Commentary

How will Prem League shape up?

Updated: August 4, 2010, 1:34 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Kevin DaviesTim Keeton/Getty ImagesThe Bolton Wanderers have had success playing long balls up to Kevin Davies. But will manager Owen Coyle change that style of play?

In our second installment of English Premier League team previews, we break down the prospects of the teams that finished 17th, 16th, 15th and 14th in 2009-2010: West Ham, Wigan, Wolves and Bolton. Click here for our take on recently promoted Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle.

West Ham

What went wrong for West Ham last season? The manager didn't get along with the new owners, injuries piled up and the defense shipped goals. West Ham survived only because Burnley and Hull were so poor and Portsmouth had no cash.

With respected mananger Avram Grant replacing dreamer Gianfranco Zola, West Ham figures to bounce back. Grant knows how to build compact sides and made two shrewd signings in striker Frederic Piquionne and midfield playmaker Thomas Hitzlsperger.

Speculation has suggested midfield general Scott Parker might leave Upton Park for a bigger club, but Grant says Parker is going nowhere. That's good news for West Ham, although the club now needs to hope Parker can stay fit. Same goes for striker Carlton Cole.

Then there's the talented Alessandro Diamanti, one of Zola's better signings. If Grant can get the passionate Italian to become more consistent, watch out. But that's if Diamanti doesn't transfer to another club, of course.

Almost everyone is looking forward to seeing how embattled keeper Robert Green bounces back from his World Cup debacle. He's sure to get a mixture of boos and sarcastic applause from opposing fans, especially early in the season. For the record, Green meets Clint Dempsey's Fulham on Oct. 2.

Overall, West Ham should have enough on the pitch to avoid relegation worries this time around.

2009-2010 finish: 17

Wigan

Roberto Martinez has guts. It's not often teams in the bowels of the Premier League attempt to play attractive football and get away with it. But the Spanish manager, seemingly as stubborn as Arsene Wenger, stuck with his system last season, despite a 9-1 loss to Tottenham in November. The Latics were similarly pummelled 8-0 by Chelsea in May.

In true Jekyll and Hide fashion, however, Wigan downed Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool at home, which helped the club barely avoid relegation.

Coming into this season, Martinez continues to be bold by letting three bruising veterans -- Paul Scharner, Mario Melchiot and Titus Bramble -- depart. He's boosted the Spanish-speaking contingent at the DW Stadium by adding Argentinean Mauro Boselli, prolific at Estudiantes, and Paraguayan defender Antolin Alcaraz.

Boselli's arrival was particularly needed, since there was no depth up front behind Hugo Rodallega.

Charles N'Zogbia, Wigan's top player last season, and Victor Moses give Martinez speedy options on the wing. But the big problem is that Wigan has no steel and dominant ball winner in the midfield, which could be the team's ultimate undoing.

2009-2010 finish: 16

Wolves

If Birmingham's Alex McLeish was manager of the season in 2009-10, Mick McCarthy wasn't far off.

Picked to make a swift return to the championship, and playing like that the first five months, the Wolves manager helped the club turn it around. Credit the squad's high work rate, improved defensive displays -- installing U.S. international Marcus Hahnemann as the No. 1 in goal in November was a masterstroke -- and just enough goals from various sources.

McCarthy, the straight-talking Irishman, knows he could do with a bit more skill this season, so signing Stephen Hunt from Hull and Steven Fletcher from Burnley made perfect sense. Hunt, currently out with a foot injury, is a dangerous winger, complementing the impressive Matthew Jarvis.

Fletcher, meanwhile, bagged eight league goals for Burnley last season, one less than Wolves leading scorer Kevin Doyle.

Scrappiness plus sprinkles of quality equal safety for Wolves.

2009-2010 finish: 15

Bolton

The long ball is dead at Bolton. Well, not quite, but manager Owen Coyle vows to tweak the club's long-standing, often-maligned style of play.

"It's fair to say that we are looking to add a little bit of flair to what we already have so that we are not one dimensional and have different facets to our play," Coyle told reporters in June.

To that end, Bolton signed winger Martin Petrov, underappreciated at Manchester City, and 19-year-old left back Marcos Alonso from Real Madrid. The tapas must be good in Bolton, given that Spaniards Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro once suited up for unfancied Wanderers, as well.

But Coyle shouldn't change Bolton's system substantially. Staying in the Premier League is the name of the game, and the tried and tested method of hoofing the ball up to Kevin Davies, still underrated, and allowing a teammate to pick up the scraps worked fine last season.

Coyle also would do well to bring back Croatian hitman Ivan Klasnic, who played for Bolton in the 2009-10 season and is currently unattached to a club. He finished last season with eight Premier League goals.

2009-2010 finish: 14

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

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