Premier Previews: Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Swansea
It's nearly here, it's nearly here! Yes, our 'Best of the 2012 Olympics' DVD will pop through the letterbox any day now*. Oh, and the Premier League is about to return, too...
SOUTHAMPTON Ã¢ÂÂ Chris Cox
Last season in a tweetA fantastic season in which Southampton were the best team despite not winning the top prize. The great football played was richly rewarded.
Positives changes...There are many positives to dwell on right now if youÃ¢ÂÂre a fan of the red and white, chief among them the level of ambition the club has displayed. We have a highly talented manager, a chairman who rules with an iron fist but generally makes the right call, and a bright future thanks to a Category One academy capable of producing more Bales, Walcotts and Oxlade-Chamberlains. All of this is taking place while work is carried out on state-of-the-art training facilities. There may even be an upgrade to our relatively young stadiumÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Negatives changes...I must confess I'm unimpressed with the new kit, and I do not believe I am alone. Historians and pedants may point out that Southampton haven't always played in red and white stripes, particularly during the halcyon years of the 1980s, but for me Southampton Football Club play in red and white stripes, not a lot of red with the slightest of white pinstripes.
FFT's bet partners Coral have Southampton 5000/1 to win the Premier League, 5/1 to finish bottom
Who to follow on TwitterSimon Peach (@SimonPeach) is one of the most informed men going when it comes to all things Saints, and just so happens to be a well-trained journalist for the Press Association.
What to watch forKeep those eyes peeled for SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs way of playing next season. We've developed a successful and aesthetically pleasing methodology, which is being tinkered with as I write this in pre-season. It will be interesting to see if we keep our values of lots of passing, balls out from the back and attacking when we visit the likes of the Etihad, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge Ã¢ÂÂ even if Nigel Adkins, a man of his word, says we wonÃ¢ÂÂt budge from what has been dubbed Ã¢ÂÂthe Southampton wayÃ¢ÂÂ.
STOKE CITY Ã¢ÂÂ James Whittaker
Last season in a tweetDespite European football, our worst since promotion. Round pegs in square holes and TP's refusal to drop his favourites drove the fans mad.
PositivesThere have been a number of promising signs to give the fans hope. The manager has had a severe aversion to bringing in players from abroad, so the signing of Geoff Cameron from the MLS and the fact that we have foreign trialists in pre-season games is a huge departure from the norm. The very fact we are looking at specialist full-backs is another positive sign: we havenÃ¢ÂÂt had a Ã¢ÂÂproperÃ¢ÂÂ full-back in years, such is the managerÃ¢ÂÂs preference for the height of a centre-half in those positions.
NegativesPeople might point to the fact weÃ¢ÂÂre signing players for less money as negative, but our net spend over the last few years has been dwarfed only by Chelsea and Man City, so the purse strings were always going to be tightened. Many say that Pulis works better on a tighter budget anyway and the signing of Michael Kightly for a mere ÃÂ£1.5m suggests they might be right.
FFT's bet partners Coral have Stoke 1000/1 to win the Premier League, 2/1 to finish in the top 10
Who to follow on TwitterRobert Huth (@robert_huth) Ã¢ÂÂ Our defensive man mountain has just been diagnosed with viral meningitis (tweeted he needed to Ã¢ÂÂman upÃ¢ÂÂ) so weÃ¢ÂÂre all wishing him a speedy recovery. Another recent tweet to defensive partner Ryan Shawcross pondered how they might deal with the fastest man on Earth: Ã¢ÂÂAny idea how weÃ¢ÂÂd stop Usain Bolt getting past us? #offtheballÃ¢ÂÂ
What to watch out forCarried through a whole season, our 2012 form would see us relegated, so there are many waiting to see what changes the manager will make. The highly rated Jamie Ness has come in from Rangers; with a manager who describes 27-year-olds as Ã¢ÂÂkiddiesÃ¢ÂÂ, signing a 21-year-old is almost unheard of Ã¢ÂÂ but will he be trusted enough to feature on a regular basis, or will he be loaned out to Walsall and sold in two years' time to a Championship side? ItÃ¢ÂÂs clear there has been some kind of boardroom intervention with regards to youth and indeed exploiting the foreign markets eÃ¢ÂÂ the reason he was sacked in his previous Stoke tenure. It's make-or-break for Tony Pulis, so it will make interesting viewing Ã¢ÂÂ though naturally, on the verge of a new season I'm full of entirely blind optimism. Such is the joy of being a football fan...
SUNDERLAND - Lance Hardy
Last season in a tweetA tale of three thirds: poor start under Bruce, amazing turnaround under O'Neill, no wins from last eight games after dismal FA Cup exit...
Positive changesGrappling around here. Hopefully with a summer break and a new, full season ahead of him, O'Neill can quickly recapture the spark and the spirit in the team that greeted his arrival last December, generating 22 points from 10 matches.
Negative changesRead "no changes". Despite a lot of transfer talk, we are still in need of a striker. On-loan Nicklas Bendtner was our top scorer in the Premier League last season with eight goals and he has now left. Relegated Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers both scored more than us in the league.
FFT's bet partners Coral have Sunderland 1000/1 to win the Premier League, 13/8 to finish above Newcastle
Who to follow on Twitter Our club captain Lee Cattermole joined Twitter last month (@cattermole_lee). If he tweets like he tackles it could be interesting...
What to watch out forThere's nothing Sunderland fans like more than seeing a local youngster break into the first team and score goals. With the search for a striker still ongoing, it could be that 20-year-old Ryan Noble gets his chance. Limited to a handful of substitute appearances during the past two years, he came off the bench and scored a stunner against Groningen in pre-season out in South Korea.
Lance Hardy (@lancejohnhardy) is the author of Stokoe, Sunderland and '73, shortlisted for Best Football Book at the 2010 British Sports Book Awards.For webwide Sunderland news, check FourFourTwo's Sunderland news page
SWANSEA CITY Ã¢ÂÂ Dan Barnett
Last season in a tweetSlow start, grew in confidence. Britton: best passer in Europe, Vorm: bargain of the season. Club philosophy continues regardless of manager
Negative changesBrendan Rodgers's departure means yet another pre-season of change. When Gylfi Sigurdsson agreed terms and was all set to join, people were celebrating as if weÃ¢ÂÂd already avoided relegation. Personally, I could understand Rodgers going and his contract extension at the start of the year was more about the club increasing the inevitable compensation rather than extending his time at the Liberty. The biggest negative following on from this has been the speculation around players leaving. While Rodgers was in charge there was a feeling of a collective project with at least a year or two before some of the most talented players went on to bigger things. That feeling will hopefully return we get past the transfer deadline, but in the meantime where thereÃ¢ÂÂs money to be made, speculation and rumour are rife.
Positive changesAt the very least the arrival of Michael Laudrup gives a sense of excitement and optimism that wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have been there had someone like Ian Holloway been given the role. Early signs are promising: capturing Chico, Michu and De Guzman suggests that his name and contacts will give us access to players of quality at prices that Championship sides might pay for a journeyman. LaudrupÃ¢ÂÂs comments on having a Plan B, combined with the likely sale of Allen, suggest a slightly more direct approach, with the balance perhaps shifting towards more attacking play in return for less possession, whilst retaining the ability to hold possession when required.
FFT's bet partners Coral have Swansea 2500/1 to win the Premier League, 9/2 for a top 10 finish
Who to follow on TwitterMatthew Harrison (@mophead_88) is an excellent young writer who produces in-depth well researched articles on the Swans and Welsh footballers in general.
What to watch out forMichu is the obvious player that is going to attract initial interest and itÃ¢ÂÂll be especially interesting to see how he links up with Danny Graham. Graham worked tirelessly last season but most of that was without the ball, this season IÃ¢ÂÂd expect more on the counter-attack from Swansea making the most of the pace on the wings and creating a lot more opportunities for Graham.
*Yes, we're fed up with the comparisons too...