WITH JUST THREE days remaining until the start of the new Premier League season, we continue our analysis of each side’s prospects.
Today, the power rankings countdown starts with Owen Coyle and Bolton Wanderers at number 15.
15. Bolton Wanderers
Last season: 14th
Bolton finished last season with five straight defeats, most of which came against undistinguished opposition, and there are plenty of critics who expect them to continue in a similar vein of form this season. Aside from the signing of Darren Pratley from new boys Swansea, Owen Coyle’s transfer activity has given Trotters fans little to get excited about. Last season’s top scorer Johan Elmander has moved on to Galatasaray and Daniel Sturridge has returned to Chelsea after a remarkable loan period, leaving the Bolton attack looking rather toothless. There’s only so long that 34-year-old Kevin Davies can keep banging goals in for, leaving Bolton in danger of real trouble this year.
14. Queen’s Park Rangers
Last season: 1st (Championship)
QPR make their first return to the Premier League since 1995/1996, but this time the London club find themselves with the resources to make it stick. Backed by the gargantuan riches of multi-billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and Bernie Ecclestone, QPR will be confident that they can make a strong start to life with the big boys. Their squad is still more Championship calibre than Premier League, but their summer signings will strengthen the panel. DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd will provide stern competition for Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie up front, while the veterans Danny Gabbidon and Kieron Dyer add valuable top-flight experience. All eyes, however, will be on 22-year-old Adel Taarabt as last year’s standout Championship star sets about tormenting some Premier League defences.
13. Stoke City
Last season: 13th
Over the last three seasons, Stoke seem to have found their level — somewhere around 11th or 12th — and there don’t seem to be any signs of that changing this time around. Eleven of their 18 league defeats last season were by a single goal, and Tony Pulis has responded by adding Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson to shore up their back line. Often criticised for their hard-hitting and direct approach, Stoke have found a style which works for them and are unlikely to change it. Long throws will only get them so far, but for a team which was only promoted in 2008, that will do just fine.
12. West Bromwich Albion
Last season: 11th
On the basis of his first three months in charge at the Hawthorns, Roy Hodgson and West Bromwich Albion appear to be a match made in heaven. Hodgson’s ability to get the most out of a traditionally smaller side is well documented and, since his appointment, West Brom were beaten only twice in 13 Premier League fixtures, finishing in a comfortable 11th position. The recent signing of Shane Long aside, there haven’t been a huge amount of signings in the off-season, which would suggest that Hodgson is happy with his lot. It would take a brave man to bet against the Baggies grinding out some more positive results this season.
11. Newcastle United
Last season: 12th
There are many, many faults to find with the Newcastle set-up at present, most of which can be traced back to unorthodox ownership strategy of Mike Ashley. There’s still a £35m Andy Carroll-shaped hole in the Geordies’ front line and, until that is filled, Newcastle will struggle to reach their full potential. In the meantime though, Alan Pardew seems to have developed a promising midfield, adding French talents Yohan Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux to complement Chiek Tiote and Joey Barton. Kevin Nolan will be a loss — a huge one at that — but if Newcastle get their house in order, they can expect to improve on last season and possibly break into the top half of the table.
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