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2017-18 Premier League Preview: The Middle


Stoke City

Manager: Mark Hughes
Club Value: €158,750,00
Key Players: Xherdan Shaqiri, Jack Butland, Peter Crouch, Bojan


Stoke City were one of the bigger disappointments in the Premier League a year ago. The Potters fell flat on their faces right out of the gate, going winless in their first seven matches and only securing three points. There slow start had Mark Hughes on the hot seats and left some pundits scratching their heads as some had picked Stoke to be a dark horse and surprise some people.

Mark Hughes’ Stoke City is usually a well managed club. The Potters aren’t the most talented club in the Premier League and rely on positioning and keeping shape in to help them grind out results. While they do lack talent in certain areas on the pitch, Stoke are capable of creating chances and playing exciting football. Xherdan Shaqiri at times provides moments of brilliance for the side. When the Swiss international is in good form, Stoke are one of the better clubs in the league.

The Potters scored 41 goals a year ago, which was the sixth fewest in the Premier League. They’ll have an even harder time scoring and creating chances this season with Marko Arnautovic on his way to West Ham United for £25 million. John Walters (Burnley, £3 million), Glen Whelan (Aston Villa, £1.5 million) and Phil Bardsley (Burnley, £1.5 million) also saw there times at the bet365 Stadium come to an end.

With little money to spend, Stoke have been non-existent when it comes to buying players. The club went out a nabbed West Bromwich Albion midfielder Darren Fletcher on a free transfer. Fletcher should quality Premier League depth to the Potters midfield. Stoke also added Chelsea centeback Kurt Zouma on season long loan. The talented french defender is coming off a season in which he spent most of the time recovering from a serious knee injury. With a crowded backline at Chelsea, Zouma will see plenty of first team action at Stoke City.

While they’re a long shot at cracking one of the top six in the Premier League table, Stoke certainly shouldn’t find themselves in a relegation dogfight either. The Potters should likely finish somewhere between ninth and 12th. Should they see a prolonged slide down the table, Mark Hughes could find himself without a job.

Leicester City

Manager: Craig Shakespeare
Club Value: €226,250,00
Key Players: Jamie Vardy, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel, Wilfried Ndidi

From 5,000-to-1 longshot champions to the worst title defense in the Premier League history. The fearless Foxes came crashing back down to Earth last season following their Cinderella 2015-16 season that saw them crowned the champions of England. Leicester City saw an elongated amount of time towards the bottom of the table, and for a period of time were in the relegation conversation. Their depth was tested with the addition of Champions League play, which definitely took an effect on their play in the league.

Claudio Ranieri was given most of the credit for Leicester City’s improbable run as champions two seasons ago. “The Tinker Man,” or as Ranieri eventually changed it to during a press conference in 2016, “The Thinker Man” had implemented very simplistic tactics during the Foxes title winning season. The Foxes would sit back in their own end, absorb pressure and wait for their opponents to make a mistake so they could hit them with a dangerous counter-attack led by Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Last year, opposing clubs adjusted to Leicester, allowing them to hold the ball more and hitting them on the counter. Leicester struggled to score and showed they struggled to defend the counter-attack. In February, Ranieri was sacked and Craig Shakespeare took over as manager. Following Ranieri’s firing on February 23rd, Leicester took 21 out of 39 points from their final 13 matches, which would good enough to move Leicester up to 12th.

Leicester City will look to carry over the momentum they rode to close out the end of last season. They’ve also added some depth to the club, which is something they lacked last year. Vicente Iborra (Sevilla, £12.5 million) was brought into the side. Iborra is a quality midfielder, which should help the Foxes on the attack. Harry Maguire (Hull City, £17 million) was another smart buy for the Foxes. With Robert Huth underperforming last season, Maguire gives Shakespeare a quality centerback with Premier League experience to pair next to Wes Morgan along the backline. Perhaps my favorite move for Leicester was the addition of Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City for £25 million. The young Nigerian striker showed tons of promise during his stay at the Etihad and proved he was one of the most efficient scorers in the league.

There isn’t much to report for significant players leaving Leicester during this summer transfer window… yet. Midfielder Danny Drinkwater has been rumored to have peaked the interest of defending champions Chelsea. Losing him would be a big loss for the Foxes as he’s shown to be a usually holding-mid. Riyad Mahrez also been rumored to be leaving Leicester this summer. Arsenal have shown interest in the Algerian as well as several clubs in Serie A. Losing Mahrez would hamper the Leicester attack. During their championship run, Mahrez showed the ability to create chances as well as bury a few of them in the back of net.

Craig Shakespeare’s side shouldn’t have to worry being relegated this season, unless Vardy struggles to score and players like Wes Morgan and Wilfried Ndidi are unable to keep teams off the score sheet. Leicester could surprise some clubs should they show that same fearlessness that won them a championship two seasons ago, but they’re likely destined to fall somewhere in the middle of table come next May.

West Ham United

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Club Value: €237,300,000

Key Players: Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Cheikhou Kouyate, Andy Carroll

West Ham United had a similar season as Leicester City. Right from the onset of the season West Ham struggled to find their footing, taking only four points from their first seven matches. Not a great start for a side that many thought could be in the top six conversation. As the Irons struggled to pick up points at the beginning of last season, Slavan Bilic found himself on the hot seat before a run of games against lesser sides helped West Ham get a few results.

The Bilic managed Irons, while frustrating they may to watch, can sometimes offer moments of brilliance. Defending was sometimes optional for West Ham last year as they allowed three or more goals in 11 matches, and conceding 64 goals on the season. While their defending may have been bad at times, Bilic’s side showed the ability to play create chances and play flashy football.

Attacking shouldn’t be a problem for the Irons this year. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez makes his return to the Premier League as he joins a West Ham club that could use a bit a quality goal scoring up top. The former Bayer Leverkusen striker joins West Ham on £16 million transfer. The Irons also added Stoke City winger Marko Arnautovic for £25 million. The Austrian international will add pace on the wing, as well as the ability to create scoring chances. Bilic also addressed the teams inability to keep balls out of the net by bringing in Manchester City castoffs Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart. Zabaleta was brought in a free transfer and should help improve the depth along West Ham backline. In Hart, Bilic has a quality goalkeeper that knows what it takes to win in the league. The Manchester keeper is at West Ham on a season-long loan.

The Irons have done some good business this summer, adding scoring while also addressing their defending and goalkeeping. West Ham won’t challenge for a title, but could definitely make things harder on teams at the top of the table. Don’t be surprised if Bilic’s men are in the Europa League conversation.

West Bromwich Albion

Manager: Tony Pulis

Club Value: €105,250,000

Key Players: Matt Phillips, Solomon Rondon, 

West Brom quietly found themselves in the upper half of the league table a year ago, which was the second time ever they finished in the top-10 in the league table. While they weren’t Burnley like at home, the Baggies made The Hawthorns one of the most difficult places in the Premier League.

If you ever watched West Brom last season, they likely put you to sleep. Tony Pulis’ side played a well-organized defensive game that made it hard for their opposition to break them down. Their play style at times is painfully boring, but the grittiness that the Pulis’ men play with allowed the Baggies to grind out points which is what led them to finishing in the top half of the table.

The Baggies haven’t done much during the transfer window. Their most notable transfer was Jay Rodriguez for £15 million from Southampton. Rodriguez is an interesting signing as he showed so much potential during the 2013-14 season, scoring 15 goals in the league for Southampton. However, he hasn’t been the same since suffering a serious knee injury a few season ago. If Rodriguez can somehow get back to his scoring ways, he could be a big boost for the Baggies.

This side is the truest of middle table clubs. West Brom aren’t bad enough to get themselves involved in a relegation battle thanks to Pulis’ play style. On the flip side of the coin, they’re not good enough to finish higher than eighth or ninth in the league thanks to Pulis.

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