As is normally the case, all the focus at the minute is what the big clubs are doing. Who are United buying, look at the new Chelsea boss, how much will City spend… it goes on. But what about the three fresh faces to grace the Premiership stage?It’s been a long awaited return for QPR, not so long for Norwich, and a first time for Swansea. And I predict each will face different fortunes.
Well lets start at the top. QPR were promoted as Champions having waltzed to the title, albeit almost overshadowed by the legal case surrounding a certain transfer 2 years ago. But the hoops can hold their heads high, as like Newcastle before them, they were at the summit all season and were deserved winners. Plus they also provide a bt of financial clout that could challenge their West London neighbours, although I think it will be a long time before the R’s reach those heights. I think Newcastle are probably a good base for QPR to work from. They achieved Premier League status early on, got a good mid table finish and can now look to build and consolidate this status. Given the money that manager Neil Warnock has at his disposal, he should be able to bring in some experienced additions to the squad, and I wouldn’t imagine the hoops to flirt too much with relegation this year.
I for one am also intrigued to see how Adel Taarabt steps up to the big stage. Player of the Season last year in the Championship, the young playmaker has plenty of goals and skills in his arsenal, and bags of confidence too. It may be key for QPR to hold onto their man, and will be interesting to see how he fares against the top defenders in the country. Taarabt however, has been quite outspoken since his time at QPR, flirting with the idea of a move to a big club and most recently expressed his admiration for thr R’s West London rivals Chelsea. With the spending power of Qatar behind them, a newly revamped PSG are also rumoured to be lining up a bid, although one would think QPR won’t have too many problems matching financial demands.
Elsewhere the club have been linked with a whole host of players this close season. Whilst a move for Wayne Routledge, who was on loan at Loftus Road last season from Newcastle, looks to have stalled slightly over payments, there are a host of other players linked with QPR. Recently David Nugent was linked with the club. The striker enjoyed a mixed spell in the Premiership with Portsmouth and I would have thought QPR may need to aim a bit higher than a player who has slowly fallen off the radar. Today there are reports linking Fabio Cannavaro to the club. Whilst there are no doubting the defensive talent of the one time World Player of the Year, having played out a season in the Qatar League and at the age of 37, one could be excused for thinking this is just a big name move. The only business of note so far was the new contract signed with Heidar Helguson. Whilst never prolific in the PL with Watford or Fulham, the veteran striker can pop up with a good goal tally, and I think it is a smart move if only as a solid back up. I think of the three promoted clubs, QPR has the best chnce at survival, and think that with financial backing can outdo the likes of Wigan and Wolves next term.
After a six year absence, the Premiership also welcomes back one of its founding members, after Norwich secured automatic promotion. The canaries played solid football throughout last year, and the pressure they applied to early shoe-ins Cardiff, ultimately made the Welsh wannabes implode not even taking the battle for second until the last game. Paul Lambert has been given massive credit for Norwich’s fortunes and rightly so having turned the club around since arriving from Colchester in 2009. Last time out, under Nigel Worthington, the canaries crashed out in style following a 6-0 thumping by Fulham on Survival Sunday, although I expect they will be more prepared this time out and won’t play such open football. That’s not to say I don’t want to see another half time Delia outburst.
As is always the way for newly promoted clubs, investment is key. Even moreso I think for Norwich and Swansea than QPR, as the latter has a substantial financial status to fall back on. So what Lambert does in the close season could have a big say on how Norwich’s season pans out. Of course a club always has to take into account the financial cancer that is relegation as has been seen with many clubs who have dropped to the lower tier and never quite been able to return. But Norwich have dropped out before, so they know what their up against.
They already have a few good players who warrant the step up to test themselves against the premier elite such as winger Andy Surman and captain Grant Holt who both enjoyed fine seasons last year. They have already added former Everton striker James Vaughan to the ranks, following Vaughan’s most recent promising role at Crystal Palace. Rumoured to be in for Frazer Forster, another goalkeeper emerging through Newcastle’s books, as well as sealing a deal to take Manchester United’s Ritchie De Laet on loan for the season, the canaries are definitely looking to tie up their business early. Whilst in comparison to QPR’s squad, Norwich seem weaker, I think the better comparison would be to those clubs who narrowly avoided the drop last season such as Wigan and Wolves, as I believe it is these teams that Norwich will be battling with to retain Premiership status. With a squad of untested talent I predict Norwich to struggle and would label it a good season if they survive the drop this time round.
At last, having spent the last four years pushing and prodding, Wales have a team in the top flight, albeit not the one we expected. Back in 2006, halfway through the year, Cardiff City topped the table and looked like shoe-ins for automatic promotion before they catastrophically imploded and fell right off their perch. Two years ago, having finished third they made the Playoff final only to be beaten by Blackpool, who finished the season in sixth after a late dash at the end of the campaign. And then last year, having occupied second for so long they imploded once more in spectacular fashion losing 3-0 at home to Boro to slip into the Playoffs once more. Having earned a solid draw away at Reading they once more threw it away at home and have now parted services with their manager and a host of first team players, leaving one wondering what the future holds for them. Contrast that to their South Wales rivals Swansea and its a different picture. In Cardiff’s shadows for a long time, it wasn’t too long ago that Swansea were battling away in the football league’s lowest division. But having secured promotion to the championship with the League 1 title three years ago, they cemented themselves in the Championship before pushing for the playoffs. Two years ago they narrowly missed out, and I think this was a good thing as it gave the Swans another year to develop and push on which they did having finished third this year.
Having followed the flowing football of Roberto Martinez and Paolo Sousa, Brendan Rogers has installed a bit of confidence in the free-flowing football the Swans play and they were deserved winners against Reading in the Playoff final last month. They have some exciting talent too. Nathan Dyer is a fantastic talent and is sure to cause problems for many full backs in the Premiership next year. Scott Sinclair, fresh from Chelsea, is also an exciting prospect having scored a hatrick in the final to help secure promotion. I’m also shocked he was omitted from England’s starting line up in the Under 21’s fnals this summer, losing out to Tottenham’s Danny Rose. I for one only remember one game in which Rose had real impact and that was against Arsenal at the Lane when Rose’s rasping distance strike sealed three points for ‘Arry’s men. But that was the season before last, and Sinclair has had a full season in which he was instrumental in Swansea’s success.
Swansea also have a good back line with Welsh captain Ashley Williams, although it is in defence where I think Swansea are struggling at the moment and need to tighten ship. I’m speaking about the transfer of keeper Dorus De Vries to Wolves and speculation linking Neil Taylor away from the club. De Vries has been Swansea’s number one for many years now and is a reliable a keeper as they could have wished for. He won the Golden Gloves two years ago for most clean sheets and was a solid performer in their promotion campaign last term. I think they will struggle to replace him, but will have to to achieve survival. Taylor has also been linked with a move to Newcastle to replace the possibly outgoing Jose Enrique at St James’. Perhaps not as influential as De Vries, it would be a big loss to the Swans who will probably be looking backwards to the Championship for replacement. The club have already been linked with Emnes and Leroy Lita from Boro, although I would cite a slight lack of ambition here. Whilst Emnes is a promising player and has years ahead of him, he was never quite tested at the top level, having been slightly too young when Boro occupied the Premiership. And whilst Lita has enjoyed spells at a number of clubs and was a promising member of the under 21’s set up a few years ago, he has never quite fulfilled that promise and falls into the Akinbiyi-Earnshaw category as great Championship player, but never proved at the top.
Another player linked to a move to the Liberty is Spanish midfielder Marcos Senna. Back in 2006 the Villareal man was linked with moves to Man Utd and Arsenal following an outstanding spell, dominating in central midfield. Senna chose to rebuff this interest and stick it out with Villareal who have never quite reached the heights of the 2006 Champions League semi final against Arsenal. Now out of contract it would be an odd move for Senna to choose South Wales to Spain, but would be a good one for his potential employers if it goes through. Whilst his talents have waned and he is ever-aging, he does add a great deal of experience to a side that is relatively lacking at present. However with VIllareal back in talks this move may never materialise.
It seems a long time since the days of the Vetchfield, and Swansea have come a long way, although I’m not sure how they will fare in the Premiership. Whilst they play the most attractive football of the promoted trio, this could be their downfall as past sides have shown; opening up against the big boys normally puts you on the wrong end of a drubbing. I would love to see the Swans stay up, but struggle to see how this will be possible without a significant investment this summer. Still, stranger things have happened and I wouldn’t have predicted Birmingham or possibly even West Ham for the drop this time last year. It can all change so quickly…