EPL Preview: Relegation dogfight

4 August 2011

Written by: GIULIO DI GIORGIO

Soccer fans around the world rejoice, because the English Premier League (EPL) is returning from its summer break on August 13th. Here are five teams that will most probably be battling relegation at the end of the coming season.

Newcastle United

Following their first season back from the npower Championship, Newcastle finished a satisfactory 12th.  However it will take a big effort to improve on last seasons result.

United have already lost some big stars in  Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan, while key defender Jose Enrique and playmaker Joey Barton look set leave before EPL year begins. All four were among the Magpies’ best performers last season, and replacing them will be difficult.

In order to launch his assault on the top ten, Newcastle manager,  Alan Pardew has brought in some new faces, most notably Yohan Cabaye from Lille OSC and Demba Ba from West Ham United. Cabaye definitely has the skill to replace Kevin Nolan in midfield, but it’s more a case of how quickly he adjusts to the English style, as the leagues in France are nowhere near as intense or demanding. As for Ba, his goal-scoring record has been impressive in both England and Germany, but his history with injury could leave Pardew’s squad depleted at the wrong time.

Newcastle is too good to be relegated, but I don’t think it will be the easiest season for the Toon Army, and I would be very surprised if Alan Pardew retains his job come May next year.

Predicted Position: 16th

Norwich City

It’s been a remarkable two years for Norwich, who has been promoted in consecutive seasons.

The main reason for its success has been the appointment of manager Paul Lambert, who has been a revelation in turning around the club’s fortunes. Building his side on organisation, work ethic and a never-say-die attitude, Lambert has instilled supreme self-belief within the squad.

Last season, Norwich scored more goals within the last ten minutes than any other team in the Championship. The team fears no-one,  which is a huge advantage when fronting up to some of the most intimidating teams in world soccer.

Another reason for its success is that the team doesn’t possess many marquee players – getting results as a team – rather than relying on one superstar to win the game off his own boot.

They also have a fantastic leader in club captain Grant Holt, who was sensational up front last year.

The squad isn’t particularly impressive, but they don’t have any noticeable deficiencies.

Due to the fact that they have been promoted twice in two seasons, there will be plenty who expect the Premier League to be one step too far for Norwich City. But if its home form is solid, then Norwich will surprise plenty, and can scrape home to fight out another season in the top flight.

Predicted Position: 17th

Blackburn Rovers

There aren’t many clubs in more of a mess than Blackburn Rovers.

Last season was just a comedy of errors from club owners, Venky’s Limited, who raised plenty of eyebrows by sacking the popular Sam Allardyce while the club was sitting mid-table, and appointing rookie manager Steve Kean. The move was supposed to usher a new dawn for the Rovers, with expectations of UEFA Champions League football, and an audacious bid for Ronaldinho.

However, it backfired embarrassingly as the club started to slip down the table, only avoiding relegation on the last day.

Venky’s have told Kean that he will have to sell his best assets before there is money to buy new players, so old issues will persist with zero new faces.

The lack of activity in the transfer market will definitely hurt Blackburn, and while they avoided relegation with more or less the same squad as they have now, I don’t think it will be enough to stop them from returning to the Championship.

Predicted Position: 18th

Swansea City

Swansea is officially the last team to make it to the EPL, and unfortunately will probably be one of the first to leave.

Up front the team has no issues, with plenty of youth and pace that will cause plenty of problems for opposing teams this year. The issues lie within the team’s defence, which is inconsistent and leaky, especially away from home.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has brought in a new keeper, Jose Moreira, and loaned Tottenham youngster Steven Caulker to try and address these issues, but really their focus will be on scoring as many goals as possible.

Rodgers has implemented an attractive soccer philosophy, making Swansea one of the best teams to watch, due to their positive tactics and willingness to go forward.

They also have one of the most exciting prospects in English soccer, 22-year-old Scott Sinclair, who plays as an attacking winger. Sinclair managed 19 goals last year to top Swansea’s scoring charts, including a hat-trick in their 4-2 Championship Play-off Final win against Reading. Watch out for him having a breakout year.

I’m expecting Swansea to be this year’s Blackpool. Early on, there will be some surprise results, with some excellent games and good wins, but eventually over the course of the season, they will slow down and come undone.

Predicted Position: 19th

Wigan Athletic

The enigma of the EPL, the Latics once again proved impossible to judge last season. At their worst, they were demolished by Blackpool FC, yet their best was capable of beating Tottenham Hotspur away from home.

On paper, they have had the weakest squad in the league for the last three years, yet somehow they avoided relegation every single time.

Manager Roberto Martinez decided to stay after being offered the Aston Villa job, and has brought last year’s highly successful loan recruit Ali Al-Habsi from Bolton on a permanent basis. Some of Al-Habsi’s heroics kept Wigan up last year, and he will again have a vital role to play this season.

The other player who almost single-handedly kept them up was winger Charles N’Zogbia, but they will be without him after he was sold to Aston Villa for $14.1 million. N’Zogbia was one of the best attacking midfielders in the league last year and losing him will be a significant loss to Wigan’s attacking prowess.

With Wigan you just never know, but I’m convinced that they will finally fold this season. The loss of N’Zogbia is huge, and the rest of their squad is weak in comparison to their rivals. Wigan Athletic for the wooden spoon.

Predicted Position: 20th

Tom Midwood is a first-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University.