Premier League in Preview: Relegation Hell

05 August 2008

I apologize up front at this being late. As you saw on the blog Monday, the internet was down until this afternoon.

So I begin my previews for the upcoming Barclay's Premier League season. Naturally I'm starting with taking a look at those teams I see being stuck in for the fight for survival, and not going down. However when I look at this battle, I see two things that stick out in my mind.
1) I see only four teams really fighting until the end of the season for the three relegation spots. Those are, Bolton Wanderers, Hull City, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion.
2) I do see one of the three recently promoted sides staying up. I think that tips my hand where I see Bolton landing.

So with those two qualifiers said, I'll start from 20.

Number 20: Stoke City
.
Biggest Ins: Thomas Sorensen (good Premier League standard keeper), Sevi George Olofinjana (can play the holding role if needed).
Biggest Outs: Marlon Broomes (not much of a loss really)

Toughest Month: January 2009: FA Cup 3rd Round, home to Liverpool, at Chelsea and Tottenham, and host Manchester City.
Easiest Month: April 2009: at West Brom, host Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, ending at Fulham.

Five Questions I Have With Stoke City
1) Is Dave Kitson the answer up front? I've never been high on him and his strike rate doesn't exactly strike fear? To expand on that point, was he the best Stoke City was able to get to play in the forward role?
2) Will Tony Pulis 2nd stint in the Premier League last longer than his ten months with Portsmouth? If Stoke City don't get off to the start their chairman Peter Coates wants, could he be sacked?
3) Can their crop of defenders be able to help protect Thomas Sorensen in goal?
4) Who will be able to effectively link the defenders and forwards from the midfield?
5) How negative will their tactics be this season in order to have a hope and a prayer?

My Ultimate Reality: When I look at this roster, the only Premier League caliber player I see is Thomas Sorensen. The back four look Derby County bad, but Pulis will have them tight and compact and I do see them creating difficulty at the Britannia Stadium in giving up goals. However it's leaving home that I see them being in the most trouble. With as negative as Pulis can be, one scoreline Stoke City fans better get use to. That being the 1-0 loss. I don't see them being out of the bottom five most of the season, at the bottom at Christmas, and ultimately being relegated sometime in mid April.

19: Hull City

Biggest Ins: George Boateng (is a competent defensive midfielder), Geovanni (can create down the wing).
Biggest Outs: Fraizer Campbell (despite being on loan last year, was their key goal scorer)

Toughest Month: Feburary 2009. At Chelsea before hosting Tottenham and Blackburn.
Easiest Month: August 2008. Host Fulham before going to Blackburn and hosting Wigan.

Five Questions I Have With Hull City
1) Can Hull City's back four be as resolute as they were last year?
2) Who replaces the goal scoring output Fraizer Campbell had last season?
3) Does Hull City's midfield sort itself out for Phil Brown?
4) Will the fact Hull City relied on so many players on loan last season bite them in the backside this year?
5) Can Hull City score enough goals to even think about survival?

My Ultimate Reality: This team was a feisty bunch last season, but had too many peaks and valleys. While they relied on plenty of 1-0 results, there were also seven games they didn't get the maximum while allowing 2 or more goals. Add the fact they are losing the race to get Fraizer Campbell back for this season, scoring goals is going to be at an absolute premium.
I still think the midfield can link the back four and forwards well. I think Boateng is a decent enough signing and I honestly feel Geovanni is underrated in the Premier League and is going to get a chance to show his worth at Hull.
However my biggest fears with this team are in the back four and in the forwards. The simply put are Championship material. Phil Brown will be able to motivate this team, but motivation only goes so far. I see them being relegated right as May begins. They may have rented a squad for promotion, but the squad they have now is heading right back down.

18: Bolton Wanderers

Biggest Ins: Fabrice Muamba (Will be giving the time on the field and I think he will turn into a decent defensive midfielder), and Johan Elmander (can play either on the wing or up front).
Biggest Outs: El-Hadji Diouf. He's not much of a loss really as he caused more problems than he was worth. In fact this could be one of best things that happens this summer.

Toughest Month: December 2008. They host Chelsea, go to Aston Villa, Host Portsmouth, then travel to Liverpool before playing Wigan at home two days later.
Easiest Month: August 2008. Host Stoke City before going to Newcastle United. End the month hosting West Brom.

Five Questions I have with Bolton Wanderers
1) Is Jussi Jaaskelainen at the beginning of the end of his career? Has he fully recovered from the injury that saw him miss the end of last season?
2) How deep is this squad in the even players end up injured?
3) Will Bolton have the most defensive tactics this Premier League season?
4) How short is the leash on Gary Megson? Could he be sacked in the same manner Sammy Lee was last season?
5) How vital Joham Elmander's acclimation to the Premier League in their survival hopes?

My Ultimate Reality: This team simply could survive simply because they have been around the block a time or two. However I think their time is up in the Premier League. They could very well have the weakest forward line in the Premier League and that's even with the addition of Elmander. The midfield and back four will bully teams around the park, but this team will have to grind out nil draws and the odd 1-0 wins. The one thing I do see happening with this team is if they do go a goal down, seeing a second coming in short order as they don't have the quality to get equalizers. WIth the amount of time they've been in the Premier League, they will fight to the end. However I just see them going down on the last day of the season.

17: West Bromwich Albion

Biggest Ins: Scott Carson (will give West Brom a reliable keeper who will gain them more points than he will lose), Gianni Zuiverloon (I like him at the back).
Biggest Outs: Curtis Davies (was their biggest asset last season, and while on loan at Villa, should not have been sold on), Zoltan Gera (was a decent attacking midfielder who could also cause defenders problems).

Toughest Month: November 2008. They host Blackburn, away to Liverpool before playing Chelsea at the Hawthorns. They then travel to Stoke City and WIgan Athletic. This is a month they will have to find six points on the road at the end of the month.
Easiest Month: October 2008. You can argue a month where they have to go to Old Trafford as being an easy month. However they host Fulham and Hull City inbetween and go to Newcastle United to end the month. It's highly possible they could end the month on seven, maybe even nine points.

Five Questions I have with West Bromwich Albion
1) Will Tony Mowbray be able to close up shop enough to get results? They refused to play in a shell last season, they will have to shell up during this season if they want to see certain games out.
2) Can Scott Carson find the form he had during last season? His back four helped him at Villa, will he get remotely the same amount of help here?
3) Is Luke Moore the answer up front? There was a reason he didn't get much time at Aston Villa last season despite the squad being so thin.
4) How narrow will this team be in the midfield? If there is any place on the park they can be exploited, it's down the wings and there is no cover in the midfield at all in the event of an injury.
5) Does the back line sort itself out?

My Ultimate Reality: The team that eventually won a Championship title no one seemed to want at the end of the season yes has been gutted of two key parts. However I think they did a good bit of business to get a keeper that has been through the wars before and successfully. When you look at this roster, the back is the strongest part of the team and will have to build their attack from there this year. It's just a gut feeling, but I somehow see them getting enough points to stay up. Sometimes there are some things you just can't explain, I just see them somehow doing just enough to survive.

I would like to thank you all for being patient with me as I got my internet back up and running. From here on out, every other day I will be posting one of my other four categories.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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