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With less than a week left before the start of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, it’s time to take a look at the teams and see what they have done over the summer. In part three, we’ll take a look at Southampton, West Ham, Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea as they finished sixth to 10th in the table last season.
The reigning champions had an abysmal title defense last season, finishing in a record low 10th place for a defending champion. Manager Jose Mourinho was fired in December after losing nine of the first 16 games and hovering near the relegation zone. The Blues brought in Guus Hiddink as the interim manager, and the Dutchman got the team playing better in the second half of the campaign.
They made it to the Champions League Round of 16 before getting knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain. The 10th-place finish in the league was the first time in 20 years that the club had finished lower than sixth place. With new manager Antonio Conte on board, they will look to bounce back and compete for the title again. Chelsea has made two big signings during the summer, bringing in midfielder N’Golo Kante from Leicester for £32 million and striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille for £33.2 million.
Comment: If any man can get Chelsea back into title contention it would be Conte. He did a phenomenal job with the Italian national team, showing that he’s an astute tactician that can inspire a side. Chelsea has a really good squad, and the additions of Kante and Batshuayi makes them even more dangerous.
Stoke City FC:
Stoke has occupied the ninth spot in the table three seasons in a row now, becoming a stable mid-table side. The identity of the team has shifted from being a hard-nosed team of bone crushers to a side that has some flair to it. With players like Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan, Stoke put on some good performances last season, highlighted by a 2-0 win over Manchester City.
Arnautovic led the team in goals with a tally of 11 goals in 34 league appearances. The big signing of the summer for the Potters is midfielder Joe Allen from Liverpool for £13 million. They also completed a move for 19-year-old Egyptian prospect Ramadan Sobhi from Al Ahly for £5 million.
Comment: Stoke could use some more help offensively, as they only managed to score 41 goals last season, which was the least of the teams finishing in the top 10. They have been linked with WBA forward Saido Berahino, which would be a good addition to the front line.
Liverpool started the road to transformation last season as they sacked Brendan Rodgers in October and replaced him with former Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp. The German had a positive effect on the team, but the results varied a bit, as the Reds ultimately finished in eighth place. Now, Klopp has had a full summer with the squad and the chance of bringing in some new faces that fit his style of play.
They’ve signed centre backs Joel Matip from Schalke 04 and Ragnar Klavan from FC Augsburg to bolster the defense with Kolo Toure leaving on a free and Martin Skrtel joining Fenerbahce. The Reds splashed the cash on bringing in forward Sadio Mane from Southampton for £30 million, along with a £23 million move for versatile midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle.
Comment: Klopp is considered one of the best managers in the game, and the pressure will be on him to take Liverpool back to their former glory days. They provided glimpses last season of how well Klopp’s system can work as they took a 4-1 win over Manchester City on the road, along with 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. With a full preseason to work on the system, Liverpool should be pushing for a European cup spot.
West Ham United:
Slaven Bilic had a fine first season in charge of the Hammers, as they finished in seventh place and grabbed a spot in the Europa League. The eccentric Croatian manager has instilled a form of belief in the side that had them pull out a series of good results. Dimitri Payet had a phenomenal first season in the Premier League, ending the campaign with nine league goals and 12 assists.
Defender James Tomkins is the only big departure this summer, as he joined Crystal Palace for £10 million. They’ve brought in winger Gokhan Tore on loan from Besiktas, along with permanent signings of Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia and Havard Nordtveit from Borussia Monchengladbach, both on free transfer. The Hammers are in the market for a quality striker, and have been heavily linked with Swansea’s Andre Ayew.
Comment: If they can find an accomplished goalscorer, West Ham could be in for another great season. With the move to the Olympic Stadium, the buzz around the team is high and Bilic will look to capitalize on that and get the team off to a good start at their new home.
Once again it’s been an offseason with significant turnover for Southampton. They lost manager Ronald Koeman, who after two successful years at the club, opted to join Everton. They also lost their leading goalscorers as Sadio Mane left for Liverpool, while Graziano Pelle went to China to cash in. They led the team in scoring last season with 11 goals each, followed by Shane Long with 10. Midfielder Victor Wanyama was sold to Tottenham.
New manager Claude Puel has brought in some replacements, signing Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich, winger Nathan Redmond from Norwich City, Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy from Crystal Palace, and defender Jeremy Pied from OGC Nice.
Comment: It will be a very tough task for Puel to replicate what Koeman did last season with the losses of Mane, Pelle and Wanyama. Hojbjerg is an excellent addition, and they will hope he can make the transition to the Premier League quickly, while Redmond hopefully can take the next step in his development.