EXCLUSIVE: Wayne Rooney still needs support at ‘predictable’ Manchester United, says Louis Saha

Wayne Rooney looks up to the sky in celebration of his first goal

Wayne Rooney looks up to the sky in celebration of his first goal

Wayne Rooney proved once more why it is foolish to question his scoring prowess with a hat-trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday night.

The Manchester United striker set his side on track for the Champions League group stages with a treble that places him just 16 behind Sir Bobby Charlotn’s club record of 249 goals.

Rooney has been much maligned for the 878-minute wait for a goal dating back 10 club matches to a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in April, but Louis Saha believes criticism of his former Old Trafford team-mate had been unwarranted.

Rooney returned to his best form against Club Brugge

Rooney returned to his best form against Club Brugge

‘It did surprise me,’ Saha said. ‘He is a player with great strength who never doubts himself. But what the start of the season has shown is that he needs support.

‘United’s style of play has been perhaps a little bit predictable. The whole set-up of the club for many years has been about having wingers who are very fast who bring a lot of problems to the opposition.’

With just over five days remaining in the summer transfer window, United are perceived to have lacked penetration in the three Premier League fixtures thus far.

Louis Saha scored 42 goals in 76 United starts between 2004 and 2008

Louis Saha scored 42 goals in 76 United starts between 2004 and 2008

Slender victories over Tottenham and Aston Villa preceded a pedestrian display in the stalemate at home to Newcastle, and Saha believes Rooney would thrive off manager Louis van Gaal adding pace to his attacking options.

‘Wazza would benefit from this as he is a very clever player,’ Saha added.

‘I think Van Gaal is trying to find a balance between great defenders and midfielders, but it’s obvious that now he will be looking for a support striker for when Wazza is either injured or not in great form.

Saha believes United need more than Memphis Depay to support Rooney

Saha believes United need more than Memphis Depay to support Rooney

‘I think that a good balance of options up front is important in order to win trophies and you must have a striker who is capable of scoring 20 goals if you are to stand any chance of winning the Champions League.’

United achieved their fourth clean sheet in their opening five games in the 7-1 aggregate victory over Brugge – a positive sign given the uncertainty over goalkeeper David de Gea’s future.

The swashbuckling United seen in the Champions League play-off blitzing of the Belgian club has contrasted with the underwhelming attacking displays domestically so far, but Saha maintains that the Red Devils are slowly clicking into gear.

Last season's stats show United cannot rely on Rooney alone for goals

Last season’s stats show United cannot rely on Rooney alone for goals

‘The objective with United will always be to try and win the Premier League, and this season is no different.

‘The thing is that there are so many teams now that can compete for the title. When you look at the Spanish or German league, it is always the same teams who you know are going to win it.

‘You have Chelsea, Manchester United or City and Arsenal who can all win the league this year, and then there’s sides like Liverpool, Spurs and Everton who will be looking to break back into the top four.’

Saha: Everton should focus on long-term stability in handling ‘world class’ John Stones

John Stones has handed in a transfer request at Everton

Speculation over John Stones has grown after he handed in a transfer request

Former Everton striker Louis Saha believes the club must not lose sight of its long-term goals in deciding whether to bow down to John Stones’ desire to leave Goodison Park.

Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday amid speculation that Chelsea were about to table a fourth bid for the coveted 21-year-old centre-back.

Despite making just 89 starts for the Toffees since his £3million arrival from Barnsley in 2013, Everton have turned down three offers from the Premier League champions, with the latest bid to be rebuffed reportedly worth £30m.

Saha – who scored 35 goals in 115 appearances for the Merseyside club between 2008 and 2012 – believes his former club should not make an emotional call on the sought-after Stones, remaining focused on their own best interests moving forward.

Louis Saha can understand the pressure his former club are now under

Louis Saha can understand the pressure his former club are now under

‘When you talk of John Stones, you are talking about one of the most talented players in England – not just at Everton – so it’s understandable why there’s a lot of speculation around him right now,’ Saha said.

‘The main focus for Everton must be where they want to be at the end of a certain period of time. If you only focus on the short-term, you can understand the pressure the club is under [to hold onto Stones].

‘Sometimes, it is about money and the financial position…certainly, as a fan you always think, ‘how can we get to a better position than last year? How can we can into the Champions League?’

‘It’s difficult to know how far off Everton are from the top four places and those teams that compete for those positions.

‘But you see how even Manchester United have struggled to get into one of these spots, so you can imagine what it’s like for a team with a smaller budget like Everton to keep world class players in the side.’

Roberto Martinez must now decide whether or not to keep Stones at the club

Roberto Martinez must now decide whether or not to keep Stones at the club

Saha believes that Stones is destined for the very top, but in now dealing with the player’s transfer request, the 37-year-old Frenchman – who retired in August 2013 – hopes Everton use the remaining days of the transfer window to find the best solution for themselves.

‘For many clubs, not just Everton, this stage of the transfer window is all about getting the right players in while allowing those in the academy to grow.

‘A club can have all the spirit and stability in the world, but sometimes it’s not enough. You need investors and sometimes different ideas [in the boardroom] make the difference.

‘It’s up to Everton to now decide [on the Stones situation] in order to reach their overall target.’

Lambert: Having a core of British players is vital

Believing in British: Paul Lambert has never looked too far for his recruits

Paul Lambert has always believed in having a core of British players at his club

Former Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has admitted that having a core of British players is vital to his managerial approach – a viewpoint that is in stark contrast to the current incumbent of the Villa Park hotseat Tim Sherwood.

Villa have failed to build on a opening day victory over Bournemouth, with successive defeats to Manchester United and Crystal Palace leaving them in need of a confidence-boosting victory in the Capital One Cup second round at home to Notts County this evening.

Lambert, who looked visibly refreshed from his six-month managerial hiatus while speaking on Sky Sports Now on Tuesday morning, believes that while ushering in players of the right quality is paramount, having a British core has always been at the forefront of his managerial decisions.

Matthew Lowton was one of several British players bought by Lambert to leave Villa this summer

Matthew Lowton was a British player bought by Lambert who has left Villa

‘I think that’s vital, if you’re a British player, you’ve got to have a core of British lads who know the club, the country and the culture, and you build around it,’ said Lambert.

‘I think that it’s important you don’t take away the identity of your club. A core of British players know exactly what’s expected, and for me that’s important. I had it at Norwich, where it was predominantly British lads who were playing and doing ever so well.’

Lambert’s admission is noteworthy given the comments made earlier this summer by Sherwood, who has signed no fewer than six players from abroad since arriving at the Midlands club as Lambert’s successor in February.

Tim Sherwood is not bowled over by the current value of British players

Tim Sherwood is not bowled over by the current value of British players

While the likes of Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair have also joined, the former Tottenham Hotspur head coach stated that he was not fussed by the nationality of those in his squad, even stating that the current market value of British players means he naturally levitates towards overseas talent.

‘I’ve looked at the English talent to see what’s out there. If it was better than the foreign talent I would have gone down that route,’ Sherwood said. ‘But the value for money is elsewhere.

‘Some of the foreign boys we have gone for over the English boys are better. They’ve played a lot of games at a very young age.

‘You look at the English boys and they have played five or so games and they cost the same as a guy who has played over 200 games in France. It doesn’t add up.’

The clash between Sherwood’s stance and that of Lambert’s would appear to reflect the lack of stability and progress at Villa in recent seasons, becoming embroiled in relegation battles against the backdrop of owner Randy Lerner’s attempts to sell the club.

Siege mentality will awake a wounded Chelsea at the Etihad

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How Jose Mourinho must’ve wished the opening question had been about another bid for John Stones.

How mundane those monosyllabic words on everyone’s lips barely a week ago would have sounded among the regulars of his pre-match press conference, 19 days before the end of the transfer window.

Alas, once the innocent Roberto Martinez had skirted the subject during a guest appearance on Monday Night Football, the Everton defender has been somewhat cast aside by a new darling of the British media.

To the trained refreshers of the Barclays Premier League, Eva Carneiro’s profile among Chelsea’s backroom staff has been well-known, but only now has her name been printed in bold letters across the back pages of national newspapers.

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Mourinho’s decision to publicly criticise his club’s medical staff took the focus away from a very impressive Swansea at Stamford Bridge, who were thoroughly deserving of their 2-2 draw.

With beads of sweat still glistening on his forehead, Mourinho was quick to take aim at club doctor Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn for entering the pitch based on referee Michael Oliver’s insistence, temporarily reducing the Blues to eight outfield players.

Some cynics would argue that Mourinho called upon an old playing card of his in deflecting the attention away from his inability to beat Garry Monk’s side last Saturday in his public dressing down of the aforementioned pair.

After all, had the numerically superior Swans gone and scored, he may have sounded like any other rueful manager in those circumstances, with whom anyone who ‘understands the game’ would share a modicum of sympathy.

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But as the cars lined up outside the club’s training ground on Friday morning would indicate, his heated utterances on an ultimately non-consequential act have only placed more pressure on his side heading into this weekend’s trip to Manchester City.

Whilst player safety should always come first, he had a point. The argument that medical staff should overrule managers based on life-threatening incidents seen previously on the football field is utterly redundant. Of course this should be the case but, for heaven’s sake, read the signs.

The studious Mourinho certainly had, and his post-match script was written. All that was left was for us to take the bait, which we gleefully took given the scope for national outrage.

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The pictures did the rest, with new, unseen footage of the confrontation drip-fed by the media each day this week, as though it were the world premiere of a Hollywood production. Virals were born, the 10-month theatre season was open for business again.

While the Portuguese manager’s press conference unfolded in front of an abnormally packed Cobham media room on Friday, Sky Sports News reporter Andy Burton took it upon himself to be the ringleader among his peers, opening the discussion by offering Mourinho the stage to produce some sort of statement, even an apology.

It didn’t arrive in so many words, but Mourinho heaped praise on his medical team, whilst revealing his decision to remove Fearn and Carneiro from the front-line of his esteemed medical staff was not for the indefinite future.

‘First of all, I want to say I have a fantastic medical department led by Doctor Paco Biosca, I have a good relationship with them,’ said Mourinho. ‘They tell me they have never been praised as much as they have done by me in the last couple of years.’CMYMerOWwAE6PUd

At home with the media gaze, the self-proclaimed Special One didn’t shirk his duties, nor did he feel forced into a corner by Burton’s attempts to fish for an ounce of regret at the second attempt.

Mourinho was right in his stance that six days in management ahead of a potential season-setting fixture at the Etihad involves far more besides worrying about how the outside world would perceive his decision to juggle who he shares the touchline with.

Mourinho, alongside those football journalists who shared his company on Friday, is too long in the game to expect any such form of backtracking at this juncture, when seizing an early initiative is paramount in a title race that will be won by whichever side makes the least mistakes.

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Only last season, we saw Mourinho revisit his comments regarding a ‘campaign’ against his side, months after he had first raised the suggestion following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Southampton in December.

Within a few days, City were level on points with his side, but come April, the Blues were cantering to the title.

Furthermore, what precisely should he feel regret towards? Questioning the integrity of match officials is one thing, but the manner in which he has faced a backlash over the type of decisions he is paid to make this week is a nonsense.

Just because there is a hearty crowd who have criticised Mourinho for his ‘treatment of a dedicated professional doctor’ – led by Bolton Wanderers head of medicine Mark Leather – there is no obligation on the manager to explain to the public the reasons behind the demotion.

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While Mourinho reiterated the strong bond between himself and the support staff in his opening monologue, there is clearly more than meets the eye about his decision to make changes.

After all, very little else has changed at Chelsea this summer.

A ‘re-tasking of duties’ does sound like the kindest way of saying someone has been removed from a more established position of power, but Mourinho’s decision to have a shake-up was only confirmed after Carneiro had taken to social media with an ill-advised post on Facebook thanking the public for showing support, a move that clearly irked the manager.

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Given that Fearn has also lost his front-row seat, this cannot be viewed as carrying too much weight in the overall call, but certainly had Mourinho not acted so swiftly, little more would have been made of what is still viewed by some as a non-story.

They now head to face last season’s nearest rivals and a reinvigorated City with hardly a word spoken on the game itself, but Mourinho has shown the type of ruthlessness he now needs to see in the mentality of his players, so evidently off the pace in the opening weekend.

It would be naive to discount the potential for disquiet from within the Chelsea camp – as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger mischievously surmised in his own pre-match mutterance – but similarly, it would be far too blinkered not to expect a reaction from a club used to being cloaked in villainous robes in recent times.

Premier League Preview 2015-16: Bournemouth will be a breath of fresh south coast air, but is this finally Arsenal’s year?

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It was little over 10 weeks ago, on May 24, that one of the longest and most one-sided Premier League title processions came to an end.

Didier Drogba was afforded a hero’s departure at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea sealed yet another victory over Sunderland before being anointed as champions.

In truth, it was all a bit tedious, the manner in which Jose Mourinho’s side had sewn up the club’s fourth Premier League crown at a canter, even with their most potent striker Diego Costa struggling for much of the second half of the season with a hamstring injury.

The sense of excitement that surrounds the start of the new campaign this weekend is due in part to the growing belief, however, that we now have an open title race.

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Chelsea are vulnerable

Chelsea’s sale of Petr Cech was viewed by some as Roman Abramovich showing his human side, allowing a long-running servant to leave the club in the pursuit of first-team football without having to relocate.

But not only have Chelsea strengthened a direct rival, but they have shown signs of sluggishness during pre-season that would suggest they are a weaker outfit to the one that finished eight points above Manchester City last term.

The chasing pack

But where is the threat coming from?

It’s a perfectly valid question, when you consider the fallibilities of the other genuine contenders.

Arsenal have looked good in pre-season, with Cech adding greater assurance to their defence, and both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showing great promise in a trophy-laden month for the Gunners.

The loss of Jack Wilshere is becoming less of a blow with each fresh flair-up, but Wenger may live to regret his decision not to strengthen his defensive midfield options, as good as Francis Coquelin was after his return from a loan spell at Charlton.

Questions marks still linger over Walcott as an able deputy to Olivier Giroud, and with Arsenal not finishing inside the top two in 10 years, there is reason to argue that a 12-point swing to overtake Chelsea is unlikely.

While there might be an air of ‘as you were’ for those two foes, there is greater intrigue regarding last season’s runners-up, Manchester City.

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Manuel Pellegrini remains in charge, but you get the sense he is keeping the seat warm for someone else.

Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have been sounded out as potential replacements before a ball has been kicked, with the latter reported to have agreed to take over at the Etihad next season.

Pellegrini has far from been a disaster at City, having won the club’s second Premier League title in 2014 and finished as its top-scorers in the last two seasons, but his approach to tackling an ageing squad this summer suggests he is building for his successor’s future.

Despite the options simply not being there for the City board to make a change in management this summer, the club still have an extremely good side on their day that has been improved by the signings of Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph.

A club with the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and – when fit – Sergio Aguero running through its spine has already garnered two Premier League titles, but doubts remain over the defence.

Pellegrini has seen his side concede four goals on two separate occasions during pre-season. He had no option but to give youth a chance as Cameron Humphreys and Jason Denayer both played against Real Madrid.

His faith in Eliaquim Mangala to repay the astronomical outlay last summer seems misplaced, while Martin Demichelis is now 34. Their title quest may again centre on whether or not they can outscore the opposition.

The intrigue comes further up the pitch, where the arrival of Delph should help prevent the defence from being so brutally exposed against better opponents, while the departures of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic will finally allow Wilfried Bony to flourish.

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Manchester United have been dealt a major blow with Louis van Gaal announcing that David De Gea will not be starting the season in goal against Tottenham.

For all the sense of optimism at Old Trafford generated by the £80million spent on a brand new midfield, it was De Gea who was largely responsible for the side’s return to the Champions League.

While Cech may, as John Terry predicts, win Arsenal 15 points this season, the sale of the Spaniard may have the opposite effect for the Red Devils, however explosive Memphis Depay may prove to be.

The intrigue continues in the shape of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, whose line up against Stoke on Sunday will be in stark contrast to the one that was humbled 6-1 on the final day of last season at the Britannia Stadium.

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The arrivals of Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Danny Ings provide much-needed firepower, while the acquisition of James Milner may prove to be not only the perfect replacement for Steven Gerrard but the shrewdest piece of summer business.

The Reds’ transfer committee would seem less persuaded to part with another sizeable sum on the defence following the signings Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren in recent times, but Nathaniel Clyne is a considerable upgrade on Glenn Johnson.

We will know soon enough just how good this Liverpool side is, with several of their nearest rivals hosting them in the opening few months, but the early indication is that a return to the Champions League will be dependent on how well Benteke adapts to life at Anfield.

Spurs are an improving side, armed with last season’s breakthrough act Harry Kane and a nice blend of youthful, technically gifted players, but news of De Gea’s likely departure from United will provide added intrigue to the opening game of the new campaign.

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Tottenham travel to Old Trafford for the early kick-off sensing an opportunity to catch United during a time of transition, with Van Gaal unlikely to know his best side, but his admission that De Gea will not be playing turns the spotlight on Hugo Lloris’ status at White Hart Lane.

Mauricio Pochettino’s own preparation for the curtain-raiser have been affected by a delay in return flight from the Audi Cup in Munich this week, but it has otherwise been a fruitful summer for Spurs.

News of the new £400m stadium aside, much of the deadwood that the Gareth Bale money was wasted on have been sold and the arrivals of Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier and of most immediate consequence Toby Alderweireld should shore up a defence that conceded 53 goals last term.

It is what Spurs do between now and the end of August that will prove pivotal to whether they can improve on fifth place and a Capital One Cup final appearance. Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor are heading for the exit, after which point Pochettino must look to bring in another striker to help the 22-year-old Kane shoulder the burden.

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The Europa League candidates

The battle to avoid the Europa League will be fiercer than ever, with the likes of Stoke City and Crystal Palace showing signs of greater ambition, while Everton surely cannot be as bad as they were last season.

With West Ham already unable to take their Fair Play pass in European competition beyond the start of the domestic campaign, it is only Spurs, Liverpool and Southampton who will be playing Thursday night football, although there is still time for United to join them should the Champions League play-off against Club Brugge prove unkind.

The Saints were impressive in their 5-0 aggregate win over Dutch club Vitesse in their opening qualifying round, and Ronald Koeman’s side look well-equipped to go far in the competition, despite the loss of key players for the second consecutive summer in Morgan Schneiderlin and Clyne.

Their progress in Europe may well come at the cost of a few places in the Premier League, but don’t expect them to be drawn into a skirmish with the relegation candidates in the same way that Roberto Martinez’s Toffees were last time around.

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The relegation candidates

Those who may well be looking nervously over their shoulder are Aston Villa. The statistics make grim reading for Tim Sherwood’s side heading into the new campaign, with 19 of the 31 goals scored last season having departed for pastures new.

Tom Cleverley and Andreas Weimann joined Delph and Benteke in heading for the Villa Park exit, and the manner in which Sherwood has hastily assembled his squad with the addition of no fewer than five French-speaking Premier League unknowns headed by the £12m purchase of Rudy Gestede from Blackburn Rovers suggests a scatter-gun approach.

Micah Richards has been installed as team captain, while his former Manchester City team-mate Scott Sinclair will also have a point to prove, but even the promise of Jack Grealish cannot convince many against forecasting a long 10 months ahead for the Midlands club.

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Their regional rivals Leicester City finished last season as the form team, winning an incredible seven of their last nine games to lift themselves to the relative comfort of 14th position.

But the departure of Esteban Cambiasso shortly after manager Nigel Pearson had been dismissed for his irreconcilable differences with the Foxes’ Thai owners has undoubtedly jolted the level of buoyancy at the King Power Stadium.

The likeable Claudio Ranieri has his work cut out in winning over a squad that had played for Pearson during his drawn-out and often ugly relationship with the media.

The pressure is on 24-year-old Frenchman N’Golo Kante to take on the Cambiasso role with the steeliness that saw him make more successful tackles than any other player in Europe’s top five divisions last season for Caen.

If the Foxes are to once more escape the drop, then it is Sunderland who will be most fearful of the Premier League newcomers.

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Dick Advocaat performed the first of the summer’s U-turns when the experienced manager opted for a prolonged stay at the Stadium of Light after successfully steering them clear of relegation at a late juncture last term.

Advocaat’s was the most important recruitment of the close season for the Black Cats, given the acute need for stability in these parts, and the respect for the Dutchman in the Sunderland dressing-room could be felt through television screens as safety was secured amid tears of joy at the Emirates in May.

His pedigree has enabled the North-east club to lure Advocaat’s compatriot Jeremain Lens, whom the 67-year-old worked with at AZ Alkmaar for one season in 2010, from Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv. But Sunderland’s problems last season stemmed from a lack of goals, which has hardly been remedied by the £9m sale of Connor Wickham to Palace.

The rediscovery of Sebastian Coates as the defender who helped Uruguay win the 2011 Copa America during an impressive points return when it mattered last time around will be needed over the course of the season, otherwise the Black Cats – who have managed under 40 points in each of the last three campaigns – may find themselves out of lives.

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Indeed, of the last 57 teams to come up from the Championship, 32 have survived in their first season in the top flight (56 percent), meaning there is plenty of cause for optimism among fans of Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City.

Eddie Howe will be looking to continue Bournemouth’s incredible rise through the ranks, emulating the surge of Swansea – and with a defence that kept 18 clean sheets in last season’s second tier bolstered by club-record signing Tyrone Mings and the wily Sylvain Distin, the south coast club will upset a few established top flight teams along the way.

Callum Wilson and Matt Ritchie are worthy of their place at this level, with the former playing League One football for Coventry just 15 months ago, and the latter having rebuilt his career after being let go by Portsmouth, first at Swindon before moving to the renamed Vitality Stadium in 2013.

Given the historic chaos among clubs in the nether reaches of a Premier League campaign that will only be made more frantic by the dangling carrot of the new television deal next season, the Cherries appear ripe to remain above the drop zone.

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Watford, by contrast, are a minefield. Like Bournemouth, the club boast a natural goalscorer in Troy Deeney, but that is where the similarities end.

The experiment in 2012-13 that nearly saw the Hornets promoted to the Promised Land with 15 loanees – 12 of whom came from owner Gino Pozzo’s other business ventures Udinese and Granada – has to a degree paid off.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s basic salary demands led to his unprecedented departure from Vicarage Road having secured promotion in the summer – becoming Watford’s fourth managerial casualty in under a year – and the high turnover doesn’t bode well for new incumbent Quique Sanchez Flores, who has brought no fewer than 10 new arrivals in his bid to stave off an immediate return to the Championship.

While Watford have chosen to twist, Norwich have made as much change to their squad as there is between the club’s three kit offerings this coming season: not a great deal.

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The make-up of the squad that was relegated from the top division in 2014 remains largely intact, with John Ruddy hoping to put in the sort of performances in goal that could lead to an England call-up in time for the European Championships in France next summer.

Alex Neil took over from Neil Adams as manager at the turn of the year, and guided his side through the play-offs having lost only three of his 25 games in charge, but the former Hamilton Academical manager – who started his 2014-15 campaign in front of under 500 fans just over a year ago – will find the Premier League a whole different animal.

A packed Carrow Road each fortnight will help the Canaries’ cause, but the arrivals of Andre Wisdom, Graham Dorrans, an already-injured Youssouf Mulumbu and an over-priced Robbie Brady doesn’t inspire too much confidence in their survival hopes.

Predicted Premier League Table 2015-16

  1. Chelsea
  2. Manchester City
  3. Arsenal
  4. Manchester United
  5. Liverpool
  6. Tottenham
  7. Everton
  8. Stoke City
  9. Southampton
  10. Crystal Palace
  11. Swansea
  12. West Ham United
  13. West Bromwich Albion
  14. Newcastle United
  15. Bournemouth
  16. Aston Villa
  17. Sunderland
  18. Leicester City
  19. Norwich City
  20. Watford