English Premier League Preview: The UEFA Cup teams

English Premier League Preview: The UEFA Cup teams

European Soccer

English Premier League Preview: The UEFA Cup teams

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With the English Premier League season set to kick off, we here at SBI are going to offer up a refresher on the EPL, with an emphasis on the top teams in the world’s top league.

SBI correspondent Carl Setterlund will profile the English Premier League’s UEFA Cup clubs today, with a profile on the Champions League clubs set for Friday. Here is the first part of his take on the upcoming EPL season.

By CARL SETTERLUND

As the summer begins to wind down and the new seasons begin, it’s worth taking a look at who improved the most during the summer transfer period since most of these teams have made their biggest moves or are on the verge of doing so at least. Today, we’ll take a look at the EPL and, for now, skip the Big Four and discuss the five teams in UEFA Cup contention as they should fill out most of the second tier, save for a surprise team or two. Here’s how I rank them going into this season:

1. Everton

Last year: 5th place, 65 pts

Key Additions: none

Key Departures: Andrew Johnson

Prediction: Thwarted in an attempt to capture João Moutinho, the Toffees return largely the same squad as last year and should turn out a similar result. Behind Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo, the defense should again be consistent and trustworthy. In goal, Tim Howard has really started to cement his place as perhaps one of the five to ten best goalkeepers in the world. The loss of Johnson should hurt, but Yakubu (15 league goals) has been everything Everton hoped for and the time may be right for one or both of James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe to step into the spotlight. Having one of the best managers in the EPL in David Moyes doesn’t hurt either. Barring disaster, Everton should finish no worse than sixth or seventh and may well go far in the UEFA Cup.

2. Aston Villa

Last year: 6th place, 60 pts, advanced through Intertoto Cup

Key Additions: Brad Friedel, Steve Sidwell, Nicky Shorey, Carlos Cuellar, Luke Young, Brad Guzan

Key Departures: Olof Mellberg, Luke Moore

Prediction: It may still be too early to speak, but can anyone believe that Martin O’Neil managed to keep Gareth Barry? O’Neil has been an off-the-field magician for Aston Villa this offseason, adding quality players in abundance under the radar because of the Gareth Barry to Liverpool scandal. Mellberg’s loss will hurt, but Shorey, Cuellar and Young are each good players that could jump into the starting lineup right away. The Villans also gained some consistency in goal with Friedel and Guzan. Sidwell will enter a midfield that, should Barry stay, will be a handful for opposing teams. With Ashley Young creating quality opportunities, Aston Villa won’t find it hard to follow up with another impressive goalscoring campaign. With more depth this season and perhaps an even better defense, Martin O’Neil should lead his team to Europe again and reach the knockout stage of the UEFA Cup.

3. Tottenham

Last year: 11th place, 46 pts, Carling Cup winners

Key Additions: David Bentley, Luka Modric, Heurelho Gomes, Giovani Dos Santos

Key Departures: Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov(?),Younes Kaboul, Pascal Chimbonda, Steed Malbranque, Teemu Tainio, Paul Robinson

Prediction: Call me crazy, but I’m just a believer in Juande Ramos. This is an entirely different Tottenham squad than he inherited, but I’m taking the leap and jumping on the bandwagon for a big time bounce-back season for Spurs. Once rich in options up front, Darren Bent will be relied on heavily this term, but he’s looked in form during preseason. Ramos filled the most glaring weakness with a new (and really good) keeper in Heurelho Gomes. The defense still looks a little porous and Ramos will be asking relative newcomers Alan Hutton and Jonathan Woodgate to step it up. Beside all of that though, this should be one of the best midfields in the EPL when you add Bentley and Modric to a group that includes Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon already. With somewhere close to £60 million coming in for Keane and potentially Berbatov, Tottenham is probably still in the market for another purchase or two, with Andrei Arshavin and Verdan Corluka both on their radar. If one of both of those purchases are made, this should be a group that gives Everton and Aston Villa a run for their money as the fifth and sixth best squads in England.

4. Portsmouth

Last year: 8th place, 57 pts, FA Cup winner

Key Additions: Peter Crouch, Younes Kaboul

Key Departures: Sulley Muntari

Prediction: It’s hard to know whether Harry Redknapp really improved Portsmouth this offseason after letting Sulley Muntari depart to Inter Milan. Crouch is surely underrated as he’s well more than just a target striker and he should give Pompey a very dangerous rotation up front with Jermain Defoe and Nwankwo Kanu. Where you worry about Portsmouth is when you consider whether they are still dynamic in the midfield without Muntari. Portsmouth fans will be hoping for a breakout season from Lassana Diarra and for Niko Kranjcar and John Utaka to continue their solid play. Another major factor will be the considerable presence of David James, who will be 38 this season. After watching Jens Lehmann’s rapid demise at Arsenal, you always have to worry when the time will be up for an older goalkeeper and if James doesn’t maintain his impressive form, it could unsettle Portsmouth. In all, it should be another finish in the top half of the table for Portsmouth, but don’t expect any higher than seventh with this squad.

5. Manchester City

Last year: 9th place, 55 pts, qualified through Fair Play ranking

Key Additions: Jô, Tal Ben Haim

Key Departures: Andreas Isaksson, Geovanni, Georgios Samaras, Thaksin Shinawatra’s bank account?

Prediction: Man City lured Mark Hughes away from Blackburn with the promise of a bigger stage and more funny money to throw around on transfers. I’ll be the first to tout Jô as one of the most influential transfers of the offseason, but it may have come in vain. After graduating several players with very bright futures from their youth program, it looked like City were on the verge of doing something big (hence the arrival of Hughes), but the saga involving Thai owner Thaksin Shinawatra could prove a distraction all season, a la Liverpool last term. It appears Shinawatra isn’t much of a billionaire anymore after having a major chunk of his assets frozen by the Thai government. The result is that City, once mega-bidders in the Ronaldinho sweepstakes, probably aren’t doing much else this offseason, and might even be sellers with standouts Verdan Corluka and Stephen Ireland the names most often mentioned. The other team in Manchester still have enough quality to hang in there with the others from this group, but my money is on a minor collapse that sees a dip in form and a finish in the bottom half of the table.

Think I’m grossly underrating Man City and exaggerating the impact of Shinawatra’s current situation? Will Everton still be the best of this group without making any big changes this offseason? Which other clubs do you expect to be in the mix for a top-ten finish? Share your thoughts below.

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