Thursday, 8 August 2013

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 4

In the penultimate part of our Premier League season guide we take a look at Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Norwich City:
Having hovered around the relegation places during the middle of last season, the Canaries ended up finishing a very respectable 11th place. Earning just 10 points in 16 games during the season meant that Chris Hughton's men ruined an excellent start to the season. By mid-December they were only two points off a European place having beaten both Arsenal and Manchester United. Although Norwich didn't slip into the relegation places, there were certainly a few nervous looks during March and April. Three wins in their final five games of the season, including a final day win at Manchester City meant that they finished in 11th place. The main problem Hughton's men faced last season, was the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Norwich's 41 goals was the third lowest in the league behind QPR and Stoke, with eight of the them coming from top goalscorer Grant Holt.

With Holt moving to Wigan Athletic, Hughton has brought in Dutch duo Leroy Fer and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, as well as Celtic striker Gary Hooper. Both Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper have been prolific goal scorers wherever they have played, and City fans will expect the pair to strike up an excellent partnership. There have been a number of other arrivals at Carrow Road this summer with Javier Garrido making his loan move permanent, Martin Olsson arriving from Blackburn and Nathan Redmond making the move from Birmingham City. Norwich will want to start the campaign well and gather as many points as possible, as their final four games of the season include Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Key Player: Ricky Van Wolfswinkel

Predicted finish: 13th

Despite sacking Nigel Adkins in the middle of last season, Southampton still finished in 14th place under current manager Mauricio Pochettino. Under the Argentine, the Saints beat Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea at home in the second half of last season. With half a season under his belt, Pochettino now has a full season to further strengthen his side as they look to improve on last year's position. One signing they have brought in, is centre back Dejan Lovren, who at 25, has made the move from French giants Lyon. One concern about the Croatian is the three red cards he picked up for Lyon, in 18 games last season. Joining Lovren is Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama who signed for £12.5 million. The goals from Rickie Lambert were extremely important for the Saints last season, with the big man hitting 15 league goals. The striker will need to be at it again this year if similar success is to be achieved at St Mary's.

The Saints have had a decent pre-season so far winning three out of five games they have played, losing two to Celta Vigo and Schalke. The opening four games to the season are games that Saints fans will expect their side to get points from. In West Brom, Sunderland, Norwich and West Ham, Southampton only managed four points against these sides last year, a total that should be improved this year, if the club have any ambition to finish higher in the league.

Key Player: Adam Lallana

Predicted finish: 10th

Stoke City:
After ten years of being in charge, Tony Pulis was sacked at the end of last season. His replacement, Mark Hughes, was one that not many Stoke fans were too impressed with. The former QPR manager has the tough task of managing a team that only scored 34 goals last year winning just two games away from home. Without a massive budget to play with Hughes job will be too develop the youngsters and add some much needed flare to a side who love to play direct football. In the transfer window, Hughes has only signed two players, Erik Pieters and Mark Muniesa, both defenders. Signed from PSV, Pieters is a left back and a player that Stoke were in need for as they spent most of last season with the right footed Marc Wilson in that position. Hughes will look to change the way Stoke play and look to get them scoring more regularly than they did under Pulis. In the 190 games they have played in the Premier League, they have only hit the net 188 times. Jonathan Walters was top goal scorer last season with just eight goals, and Hughes will look to him and Peter Crouch to be netting a lot more often.

Things don't get any easier for Hughes as his first game in charge of Stoke comes in the shape of Liverpool at Anfield. His side also face a home game against Man City and a trip to Arsenal in the club's first five games of the season. Other than QPR, 'Sparky' has a decent record in the Premier League with spells at Manchester City, Fulham and Blackburn Rovers.

Key Player: Steven N'Zonzi

Predicted finish: 16th

Paolo Di Canio was appointed as Sunderland boss at the end of March and was given the job of keeping the Black Cats in the top flight. He did this in the seven games he was in charge of winning two, drawing two and losing three. In particular the 3-0 away win over rivals at Newcastle United is the stand out result for Sunderland fans. His extravagant celebrations and his passion is something that will be welcomed Premier League fans this season. However a 6-1 thumping by Aston Villa and two poor draws against Stoke and Southampton don't bode well. So far on the transfer front, Di Canio has been busy both with new arrivals and departures. The club's best player last season Simon Mignolet has moved on to Liverpool, leaving Kieren Westwood and Vito Mannone to fight it out for the number one spot. January recruit Danny Graham failed to score in any of his thirteen appearances for Sunderland and has also moved out on loan to Premier League new boys Hull City. Just like Stoke and Norwich, goals were hard to come by as they only managed just the 41 goals.

Without key striker Steven Fletcher for two months last season meant that without the Scot, Sunderland struggled to find the goal. It is a must that he stays fit for this season. American Jozy Altidore has been brought in from AZ and fans will hope that he brings the form that saw him score 23 goals in Holland last year. He is joined by Italian Emanuele Giaccherini who joins from Juventus and was one of the players to stand out from the Italian side that made the semi finals of this summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Key Player: Steven Fletcher

Predicted finish: 18th

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