Kurt Zouma has a point to prove but a lack of creativity could mean Stoke are ripe for relegation

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MANAGER

Mark Hughes

STAR MAN

Xherdan Shaqiri

LAST SEASON

13th

TOP SCORER

Peter Crouch (7)

KEY INS

Darren Fletcher (West Brom, free), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea, loan)

Darren Fletcher

Darren Fletcher

KEY OUTS

Marko Arnautovic (Stoke, £20m), Jonathan Walters (Burnley, £3m), Phil Bardsley (Burnley, £700k)

REASONS TO BE POSITIVE

No matter the season, no matter the squad, no matter the opposition – Stoke will seemingly always finish around mid-table and fans will continue to enjoy Premier League football.

REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC

A lack of arrivals means an average squad is treading water and they could be caught, especially as their once-resiliant defence appears to be in decline.

ONE TO WATCH

Until his ACL in 2016, Kurt Zouma was the future of the Chelsea and France defence. Has a point to prove and will have an eye on Russia 2018.

Kurt Zouma

Kurt Zouma

EXPECTATION

Ahead of their 10th successive top-flight season the goal is to halt last season’s slide and rediscover their hard-to-beat mentality.

REALITY

Lack goals, have lost one of their most creative players in Arnautovic and appear ripe for a relegation fight.

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Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic can fire Newcastle to a top-10 finish providing Rafa Benitez doesn't leave

Matt Jones 9/08/2017
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MANAGER

Rafa Benitez

STAR MAN

Jonjo Shelvey

LAST SEASON

1st (Championship)

TOP SCORER

Dwight Gayle (23)

KEY INS

Jacob Murphy (Norwich, £12m), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, £6.2m), Florian Lejeune (Eibar, £8.7m), Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, £4m), Mikel Merino (Borussia Dortmund, loan)

Christian Atsu

KEY OUTS

Lewis Gibson (Everton, £6m), Daryl Murphy (Nottingham Forest, £2m)

REASONS TO BE POSITIVE

With Benitez at the helm, there should be real optimism they can soar to safety. In Dwight Gayle, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Jonjo Shelvey they possess experience and proven quality.

REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC

Benitez’s bond with the fans is sensational, but less than stable with thrifty chairman Mike Ashley, with their promotion campaign littered with arguments over financial backing.

ONE TO WATCH

Mikel Merino was among La Liga’s brightest talents just two seasons ago.

Mikel Merino

Mikel Merino

EXPECTATION

Newcastle are a big club and with Benitez in possession of talented players, fans will be hoping for a campaign without a relegation fight and even a push for the top 10.

REALITY

The season is unlikely to pass without an Ashley/Benitez war of words which could derail progress. Likely to land safely in mid-table though, with their strikers firing them out of a relegation battle if one ensues.

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Absence of Liverpool target Virgil van Dijk casts a shadow over Southampton and goalscoring issues have not been fixed

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MANAGER

Mauricio Pellegrino

STAR MAN

Virgil van Dijk

LAST SEASON

8th

TOP SCORER

Nathan Redmond (7)

KEY INS

Mario Lemina (Juventus, £18m), Jan Bednarek (Lech Poznan, £5.7m)

Jan Bednarek

Jan Bednarek

KEY OUTS

Jay Rodriguez (West Brom, £12m), Jason McCarthy (Barnsley (£200,000), Cuco Martina (Everton, free), Martin Caceres (Verona, free)

REASONS TO BE POSITIVE

For the first time in many season, Saints have not – yet – lost a star name. New manager Pellegrino worked wonders at La Liga’s Alaves.

REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC

The absence of skipper Van Dijk, whether temporarily or permanently, casts a considerable shadow. Goalscoring issues have not been fixed and they have been poor in pre-season.

ONE TO WATCH

In the absence of any exciting incomings, the onus falls on the likes of Sofiane Boufal to belatedly live up to the enlivening reputation he earned at Lille before last summer’s arrival.

Sofiane Boufal

Sofiane Boufal

EXPECTATION

The revolving door of managers keeps spinning at Saints, yet their record of respectable finishes also continues.

REALITY

The time when change catches up with Southampton seems at hand. If Manolo Gabbiadini does not attain consistency of finishing, a descent down the table awaits.

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