We made it through. We survived the international break. Football-less Saturdays are a gloomy thought at the best of times, but even more so immediately after the close of the Summer Transfer Window. The prospect of seeing your club’s new players don their new colours is a most tantalising one; to have then have that ripped from you by a thoroughly ill-conceived set of international matches seems to be a particularly cruel move from the powers that be. Nonetheless, we’re back to our scheduled programme of copious quantities of club football this weekend and, now the dust has settled a tad, I thought I’d take this chance to glance over the business that Premier League sides did over the summer and run the rule over just what fans of top flight sides have to look forward to from their brand new acquisitions. Undoubtedly a few of these calls will leave me with egg on my face so do feel free to hold this up as a ‘I-told-you-so’ when the inevitable occurs.
Chelsea: Chelsea did some exceptional business this summer and they managed to do it early. While there was certainly a large outlay in terms of transfer fees for Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, the club also managed to balance the books while they were at it. Redeeming £50 million for the sale of David Luiz is looking a better deal with every passing minute and, while many raised an eyebrow when Mourinho let Lukaku go, Everton probably paid over the odds for him. Chelsea also made a profit on a player who only made a handful of appearances for the club highlighting the business model that dictates their transfer policy and has been subject to significant scrutiny recently. Also it’s worth bearing in mind that they managed to cut Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole’s wages from the wage bill with the threat of FFP sanctions looming at the expense of losing a further two Homegrown players from the squad. In terms of other arrivals, the return of Didier Drogba will surely bolster the dressing room and bring some experience and support to the rest of the squad, whilst Loic Remy could be a steal for £8.5 million, provided he gets enough game time.
Arsenal: Obviously Alexis Sanchez was the marquee signing of the window for the Gooners, but I think it is amongst their other additions that the scouting network has done their best work. In terms of strengthening their back-line, it has been a case of one-in-one-out. Ushering chronic under-performer Bacary Sagna out of the door in favour of the more bucaneering Matthieu Debuchy for a reasonable price appears to be a wise move. Likewise, selling wantaway captain Thomas Vermaelen for £15 million and bringing in Calum Chambers for £16 million is already looking like a smart piece of business for the future. Chamber’s has displayed an assurance at centre-half that has belied his age and his versatility means he can provide cover at right back, where he was playing for Saints. Additionally, shipping out Fabianski [although he has been flourishing in early displays for Swansea] and signing David Ospina will provide some quality competition for Woijech Szczesny when he has his inevitable wobbly spell. They’re still potentially lacking a destructive holding midfield player and the rest of the midfield looks extremely top heavy; there are too many advanced playmakers in this squad for very limited positions in their system. Wenger is going to have problems accommodating all of them and keeping the rest happy. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Danny Welbeck could prove to be the shrewdest addition of the lot. Although Wenger has made some curious remarks this week that sort of undermines his new front man, Welbeck has all the attributes to blossom in this Arsenal side. His pace, directness and selfless running will give Arsenal some desperately needed variety to their front-line. Let’s be honest, most Arsenal fans were just crying out for another body out there to keep Sanogo away from proceedings. Is it too early to think that Welbeck could be shaped into the new Thierry Henry?
… Almost certainly yes.
West Ham: My thoughts on West Ham’s window shopping are summarised here but since then the club did a little bit more business. Alex Song is a massive coup for the club, although I’m slightly suspicious as a number of big clubs were linked to him but he ended up at Upton Park. So either he’s being paid a mega wedge of cash or there’s something wrong with him. If he strikes up a partnership with Cheikhou Kouyaté, West Ham will look very formidable in the engine room of the pitch. On the final day of the transfer window, West Ham managed to get shot of Mo Diame, who they carried at points last season and got Morgan Amalfitano through the door before the deadline. Another creative body in can only be a good thing and he provides a bit of variety from wide positions as he’s a different sort of player to Jarvis and Downing. Spectacular work from the Irons over the summer.
Burnley: Solid, if unspectacular work from gravel-voiced manager Sean Dyche. Burnley’s success last season was founded on squad harmony, hard work and tactical discipline, supported by a strong core squad. They used a remarkably few amount of players and operating on a small budget with a small squad proved to be beneficial as Dyche was forced to select largely the same team every week which fostered unity and understanding between his players. All of which is to say, Dyche knows where his bread is buttered and hasn’t strayed to far from his tried and trusted formula. The likes of Matt Gilks, Matt Taylor, Steven Reid and Stephen Ward are all players from a similar mould and will suit Burnley’s style down the ground. These boys aren’t going to set the world alight individually but as part of a cohesive whole they could prove to be vital cogs in a survival bid. In terms of more attacking signings, Lukas Jutkiewicz adds industry whilst George Boyd, who famously missed out on a move to Nottingham Forest because of question marks over his eyesight, will add vision and flair to an otherwise workmanlike side. The deadline day loans of Michael Keane and Nathaniel Chalobah from Mancherster United and Chelsea respectively could both prove to be interesting. With a dearth of central defenders at United, it’s clear that they don’t really rate Keane as he’s been allowed out on loan. Chalobah, however, enjoyed an exceptional breakout season on loan at Watford two seasons ago but has failed to recapture that form in subsequent loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. Burnley have obviously identified a lack of pace in their current central defensive partnership of Jason Shackell and Michael Duff and have brought in two young boys with a point to prove to address that, while Chalobah can also challenge Marney and Arfield in the centre of midfield. Most importantly of all, Burnley haven’t overstretched themselves financially in bringing the new signings in, consolidating the future of the club if the season does end in a return to the Championship. But if you can’t motivate yourself to play for a manager who sounds like a bag of loose change has been thrown into a tumbledryer, then you don’t deserve to be playing the game, frankly.
Man City: City’s transfer dealings this season have been hamstrung by FFP regulations meaning that their best business has been tying down some of their best players, such as Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Edin Dzeko to 5-year contracts. The handful of players that they have brought in have certainly improved the squad: Bacary Sagna is good cover but unlikely to challenge Pablo Zabaleta for a starting berth; Pellegrini clearly isn’t totally convinced by Joe Hart so Willy Caballero will provide some real competition with him and Frank Lampard has been brought in to boost their homegrown players quota and to keep him fit for his New York City FC venture. They have splashed the cash on a couple of players however, with Fernando coming in to add more defensive discipline to an already stacked midfield and the big money signing of Eliaquim Mangala as the long-term partner for Vincent Kompany. Despite sending Micah Richards and Alvaro Negredo out on loan to Fiorentina and Valencia respectively, City have left themselves with a frighteningly deep squad capable of fielding two completely different starting XI’s that could compete at the top end of the table. A stronger showing in Europe is a must for Pellegrini this season and he’s equipped himself with a squad that should be more than capable of achieving that.
Southampton: What a window the Saints have had. A mass exodus of the spine of their successful team saw Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, Chambers and Shaw on the receiving end of big money moves to bigger clubs and left Ronald Koeman with a big job on this hands. However, he clearly decided that if he could sign replacements in a similar mould to the players he lost then he could replicate the success that Southampton had last season and I think you could make a case that their squad is now stronger than it was last season. Ryan Betrand is a solid defender at this level and will plug the gap left by Shaw, even if he won’t contribute as much progressively as Shaw did. Toby Aldeweireld is an excellent central defender on his day and is a more than capable substitute for Dejan Lovren. There’s not much known about his potential new partner in crime, Romanian defender Florin Gardos, but he could be a bit of a surprise package. Further forward, Dusan Tadic was spell-binding at times for Twente last season and will replace the trickery and creative influence of Adam Lallana whilst also adding a bit more pace than his predecessor. Likewise swapping Rickie Lambert for Graziano Pelle has allowed them to replace one technically astute target man for another who is more mobile. Koeman managed him last season and knows exactly what he’s about. He’ll bag plenty of goals in England. Shane Long is possibly a slight blemish as they paid way over the odds for a player with limited goalscoring ability, but Koeman obviously values the pace and work ethic that the Irish man brings to the table. Southampton’s other deadline day signing, Sadio Mane could well prove to be a triumph for the scouting network. He had a great goalscoring record from midfield during his time in Austria and he bagged a couple of goals for Senegal during their last round of fixtures. Koeman’s biggest challenge will be integrating his new players and ensuring that his dressing is happy. Undoubtedly the lads who left will have formed the core of the dressing room last season so they will have left a big void to fill. He also will have to contend with both Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez who were angling for moves to Spurs but didn’t get them. If the big Dutchman can get them on board, there’s no reason why this Saints squad can’t go one better than the team of last season.
Swansea: Like several other teams, the best thing to come out of the transfer window for the Swans was keeping hold of their biggest talent. Keeping Wilfried Bony at the club is a virtual guarantee of goals. Slightly less positive for the Welsh team is the players who have left the club. Losing Michel Vorm and Ben Davies both to Spurs is a bit blow, but they have ready made replacements in Lukas Fabianski, who has looked more assured in his first 3 games for Swansea than he ever did in an Arsenal shirt, and Neil Taylor who has recovered well from a couple of injuries. They’ve also lost Michu on loan to Napoli but this isn’t as great of a loss as it first appears. He barely played last season due to injury and when he did get on the pitch he was largely ineffective. Clearly his head is no longer at Swansea so it’s best for him to have been moved on. Again, they’ve got themselves a fine replacement in Bafetembi Gomis who has finally found his way to the Prem after years of being run through the rumour mill. And finally, the loss of Chico Flores is a shame as he performed brilliantly at times but signing Napoli’s Federico Fernandez is another like for like replacement. Winger Jefferson Montero adds another dimension to their wide attackers meaning this team have a wide array of options when it comes to going forward. Adding Ki Sung-Yeung back into the mix along with Tom Carroll and Gylfi Sigurdsson from Spurs makes the future seem bright in Wales. Ultimately, Swansea have managed to replace the talent they have lost with quality replacements and they should do just fine this year.
Could Go Either Way:
Everton: It’s largely ‘as you were’ for Everton this season as their biggest transfer dealings this summer have been turning their two loan signings into permanent deals. The club smashed their transfer record to bring in Romelu Lukaku for £28 million and it is with him that the biggest quetion marks lie. Did they pay too much money for him? The answer to that question is probably yes. However, if he performs as he did last season for the Blues, I don’t think that you’ll find too many Everton fans complaining. This is a player who has two consecutive 15 league goal+ season by the age of 21. I don’t think there are too many causes for concern. At the very least, it must be refreshing for Toffee fans to see the club signalling their ambitions to compete with the big boys by spending a handsome sum on players. I never thought I’d see the day where Bill Kenwright gave the go ahead to sign a player for the best part of £30 mill. Elsewhere, Gareth Barry on a free transfer is about as low risk as transfers come and he’ll slot straight into where he ended last season. He knows the system well by now and is virtually guaranteed to have a good season. Samuel Eto’o has already got himself off the mark with that stunning header against his former club but he’ll have to chip in with his fair share of goals to justify his undoubted high wages. They’ve also added a couple of more midfielders to their squad. While Muhamed Besic made the worst possible start to his career with perhaps the most atrocious first touch in the history of Premier League debuts, he impressed for Bosnia at the World Cup in a deep-lying midfield role. He can perform a number of different roles in the centre of midfield and is exactly the sort of player Roberto Martinez loves to utilise. Christian Atsu could prove to be yet another master-stroke by Martinez, who has showcased his uncanny ability to make the most of the loan market throughout his career. Atsu had a solid season out at Vitesse Arnhem last season and gives Everton something a little different on the wing. Everton have traditionally operated with a paperthing squad but with the extra workload of competing in the Europa League, they’ve been forced to add some depth and they now have their strongest squad in recent memory. It remains to be seen whether their new players settle and make an impact and whether the squad as a whole will be able to handle the pressures of playing continental football.
Hull City: Hull have had a bit of a peculiar window as it seems as if they spent deadline day acquiring the players to equip themselves with a squad capable of competing in Europe, despite being knocked out of the Europa League two weeks previously. The players that they had been signing early in the window seemed to be very ‘on brand’ for Bruce: Andrew Robertson, Jake Livermore, Robert Snodgrass, Harry Maguire and Tom Ince are all promising footballers that would appear at first glance to fit into the squad and system that Hull used last season. However, it seems that Hull then went wildly off-script with the five players they acquired as the end of the transfer window drew closer. Michael Dawson could prove to be a excellent signing admittedly as he will shore up their back-line and would seem to naturally complement Curtis Davies. If Mo Diame can rediscover his form then he could be a fantastic addition, but that’s a fairly big if. At very least he’ll add some power into their engine room. But it is the attacking triumvirate of Gaston Ramirez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Abel Hernandez that raised the most eyebrows. Ramirez and Ben Arfa are blessed with great ability but there have been grave doubts of their application and consistency. Hernandez has undoubted pedigree, having made the Uruguay squad for the last two World Cups, but he still only scored 13 league goals in Serie B last season. Most pressingly though, is that it is difficult to see where Ben Arfa and Ramirez would play in Hull’s current system, meaning that Bruce might have to upset the balance of his successful side in order to accommodate them. Moreover, despite selling Shane Long and George Boyd for very good money, they’ve got a massive, bloated squad and Hull have a lot of plates to keep spinning in order to keep everyone happy. It could well be their undoing.
Liverpool: The conundrum for Rodgers was how do you replace Luis Suarez? His answer was to seemingly buy a whole new squad. The pillaging of Southampton for Lambert, Lovren and Lallana has added quality to the squad where it was previously lacking, although he has probably overpaid for the latter two. Lallana in particular is in need of an impressive season to show that he can be more than a big fish in a small pond. Lovren has looked shakey at the start of his career but he’ll need to settle fast, especially as Daniel Agger has returned to his native Denmark. It’s difficult to see Lambert getting much game time but everyone is aware of his qualities and he’s very good cover. The pair of Spanish full backs, Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo already appear to have added an extra dimension to the team. The attacking support they’ve provided in the opening encounters will be a relief to Liverpool fans who will be glad they no longer have to suffer through yet another season of Glen Johnson drudgery. Emre Can and Lazar Markovic are both wise investments for the future who have shown some tidy touches in their early appearances at Anfield, and there’s also Divock Origi who will spend this season back at Lille. The future’s looking bright for the Merseyside team but there’s worries about whether the squad will be able to pick up the goalscoring slack in the short term to replace Suarez. Then of course there is the wild card. The joker in the deck. The potential ace up the sleeve Mario Balotelli. The signed him at a great price but there’s literally no telling which Balotelli they’ll get. His seeming inability to settle anywhere is troublesome and there’s always the worry that he could be a negative influence of the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Still, he has the ability to change games single-handedly, if only you can get the best out of him.
Tottenham: Potentially a little harsh to put Spurs into this category as they did a lot right in their recruitment but I think there’s a couple of glaring errors which detract from this. Pochettino was obviously unhappy with his defensive options and has addressed that by bringing in a number of quality young players. Eric Dier has been sensational in his first couple of games for the club and it’s surely only a matter of time until Ben Davies manages to dislodge Danny Rose from the starting left back position. The new manager is also clearly not a fan of long, aimless diags into touch so he has seen fit to put Mickey Dawson out to pasture. In his stead he has brought in certified hunk Federico Fazio from Sevilla. The 6″8 central defender has a jawline chiselled from marble and is one of the most imposing defenders in the modern game. He’s handy in possession to boot so expect him to do well. Many Spurs fans will be disappointed to see the back of the Beast, Sandro, although the more level headed amongst them will acknowledge that he isn’t quite good enough to push Tottenham on. The man they have brought in to replace him, Benjamin Stambaouli is a strong candidate for bargain of the window. The former Montpelier man has unbelievable stamina and is good enough to both put out fires and then distribute possession clinically after he has won it back. A definite upgrade on the cumbersome Brazilian. Despite all of the positive work they put in to strengthening their foundations, it seems that Tottenham have left themselves woefully short at the pointy end. From the early squads he has named it has become increasingly clear that Pochettino ranks Harry Kane above Roberto Soldado in the White Hart Lane pecking order. While Kane’s endeavour is to be admired, he isn’t of sufficient quality to lead a top six attack for a sustained period of time, which he might well have to if anything happens to Adebayor. With an African Cup of Nations looming on the horizon this January, the start of the new year could be an uncomfortable period for Spurs fans.
QPR: A typically frantic couple of summer months from Harry Redknapp. It had appeared that they had chosen to do things a little differently this time around; carefully identifying and selecting players to improve their squad. Bringing in the central defensive partnership of Ferdinand and Caulker seemed an intelligent blend of youth and experience. Adding Jordon Mutch and Leroy Fer in the centre of midfield on the cheap also seemed a wise move, while getting Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Isla who both impressed for Chile at the World Cup could be two of the best signings of the window as a whole. They then decided to throw caution to the wind and Redknapp was up to his old tricks on deadline day, bringing in Alex McCarthy, Jack Robinson, Sandro and his old favourite Nico Kranjcar. McCarthy and Robinson and both good prospects for the future so it’s difficult to criticise those, whereas Kranjcar is well past his best and Sandro’s combination of injury and disciplinary issues saw his chances at Tottenham severely limited towards the tail end of last season. The upshot of all of that is that the club has now got yet another huge squad with a assive wage bill, no clearly defined playing philosophy or squad harmony and a manager who thought it would be a good idea to play Richard Dunne as the left sided centre back in a back 3. It all smells a bit like doom and gloom for QPR to me.
Newcastle: Bit of a strange one for Newcastle. Like a number of other clubs in this division, it looks like they might well struggle a bit of goals. Emmanuel Riviere looks industrious upfront but he has a poor goalscoring record at his previously clubs so it doesn’t seem like he’s going to make a huge splash. It’s a similar story for the versatile Siem De Jong, who will add a composed head to their attack but with no guarantee of a bagful of goals. Remy Cabella has shown glimpses of inspiration so far and is an exciting prospect to fill the void left by Yohan Cabaye’s departure last January. Elsewhere in the squad, they’ve done well to sign Janmaat who looks a like for like replacement for Debuchy and Jack Colback, the ginger Pirlo, has edged his way onto the fringe of the England squad already and has a big season ahead of him to prove himself as an established Premier League player. Ayoze Perez is a bit of an unknown quantity and could make a real difference. The best signings that they’ve made are the two lads they’ve loaned back to Nottingham Forest: Karl Darlow and Jamal Lascelles. Darlow is one of the best young British goalkeepers about and his signing is a bit of an insurance policy if Tim Krul decides to move onto pastures new, while Lascelles could be the long-term solution to their long-standing centre-half issues. So, far from convincing stuff from Newcastle but there’s always the potential for them to gel and to have an impress season. Letting Shola Ameobi go was an utter travesty though and Pardew should be ashamed of himself.
Man United: van Gaal’s reign of terror has not had the most auspicious of starts and as such, Woodward and co have thrown some big money around in order to rectify this. The spending around £3o million on the likes of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera earlier on in the summer was greeted with a generally positive reaction. These were then followed up by United breaking the British transfer record to bring in Angel Di Maria and then spending the best part of £2o million each on Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and the loan of Radamel Falcao. The problems associated with this United side have been well-documented: a failure to address the perceived weaknesses in their side, purchasing players who don’t seem to fit the system they have started the season with and the fact they’ve left themselves desperately short at centre half. They did an admirable job of getting rid of the deadwood of Kagawa, Evra, Hernandez, Vidic, Ferdinand and Welbeck but there’s still a feeling around Old Trafford that van Gaal’s going to have some real problems accommodating all of the big egos, let alone the challenge of finding a way of translating his embarrassment of attacking riches into a cohesive and productive system. They’re certainly lacking a midfielder to break up play and there’s little point in having a potent strikeforce if you have no supplyline to feed it.
Sunderland: The Black Cats are difficult to pin down. Gus Poyet really turned them around last season and turned them into a competitive mid-table side. Everyone of a Sunderland persuasion will be hoping that they can use this a springboard for success a bit further up the table. Poyet has made some astute signings whilst also managing to get rid of some of the players Paolo Di Canio brought in who clearly didn’t fit in with the current manager’s plans. Jack Rodwell has a superb opportunity to reinvigorate his career with Sunderland after arresting his develop significantly with his move to City. If Rodwell grabs the bull by the horns and starts to deliver on some of the promise he showed at Everton then Sunderland will be a competitive side in this division once again. Defensively they’ve had a reshuffle, with the re-signing of Sanitago Vergini, along with the signings of Billy Jones, Sebastien Coates on loan and Patrick van Aanholt from Chelsea, the Uruguayan manager has a whole new back four to supplement stalwarts Jonh O’Shea and Wes Brown. He’s also added Costel Pantilimon, his former charge at Brighton Will Buckley and Jordi Gomez from Wigan who are all decent rotation options to improve the squad. While he missed out on prime attacking target Fabio Borini, he did manage to bring in Ricky Alvarez to add some flair going forward on a season-long loan from Inter Milan. By no means a spectacular window from the Black Cats but they should have enough about them to meet expectations if one or two of their new boys can find their feet. If they don’t, things could very easily go south for the boys on the Tyne.
Crystal Palace: The worst signing that the club have made is their new manager. With renowned odious cretin Neil Warnock at the helm, Palace could have a long old season on their hands. Their playing staff signings have been something of a mixed bag. A case of one step forward, one step back for them. Case in point: Martin Kelly signed for what basically amounts to a packet of Panini stickers and a half eaten Snickers is a top signing. Brede Hangeland, not so much. He adds experience and a bit more of a threat from set pieces but is he really any better than Scott Dann or Damien Delaney? Upfront, Palace’s newly acquired strike partnership of Kevin Doyle and Fraizer Campbell are going to strike fear into approximately fucking no-one. Campbell has gone through sporadic spells of looking like a half decent forward at Sunderland and Cardiff but hasn’t ever been able to replicate this on a consistent basis. Doyle, meanwhile, struggled to get into QPR’s Championship side last season, let alone make a meaningful contribution. But, the pretty shit/ fairly good equilibrium has probably been achieved with their signings of James McArthur and Wilfried Zaha. McArthur is a composed and commanding presence on the ball and add some much needed possessive quality to midfield to balance the shower of shit that is Mile Jedinak. Only downside is that perhaps they’ve paid mildly over the odds for him, but not by a great deal. Palace’s promotion campaign was aided significantly by the explosive wing combination of Yannick Bolasie one one side and Wilfried Zaha on the other. Will Zaha be able to recapture the sort of form that got him hoovered up by United and an England cap for his trouble? He’s already marked his second coming with a goal so all signs point to yes. Crystal Palace’s fortunes this season depend largely on whether they can maintain their hard to beat disciplined performances that they showed under Pulis the second half of last season. If they don’t, they could be in for a struggle as goals are looking hard to come by. Dwight Gayle’s started the season well and has threatened to live up to his £8 million price tag but beyond that, it’s difficult to see who is going to be hitting the back of the net on a regular basis.
Leicester City: The worry with Leicester is that they’ve maybe left themselves a little short. The Foxes gambled with the £8 million singing of Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton, but the big Argentine has already began to repay their faith with 2 goals in his first 3 games [all of which were against tough opposition] so that looks like it has paid off. Beyond that, it doesn’t seem likely that Nugent and Vardy will be able to cut it at this level. They can always call upon the skills of Gary Taylor-Fletcher whose body composition is approximately 75% Jaffa Cake. Esteban Cambiasso was the big shock and will be a huge lift for the club. He could prove the catalyst for success, causing the players around him to raise their game. That said, if things start to go awry for Leicester, there could be some resentment from the players who got promoted with the club towards him as it seems fairly likely that the club will have broken their wage structure to bring the former Champions League winner in. Beyond these two, there isn’t really much to get the pulse racing. Matt Upson will provide adequate cover for Morgan and Moore, who have both made good starts to their top flight careers. Upson did look a liability in terms of pace during his last spell in the Premier League and that was almost 5 seasons ago now. Danny Simpson is probably a better player than Ritchie De Laet so they’ve improved there. Speaking of former United players, they’ve brought in Nick Powell and Tom Lawrence who have a chance to impress away from their parent club but they’re both largely unproven players so it’s no guarantee that they’ll be better than what Leicester currently possess. If Ulloa keeps bagging goals and Cambiasso is able to exert his influence then they might be alright. Failing that, it’s difficult to see the Foxes doing enough to stay up.
Stoke: Mark Hughes continues to do his best Nick Knowles impression as he tries his utmost to give Stoke a bit of a cosmetic lift in the post-Pulis era. Long gone are the days of hopefully pumped balls into the box and javelin-like throw-ins. Now it’s all pass and move on the potteries with some very mediocre players. Seeing the likes of Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell are unlikely to put bums on seats, despite the wealth of experience of relegation dogfights they bring. The one signing who did ruffle a few feather is the signing of Bojan Krkic from Barcelona. The diminutive play-maker has been heralded as something of a coup for Stoke City but if ever there has been a player who flatters to deceive, it’s Bojan. After bursting onto the scene with Barca when he was 17, he’s bounced around Europe on various loan spells and has largely failed to perform anywhere he’s been. On previous form he doesn’t seem suited physically to the Premier League at all, so if he is going to be remotely successful, expect a long bedding in period at best. Getting Assaidi back to the Britannia and Senegalese forward Mame Biram Diouf are better bets to impose themselves on the top flight. Don’t expect Stoke to improve on last season. Stagnation is the key word here.
West Bromwich Albion: WBA fans have real cause for concern. I make them candidates to get sucked into a relegation battle. They have no recognised goalscorer, they have insufficient quality throughout the team and they’ve just had a massive influx of players none of whom look liable to have the required impact. Complete squad overhauls are rarely successful and I’d be amazed if West Brom were any different. At the back they’ve brought in Jason Davidson, Christian Gamboa, Sebastien Pocognoli, Joleon Lescott and Andre Wisdom; in midfield they’ve purchased Craig Gardner and Silvestre Varela; up top they’ve signed Brown Ideye, Giorgios Samaras and Sebastien Blanco. All of which is pretty meh to be be honest with you. Potential highlights are Wisdom with a chance to impress at a Premier League club and Brown Ideye has a spark of unorthodox creativity about him but he could be a massive flop. It’s a side short of goals, short on creativity and short on pace. West Brom are going to be an attritional side, set up to be difficult to beat and hard to watch. Sorry Baggies, you’re in trouble.
Aston Villa: Villa are strong contenders for the least inspiring window of the lot on paper. Reading through their signings is almost a veritable who’s who of mediocre mid-table Premier League players past their sell-by dates. Perennial clusterfuck Phillippe Senderos is back in town after somehow wrangling himself a loan move to Valencia in January and isn’t exactly the sort of signing to convince you that defensive frailties have been addressed. Kieran Richardson is a fine squad player but has rarely ever been more than that and it is difficult to see him changing that here. It is likewise difficult to see Joe Cole capturing anything like his best form for Villa, especially considering he couldn’t find it in his second spell at West Ham where there were pie and mash shops for him to glut on as far as the eye can see. There was a tad more room for optimism in the late acquisitions of Colombian central midfielder Carlos Sanchez and the exceptionally late loan signing of Tom Cleverley. Sanchez will add some steel to the centre of the park, while Cleverley has previously performed admirably in loan spells,, notably at Watford and Wigan, so perhaps he can revive his career. Arguably the best business Villa did was keeping hold of Ron Vlaar. With Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak to return from injury to bolster the frontline, couple with the excellent start the club have made in the opening games, perhaps things aren’t that bad at all for Villa fans. With Lambert and Keane at the helm though, dour mediocrity is almost assured.