Best- and worst-case scenarios for every EPL team
The skinny: Nothing going on really, except for the defending champs trying to move on from the greatest club manager of all time and dealing with a possible transfer of Wayne Rooney. Welcome to the show, David Moyes!
Best case: Alex Ferguson is still managing the team, just from some grotto, sketching out his formations with bottles of top-shelf wine. OK, maybe he could just leave his magic dust and blocks of Fergie Time for whenever Moyes is in a tough spot. Robin van Persie continues his goal-scoring rampage, they hold on to Rooney and he gets over this latest snit, and the rest of last season's squad plays to the same standard, where they steamrolled to a title. Wilfried Zaha becomes the next big thing, unless a healthy Shinji Kagawa beats him to it.
Worst case: They elect to sell Rooney late in this window and Moyes forgets he actually has a budget now and hasn't brought in reinforcements. Then Van Persie gets crocked in training in early September, leaving United short on top-notch strikers. City use their soft early schedule to move seven points clear and the pressure tightens as no one in England seems to understand unbalanced schedules. The first "Come back, SAF" banner appears in September. United end up in a crazy scramble just to stay in the top four.
The skinny: A massive disappointment last season, finishing 16th and being under relegation pressure a season after a fifth-place finish. Alan Pardew responded by loaning a striker embroiled in rape allegations. However his case ends up, Loic Remy will spend the season in black and white stripes.
Best case: Last season was an injury-addled fluke and the talent is closer to what they showed two years ago. A top-half finish is a minimum target, with upside. Magpies fans ignore for the time being that Pardew has a contract through 2020 and that the buffoonish Joe Kinnear (Audio is very NSFW) was brought back, too. Remy's legal woes are resolved positively and he shows the talent people expected to see last year at QPR. They sweep the Tyne-Wear series from Sunderland.
Worst case: Last season wasn't a fluke and most of the teams around them in the table have improved more than Newcastle has. Cardiff and Crystal Palace pull a Southampton/Norwich and are better than expected, leaving two spots in the relegation trap door open beside Hull. Remy's a bust and/or goes to jail. Magpies fans push to have Pardew and Kinnear join him. Sunderland crushes them twice as the club drops into the Championship for the second time in five seasons.
The skinny: The Canaries surprised somewhat by pulling away from the relegation scrap and finishing a very comfortable 11th place. Then they went out this summer and made some very solid signings, hinting that they plan on being around for awhile.
Best case: The summer signings of Gary Hooper, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer are as good as they look right now. Their home form continues to be strong as no one else in the division actually knows how to get to Norwich, located in the barren region of English soccer, where they currently lord over lower-division rival Ipswich for the Pride of Anglia trophy. A top-10 finish in the Prem and maybe a solid Cup run could be possible.
Worst case: The new signings get isolation sickness after spending several weeks in Norwich, and the house of cards comes crumbling down after a couple solid mid-level finishes. Offloaded burly striker Grant Holt comes good in the Championship. They draw Ipswich in a cup tie and lose. Relegation becomes a real fear down the stretch.
The skinny: A free-wheeling side that somewhat exceeded expectations last season before ultimately ending up in 14th place. They look to have helped themselves at the defensive end with sizable transfers for defensive mid Victor Wanyama and defender Dejan Lovren, and they'll need to be tighter at that end if they have designs on moving up instead of looking down at relegation trouble. Or they could somehow land striker Pablo Osvaldo from Roma and be really dangerous. One of the biggest ranges of results possible in the Prem this season.
Best case: The Saints remain as potent as they were on the offensive end while tightening things up in the back. 2-2 draws become 2-1 wins and the club pushes toward the top half of the table. Their fans giggle their way through a 5-0 Cup win over arch rival (and now-League 2 after massive financial issues and multiple relegations) Portsmouth. The new transfers pan out and more players look to the South Coast in future seasons, anchoring their Prem status.
Worst case: They don't get Osvaldo, Rickie Lambert doesn't score as opportunistically, and 2-2 draws become 2-1 losses. Their fans look on in horror as League 2 Pompey wins a Cup tie at St. Mary's while the Pompey fans sing "You'll be down with us soon enough." Mauricio Pochettino's first full season in charge after last year's midseason hire ends badly and relegation is directly on the table.
The skinny: If you're looking for a surprise relegation candidate, here's your prime pick. Despite making some inroads toward playing actual soccer instead of rugby, this is still a side not designed to play the Beautiful Game. Now they have Mark Hughes in charge, who was last spotted running QPR into the ground and has a habit of very slow starts when he arrives at clubs. Americans may latch onto them because of Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea, Mo Edu and now Juan Agudelo coming, but you may not want to get too attached. Keeping stud goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (for now, anyway) may be a master stroke and the difference between a tough season and real trouble.
Best case: Sparky takes his second chance after the QPR debacle and continues to transform Stoke into a side that actually tries to play decent footie. Begovic stays and steals them some wins early to relieve immediate pressure. Peter Crouch and Co. robot their way to enough goals to keep things steady. Stoke subsequently buys Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson to become the official development partner of the U.S. national team.
Worst case: Arsenal wakes up and realizes they need a better keeper than Szczczzczzczczny and pays the price for Begovic, leaving Stoke to start promising-but-not-ready English prospect Jack Butland or old Thomas Sorensen. Deprived of possibly the best keeper in the Prem, Stoke's margin for error becomes almost nil and Sparky doesn't react well under that kind of pressure. They start off the campaign the same way QPR did last season and are 19th or 20th approaching the holidays, and then anything is possible.
The skinny: Jozy. Jozy. Jozy. Jozy. Americans will be transfixed, hoping Mr. Altidore lives up to a big-money transfer on the second ask. He's going to have every opportunity to do so with a Black Cats side that has the talent in the front six to provide him with the service he needs. Now that Clint Dempsey has left Spurs for MLS, Jozy is the most notable USMNTer in the Prem (in part because no one really needs to watch Tim Howard anymore. We know he's good and he's a keeper.)
Best case: Jozy is a beast. Steven Fletcher gets and stays healthy and forms a great 1-2 punch. Paolo Di Canio's craziness translates in a good way and Sunderland play wide-open, interesting, winning soccer. Selling off Simon Mignolet doesn't come back to bite them too badly in goal. The Black Cats make a dark horse run for top seven while Newcastle gets relegated again.
Worst case: Jozy Bust 2: European Boogaloo (although this looks less and less likely after Jozy's summer, capped off by his destruction of Bosnia on Wednesday). Americans never get bought again for decent fees. Di Canio is an unredeemable loon and loses his dressing room 10 matches into the campaign. Everything goes pear-shaped as the questionable goalkeeping situation becomes a mess. A club that has mastered Prem mediocrity goes one step lower and flirts with the drop. Newcastle makes it back to Europe.
The skinny: A silky team that has added even more impressive components this summer and may be poised to bump Everton from the top seven ... and aim even higher. Picking up Wilfried Bony for $18 million may end up being the best transfer of the summer. He and Michu are going to be a huge problem for a lot of Prem sides. I don't love Jonjo Shelvey, but his cost-efficient acquisition from Liverpool may also prove to be solid business. Nice side, this.
Best case: They pass and move their way around the bottom half sides and pick up enough points against the major clubs to stay in the European mix. Michel Vorm stays healthy and the current Europa League adventure doesn't wear them down to the point they start dropping in the league table. Bony becomes a bony-fide star and eventually nets them at least twice what they paid in a transfer fee. They crush Cardiff twice in the first-ever Premiership Wales derbies and the "Blue"birds are dumped right back down into the Championship.
Worst case: There's really not a lot of downside here. They're not getting relegated. They have very good players on the roster and a good manager. Losing to Cardiff would cause some blushes, but jetting off to some European locale soon afterward would ease the pain.
The skinny: This is the year for Spurs. Which is the same thing that was being said the last two seasons, but this is definitely the year. Unless they end up selling Gareth Bale and can't reinvest before the window closes, leaving them to start four defenders and six central midfielders. Unless some major dominoes fall in the next three weeks, though, anything short of the top four should be considered a significant disappointment.
Best case: Everything comes up roses. Bale stays and plays like the star he is. New additions Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli and Paulinho add even more depth, flexibility and firepower to a really good roster. Hugo Lloris plays like the world-class keeper he is. Jan Vertonghen stays healthy and shepherds the back four. Arsenal doesn't buy anything but a case of spoiled lasagne and Spurs are too smart this time to chow down. The goal quickly becomes top three and automatic UCL group stage position, with a run at the league title itself.
Worst case: They sell Bale and Daniel Levy uses the funds for gold plating on his executive washroom. Spurs figure out they still have 15 quality central midfielders but never figure out how to set the team up to maximize the remaining talent. Soldado is a $45 million bust and Spurs have to rely on Jermaine Defoe and Emmenual Adebayor for offense. Arsenal buys nothing but a case of rancid meat pies, but Andre Villas-Boas is curious and holds a team party where everyone gets trichinosis. The Europa League beckons ... again.
The skinny: A low sex-appeal side with some solid players and very difficult to beat at home at The Hawthorns. The Baggies may have made a quietly nice loan move for Matej Vydra, who should help spice up their attack and help fill the void left by last season's loan star, Romelu Lukaku, now back with Chelsea. Not sure how much more there is to say about them. A consummate decent Prem side that seems to have very little in the way of massive upside or downside.
Best case: Threaten to finish seventh if everything breaks right and Vydra and/or the ageless Nicolas Anelka score enough goals for them?
Worst case: Somehow, lose twice to Fulham like they did last season and slip further down the cluster in the middle than expected. Can't see them as a relegation worry, but stranger things have happened, I guess.
The skinny: Recently gained notoriety in the U.S. thanks to Jason Sudeikis associating them with pick-up trucks as he tries to learn Tottenham's Premiership foes. That pretty much sums up the East Londoners, who will continue to ride the lankiness of Liverpool bust Andy Carroll and some quality wing play to however much they can accomplish. One of a handful of sides that looks like it will be a fairly tame season in terms of range of expectations.
Best case: Big Sam gets his team playing the best kind of Route 1 longball, Carroll wins enough knockdown headers and the Hammers' skill players deliver often enough to safely ride along in mid-table. They get a good draw and perform well in one of the Cups and make a deep run. They consolidate enough in the next three seasons to make a leap once they move into the Olympic Stadium.
Worst case: Relegation scrap? A bunch of 0-0 and 1-0 results that bore viewers to tears? Andy Carroll can't play Fulham at home every week and is exposed as not even worth the $24 million West Ham paid to offset Liverpool's absurd $55 million buy? Jussi Jaaskelainen starts to show his 38 years and things get dicey on both ends for a club that doesn't reek of firepower?