Solid Mid Table Citizens:
13. Aston Villa: Villa made a good hire in Paul Lambert. With Norwich City, he improved the club each year and got more out of his players than most Premier League managers did. Quite a reversal from the previous regime at Villa under Alex Macleish, who according to Kartik Krishnayor of EPL Talk is “the master of the nil-nil draw.” Villa underachieved in the first half of last season and were decimated by injuries in the last half and thus were involved in a season-long relegation battle. I expect that relegation will not be a threat to them this year, but that it will take some new talent and a transformation of the club’s culture over a couple of years to bring them back to the prominence that they have enjoyed in the past.
12. Norwich City: While Paul Lambert’s departure for Villa is a setback for the Canaries, they should be able to stay ahead of Lambert’s side if they maintain the talent and tenacity that led them to a successful season last year.
11. Stoke City: The Britannia is one of the toughest places for visiting teams in the Premier League. The Potters play hard, direct, physical football. The distinct style of Tony Pulis led sides has been difficult for other clubs to break down. Stoke made a fairly deep run in the Europa League last season and really didn’t have the depth to be able to play well in Europe, in the League, and in Cup competitions. The subtraction of the Europa League games will enable Stoke to improve on last year’s position.
10. Fulham: Another tough, fairly unglamorous side that keeps churning out results. If Clint Dempsey is moved this summer, a tenth place finish may be difficult to achieve.
9. Everton: David Moyes is top shelf. I don’t know how he does it, but with very limited resources, he fields competitive sides each year and manages to find enough talent to not only keep the club competitive, but exciting. This is one resourceful team. My hat is off to them, and I’d really like to see them to better than ninth. However, I think that a revamped Liverpool will finish ahead of them this year and that Newcastle will continue to be ahead of them as well.
8. Newcastle: The emergence of Newcastle as a top club was one of the great stories in the league last year. They are maintaining just about all of the players that brought them to fifth place last year. My reservation about the Magpies is that they don’t have the depth to pull off the League schedule, the Europa League competition, and an extended cup run. Because of this, I expect that their league position may be lower than it was last year.