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In a tightly contested Premier League, the small margins are everything, which is what makes the transfer dealings of the clubs below so pivotal over the next weeks

ANALYSIS
By James McManus

With the dawning of a new Premier League season on the horizon, the thoughts of every team in the top flight will be dominated by how best to improve their squad before the campaign kicks off on August 18.

Yet one of the quirks of the top-flight calendar means that clubs have until September 1 to complete their business. Those that get theirs done early have more time to prepare for the arduous campaign ahead, formulating their plans over the course of the pre-season period.

Here, in the third instalment of our four-part series, Goal.com examines the moves that QPR, Reading, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland could be looking to make in the next month.

QPR


Mark Hughes has continued his revolution at Loftus Road with a series of solid, if unspectacular, signings such as Robert Green, Ji-Sung Park and Andy Johnson. It all points to the rather obvious fact that this term represents one of consolidation at the club.

Despite the heavy activity so far, though, the squad still looks a defender or two light, particularly given the fact that Luke Young looks to be edging towards the exit door. Ryan Nelsen's fitness issues mean that he should be seen as more of a squad player, while Clint Hill and Armand Traore probably aren't up to the standard required.

IF THE WINDOW SHUT TOMORROW

(4-4-2)
Green
Onuoha, Ferdinand, Diakite, Fabio
Wright-Phillips, Faurlin, Ji-Sung, Taarabt
Cisse, Zamora

In midfield, Park could be set for a key central role alongside Alejandro Faurlin on his return from a long-term ACL injury. With Joey Barton on the naughty step, Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Derry not getting any younger, a central midfielder should also be on the agenda, and Steve Sidwell could make the move across west London from Fulham.

On the flanks, they look pretty well-set with the mercurial Adel Taarabt on the left, while Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips will compete for a starting spot on the right. This could all change, though, if promising reports that the club have won the race to sign Junior Hoilett should also come to fruition.

Up top, the side could definitely do with a striker to put pressure on the likes of Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, with Rob Hulse, Jay Bothroyd and Tommy Smith seemingly there just to make up the numbers at the moment. A move for either Craig Bellamy or Roque Santa Cruz appears likely.

POTENTIAL INS: Junior Hoilett, Miguel Torres, Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy and Steve Sidwell
POTENTIAL OUTS: Luke Young, Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Rob Hulse

READING


Brian McDermott helped the club clinch an unlikely Championship title victory last season but this coming campaign represents an altogether different challenge and the focus will be on survival more than anything else.

You get the feeling that the name of the game is very much adding depth to the squad as opposed to the sort of sweeping changes that are taking place at QPR. Some tidy business so far bringing in Danny Guthrie, Nicky Shorey and Pavel Pogrebnyak on free transfers indicates that, while their transfer budget may not be huge, the Royals are going to be able to compete on the wages front.

IF THE WINDOW SHUT TOMORROW

(4-4-2)
Federici
Gunter, Pearce, Mariappa, Shorey
Kebe, Karacan, Guthrie, McAnuff
Hunt, Pogrebnyak

Adrian Mariappa, Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary may not set the pulses racing either, but they're all proven Championship-quality players and the squad certainly looks stronger now than the one that came up, which at this point in time is all for which you can really ask.

There are plenty of hard workers in the squad and it'll be interesting to see whether the likes of Simon Church, Noel Hunt and Jimmy Kebe can make the step up in class - and if Pogrebnyak was anything more than a one-season wonder.

The fact that the club have been linked with Pippo Inzaghi, Jermain Defoe and Jordan Rhodes in recent weeks suggests that McDermott knows that his side may lack goals still. Expect to see at least one more striker to arrive to bolster the squad before the start of the season; my bet would be on Huddersfield's Rhodes.

POTENTIAL INS: Luke Young, Jordan Rhodes
POTENTIAL OUTS: N/A

SOUTHAMPTON


They may have limped over the finishing line and thrown away the Championship title last season, but that just indicates that there is work to be done by boss Nigel Adkins if the Saints are to beat the drop this year.

IF THE WINDOW SHUT TOMORROW

(4-4-2)
Davis
Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox
Davis, Cork, Hammond, Lallana
Lambert, Rodriguez

The club have already dipped into what they know with moves for Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne, while Steven Davis arriving from Rangers on a free transfer looks like one of the best deals of the summer so far.

The side doesn't appear short of goals but, at the other end, Jos Hooiveld looks like an accident waiting to happen against more mobile players and Jose Fonte needs a new partner. Scott Dann is a very real possibility, while Bristol City centre-back Liam Fontaine has also been touted.

More pace is needed out wide to help get the best out of the side's evident firepower up front, with PSV winger Jermaine Lens a potentially budget-busting alternative, but his signature may prove a step too far after the significant cash already forked out for Rodriguez.

A proven goalkeeper with top-flight experience also remains a priority, with Kelvin Davis and the newly-signed Paulo Gazzinga at the end and the beginning of their respective careers. This could all change if a deal is struck with Birmingham City for the best goalkeeper that nobody has ever seen play, though, in Jack Butland.

POTENTIAL INS: Scott Dann, Liam Fontaine, Jermaine Lens and Jack Butland
POTENTIAL OUTS: Lee Barnard, Dan Harding, Jason Puncheon and Ryan Dickson

STOKE CITY


There's something stagnant about the way that the club failed to move forward last year under the management of Tony Pulis, despite the outlay in the transfer market, as the demands of their maiden Europa League campaign took their toll on the team's league form.

IF THE WINDOW SHUT TOMORROW

(4-4-2)
Begovic
Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson
Pennant, Palacios, Whelan, Etherington
Crouch, Walters

Without wishing to sound too patronising, it's difficult to see what Pulis is trying to do with the squad - which looks thinner than in previous years since Jonathan Woodgate, Ricardo Fuller and Danny Higgingbottom were all allowed to move on.

The budget available to Pulis isn't thought to be as big as in previous summers, and he may have to cut his cloth accordingly. Greek striker Dimitris Salpingidis and Michael Owen have both been closely linked with the Potters as their Welsh manager looks for an agile partner for Peter Crouch, suggesting that either Cameron Jerome or Kenwyne Jones will be allowed to leave the Britannia Stadium for the right offer.

Out wide, Jermaine Pennant's frequent run-ins with the law, Twitter and generally anyone else with an alternative opinion to him on life could see him shifted on, with Matt Jarvis and Matt Phillips the main targets.

The arrival of Jamies Ness supplements a limited but decent-looking central midfield area, although cover at full-back is of paramount importance and the club look close to tying up a deal for versatile American Geoff Cameron, a utility player from MLS outfit Houston Dynamo.

POTENTIAL INS: Geoff Cameron, Michael Owen, Matt Jarvis and Dimitris Salpingidis
POTENTIAL OUTS: Jermaine Pennant, Cameron Jerome

SUNDERLAND


It's been a fairly quiet summer for Martin O'Neill so far, with only Carlos Cuellar added to the squad to date. Meanwhile, Nicklas Bendtner, Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos have all returned to their parent clubs after completing their loan spells.

IF THE WINDOW SHUT TOMORROW

(4-4-1-1)
Mignolet
Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Richardson
Larsson, Cattermole, N'Zonzi, McClean
Sessegnon
Wickham

The former Aston Villa boss has little-to-no strength in depth up front after the club also sold Asamoah Gyan to Al Ain, and the hole left by Darren Bent's departure still hasn't been properly addressed nearly 18 months further on.

Wolves striker Steven Fletcher and released O'Neill favourite Emile Heskey could both arrive as a result, while Louis Saha remains an attractive proposition on a free, but such is their dire need for strikers, don't be surprised to see two of the afore-mentioned trio approached.

In midfield, genuine pace is needed down the flanks to complement the dead-ball delivery and creative stylings of Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon, with Matt Phillips a cheap but cheerful option from Blackpool, while Royston Drenthe could be just the ticket on a free transfer after burning his bridges at Everton.

The Black Cats could also be set to profit from Blackburn's relegation from the top flight last term, with both Martin Olsson and Steven N'Zonzi up for grabs, which would add a degree of depth to a relatively lightweight midfield.

After Craig Gordon was released following an injury-ravaged five-year spell on Wearside, a back-up goalkeeper to Belgian Simon Mignolet is required, with Chris Kirkland a decent outside bet for the club's No.2 spot.

POTENTIAL INS: Emile Heskey, Louis Saha, Steven N'Zonzi, Martin Olsson, Chris Kirkland, Royston Drenthe and Steven Fletcher
POTENTIAL OUTS: David Meyler

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