Michael Owen EPL preview: Tough at the top, brutal at the bottom

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Under fire: Rodgers.

It’s a pivotal season ahead for one of my old clubs Liverpool and the worry is that with no Champions League football they might just get left behind.

The Champions League is so huge and the money is so big, but Liverpool showed in the 2013-14 season that they can get into the mix for a top-four finish.

The Europa League will be an issue for them this season with the extra games, but they have to try and get back into that top four at the very least. They need to, it’s as simple as that.

The top three or four teams are pulling ahead of the pack and you have to say it is only five and maybe six teams if you include Tottenham who have a chance to get into the Champions League every year. I don’t think Liverpool will be frozen out of the race for a top-four finish and we have not seen the last of them in the competition, but it is not going to get any easier for them either.

Progress has to be made. I said before last season started that fourth place would be a big success for Liverpool, and while that seemed negative at the time, we could all see that they would struggle.

After finishing second, everyone thought they should go on and win it, but that was never on the agenda for me. Fourth place would have been another year of progress, but they didn’t get there in the end. I’m pleased they have stuck with Brendan Rodgers, but it is easy to argue the case either way.

Some of the players who have been signed by Liverpool in the last few years have proved to be poor, and I’m sure he wishes he didn’t sign some of them.

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is transfer dealings have been questionable, but the other doubt with all of this is whether he is actually the man signing the players. Maybe the club have to come out and tell us all who is in charge of identifying and signing players if Brendan is not in full control of that.

On the plus side, you have a coach there who has got to the semi-final of both cup competitions last year and he had a middle patch of 18 games that was league-winning form. The start and the end were poor, but they have shown flashes that they can mix it with the best and only the season before, he was a (Steven Gerrard) slip away from winning the title. People forget that very quickly.

The Liverpool team of a couple of seasons back played some incredible football and going to watch them at Anfield was an absolute pleasure. He has proven that he can piece together an entertaining and winning style of football and there are not many managers who can do that in an era where defensive tactics are very much relied upon. Just on that basis, you could argue they were right to stick with him. 

If someone came up to me who knew nothing about football and said give me one team that you played for, I would still associate myself as a Liverpool player. When I close my eyes and think of me in a football kit, then it is a red one playing an Anfield.

Liverpool hero: Owen.

Meanwhile, I think Manchester United are coming off a disappointing season. They were knocked out of the cup competition with ease and also a little embarrassment if we look at the MK Dons defeat in the League Cup. They didn’t have Champions League football to distract them and yet they snuck into fourth place after spending so much money last summer. If they had started the season poorly and got better through to the end, you might think they are on the move, but I still don’t know their identity.

I still don’t know what type of team they are. Are they meant to have flying wingers, are they meant to be strong in midfield? What is a Louis van Gaal Man United team? They are just not the Man United team we came to expect under Alex Ferguson and I just don’t know how they are going to perform in the Premier League and Champions League next season, assuming they get through the play-off.

They are also going to have some issues in the striking position. Radamel Falcao has gone. Wayne Rooney is a reliable goal threat, but he is not going to be around forever. Robin van Persie has gone. They have a huge void up front, and after letting Danny Welbeck go, you quickly realise they need to spend a lot more and they have already spent plenty since Van Gaal arrived.

It all means pressure on Rooney, who is a great player. International football is harder than it has ever been, so to score goals at international level is much more difficult than it was a few years back because even the lesser teams are well organised and don’t concede too many these days.

I remember 30 years ago when England were beating Turkey by eight and nine goals and some of the strikers could pick up hat-tricks without needing to play too well. Those days are long gone, with the exception of countries like San Marino or Gibraltar. It’s very hard to score 50 and more goals at international level these days and the key for guys like Rooney and Robbie Keane is how fit they seem to stay.

These guys never get injured and while there is some luck in that, it is also because they work hard and train hard to make sure they give themselves the best chance to avoid injuries. Wayne Rooney hasn’t got too much competition for his place in the England team right now and I can see him playing for another five years in the international team.

You have to say he is a great player and history will confirm that when he breaks the England and Manchester United scoring records. You can’t score the amount of goals Wayne has scored at international level unless you have got a lot of class and I am sure he will show it for both club and country again this season.

Michael Owen will appear as an expert analyst as part of BT Sport’s award-winning Premier League coverage in 2015/16.

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Louis van Gaal confirmed that David de Gea will not start against Tottenham.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal confirmed that Real Madrid target David de Gea will not play in the opening game of the English Premier League season against Tottenham Hotspur.


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The Premier League guide part two: Newcastle United to West Ham United.

The new Premier League season begins this weekend and here Sport360 has compiled the ultimate two-part guide to each team including predictions, vital statistics and key transfer news. Part two covers Newcastle United to West Ham United.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Manager: Steve McClaren

Last season: 15th
Key ins: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven, £14.5m), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht, £13m), Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht, £8.4m)

Key outs: Jonas Gutierrez (released), Ryan Taylor (released), Adam Campbell (Notts County, free), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff, loan)
Star man: Moussa Sissoko
One to watch: Georginio Wijnaldum
VERDICT: Surely nothing could be worse than the turmoil and turgid displays under former boss John Carver? McClaren has to restore pride as well as inject performances that won’t be half as bad. Surely nothing can be as bad as last season – 13th.


NORWICH CITY
Manager: Alex Neil
Last season: 3rd in Championship (won play-off final)
Key ins: Robbie Brady (Hull, £7m), Graham Dorrans (West Brom, £3m), Youssouf Mulumbu (West Brom, free), Andre Wisdom
(Liverpool, loan)
Key outs: Mark Bunn (Aston Villa, free)
Star man: John Ruddy
One to watch: Robbie Brady
VERDICT: Have a slightly better chance of staying up than when they were last here in 2014. Will be wiser for that and Brady, Dorrans and Mulumbu are useful additions. The latter two have much EPL experience, Brady was good for Hull last term – 17th.
John Ruddy turned down Chelsea's advances to remain with Norwich.

SOUTHAMPTON
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Last season: 7th
Key ins: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord, £8m), Juanmi (Malaga, £5m), Cedric Soares (Sporting CP, £4.7m), Cuco Martina (FC Twente,
£1m), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, loan), Steven Caulker (QPR, loan)
Key outs: Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, £25m), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £12.5m), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth, free), Jos Hooiveld (Solna, free), Dani Osvaldo (released)
Star man: Sadio Mane
One to watch: James Ward-Prowse
VERDICT: Clasie should compensate for the departure of Schneiderlin. But just can’t see them going higher than last year – 7th.


STOKE CITY
Manager: Mark Hughes
Last season: 9th
Key ins: Joselu (Hannover 96, £5.75m), Phillipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, £2.5m), Moha El Ouriachi (Barcelona, free), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, free), Glen Johnson (Liverpool, free), Shay Given (Aston Villa, free), Marko van Ginkel (Chelsea, loan)
Key outs: Asmir Begovic (Chelsea, £8m), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla, £7m), Robert Huth (Leicester, £3m)
Star man: Bojan Krkic
One to watch: Ibrahim Afellay
VERDICT: Picked up some decent players and bargains in the summer with Afellay a standout if he can stay fit – 8th.

SUNDERLAND
Manager: Dick Advocaat
Last season: 16th
Key ins: Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev, £8m), Ricky Alvarez (Inter, £7.5m), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham, £3m), Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2m), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool, £2m)
Key outs: El-Hadji Ba (Charlton, free), Santiago Vergini (Getafe, loan), Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9m)
Star man: Jermain Defoe
One to watch: Jeremain Lens
VERDICT: Managed to keep hold of Advocaat after he steered them to safety, but another relegation fight will no doubt follow. Kaboul and Coates will bolster a creaky backline, but they still need more creativity – 16th.

Dick Advocaat will be keen to avoid another relegation scrap.

SWANSEA CITY
Manager: Garry Monk
Last season: 8th
Key ins: Eder (Braga, £5m), Franck Tabanou (St Etienne, £3.5m), Kristoffer Nordfelt (Heerenveen, £600,000), Andre Ayew (Marseille, free)
Key outs: Jazz Richards (Fulham, £500,000), Alan Tate (released), Gerhard Tremmel (released) Star man: Bafetimbi Gomis
One to watch: Andre Ayew
VERDICT: Monk and his side will have greater expectation after his impressive debut campaign in charge. Getting the older Ayew on a free could be the signing of a summer if he produces what he is capable of – 11th.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Last season: 5th
Key ins: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid, £11.5m), Kevin Wimmer (Cologne, £4.3m), Kieran Trippier (Burnley, £3.5m)
Key outs: Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande, £9.8m), Benjamin Stambouli (PSG, £6m), Etienne Capoue (Watford, £5.7m), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli, £4.5m), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg, £4m), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland, £3m)
Star man: Harry Kane
One to watch: Ryan Mason
VERDICT: Difficult to see Kane repeating his heroics, nor his side improving in the standings. Might be wise to take the cup competions more seriously – 6th.

WATFORD
Manager: Quique Sanchez Flores
Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Key ins: Jose Jurado (Spartak Moscow, £6m), Matej Vydra (Udinese, £6m), Etienne Capoue (Tottenham, £5.7m), Steven Berghuis (AZ Alkmaar, £4.6m), Valon Behrami (Hamburg, £2.5m), Jose Holebas (Roma, £1.8m), Miguel Britos (Napoli, free)
Key outs: Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Weds, £350,000), Jon Bond (Reading, £250,000), Juanfran (Deportivo La Coruna, loan)
Star man: Etienne Capoue
One to watch: Troy Deeney
VERDICT: Baptism of fire for Quique on his English football managerial debut. Most players are unknown quantities in the EPL – 20th.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Manager: Tony Pulis
Last season: 13th
Key ins: James Chester (Hull, £8m), Rickie Lambert (£3m), James McClean (Wigan, £1.5m)
Key outs: Graham Dorrans (Norwich, £3m), Youssouf Mulumbu (Norwich, free), Chris Baird (Derby, free)
Star man: Saido Berahino
One to watch: James Chester
VERDICT: Haven’t strengthened as much as others and lack of depth could affect them. Pulis has focused on defence with the expensive signing of Chester and will be hard to beat as always. Difficult to see where the goals will come from – 15th.

England U-21 player Saido Berahino will spearhead West Brom's attack.

WEST HAM UNITED
Manager: Slaven Bilic
Last season: 12th
Key ins: Dimitri Payet (Marseille, £10.7m), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus, £7.9m), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria, £4.3m), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan), Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira, loan)
Key outs: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough, £5.5m), Carlton Cole (released), Guy Demel (released), Jussi Jaaskelainen (released), Nene (released)
Star man: Dimitri Payet
One to watch: Manuel Lanzini
VERDICT: With Big Sam gone, the spotlight will be on Bilic to improve the fortunes of the Hammers and the playing style. Won’t be easy but Payet could be a great entertainer – 12th.

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