFarmClub.net - August 17, 2012

    […] Part III […]

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