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The Premier League Reimagined: It's a Whole New Ball Game

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Pre-season Preview – Part Two: The Mid-Table Scrappers

One of the hallmarks of the Premier League has been how interchangeable mid-table teams have been, with just a few points separating 5th from 15th. That always makes predicting final positions a challenge but let's give it a shot!

15th - Manchester City
Manager: Peter Reid - seen as one of England's most promising managers, will be facing a real test this season. 
Last season: 14th - a disappointing year at Maine Road. Their inability to win away from home is a real concern going forward.
Transfers in: Kevin Gallacher, Blackburn 1m; Gary Penrice, Barnsley 100k; Simon Sturridge, Barnsley 550k
Transfers out: Terry Phelan, Sampdoria 900k
Projected XI: Tony Coton / Richard Edghill, Michael Vonk, Keith Curle, Ian Brightwell / Paul Stephenson, Vaughan Ryan, Steve Lomas, David White / Gary Penrice, Kevin Gallacher
Key Man: Kevin Gallacher - never quite reached the levels we expected at Blackburn. Has been given a second chance in the top flight - can he take it?
Prediction: 15th. Their downward spiral continues. Have lost too many players over the past couple of years to remain competitive.

14th - Crystal Palace 
Manager: Steve Coppell - the 40-year-old former England international has just passed the ten year mark at Selhurst Park. 
Last season: 4th in Division One, playoff winners. After losing the playoff final the previous year, Palace went one step better to secure their spot in the Premier League.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Chris Armstrong, Inter Milan 1m
Projected XI: Neil Sullivan / John Dreyer, Richard Shaw, Gareth Southgate, Paul Williams / Tony Scully, Andy Roberts, Darren Anderton, David Hopkin / Dougie Freedman, John Salako
Key Man: Darren Anderton - the gamble of moving to the second tier for first-team football paid off. A good year will get him into the Euro 96 squad.
Prediction: 14th. Our pick to be the strongest of the three promoted teams, although they'll be hard-pressed to match what last year's new boys did. The loss of Chris Armstrong will hurt but this is a strong core, and they should be fine.

13th - Sunderland
Manager: Terry Butcher - the former England captain has brought an exciting, expansive style to Roker Park 
Last season: 10th - as a newly-promoted side, they ended up scoring and conceding the most goals of any team in the division. A neutral's dream. 
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: 

Projected XI: Erik Thorstvedt / Jeff Kenna, Gary Mabbutt, Ugo Ehiogu, Michael Gray / Martin Smith, Paul Bracewell, Brian Atkinson, Scott Green / Sam Aiston, David Kelly
Key Man: Ugo Ehiogu - developing into a very good young player, he will hold Sunderland's backline together.
Prediction: 13th. Last year's story of the season. Terry Butcher is building something good here, with a solid young core. They could push for a spot in the top half again.

12th - Coventry 
Manager: Bobby Gould - continuing to impress at Highfield Road, and has solidified the Sky Blues as a consistent mid-table team. 
Last season: 7th - cruised to safety on the back of Peter Ndlovu's breakout year.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: 

Projected XI: Jon Gould / Rufus Brevett, Richard Jobson, Phil Babb, Brian Borrows / Sam Shilton, Stewart Robson, Istvan Kozma, Gavin O'Toole / Peter Ndlovu, John Williams
Key Man: Peter Ndlovu - the team's offensive talisman will need some help from a pretty weak supporting cast.
Prediction: 12th. Coventry will continue to benefit from a very weak bottom group of clubs. For an established Premier League side, they need to add more weapons, otherwise Ndlovu will have to fire them to safety on his own.
 

11th - Southampton 
Manager: Ian Branfoot - consistently keeps Saints in the top flight with little fanfare. 
Last season: 13th - another year of mid-table security.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: 

Projected XI: Tim Flowers / Francis Benali, Richard Hall, Ken Monkou, Gary Kelly / Neil Heaney, Terry Hurlock, Matt Le Tissier, Simon Ireland / Iain Dowie, Chris Sutton
Key Man: Matt Le Tissier - a creative whiz carries the team on his back every year.
Prediction: 11th. A decent core led by Le Tissier and Sutton should be enough to secure another mid-table finish.

 

Up next: The top half! 

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Season Preview: Part Three - The Outsiders

In this section of our season preview, we take a look at teams 10-6, each of whom should have more than enough to be safe and will have their eyes set up the table. 


10th - Wimbledon 
Manager: None, although Dave Bassett is expected to be announced imminently. Joe Kinnear left to take on the role of Republic of Ireland manager.
Last season: 12th - another year of bruising long ball football easily kept the Dons in the top flight.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Paul Cook, Aston Villa 1.1m; John Fashanu, Notts County 70k 
Projected XI: Kevin Pressman / Gary Elkins, Warren Barton, John Scales Chris Perry / Robbie Earle, Stewart Castledine, Oyvind Leonhardsen, Peter Fear / Mark Stein, Jon Goodman
Key Man: John Scales - one of England's best defenders, he is the anchor that keeps the Dons in the top tier.
Prediction: 10th. Need to confirm their new manager quickly, but they have one of the most solid back-lines in the division. If they can score goals, have a decent shot at a top-eight finish.

9th - Chelsea
Manager: Dave Webb - finding his feet as a manager after a rocky first couple of seasons. Entering his fourth year at Stamford Bridge.
Last season: 3rd - turned a lot of heads by being at the front of the pack for a good chunk of the year. Fell apart at the end.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Dimitri Kharine, Nottingham Forest 200k; Andy Townsend, Everton 100k; David Seaman, Monaco 5.5m
Projected XI: Steve Reeves / Stuart Pearce, David Lee, Ian Pearce, Andy Llewellyn / Dominic Iorfa, Dennis Wise, Steve Stone / Roy Wegerle, Kurt Nogan, Les Ferdinand
Key Man: Les Ferdinand - struggled in his first full year at Stamford Bridge but still capable of being one of the best players in the league
Prediction: 9th. After a couple of years of underachieving, the Blues took a big step forward last season. How they strengthen their side with the funds from the sale of David Seaman will go a long way to determining whether they can contend.

8th - Sheffield Wednesday

Manager: Trevor Francis - starting his fifth season at Hillsborough, has adjusted to managerial life well.
Last season: 4th - might be slightly deceiving as the Owls never seemed like real title threats. Carried by Chris Bart-Williams. 
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Phil King, Leeds 1.9m
Projected XI: Chris Woods / John Harkes, Carlton Palmer, Paul Warhurst, Roland Nilsson / Chris Bart-Williams, Nick Barmby, Chris Waddle, Regi Blinker / Martin Foyle, Marc Degryse
Key Man: Nick Barmby - we know what Chris Bart-Williams is capable of but for Wednesday to succeed this year he'll need support from their record signing.
Prediction: 8th. Starting a period of transition in which their ageing starters will need to be replaced. They're thin up front now, but still have enough to eke out a top-half finish

7th - Tottenham 
Manager: Doug Livermore - last season's Manager of the Year oversaw a complete turnaround at White Hart Lane
Last season: 1st - an incredible second half of the year saw them peak at the right time and lift the title.
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Vinny Samways, Inter Milan 1.7m; Perry Suckling, Sheff Utd 250k
Projected XI: Ian Walker / Andy Hinchcliffe, Stuart Nethercott, Neil Ruddock, Dean Austin / Ian Woan, Mark Atkins, Stephen Clemence, Nayim / Gordon Durie, Oleg Salenko
Key Man: Oleg Salenko - started to find his feet in the Premier League in the second half of the season and ready to join the league's elite.
Prediction: 7th. The champions benefited from everyone around them collapsing at the tail-end of last season. Might be stretched too thin by a European campaign.

6th - Everton 
Manager: Howard Kendall - a Goodison Park legend in the sixth season of his second stint with Everton
Last season: 16th - a hugely disappointing season.
Transfers in: Steve Morrow, Arsenal 900k; Andy Townsend, Chelsea 100k; David Beckham, Man Utd 375k
Transfers out: 
Projected XI: Mike Hooper / John Beresford, David Unsworth, Stig Inge Bjornbye, Ian Snodin / Marcus Gayle, John Ebbrell, Andy Townsend, David Beckham / Teddy Sheringham, Peter Beardsley
Key Man: Teddy Sheringham - his goals will keep Everton in the title hunt. 
Prediction: 6th. Led up front by the best striker in the country, if they can add a piece or two they'd be title favourites.

Up next: The Contenders...

 

Edited by King Jeff

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Season Preview: Part Four - The Contenders

5thAston Villa 
Manager: Ron Atkinson - an experienced old pro who is entering his fifth year at Villa Park
Last season: 5th - Villa are consistently in the second tier of clubs and it was more of the same
Transfers in: Neil Woods, Grimsby 250k; Paul Cook, Wimbledon 1.1m; Gennady Litovchenko, Ukraine 250k
Transfers out: Garry Parker, Nantes 1.3m; Dalian Atkinson, Sampdoria 2.1m
Projected XI: Mark Bosnich / Steve Staunton, Earl Barrett, Tony Adams, Neil Cox / Tony Daley, Graham Fenton, Scot Gemmill, Gennady Litovchenko / Dwight Yorke, Dean Saunders
Key Man: Tony Adams - England's best defender keeps Villa locked down at the back
Prediction: 5th. Another year in which they'll finish in the second tier of clubs. After losing a couple of their star players in the summer, there will be extra pressure on Dwight Yorke to step up as a second striker.

4th - Leeds 
Manager: Howard Wilkinson - another managerial legend, Wilkinson has won the title twice at Elland Road
Last season: 11th - Faded away in the second half of the year after being in the hunt in the first half
Transfers in: Andy Sinton, QPR 750k; Phil King, Sheff Wed 1.9m; Alexis Mendoza, Colombia 300k
Transfers out: 
Projected XI: Nigel Martyn / Alexis Mendoza, Darren Peacock, Paul McGrath, Rob Bowman / Andy Sinton, David Batty, Robert Lee, David Rocastle / Noel Whelan, Frank Strandli
Key Man: Nigel Martyn - will fancy his chances of being England's number one at Euro 96
Prediction: 4th. They don't impress us too much on paper but Wilkinson's sides always find a way to be near the top. 

3rd - Nottingham Forest
Manager: George Graham - a miserly Scot who preaches a defence-first mindset. 1-0 to the Forest could be a commonly-heard refrain at the City Ground.
Last season: 15th - a terrible year for the team we picked to win the title. Brian Clough resigned after running out of energy and Graham took over to ensure Forest's safety.
Transfers in: Dimitri Kharine, Nottingham Forest 200k
Transfers out: Gary Charles, Borussia Monchengladbach 700k; Nigel Spackman, Huddersfield 10k
Projected XI: Dimitri Kharine/ Paul Mortimer, Carl Tiler, Steve Chettle, Des Lyttle / Gordon Cowans, Stephen Howe, Roy Keane, Thorvaldur Orlygsson / Nigel Clough, Stan Collymore
Key Man: Stan Collymore - had a disappointing year last season but we still think he's one of the best forwards in the country.
Prediction: 3rd. Last year was a disaster but a full season under George Graham, combined with the goal scoring of Collymore and Clough, should see them back in contention.

2nd - Liverpool 
Manager: Graeme Souness - guided the Reds to their best finish since he took over at Anfield in 1991.
Last season: 2nd - probably should have won the Premier League, but managed to grab the FA Cup. 
Transfers in: 
Transfers out: Rob Jones, Juventus 1.75m
Projected XI: Tony Warner / David Burrows, Martin Keown, Dominic Matteo, Steve Harkness / John Barnes, Jamie Redknapp, Michael Thomas, Stuart Whittaker / Don Hutchison, Robbie Fowler
Key Man: Jamie Redknapp - the midfield anchor is primed for a breakout year.
Prediction: 2nd. With the much-anticipated breakthrough of young strikers Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, the Reds are going to be in the mix again.

1st - Manchester United
Manager: Alex Ferguson - won the lot with Aberdeen but nearly ten years in to the role at Old Trafford, he hasn't been able to replicate that success.
Last season: 9th - another frustrating year for United fans
Transfers in: Javier Margas, Colo Colo 975k; Manolo, Atletico Madrid, 800k
Transfers out: Gary Walsh, Derby 150k; David Beckham, Everton 375k
Projected XI: Peter Schmeichel / Denis Irwin, Mark Wright, Gary Neville, Paul Parker / Ryan Giggs, Paul Ince, Nicky Butt, Lee Sharpe / Mark Hughes, Manolo
Key Man: Ryan Giggs - he's tempted us over the past couple of years but he is ready to establish himself as one of the best players in the league
Prediction: 1st. It seems like every year we pick them and every year we're wrong, but with an unrivalled young core and a savvy manager, surely this will be the year in which United win that elusive Premier League crown.

Up next - the season begins.

 

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August 1995

After what felt like a long summer, we’re finally up and running with the 1995/96 season of the Premiership.

 

We start the season with the defending champions, Tottenham, who host London rival Chelsea at Whtie Hart Lane. Spurs are clearly the better side, picking up 10 shots on target to Chelsea’s 2, but it’s a goal from defender Ian Pearce that gives the Blues a 1-0 win in the season’s curtain raiser.

Liverpool finished second last year and they had the chance to get off to a winning start against newly-promoted Sheffield United. A goal from young defender Dominic Matteo proves to be the difference for Graeme Souness’s side in a 1-0 win for the Reds. It’s a struggle for the two other newly-promoted sides, as well: Crystal Palace lose 2-0 at home to Southampton, and Ipswich draw 1-1 at Manchester City.

Wimbledon have no manager but that doesn’t prevent them from beginning their season with a win as they eke out a 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest.  

Our pick for the title was Manchester United who faced Neville Southall’s Derby side in Southall’s managerial debut. He must be left thinking there’s not much to this managerial lark after his Rams side beat United 1-0 through a Wayne Sutton goal. The truth is that the Rams were battered throughout this contest and scored on their only chance. Southall was named man of the match for his performance between the posts.

***

Mid-week we see Aston Villa beat Derby 2-1 and Tottenham pick up their first points of the year in a 1-0 victory over Millwall. Away from the pitch, Everton make a splash in the transfer market, bringing in Italian winger Roberto Donadoni from AC Milan for 600k. Donadoni’s a smart, creative right winger--in other words the perfect mentor for Everton’s other new signing, David Beckham. Also on the continent we see Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat move from Borussia Dortmund to Juventus for 9.75m. Juve already have Padovano, Ravanelli, Vialli and a youngster named Del Piero in their lineup, so they’re an intimidating proposition these days.

 

Round 2

Donadoni isn’t fit enough to feature in the Everton squad taking on Sheffield Wednesday so Beckham starts on the right-hand side for the Toffees. He makes the most of his opportunity, registering his first goal as a professional in the first half. Teddy Sheringham also scores for Everton, while Dutch winger Regi Blinker and England international Nick Barmby scores from the penalty spot for Wednesday in a 2-2 draw.

Dave Bassett is in the stands at Southampton to see his new side Wimbledon take on the Saints. Bassett will officially take charge at Selhurst Park on Monday but he’ll have to be happy with what he saw – his new club is on max points through their first two games after they pick up a 2-1 win at the Dell. Matt Le Tissier scores for the hosts but goals from Stewart Castledine and Jon Goodman give Wimbledon the win.

Also on six points is Sunderland, who beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford. It’s a worrying start for United – they’ve dominated both of their games so far but have lost 1-0 in both contests. Young Michael Gray scores the winner for Terry Butcher’s side.  It’s not looking good on the Blue side of Manchester, either, after Manchester City are hammered by Nottingham Forest 4-0. Roy Keane scores a hat trick for George Graham’s men, while Stan Collymore chips in the fourth.

Also on zero points are Millwall and Norwich – the Canaries lose 2-0 to now managerless Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Round 2 Table: Sunderland, Wimbledon 6; Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Ipswich 4

Coventry, Crystal Palace, Man City 1 / Millwall, Man Utd, Norwich 0

 ***

Round 3

Alex Ferguson must be worried. In typical fashion, our pre-season pick to win the league can’t win a game to save their lives. After starting the year with two 1-0 losses, Manchester United traveled to White Hart Lane to take on defending champions Tottenham. While United will feel hard done by with the results from the first two games, they could have no such complaints this time – Spurs are by far the better side. They get goals from Neil Ruddock, Mark Atkins and Mexican midfielder Missael Espinosa in a 3-1 win. Chilean defender Javier Margas scores United’s goal in the loss.

Millwall and Norwich each remain on zero points, as well. Millwall are beaten 1-0 by Liverpool at Anfield, while Norwich go down by the same score line against Sheffield Wednesday. A red card to Stuart Barlow early in the second half turned the tides and Nick Barmby scored the winner for Trevor Francis’s side.

Last year Sunderland announced their arrival in the Premier League by getting off to a flying start. We might be witnessing the same thing this year as they destroy Aston Villa 4-0 at Roker Park. Four different players under the age of 25 score for the Mackems in the win: Jeff Kenna, Ugo Ehiogu, Craig Russell and Martin Smith. That must be a particularly pleasing result for Terry Butcher.

At Selhurst Park, Dave Bassett gets off to a winning start as Wimbledon boss. Stewart Castledine scores twice in a 2-0 win over Coventry.  Bassett’s old side, Sheffield United, seemed to do fine without him, picking up a point at home in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea.

Round 3 Table: Sunderland, Wimbledon 9; Sheff Wed, Liverpool 7

Coventry, Man City 1; Millwall, Man Utd, Norwich 0

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Indeed.

=====================

Round 4

Manchester City have gotten off to a slow start, and while I’m not sure goalkeeping is the problem, they have tried to upgrade at the position by bringing in Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan for 475k.

 

With Terry Venables set to name his first England squad of the year after this weekend’s round of fixtures, it’s the last chance for players to make their impression. One man who might have played his way into the national setup is Les Ferdinand. Sir Les becomes only the second man in Premier League history to score four goals in a game in Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Norwich. The six-goal margin of victory sets a new Premier League record. Steve Stone and Stuart Pearce both also scored for the Blues in the win.

There were also big wins for Coventry and Nottingham Forest, each of whom collected 4-0 wins, and Sheffield Wednesday who won 3-0. Coventry beat woeful Manchester City with goals from Phil Babb, Stewart Robson, Gavin O’Toole and Peter Ndlovu. Forest beat their local rivals Derby thanks to a goal from Austrian midfielder Thomas Bauer, one from Roy Keane and a brace from Stan Collymore.  Wednesday beat Crystal Palace 3-0 with Chris Bart-Williams picking up his first two goals of the year.

Heading in to the weekend’s games, Sunderland and Wimbledon both had 100% records, but both teams were beaten this time out. Sunderland suffered a surprising 1-0 loss to Ipswich at Portman Road, with Claus Thomsen scoring the winner, and Everton got a goal from Stig Inge Bjornbye in their 1-0 win over Dave Bassett’s Wimbledon. Those results meant that Sheffield Wednesday jumped to the top of the table with 10 points from four games. They are alongside Liverpool who heaped more misery on Manchester United in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

At the bottom of the table, Millwall got off the mark, picking up their first three points of the year in a 3-1 win over manager-less Sheffield United. The Lions got goals from Malcolm Allen and Dean Holdsworth, and benefited from a Tom Cowan own goal in the victory. The Blades are expected to name their new manager during the international break next week.

Round 4 Table: Sheff Wed, Liverpool 10; Nottm Forest, Sunderland, Wimbledon, Tottenham, Southampton 9

Crystal Palace 2 / Man City 1; Man Utd, Norwich 0

***

After the weekend’s games, all eyes are on Terry Venables who names his first international squad of the campaign. With only nine months until Euro 96 the friendlies will become a little more important with every passing fixture.

In goal, it looks like the move to France has paid off for David Seaman. He hasn’t got a look-in over the past few years, but he now seems to be England’s new number one.  Tony Coton, who held the role before, was not included in the squad. In defense, it is largely the same men as before; however, Gavin Johnson, who was an ever-present at right back the past couple of seasons, has been dropped in favour of Juventus’s Rob Jones.

In midfield, there’s a surprising recall for Rangers midfielder Trevor Steven, who hasn’t featured for the national side since Euro 92. Chelsea’s Steve Stone is called up for the first time. Up front, Les Ferdinand’s four-goal performance at the weekend was enough to get him included in the squad.

England Squad

Goalkeepers: David Seaman, Monaco (9 caps); Tim Flowers, Southampton (no caps); Ian Walker, Tottenham (no caps)

Defenders: Rob Jones, Juventus (2 caps); Warren Barton, Wimbledon (no caps); Terry Phelan, Sampdoria (10 caps); Stuart Pearce, Chelsea (55 caps, 3 goals); Tony Adams, Aston Villa (28 caps); Gary Pallister, Lazio (16 caps, 1 goal); Des Walker, Sampdoria (58 caps); Mark Wright, Man Utd (42 caps, 1 goal)

Midfielders: John Barnes, Liverpool (70 caps, 11 goals); Paul Ince, Man Utd (1 cap); Steve Stone, Chelsea (no caps); Paul Gascoigne, Rangers (31 caps, 5 goals); David Platt, Sampdoria (45 caps, 17 goals); Trevor Steven, Rangers (36 caps, 4 goals)

Attackers: Teddy Sheringham, Everton (1 cap); Alan Shearer, AC Milan (14 caps, 5 goals); Peter Beardsley, Everton (54 caps, 12 goals); Les Ferdinand, Chelsea (5 caps, 2 goals)

***

Also in the international break, Sheffield United announce the appointment of their new manager, and it a young, up-and-coming Ulsterman named Martin O’Neill, who joins from Division Three Wycombe. O’Neill had a distinguished playing career, winning two European Cups with Nottingham Forest.

 

As August comes to an end, Sunderland manager Terry Butcher is appointed Manager of the Month, while Nottingham Forest midfielder Roy Keane is named Player of the Month. Keane scored four goals in August.

 

Top Scorers:

4 – Roy Keane, Nottingham Forest; Les Ferdinand, Chelsea

3 – Stan Collymore, Nottingham Forest; Stewart Castledine, Wimbledon

2 – Mark Kennedy, Millwall; Marcus Gayle, Everton; Matt Le Tissier, Southampton; Teddy Sheringham, Everton; Peter Beardsley, Everton; Steve Stone, Chelsea

 

Down in Division One, Oldham are the early pace-setters with 11 points from their first five games. QPR, Oxford, Burnley and Birmingham all have 10, while Southend have 9. At the bottom, four teams will go down this year (you might recall that only two went down last year as part of the pyramid realignment). Watford, Barnet, Middlesbrough and Barnsley occupy those spots right now. Barnsley have yet to pick up a point and could be facing back-to-back relegations if they don’t improve quickly.

 

Edited by King Jeff

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Just caught amazing to see Norwich back in the Premier League and winning the League Cup, absolute scnes.  Shame about the poor start this year, they make Europe as a result of the win?

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