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Your top Premiership form guide.

THE waiting is almost over. It is just six days to the start of the 1999/2000 football season and the big question is who will be the first Premiership champions of the new millennium. Here's your Mercury Sport guide to all the hopefuls...

ARSENAL

Ground: Highbury

Capacity: 38,500

Position last season: 2nd

Manager: Arsene Wenger

KEY PLAYER: Dennis Bergkamp. When he is firing, the Gunners are, too, and so it is vital he starts the season refreshed and on form. Once more the Dutchman, now 30, won't be available for European travels because of his fear of flying.

MAJOR INS: Oleg Luzhny, Dynamo Kiev, pounds 1.8m; Silvinho, Corinthians, pounds 4m; Stefan Malz, Munich 1860, pounds 650,000; Moritz Voltz, Schalke 04, Undisclosed

MAJOR OUTS: Fabian Caballero, Atletico Tembetary, Undisclosed; Kaba Diawara, Marseille, pounds 2.5m; Remi Garde, Retired; Steve Bould, Sunderland, pounds 500,000; Jason Crowe, Portsmouth, pounds 750,000; Michael Black, Tranmere, Free

CHANCES: Anything below the top two is considered failure now for Arsene Wenger's men but despite the anticipated loss of Nicolas Anelka, which might even turn out a blessing in disguise for their much-respected powers of team spirit, they should again be well-placed provided their famously ageing defence holds up again.

TITLE ODDS: 2-1

ASTON VILLA

Ground: Villa Park

Capacity: 39,500

Position last season: 6th

Manager: John Gregory

KEY PLAYER: Dion Dublin. It was no coincidence that when Dublin became handicapped by a hernia, Villa's title challenge began to falter in 1998-99. The former Coventry striker hit the back of the net almost for fun after his pounds 5.5m move but was a shadow of his normal self in the final third of the campaign. A fit-again Dublin can re-ignite the kind of challenge which saw Villa head the table for five months.

MAJOR INS: David James, Liverpool pounds 1.8m; George Boateng, Coventry, pounds 4.5m; Najwan Ghrayib, Hapoel Haifa, pounds 1m

MAJOR OUTS: Mark Bosnich, Manchester United, Free; Alan Lee, Burnley, pounds 150,000, Stan Collymore, Fulham, Loan

CHANCES: It is hard to imagine Villa making a sustained challenge for the Premiership but a Champions League place could be within their capabilities. The squad should be stronger despite the loss of Mark Bosnich with Steve Stone looking to make an impact and Alan Thompson aiming to put an injury-hit season behind him.

TITLE ODDS: 50-1

BRADFORD

Ground: Valley Parade

Capacity: 18,018

Position last season: 2nd in Division One

Manager: Paul Jewell

KEY PLAYER: Lee Mills. The club's first pounds 1million player caused a sensation in Division One last season when he claimed 25 goals for the Bantams. Promotion was the highlight of the 29-year-old's career after plying his trade at Wolves, Derby and Port Vale, but only time will tell how he copes with the demands of the Premiership.

MAJOR INS: David Wetherall, Leeds, pounds 1.4m; Lee Sharpe, Leeds, pounds 200,000; Gunnar Halle, Leeds, pounds 200,000; Matt Clarke, Sheffield Wednesday, Free; Andy Myers, Chelsea, pounds 800,000

MAJOR OUTS: Paul Bolland, Notts County, Free

CHANCES: Bradford will do all they can to avoid following Barnsley and Charlton's path straight back to the First Division but the odds are heavily stacked against them and simply surviving will be a success. Team spirit will be a vital factor for the Bantams, who have Watford to contend with for the title of Everyone's Favourite Underdogs.

TITLE ODDS: 500-1

CHELSEA

Ground: Stamford Bridge

Capacity: 35,462

Position last season: 3rd

Manager: Gianluca Vialli

KEY PLAYER: Chris Sutton. Chelsea's main problem last season was finishing off teams. While they only lost three Premiership games, they drew too often. The pounds 10million signing of Sutton finally promises to provide that cutting edge alongside Gianfranco Zola, with Tore Andre Flo offering strength in depth for Europe.

MAJOR INS: Chris Sutton, Blackburn, pounds 10million; Didier Deschamps, Juventus, pounds 3m; Mario Melchiot, Ajax, Free; Jes Hogh, Fenerbahce, pounds 300,000, Carlo Cudicini, Castel Di Sangro, Loan

MAJOR OUTS: Michael Duberry, Leeds, pounds 4.5m; Eddie Newton, Birmingham, Free; Brian Laudrup, Ajax, Undisclosed; Dimitri Kharine, Celtic, Free; Andy Myers, Bradford, pounds 800,000

CHANCES: Chelsea have yet again strengthened their squad, with Sutton and Didier Deschamps the pick of the buys.

The Blues will be hard to beat, more clinical in attack and while a run in the extended Champions' League could hinder them in the Premiership, expect another top three finish.

TITLE ODDS: 5-1

COVENTRY

Ground: Highfield Road

Capacity: 23,000

Position last season: 15th

Manager: Gordon Strachan

KEY PLAYER: John Aloisi. The former Portsmouth player did enough in the final third of the season to suggest he can fill the void left by Dion Dublin. If he can forge an effective partnership with Noel Whelan and Darren Huckerby, the Coventry faithful could have a new hero.

MAJOR INS: Mustapha Hadji, Deportivo La Coruna, pounds 4m; Raffaele Nuzzo, Inter Milan, Loan; Antonino Caruso, Inter Milan, Loan; Stefano Gioacchini, Venezia, pounds 2m; Youseff Chippo, Porto, pounds 1.2m; Morten Hyldgaard, Ikast, pounds 200,000

MAJOR OUTS: George Boateng, Aston Villa, pounds 4.5m; Philippe Clement, Bruges, pounds 770,000; Free; Willie Boland, Cardiff, Free; Barry Prenderville, Ayr, Undisclosed

CHANCES: Last season was a major disappointment for the Sky Blues after the relative prosperity of a mid-table placing in 1997-98. There is no doubting the talent in the Coventry squad, but they again flirted with relegation and supporters could face another anxious season.

TITLE ODDS: 200-1

DERBY

Ground: Pride Park

Capacity: 33,200

Position last season: 8th

Manager: Jim Smith

KEY PLAYER: Francesco Baiano is the player who makes Derby tick. His return to form immediately after Christmas helped the Rams produce their best football of last season and he is their most influential man going forward by some distance.

MAJOR INS: Seth Johnson, Crewe, pounds 2.5m; Andy Oakes, Hull, pounds 460,000; Esteban Fuertes, Colon De Sante Fe, pounds 2m

MAJOR OUTS: Paulo Wanchope, West Ham, pounds 3.5m; Brian Launders, Colchester, Free

CHANCES: Derby, like at least a dozen other Premiership sides, are realistic enough to concede they have next to no chance of winning the title. But after top 10 finishes in each of the last two seasons, a place in Europe will again be their target this time around.

TITLE ODDS: 125-1

EVERTON

Ground: Goodison Park

Capacity: 40,200

Position last season: 14th

Manager: Walter Smith

KEY PLAYER: Don Hutchison. The one-time wild boy matured magnificently last season into a respected, reliable professional. He'll captain the side this term, and has justified that honour with his responsibility and leadership. He'll be the driving force in midfield.

MAJOR INS: Kevin Campbell, Trabzonspor, pounds 3m; Richard Gough, San Jose Clash, Free

MAJOR OUTS: Olivier Dacourt, Lens, pounds 6.5m; Ibrahima Bakayoko, Marseille, pounds 3.8m; Marco Materazzi, Perugia, pounds 3m; Adam Eaton, Preston, Nominal

CHANCES: Everton would view a mid-table finish as a triumph of open top bus ride proportions. Around pounds 20m in debt and having to sell expensive foreigners, the side will battle hard but doesn't have the class and quality to get more than a few places above the relegation battle. They will rely on the continued progress of a crop of fine youngsters. Michael Ball and Francis Jeffers will be the key. But if they keep improving, how long before a massive offer forces Everton to sell?

TITLE ODDS: 100-1

LEEDS

Ground: Elland Road

Capacity: 40,000

Position last season: 4th

Manager: David O'Leary

KEY PLAYER: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The Dutch international has become a major player in Leeds' resurgence under David O'Leary. He has pace, vision and, most notably, the ability to find the net.

MAJOR INS: Danny Mills, Charlton pounds 4m; Michael Duberry, Chelsea, pounds 4.5m; Eirik Bakke, Sojndal, pounds 1m

MAJOR OUTS: David Wetherall, Bradford, pounds 1.4m; Lee Sharpe, Bradford, pounds 200,000; Gunnar Halle, Bradford, pounds 200,000; Nunos Santos, Released

CHANCES: Leeds' young side created a wonderful impression in the Premiership last season, where they eventually finished fourth, and qualified for the UEFA Cup for the second successive season. But it was the manner of the Elland Road play which has delighted the fans with Lee Bowyer, Harry Kewell, Alan Smith and Jonathon Woodgate all excelling for the club. The acquisition of Danny Mills from Charlton and Michael Duberry from Chelsea is a further sign that Leeds will provide a genuine challenge this season.

TITLE ODDS: 11-1

LEICESTER

Ground: Filbert Street.

Capacity: 21,500.

Position last season: 10th.

Manager: Martin O'Neill.

KEY PLAYER: Emile Heskey. This is a big season for Heskey, who is forever being linked with the Premiership big guns, if he wants to take that next step forward and challenge for a regular England spot. His second half of last season was wrecked by a persistent back problem but in the dying embers of the season he looked sharp again after the problem was finally pin-pointed and he will be looking for an injury-free and goal-laced campaign.

MAJOR INS: None

MAJOR OUTS: Pontus Kaamark, AIK Stockholm, pounds 1m

CHANCES: Leicester finished a respectable 10th last season, having put together an impressive string of results towards the end of the term. They will do well to match that feat but O'Neill is a canny manager with the knack of bringing the best out of the players at his disposal.

TITLE ODDS: 150-1

LIVERPOOL

Ground: Anfield

Capacity: 45,362

Position last season: 7th

Manager: Gerard Houllier

KEY PLAYER: Sander Westerveld. New goalkeeper from Vitesse Arnhem has been Houllier's most important summer signing. He has class, is newly-capped for Holland and will replace David James.

MAJOR INS: Sander Westerveld, Vitesse Arnhem, pounds 4m; Sami Hyypia, Willem II, pounds 3m; Stephane Henchoz, Blackburn, pounds 3.5m; Titi Camara, Marseille, pounds 2.5m; Erik Meijer, Bayer Leverkusen, Free; Vladimir Smicer, Lens, pounds 3.75m

MAJOR OUTS: Steve McManaman, Real Madrid, Free; Rob Jones, Released; David James, Aston Villa, pounds 1.8m; Jean-Michel Ferri, Sochaux, pounds 1.5m

CHANCES: After last season's horror finish, Gerard Houllier will have to do much better. European qualification is the very least that will be expected at Anfield. Liverpool fans will be hoping that the rush of transfer activity ends virtually a decade of under-achievement. But title talk appears fanciful.

TITLE ODDS: 20-1

MANCHESTER UNITED

Ground: Old Trafford

Capacity: 56,024

Position last season: 1st

Manager: Alex Ferguson

KEY PLAYER: Roy Keane. There is no-one in the game who ranks higher than United's midfield general. He is better than ever, following his cruciate ligament injury, and he was the driving force behind last season's Treble success.

MAJOR INS: Mark Bosnich, Aston Villa, Free

MAJOR OUTS: Peter Schmeichel, Sporting Lisbon, Free

CHANCES: Are any other team's better? United have yet to lose a game in 1999 and they have proved themselves the dominant force not just in England, but in Europe. Few would bet against the favourites retaining their Premiership crown.

TITLE ODDS: 11-10

MIDDLESBROUGH

Ground: Riverside Stadium

Capacity: 35,000.

Position last season: 9th

Manager: Bryan Robson

KEY PLAYER: Hamilton Ricard. The Colombian striker proved last season that he has a genuine goal-scoring talent, helping Boro to mid-table safety with his goals. Another season in the Premiership should see him go from strength to strength - which is only good news for Boro.

MAJOR INS: None

MAJOR OUTS: Vladimir Kinder, work permit expired; Clayton Blackmore, Released.

CHANCES: Boro have one of the game's best young managers in Robson. While the recent trend has seen teams who are promoted go straight back down to the First Division, Boro showed last term that they are here to stay. Robson must continue to get the best out of his older players - particularly Paul Gascoigne - if they are to finish any higher than mid-table this season. As for the younger ones, last season's top-flight experience should make them better prepared for the campaign ahead.

TITLE ODDS: 80-1

NEWCASTLE

Ground: St James' Park

Capacity: 36,834

Position last season: 13th

Manager: Ruud Gullit

KEY PLAYER: Alan Shearer. England's captain must be getting tired of hearing the critics writing him off. The only way for him to respond is by doing what he does best - scoring goals. You only have to hear him talk to know that his hunger is still there - and that means the rest of the Premiership had better watch out.

MAJOR INS: Franck Dumas, Monaco, pounds 500,000; Marcelino Elena, Real Mallorca, pounds 5m; Alain Goma, Paris St Germain, pounds 4.75m, Kieron Dyer, Ipswich, pounds 6m

MAJOR OUTS: George Georgiadis, PAOK Salonika, pounds 1m; Peter Keen, Carlisle, Nominal

CHANCES: Ruud Gullit has splashed a lot of cash this summer - and there's even more where that came from. But money cannot buy the title, and the Dutchman still has a lot of work to do in moulding his team if the Geordies are going to mount a serious challenge. Perhaps they can go one better than in the past two seasons though, and win the FA Cup.

TITLE ODDS: 33-1

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Ground: Hillsborough

Capacity: 39,859

Position last season: 12th

Manager: Danny Wilson

KEY PLAYER: Benito Carbone. Provided the diminutive transfer-listed Italian can sort out his protracted contract negotiations with Wednesday, Carbone will be the key to success or failure this season. The immensely talented striker is blessed with some wonderful skills which have turned games for the Owls. Put simply, when Carbone plays, Wednesday play.

MAJOR INS: Gilles de Bilde, PSV Eindhoven, pounds 3m; Gerald Sibon, Ajax, pounds 2m; Phil O'Donnell, Celtic, Free; Simon Donnelly, Celtic, Free

MAJOR OUTS: Dejan Stefanovic, Perugia, Free; Matt Clarke, Bradford, Free; Guy Whittingham, Portsmouth, Free

CHANCES: A top-half finish for Danny Wilson in his second season at the club would be a victory for a team which has flirted with relegation in recent years. Wilson has been financially disadvantaged since he took over at Hillsborough and whilst nobody doubts his ability to motivate players, there is a lack of real quality and depth in the squad. Without financial clout, Wednesday may be in for another season of disappointment and struggle.

TITLE ODDS: 125-1

SOUTHAMPTON

Ground: The Dell

Capacity: 15,292

Position last season: 17th

Manager: Dave Jones

KEY PLAYER: James Beattie. Having proved a bargain after moving to The Dell, in the deal which took Kevin Davies to Blackburn, 21-year-old Beattie showed immense promise in his first full season last year. Having scored vital goals against Leicester and Wimbledon in the final weeks of the season to help keep the Saints up, he is expected to come of age this term.

MAJOR INS: Bruno Leal, Sporting Lisbon, Free; Dean Richards, Wolves, Free; Marco Almeida, Sporting Lisbon, year's loan

MAJOR OUTS: Steve Basham, Preston, Tribunal; Stephen Jenkins, Brentford, Free; Michael Stensgaard, FC Copenhagen, Free; Ken Monkou, Out of contract

CHANCES: Dave Jones has made shrewd signings in Hassan Kachloul and Marian Pahars, while Beattie should blossom. Matt Le Tissier is still there and given their superb home record, Saints fans can reasonably expect the luxury of mid-table security this time around.

TITLE ODDS: 300-1

SUNDERLAND

Ground: Stadium of Light

Capacity: 42,000

Position last season: 1st in Division One

Manager: Peter Reid

KEY PLAYER: Kevin Phillips. The young striker has set the First Division alight in the past two seasons - now he must do the same again on the big stage as Sunderland try their hand in the Premiership. At least Phillips is not lacking in confidence, and he will enjoy the challenge.

MAJOR INS: Carsten Fredgaard, Lyngby, pounds 2m; Steve Bould, Arsenal, pounds 500,000; Thomas Helmer, Bayern Munich, Free

MAJOR OUTS: Lee Clark, Fulham, pounds 3m; Andy Melville, Fulham, Free

CHANCES: Peter Reid's one task is to avoid dropping straight back to the First Division - but what a task that is. The odds are stacked against them but the ease with which Sunderland won promotion last term will give them the hope that they can follow the lead of neighbours Middlesbrough and survive in the top flight.

TITLE ODDS: 100-1

TOTTENHAM

Ground: White Hart Lane

Capacity: 36,214

Position last season: 11th

Manager: George Graham

KEY PLAYER: David Ginola. If Tottenham are to add to their silverware they will need another sparkling season from the man who was voted PFA and FWA Footballer of the Year last term.

MAJOR INS: Chris Perry, Wimbledon, pounds 4m; Willem Korsten, Vitesse Arnhem, pounds 1.5m

MAJOR OUTS: Rory Allen, Portsmouth, pounds 1m; Andy Sinton, Wolves, Free; Clive Wilson, Released; Roger Nilsen, Casino Graz, Free

CHANCES: Tottenham are still some way short of the Big Three but a good run in the UEFA Cup will compensate. Graham has tightened up the defence and they can expect to finish much higher than 11th this time.

TITLE ODDS: 25-1

WATFORD

Ground: Vicarage Road

Capacity: 22,000

Position last season: 5th in Division One (play-off winners)

Manager: Graham Taylor

KEY PLAYER: Richard Johnson. He is an Australian midfield dynamo, in the mould of Roy Keane, who has flourished under manager Graham Taylor's influence and could find the battlegrounds of the Premiership an inspiring environment. His rocket shots will also bring the occasional spectacular goal.

MAJOR INS: Des Lyttle, Nottingham Forest, Free; Dominic Foley, Wolves, Free; Mark Williams, Chesterfield, Free

MAJOR OUTS: Darren Bazeley, Wolves, free; Tony Daley, Walsall, Free; Ronny Rosenthal, Released

CHANCES: None too slim - and slim has just left town. Don't expect a repeat of the Eighties fairy-tale when, in Taylor's first spell, the Hornets stormed the top-flight after charging almost straight through from the old fourth division to finish runners-up to Liverpool, reach an FA Cup final and qualify for Europe. The Premiership is too sophisticated now to suffer the surprise element but back Watford to beat the drop if they get a decent start.

TITLE ODDS: 500-1

WEST HAM

Ground: Upton Park

Capacity: 26,054

Position last season: 5th

Manager: Harry Redknapp

KEY PLAYER: Paolo Di Canio. If the temperamental Italian channels his passion for the game into his football, then the Hammers will have one helluva hitman on their hands. The fans already love him and his shooting boots - which come in all colours - can help fire West Ham up the table again.

MAJOR INS: Paulo Wanchope, Derby, pounds 3.5m

MAJOR OUTS: Eyal Berkovic, Celtic, pounds 5.75m; Scott Mean, Bournemouth, Free; Julian Dicks, Retired

CHANCES: The fact that Alex Ferguson led Manchester United to a historic treble last season was just cause to name him manager of the year. But it took away the focus of Harry Redknapp's achievement of leading the Hammers to fifth in the League, a terrific feat given his limited resources. Don't bet against shrewd Eastender Harry wheeling and dealing his team towards another impressive season.

TITLE ODDS: 66-1

WIMBLEDON

Ground: Selhurst Park

Capacity: 26,300

Position last season: 16th

Manager: Egil Olsen

KEY PLAYER: Robbie Earle. His influence as captain in a period of huge transition under new boss Egil Olsen will be vital if at least some of the old Dons' fighting spirit is to survive. Earle's quiet yet firm leadership, midfield graft and a flair for opportunist goals are fundamental requirements to maintain some continuity.

MAJOR INS: Tore Pedersen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Free; Kelvin Davis, Luton, pounds 650,000; Waleed Badeer, Hapoel Petah Tikva, pounds 1m (subject to work permit); Chris Wilmott, Luton, pounds 650,000.

MAJOR OUTS: Chris Perry, Tottenham, pounds 4m; Mark Kennedy, Manchester City, pounds 1m; Peter Fear, Oxford, Free

CHANCES: No hope at all. We've all said it before and been made to look foolish, but this finally looks like the season Wimbledon slide out of the top rank - and the consequences could be dire. Removing Kinnear's inspirational influence and tactical know-how could prove a major bungle by the club's relatively new Norwegian owners and they may have to pay for it by opening a Nationwide account.

TITLE ODDS: 200-1
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 1, 1999
Words:3307
Previous Article:There is no such thing as a friendly against Manchester United - Wenger.
Next Article:Amiss bears up to flak and denies there's a crisis.


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