In Part II of our 'Countdown to EPL' series, we look at the teams which will vie for the spots from 10th to 17th in the English Premier League. Click here to read the first part of the series, where we analysed the three promoted teams — Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Last year finish: 8th
Home ground: The Hawthorns
Nickname: The Baggies
West Brom finished 10th in 2011-12 and improved by two places in 2012-13, but we feel another improvement isn't coming. They look like an ordinary team on paper, but have managed to gel brilliantly under Steve Clarke. However, he now needs Diego Lugano and Nicolas Anelka to become part of their system. If that happens, then Clarke can really expect another good season, and when we say good season for West Brom, it means finishing above 10th.
Star players: Lugano and Anelka will join Chris Brunt and James Morrison as the four big names around whom the Baggies' success will be based.
Verdict: They're a good team but we somehow feel a drop is coming — 12th.
Last year finish: 12th
Home ground: Craven Cottage
Nickname: The Cottagers
Oh, under-performing Fulham! Martin Jol is a fine manager no doubt, and we expect him to come all guns blazing this season. There's no doubt that a few recruits are needed and new owner Shahid Khan will spend some money on the team. Adel Taarabt has already joined from QPR and Darren Bent's move is impending. Jol will need to figure out a way to turn those away draws into wins. Last season they had seven draws on the road, lost eight and won four. That means a haul of 19 points from a possible 57. If they can up that 19 to about 30, they'll finish strongly.
Star players: Maarten Stekelenburg's purchase will certainly ensure more cleansheets. He's a fine goalkeeper, vastly experienced and will control the defence well. If Taarabt can show flashes of brilliance like last season, Fulham fans are up for a treat. And then of course, there's Dimitar Berbatov.
Verdict: A bold 10th. We like these guys.
Last year finish: 9th
Home ground: Liberty Stadium
Nickname: The Swans
High-flying Swansea! Swansea are top class, sometimes dubbed the Barcelona of English football for their attacking style and ability to work up some wondrous moves. Michael Laudrup though, needs to find different ways to beat teams so that it doesn't become easy for opponents to gauge them — which happened in last season's run-in.
Star players: Michu is the undoubted star man. But Wilfried Bony has joined and looks lethal in pre-season. Jonjo Shelvey has joined from Liverpool, which unlocks Michu to a more advanced role.
Verdict: One-up! 8th place.
Last year finish: 16th
Home ground: St James' Park
Nickname: The Magpies
16th was ridiculous last season. But Alan Pardew has moved quickly this year and made a few clever signings. Loic Remy's move is sealed while Bafetimbi Gomis and Stewart Downing are very much in the pipelines. But Pardew's team were dismal on the road last season, winning just twice. They also lost nine times at home, which for a team like Newcastle, is just unacceptable. Scoring goals seemed the main problem last season after they sold Demba Ba, but after holding onto a fine set of midfielders and getting Remy and Gomis — they should be okay.
Star players: Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse are their most potent players.
Verdict: 11th we say.
Last year finish: 11th
Home ground: Carrow Road
Nickname: The Canaries
Green and yellow Norwich won some hearts last season, and gave the title fight a lease of life by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. This season, they've made some fantastic signings in Leroy Fer, Rick van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond are quality players and reflect well on manager Chris Hughton's CV. He won't try anything new — play well at the back and create chances up front. Norwich keep it simple, and they make it work. This time, they can only get better.
Star players: Wolfswinkel is a proven crowd pleaser and so is Fer. Anthony Pilkington though, is still their favourite.
Verdict: 9th. Oh yes, 9th.
WEST HAM UNITED
Last year finish 10th
Home ground: Upton Park
Nickname: The Hammers
West Ham's style is as Sam Allardyce as it gets. Punt the ball forward and wait for Andy Carroll to flick it into the path of a faster striker. But Big Sam's teams are notorious for being stubborn in defence too — annoying more illustrious opponents. This year, they've confirmed Carroll's signing but haven't made too much of a foray in the market. But expect Allardyce's hard-working men to struggle this season.
Star players: Andy Carroll and Mark Noble are vital to their success. Oh, and Kevin Nolan.
Verdict: Sorry Hammers, we feel it's going to be 17th for you. (If one of the promoted teams stay, and we believe it's Cardiff, then West Ham may well go down).
Last year finish: 13th
Home ground: Britannia Stadium
Nickname: The Potters
Mark Hughes comes in after Tony Pulis' successful regime was brought to an end. Under Hughes, it'll be interesting to see whether Stoke will continue with their robust physical style or turn into a an under-achieving Hughes side trying to play good football. We fear the latter.
Star players: Matthew Etherington, if he doesn't leave.
Verdict: 16th. Or worse.
Last year finish: 14th
Home ground: St Mary's
Nickname: The Saints
Southampton are an exciting team and Mauricio Pochettino will only make them better. If last season's show was anything to go by, then Southampton look pretty safe. They've got in holding midfielder Victor Wanyama and that'll add some solidity to a wasteful defence. All in all, they're staying in the top flight.
Star players: Ricky Lambert, Gastom Ramirez and Morgan Schneiderlin. And luckily, none of them want to leave.
Last year finish: 17th
Home ground: Stadium of Light
Nickname: The Black Cats
Paulo di Canio, tough Paulo di Canio, will ensure that Sunderland have a much better season this time round. He took over last season at a crunch time and kept them up with some inspired performances — which include his celebrations on the touchline. This time, he's taken the team on a gruelling pre-season tour and is determined to finish better than 17th. Some of his buys have been vague, but in Paulo we trust.
Star players: Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner were brilliant last season. We expect more of the same.
Last year finish: 15th
Home ground: Villa Park
Nickname: The Villans
It was a freakishly bad season for Villa last year, but Paul Lambert will inject more of an attacking style this year and gives hope that though there won't be much progress table-wise, they will not look as bad as they did last term. However, their start — away games to Arsenal and Chelsea may suck the morale out of the team early on. Or, it may just give them a good kickstart. The acquisition of Nicklas Helenius is very positive indeed.
Star players: Helenius looks likely to be a hit and then there's the clinical Christian Benteke.
Verdict: 15th, no change. At least they survive.
We'll publish part III of Countdown to EPL on Monday, where we look at Europa League hopefuls.
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