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2012/13 Premier League Previews In Their Own Words - Part 2

Can Sir Alex Ferguson lead United back to the top of the pile this season?
Can Sir Alex Ferguson lead United back to the top of the pile this season?

Yesterday we brought you part 1 of our Premier League previews, here's part two, starting with the team that helped send us down four years ago Fulham.

Fulham

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Kristian Balkin from Cottagers Confidential - @CottagersC

How would you sum up last season?

A mixed bag. The transition from the conservative Mark Hughes to Martin Jol's more attacking philosophy took its time. The team were keen on defensive solidity but Jol was after far more than that and that took its toll. We were dumped out of Europe early on which was considerably disappointing - especially seen as all we needed was a win, at home, over Odense BK of Norway. That seemed to startle Fulham into some sort of rhythm, however, and we finished the season particularly strongly. We did the double over Liverpool, beating them at Anfield for the first time ever, and we hammered our local rivals Queens Park Rangers 6-0, so we can't really complain. All in all, a good campaign.

How has the summer gone so far?

Our pre-season has actually been quite exceptional. The signings we've made haven't been hugely inspiring - all three of them being either free transfers or loan deals, and we've looked very cohesive in our matches. Mladen Petric, a free from Hamburg, has looked really impressive with 5 goals in 5 friendlies, one of which was an exquisite overhead kick in a 4-0 hammering of OGC Nice. If he can continue his form into competitive football than we may well have ourselves another Demba Ba. Hugo Rodallega, another free, obviously has talent but he's not quite the prolific goalscorer we have craved for quite some time. And the last signing, Sacha Reither, a right back on loan from FC Koln, looks as though he will at a minimum claim the full back spot as his own. The departures haven't been too concerning either - only Danny Murphy's sale to Blackburn Rovers being any kind of significant step backwards. We'll miss him - a top captain with great vision and the ability to dictate a game. The other sales - Dickson Etuhu, Andrew Johnson, Orlando Sa, Marcel Gecov, Bjorn Helge Riise and Pavel Pogrebnyak - haven't worried me too much. You have yourselves a good player in the Pog but, without sounding overly biased, he didn't do such a significant job that we mourned his loss. He can be replaced.

Who's your key player next season?

Bryan Ruiz. He didn't perform in his debut campaign, especially considering the significant fee that was outlaid for him, but a lot of his form and lack of consistency was down to injury concerns and the obvious acclimatisation he had to make to English football. Some are saying the Costa Rican could really excel in a more central position - he normally plays on the wing - and I think that's something Jol will experiment with. The glimpses we did see of Ruiz last season, although brief, were spectacular. If you haven't seen his goal against Everton then it is well worth a watch, purely for its beauty. He's had a good summer and has been nursed back to full fitness so he could be huge in 2012/13. Watch this space.

One younger player who might burst on to the scene?

Alex Kacaniklic. It's a toss up between this lad and Kerim Frei but, for arguments sake, I'd say Frei has already burst. Kacaniklic was brought in from Liverpool as part of a swap deal with Paul Konchesky - seems like an incredibly good deal when you look back - and has really impressed. We sent him out on loan to the Championship last season, with Watford, and did so well that our manager called him back early to aid our push into the top half of the Premier League. He's a winger and has looked sharp, playing particularly well, ironically, in our last victory over Liverpool. He'll play with far more regularity this year and has yet to put a foot wrong.


Where do you think you'll finish?

8th. We struggle, every year, to set genuine targets because we know that we're not quite past that stage where we can almost guarantee to avoid relegation. That's the aim when we start the season but we can usually push on after attaining forty points and a lot of this coming campaign, still, will be Jol pushing his philosophy on Fulham. That means a younger line-up and more expansive play. A cup run would be brilliant, too, though.


What do you make of Reading and where they may end up?

It's difficult because you have yourself a good team, a good manager and have made some good signings this summer. I think Chris Gunter will do you well and, of course, I know Pogrebnyak well and he will get you goals. I've said since you've come up that you will avoid relegation but I believe it may be close. As I said, it's nothing against your team, but the sides around you are getting stronger and stronger too. But yes, I think you can stay up and, I guess, that's the most important thing.

Who are you tipping to make the top four and the bottom three?

Top four of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal with a bottom three of Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion and QPR.

Liverpool

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Noel Chomyn from The Liverpool Offside - @LFCOffside

How would you sum up last season?

Everything bad we thought might happen did. And then things got worse. Charlie Adam was as maddeningly incomplete as we thought he would be and forced Lucas to do the job of two in midfield to make him look even semi-competent. Stewart Downing's form reverted to the norm with an added dose of bad luck to make the club's fourth most expensive signing ever look entirely useless on the road to a Premier League season where he registered no goals and no assists. Pepe Reina continued his poor form from the previous season. Gerrard continued to be injured. And then Lucas blew out his ACL half way through.

And that was just in the first half of the season. In the second half we were seventeenth on form. So all in all, things were kinda shit. Though we did somehow pick up the trophy formerly known as the Milk Cup along the way.

How has the summer gone so far?

The squad that ended last term seventeenth on form was better than the squad we have two weeks before the season kicks off. So that's encouraging. Though if you're the optimistic sort of Liverpool fan there's always the chance things could get better over August.

Oh, and we got a new manager with a belief in possession football we're big fans of. But also that doom and gloom stuff.

Who's your key player next season?

Top five are Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, Suarez, and Lucas.

One younger player who might burst on to the scene?

If given the chance and a nice carnauba wax, it's Jonjo Shelvey's time to shine.

Where do you think you'll finish?

Somewhere bellow the top four and above the bottom three.

What do you make of Reading and where they may end up?

I wouldn't call them favourites to stay up, but stranger things have happened.

Who are you tipping to make the top four and the bottom three?

Not us and not us.

Manchester City

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Danny Pugsley from Bitter and Blue - @danny_pugsley

How would you sum up last season?
You feel that it was a case as of when, rather than if, with regards to City lifting the title but it was still a fantastic achievement. Having faltered at what looked to be the crucial point of the season, the side showed a tremendous spirit to fight back and take advantage of United's own slip and proved (contrary to the common perception) that this was a side that had more of the collective ethos about them.

The FA Cup win the season before undoubtedly laid the foundations having removed the monkey from their backs that was the trophy drought and you have to say that there is now an expectation, rather than a hope, that City will be challengers.

As great as the achievement in the Premier League season was, the Cups were an undoubted disappointment. After good Cup runs the season before, City were rather tame. The Carling Cup exit and FA Cup fall (at the first hurdle) occurred within weeks of each other and were equally disappointing.

They perhaps get a pass in the Champions League given it was their first foray in the competition and they were handed a difficult group. However, this is not to say mistakes were not made and there was a worrying naivety about their approach at times; something that must be corrected this time around.

How has the summer gone so far?

Exceptionally quietly! We are - I think - the only Premier League side to not make any additions this summer. That in itself is not the issue it may once have been when City were playing catch up, but Mancini knows that absences to Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure hurt City last season and they also had the benefit of the best injury record in the league.

He will, for sure, want to add two or three players to this squad but so far has been unable to shift the high earners off the wage bill so this may force Brian Marwood et al to perhaps loosen the purse strings where they perhaps were reluctant to do so.

On the pitch, the pre-season has progressed well with the squad building up to the Community Shield but the Euro 2012 participants have yet to really feature. What you may see is that Mancini hopes to use the opening month of the season (which looks fairly favourable) almost as an extended pre-season for certain players.

Who's your key player next season?

This is a tough one. There is an undoubted spine of ‘untouchables' in the squad: Joe Hart, Kompany, Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero and each are critical to this side. We saw how the absence of Kompany and Toure hurt the side mid season, whilst Aguero's return last season was sensational for a player in his debut season.

City struggles did coincide with the alarming dip in form from David Silva but the key for me is Yaya Toure: an utterly dominant force who can contribute equally to the defensive and attacking situation.

One younger player who might burst on to the scene?

There are a handful who are now pushing hard. It is easy to overlook the continued work of City's Academy amidst the spending sprees of the past few seasons but they have worked hard to bring players on.

Closest to joining the first team squad on a regular basis are Denis Suarez, a teenage Spanish midfielder, Karim Rekik, a Dutch defender and Abdul Razak, a Ghanaian midfielder, all whom have seen action last season and will likely see an increased amount of playing time in 2012/13.

One intriguing player is John Guidetti, slightly older but fresh from a successful loan spell at Feyenoord and someone who could thrive if he can get enough time amidst the crowded front line.

Where do you think you'll finish?

In many ways, repeating as Champions may prove to be as difficult as winning the title in the first place. United will be stung and are looking to recruit, whilst Arsenal and Chelsea both look better positioned. Tottenham and Liverpool too will be eyeing up the Champions League positions and at the outset of the season it could make for as tight a race at the top as we saw last season.

Much may also depend on the Champions League as City have to improve on last seasons Group stage exit. How much of a distraction may this prove to their domestic pursuits? Having said that, I would pick City to start out as favourites - just.

What do you make of Reading and where they may end up?

It will be important for Reading to build on the momentum of the second half of last season and carry that over early in the season. If they can get a good start (as seen with Swansea and Norwich last season) that cushion can be so valuable as the season progresses.

My view is there are enough bad teams in and around the bottom the end of the Premier League for all of the promoted sides to go into the season with confidence.

Staying up will be a difficult task but Reading certainly look capable of achieving it.

Who are you tipping to make the top four and the bottom three?

Top Four: Chelsea will recover to get back in the top four so I'll go for City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea. Bottom three: All the promoted sides won't be too far away I don't think but I'll go for Swansea, Southampton and Wigan.

Manchester United

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Rob Maxwell from Red Devils Blog - @RedDevilsBlog

How would you sum up last season?

Mixed, I think that's the best way to sum it up, Europe was a bit of a disaster last season, we should have got out of that group we were in. But lately, most probably the last 3-4 seasons we have treated the home games in the group stages of the Champions League as glorified Carling Cup games, and last season we paid the price for that.
I also thought we did very well to take the league to the final day of the season, fair enough we had a nice gap with 6-7 games to go, but some of the injuries we had to deal with were shocking. We lost our captain for 6 months, and early on in the season we seemed to have injury after injury, so despite the agony of the final day, I'm proud that the boys managed to get to that point.

How has the summer gone so far?

I'm delighted with the Kagawa transfer, I think he gives us more of an attacking threat, I felt at times last season we didn't have enough creativity in the team, our game plan was getting the ball to the wingers and they would create chances for us. But with Kagawa's arrival I don't think we will be quite so predictable next season.

Nick Powell is obviously one for the future, but I think by Xmas time he will be involved quite a bit in the first-team considering the issues we have in our centre midfield.

Who's your key player next season?

Wayne Rooney, there is no doubt about that for me, his goals and overall play could win us trophies this coming season, while the return of Vidic is a great confidence booster to the squad, Rooney is the player that makes us tick.

4.

One younger player who might burst on to the scene?

A young left-back called Tyler Blackett, he's already represented England at youth level, and has played a couple of our pre-season games this summer. With Fabio going on loan to QPR, we actually don't have cover for Evra, and unless we buy someone we're going to have to rely on someone from inside the club. So I could see Blackett getting 8-9 starts in all competitions this season.

Where do you think you'll finish?

My heart says we will win it. My head says we will just fall a little short and end up behind City again. And I think that's the most likely case, we're too short in midfield I think to win it, but you never know.

What do you make of Reading and where they may end up?

I think you will stay up quite comfortably, I like a lot of your summer signings, the lad you signed from Watford (Sorry can't remember his name) will be a fantastic addition to your defence. I like Adam Le Fondre too, I think he will score goals in the Premier League if given a chance.

Who are you tipping to make the top four and the bottom three?

Top four I will fo for - City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea
Bottom three - Wigan, Southampton, Norwich