2011/12 Premier League Preview Part One: Wolves – Swansea

Mick McCarthy will be hoping to steer well clear of the relegation zone this seasonToday sees the start of the new Barclays Premier League, and in preparation for the big kick-off Shouts from the Stands is doing a club-by-club preview of all 20 teams.

However, instead of the usual alphabetical order of Arsenal to Wolves, we’re doing things the other way around to give fans of clubs who usually have to wait until the end of a season preview the chance to focus on their teams first. Then on Saturday, the SFTS lads will be revealing their predictions for how the table will look come the end of May.

So we begin with the following five teams: New Welsh boys Swansea, Top-four chasing Spurs, the ever-improving West Brom, and Wigan and Wolves sides that look to kick on after their successful relegation battle last time around:

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Last Season: 17th

Summer so far: Having survived by the skin of their teeth and the curl of Stephen Hunt’s left foot, Wolves will want to make sure that they don’t have to wait until the dying seconds of the season to secure their top-flight status. In fact, after making sure of their their third consecutive campaign in the Premier League for the first time, Mick McCarthy’s side have greater ambitions than just staying in the division this time around. They’ve brought in Roger Johnson from Birmingham for what is believed to be a club-record fee, while Jamie O’Hara has secured a permanent move from Tottenham after an impressive loan spell in the second half of the season at Molineux. Dorus de Vries will also provide stiff competition for Wayne Hennessey in goal, and with a stronger squad all-round, McCarthy will expect his squad to push on in the next 12 months.

Transfers In: Roger Johnson (Birmingham City) Undisclosed, Dorus de Vries (Swansea) Free, Jamie O’Hara (Tottenham) £5 million

Transfers Out: Marcus Hahnemann (Unattached) Free, Adriano Basso (Unattached) Free, David Jones (Wigan) Free, Greg Halford (Portsmouth) £1 million, Nathan Rooney (Unattached) Free, John Dunleavy (Unattached) Free, Steven Mouyokolo (Sochaux) Loan, Scott Malone (Bournemouth) Loan, Danny Batth (Sheffield Wednesday) Loan, Carl Ikeme (Middlesbrough) Loan

Manager: Mick McCarthy – The 52 year-old doesn’t seem to get the same amount of praise as his fellow peers, but you cannot deny that the Yorkshireman has done an excellent job in his 5 years in charge at Molineux. Having guided the club to promotion in 2009, the man that guided the Republic of Ireland to the last 16 at the 2002 World Cup has instilled a strong, battling edge in his side that always makes them tough to beat, something that has seen his side unfairly described as a dirty team (yes, we’re looking at you Danny Murphy.) McCarthy has also shown he can learn from his mistakes, after a disastrous Premier League campaign with Sunderland in 2005/06. Now he’s earned the right to be called a Premier League manager.

Key Man: Roger Johnson – The fact that the 28 year-old defender has been made club captain just weeks after joining shows what a big signing he is at Molineux. The centre-half has been immense in the past two seasons for Birmingham City, forming a wonderful partnership with Scott Dann at the heart of the Blues defense. But he was powerless to prevent them from going down on the final day in May, and it was always a matter of time before he got a move to another top-flight club. Johnson is an old-fashioned centre-back; a no-nonsense attitude that supports a wonderful reading of the game. For all the big-money transfers that have taken place this summer, Johnson’s signature could prove to be one of the best of the lot.

Wigan Athletic

Last Season: 16th

Summer so far: Having defied the odds and the expectations of many to avoid relegation on the final day of last season, it’s been another summer where the Latics have tried to maintain ahead of improving. Roberto Martinez could have been easily swayed when Aston Villa asked for permission to speak to him about their vacant managerial position, but his heart ruled his head and he signed a new deal to remain at the DW Stadium, believing in the project he’s undergone the last two years. Unfortunately for Wigan fans, Villa didn’t come away empty-handed from the club this summer, after they secured the signing of influential playmaker Charles N’Zogbia. His departure could lead to another season of struggle from beginning to end.

Transfers In: Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton) £4 million, David Jones (Wolves)

Transfers Out: Charles N’Zogbia (Aston Villa) £9.5 million, Steven Caldwell (Birmingham City) Free, Antonio Amaya (Real Betis) Undisclosed, Jason Koumas (Unattached) Free, Daniel de Ridder (Grasshoppers Zurich) Free, Joseph Holt (Unattached) Free, Thomas Lambert (Unattached) Free, Thomas Oakes (Unattached) Free, Abian Serrano Davila (Unattached) Free

Manager: Roberto Martinez – He no longer has the title of the youngest manager in the Premier League, but the 38 year-old has won many plaudits this summer after rejected the overtures of Aston Villa and remained with the Latics. Over the past two seasons, the Spaniard has developed an attacking philosophy within his side, something that gained him many admirers when carrying out that mentality with his previous club Swansea. While it’s clear he believes in the project he’s undertaken at the DW, it’s also abundantly obvious he has a real emotional attachment with the club, and the supporters rightly have no doubts that they have a manager that will ensure he does everything possible to keep Wigan amongst the country’s best.

Key Man: James McCarthy – After the departure of Charles N’Zogbia, there will be more expectation placed upon the 20 year-old to pull the strings in the Wigan side. But this shouldn’t be as daunting as it sounds as McCarthy is one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League. The Scottish midfielder has shown he has an excellent passing game, and can chip in with a few goals due to his probing runs through the middle. It’s no wonder why Martinez is trying to secure a new deal for a player that cost just over £1 million when he joined from Hamilton in 2009, as his immense talent has gone on to show what a bargain he was at that price. He will be at the heart of the Wigan midfield, and instrumental in trying to ensure an eighth-straight season in the top flight.

West Bromwich Albion

Last Season: 11th

Summer so far: Having become the perennial yo-yo team of recent seasons, West Brom are now looking to push on after their best-ever finish in the Premier League. Chairman Jeremy Peace has always been sensible with how the club is run, but manager Roy Hodgson has been shrewd in the transfer market. Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones secured moves on a free transfer, while former fans favourite Zoltan Gera secured an emotional return to the Hawthorns after his contract with Fulham expired, while Ben Foster was brought in on loan after Scott Carson secured a lucrative move to Turkish club Bursaspor. However, Hodgson was given enough money to secure one big transfer – that of Reading striker Shane Long. The signing of the Republic of Ireland international forward will increase optimism that the Baggies can secure a third-straight campaign in the Premier League for the first time.

Transfers In: Shane Long (Reading) Undisclosed, Gareth McAuley (Ipswich Town) Free, Zoltan Gera (Fulham) Free, Billy Jones (Preston) Free

Transfers Out: Giles Barnes (Nottingham Forest) Free, Scott Carson (Bursaspor) £1.5 million, Abdoulaye Meite (Dijon FCO) Gianni Zuiverloon (Real Mallorca) Undisclosed, Reuben Reid (Oldham Athletic) Free, Dean Kiely (Retired), Marcus Haber (Unattached) Free

Manager: Roy Hodgson – To say that last season was full of highs and lows for the 64 year-old is a severe understatement. Having led Fulham to their first-ever European final 12 months ago, Liverpool acquired his services. Having gone into the campaign with a renewed vigour under Hodgson, things quickly turned sour; the Reds found themselves at the wrong end of the table whilst having to deal with a much-publicised takeover. But while that had a happy ending, Hodgson didn’t, losing his job at the turn of the year. However, in February he was given a chance to rebuild his managerial stock after West Brom’s at-the-time controversial sacking of Roberto Di Matteo. The former Blackburn boss guided the Baggies from the brink of the relegation zone to a mid-table finish, and while many criticise for not being able to manage clubs at the top end of the league, his reputation as a canny tactician has been rightfully restored.

Key Man: Chris Brunt – The Northern Ireland midfielder has improved year-on-year since he joined West Brom from Sheffield Wednesday in 2007. He played a big part in West Brom’s two promotions in his time at the Hawthorns, and the 26 year-old was influential as they retained their top-flight status last season. He has a glorious left foot that has been demonstrated from set-pieces on many occassions, and with the signing of Long he will play a crucial part in providing the ammunition for their new marksman and help take West Brom onto the next level. His standing in the squad was also highlighted this summer when he was made club captain after the departure of Scott Carson.

Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: 5th

Summer so far: After a demanding season that saw them earn a quarter-final place in the Champions League but fail to keep their place amongst Europe’s elite for this season, it created two main priorities for Spurs this summer – the need for a top-class striker and a real determination to hold onto their biggest stars. So far, they’ve had mixed success with these priorities. The quest for a new striker continues with the likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Fernando Llorente, Emmanuel Adebayor and Bryan Ruiz being linked with a move to White Hart Lane. But while they’ve managed to keep the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart and Sandro happy, recent months have been dominated by Luka Modric’s desire to move to Chelsea. It’s provoked a hard stance from Chairman Daniel Levy, who’s made it quite clear to the instrumental Croatian that he will not be sold under any circumstances this summer. When you see how he makes the team tick, it’s easy to understand why.

Transfers In: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa) Free, Cristian Ceballos (Barcelona) Free, Soulimane Coulibaly (Siena) £1.3 million.

Transfers Out: Jonathan Woodgate (Stoke) Free, Jamie O’Hara (Wolves) £5 million, Paul-Jose Mpoku (Standard Liege) £600,000, Steven Caulker (Swansea) Loan, Kyle Naughton (Norwich) Loan, Bongani Khumalo (Reading) Loan, Nathan Byrne (Bournemouth) Loan, Ryan Mason (Doncaster) Loan, Jonathan Obika (Yeovil) Loan, Oscar Jansson (Bradford) Loan, Mirko Ranieri (FC Esperia Viareggio)

Manager: Harry Redknapp – There’s no denying that the former West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and Bournemouth boss has done a superb job since taking over a disillusioned but talented squad languishing at the bottom of the Premier League in November 2008. But now comes his most challenging test in his time in charge, as while he’s worked wonders in making them top-four contenders, he may need to work greater ones to keep them there. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have splashed the cash while Spurs have needed to offload to generate their transfer kitty. There’s still time left in the transfer window, and Redknapp & Levy need to use that time wisely to give them a greater chance of staying amongst the elite.

Key Man: Luka Modric – Controversial it may seem, but the midfield maestro is at the heart of an immensely-talented Spurs side and helps dictate not only them but each game itself. The 25 year-old has made it clear that he no longer sees his future at the Lane, but it’s of little surprise that the club’s hierarchy have battled to keep the diminuitive Croatian. He has tremendous vision, very rarely loses the ball, and more impressively is incredibly strong despite his small frame. It remains to be seen if Modric will eventually move from North to West London, but if Spurs can retain his services then they will be a much greater threat because of it. If he does leave, then expect Dutch star Van der Vaart to take over as chief playmaker.

Swansea City

Last Season: 3rd in Championship (Play-off winners)

Summer so far: For the first time in Premier League history there is a team from outside of England preparing to compete amongst the country’s best. In recent seasons the Welsh duo of Swansea and Cardiff have been promotion contenders in the Championship, but it’s the Swans that have succeeded in getting to the big-time after their thrilling 3-2 win over Reading at Wembley in May. Manager Brendan Rodgers has been particularly busy in the transfer market with just five new arrivals in strikers Danny Graham and Leroy Lita, winger Wayne Routledge, Portuguese goalkeeper Jose Moriera and on-loan Tottenham defender Steven Caulker. But while the likes of Dorus De Vries and Darren Pratley have moved on to other top-flight clubs, Swansea’s defensive efficiency (they only condeded 42 goals last season) and their pace on the counter-attack will give them belief that they can survive with the big boys.

Transfers In: Danny Graham (Watford) £3.5 million, Leroy Lita (Middlesbrough) £1.75 million, Jose Moriera (Benfica) Undisclosed, Wayne Routledge (Newcastle United) Undisclosed.

Transfers Out: Dorus de Vries (Wolves) Free, Darren Pratley (Bolton) Free, Cedric Van der Gun (Unattached) Free, Albert Serran (AEK Larnaca) Free, Gorka Pintado (Unattached) Free, Yves Makabu-Makalambay (Unattached) Free, Kerry Morgan (Neath) Free, Scott Donnelly (Wycombe) Loan.

Manager: Brendan Rodgers – After an unsuccessful spell as boss of Reading, the stock of the man who was a big part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff at Chelsea took a sever hit. However, the 38 year-old learnt from his mistakes at the Madjeski when he took charge at the Liberty stadium, and in his first season guided the Swans to their first season back in the top-flight in 28 years. The Northern Irishman has gained a reputation for being a very smart tactician and getting the best out of young players with huge potential (see below.) Now Rodgers will be hoping to prove his mettle in the biggest league in the world and create a regular Welsh outfit in the Premier League.

Key Man: Scott Sinclair – Just over a year ago, many wondered whether the rich potential of Scott Sinclair was going to be fulfilled. Various loan spells at Plymouth, QPR, Charlton, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City and Wigan saw the Chelsea youngster show glimpses of his prodigous talent. However, what he needed was a permanent home under a manager that knew how to bring out the best in him, and he found it in Swansea and Rodgers. The 22 year-old was able to unleash his blistering pace and eye for goal, netting 27 times – not bad for a winger. Having helped the club to promotion, Sinclair has the talent and the guidance to make a real impact at the highest level.

So what do you think? How will your team fare this season? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

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