THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Sunderland - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Last Year: 10th
Big Signing: Conor Wickham £8.1 million rising to a potential £12.5 million from Ipswich Town
Good news: Jordan Henderson money invested in a couple of Premier League winners plus the acquisition of one of the finest young talents in the game.
Bad News: Darren Bent's goals were badly missed in the second half of the season, he's yet to be replaced.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (1973)
Sunderland will probably go into the new season with a slight air of optimism. Defensively they look fairly solid and in Brown in O'Shea they have acquired a duo with more medals than Mutley the dog. But its upfront were the Black Cats seem to be lacking. As Asamoah Gyan's musical career began to take off in his native Ghana his goals simultaneously began to dry up. To be fair he was hardly aided by the loss of his strike partner Darren Bent who was sold to Aston Villa. It was this lack of fire-power that nearly sent Sunderland down the plug-hole and so Steve Bruce must strengthen here if they are to achieve a top ten finish. Will be interesting to see how their wonder kid from Ipswich, Conor Wickham adapts to life in the Premier League. If he does well history suggests the Mackems may well find it difficult to hang onto him. No relegation worries this year but probably not much better than that.
Last Year: 3rd in the Championship (Promoted via the play-offs)
Big Signing: Danny Graham £3.5 million from Watford.
Good News: Swansea's first season in the top flight since 1983.
Bad News: The morale-sucking opening game hammering by Manchester City.
Last major trophy: Johnstone's Paint Trophy (2006)
Like Norwich under Paul Lambert, Swansea were promoted to the Premier League under a certain footballing philosophy espoused by incumbent boss Brendan Rogers. For those unfamiliar with the way the Swans play they are a pure footballing side who favour old fashioned wing-play using the pace and skills of Wayne Routledge and Scott Sinclair. Like Blackpool last year, there is no outward sign that they are keen to trade in their philosophy in favour of pragmatism. We'll see what happens if results start going badly but Rogers is canny enough to deal with a problem before it becomes a larger crisis. We think they'll have enough to stay in the division although their last two games do not make healthy reading. Manchester United away followed by Liverpool at home. Would probably be best if they had secured their status by then.
Last Year: 5th
Big Signing: Brad Friedel, Free from Aston Villa
Good News: Their great run in the Champions League and the spine of a fairly decent side.
Bad News: The ongoing Luca Modric saga.
Last major trophy: League Cup Winners (2008)
Tottenham continue to be one of the enigmas of Enlish football. Just when you think they are ready to truly challenge to become one of the country's Premier clubs then it all threatens to go straight back down the toilet again. Despite the many match-winning performaces from Raphael Van der Vaart and Footballer of the Year (yes, really) Gareth Bale, Spurs still slipped out of the top four and so take their place at the Europa League table this season. Success for some perhaps, but having sampled the high life of Europe's premier competition this must almost feel like demotion. Tottenham's first eleven is good enough to take on most teams and get a positive result but scratch just below the surface and there are one or two problems. This is manifested mainly in attack. Decent though Couch, Pavlyuchenko and Defoe are unlikely to get you over twenty a season, something that a top four side really needs. Whilst others have built Spurs seem to be sitting still, waiting for the Luca Modric money, if it ever arrives. One piece of good news is that Harry has brought in evergreen 'keeper Brad Friedel to replace the hapless Huerelho Gomez. Those making Christmas 'cock-up' tapes are said to be gutted.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Last Year: 11th
Big Signing: Zoltan Gera FREE
Good News: With Uncle Roy at the helm a steady season is in prospect.
Bad News: Lack of concentration at home to Man United in the first game cost them what may be a precious point.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (1968)
Last season was a strange one for West Brom. They were the only side to take anything away from Old Trafford and beat Arsenal at the Emirates. But then took a terrifying dive until Roy Hodgson was conveniently fired by Liverpool and soon steadied the ship. Going forward the Baggies have some fairly decent players in Brunt, Odemwingie and the returning Zoltan Gera but again its the defence that may well cost them dear. However, in trying to rectify this Hodgson has cunningly drafted in Ben Foster on loan from Birmingham who is surely an upgrade from the comedic former England keeper Scott Carson. If West Brom are to maintain their top flight status then they must continue their very decent home form. What are we even worrying about? They'll be fine!
last Year: 16th.
Big Signing: Ali Al-Habsi £4 million from Bolton Wanderers.
Good News: The Latics ride again in the Premier League with Roberto Martinez still at the helm.
Bad News: The loss of Charles N'Zogbia to Villa.Last major trophy: Nowt in the cupboard except a Freight Rover Trophy win back in 1985 and an Auto Windscreens Shield from 1999.
When relegation seemed almost a certainty last season the Latics fought for their Premier League life; encapsulated neatly by the magnificent comeback at home to the soon-to-be-doomed West Ham. But then Midlands giants Aston Villa came knocking after manager Roberto Martinez. He turned them down. He must have seen something at Wigan that was frankly lacking at Villa Park. Last season's talisman Charles N'Zogbia later followed the path which his boss refused to follow, but in Victor Moses perhaps Martinez already possessed an equally gifted talent. We can't promise that this season won't be a hard one and that the ghost of relegation won't haunt the DW Stadium once more. But what we do think is that once more Wigan Atheltic will defy the odds and remain a Premier League club for yet another season.
Last Year: 17th
Big Signing: Roger Johnson £7 million from Birmingham City.
Good News: The signing of Johnson should help shore-up a very dodgy Wolves defence.
Bad News: The rest of the defence remains intact.
Last Major Trophy: League Cup (1980).
Wolves were one of the more unfathomable teams last season, not least by their own manager Mick McCarthy, who spent most of last season pulling at his hair wondering how they kept losing. Clearly a very porous defence hardly helped the situation and they'll hope that new signing and captain Roger Johnson will help plug some of that gap. Despite the worries at Moyneaux there does seem to be some room for optimism and the fact that they have held onto Matt Jarvis is another reason to be cheerful. (Even to a dour Yorkshireman). Another season of survival for Wolves, which considering all the years they spent in exile away from the top flight, that is not such a bad thing.
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