With the new season just kicking off, read about the top talents to watch out for in each of the 20 Premier League clubs...
As you’ll know if you’ve read anything I’ve written before, I specialise in writing about promising players that perhaps don’t get the full attention that they should. Now, regularly I focus on more obscure players that many football fans may not have heard of yet, but with the Premier League season just kicking off I thought I’d mix things up a bit. I’ve decided to write a piece pin-pointing a player or two from each Premier League club to watch out for over the coming season. These won’t necessarily all be young players, just players that I expect to have a big season, breakthrough season or make an impact after recently signing – some may even be big-names.
So, let’s begin…
Arsenal are heading into the 2011/12 season with a Cesc Fabregas shaped hole in their midfield. This poses a serious problem for Arsene Wenger – he needs to find a player able to dictate the pace of a game, link up with his team-mates and find gaps in the opposition’s defence. Now, he could look abroad to accomplished playmakers such as Riccardo Montolivio, Yoann Gourcuff or Diego, but I believe the answer is a little closer to home…
Aaron Ramsey has already shown that he’s capable of dominating a Premier League game – his most notable performance being against Manchester United. With Fabregas injuring himself in training the day before the game with Utd, Ramsey was forced into the first team to take over his duties – in his first home game since his horrific leg break. Obviously, due to this the fans were willing him to make a big impact – and make a big impact is exactly what the young Welshman did…
Not only did Ramsey score the only goal in a 1-0 win – a precisely placed finish into the bottom left corner – he absolutely dominated the centre of the park and oozed maturity. He made 62 passes with a staggering 92% pass-completion rate, with 34% of those passes moving the team into a more advanced attacking position. When a player has stats as impressive as those against the best team in the league, you can throw age, experience and everything else out of the window – they are ready.
I’m willing to bet my house on Ramsey having a massive season for Arsenal, and being instrumental in any successes that the club may achieve.
Anyone who follows lower league football will be aware of Alex Chamberlain’s amazing talent – last season, aged just 17, he scored 10 and assisted 9 in 34 appearances for Southampton.
Arsenal have been long-term admirers of Chamberlain and finally made their move for the teen sensation just a few days ago in a deal that could potentially cost them £15million. His first-team chances may be limited for the first half of the season, but he’s definitely a player capable of making a big impact when given even a sniff of a chance.
His versatility will add a lot of depth to Arsene Wenger’s attacking options this season, as he’s equally adept playing on either wing or down the centre in an attacking midfield role. He possesses blistering pace that has seen him compared to a certain other player who made the trip from Southampton to Arsenal – Theo Walcott. He also has superb technique in his passing, shooting and crossing. He plays a very accomplished and intelligent game for a player so young.
I can’t say a great deal about young Barry Bannan yet, as I’ve only seen him play first-hand a handful of times – though, what I’ve seen of him has been extremely promising.
The 21-year-old Scot has only played 12 games for Villa thus far, but has had successful loan spells at Derby, Blackpool (where he played 20 games to help gain them promotion to the Premier League) and Leeds. Before these loan spells he brought massive success to Villa’s youth and reserve teams – helping the academy side win the Premier Academy League as well as winning the Premier Reserve League South with the reserves. He also became the first Villa player to be named Premier League player of the month on two occasions. Bannan has more recently established himself as a senior Scotland international, making 6 appearances in the past 9 months.
I’ve talked to many Aston Villa and Blackpool fans trying to get an insight into how they rate Barry Bannan, and it’s very strange that most of them say almost exactly the same words – “He’s a 21-year-old, Scottish Iniesta.” – are there really many higher praises for a young midfielder?
I predict Bannan will make a real breakthrough in the Villa team this season – similar to his team-mate Marc Albrighton last year. The two of them could be the future of Aston Villa.
David Goodwillie is a player with a talent as big as the list of jokes you can make about his surname (there, I said it, now we can grow up and move along…)
22-year-old Goodwillie signed from Dundee United just recently for an undisclosed fee thought to be in the region of £3million – a real bargain in my opinion. He quickly established himself as a fan favourite by scoring on his debut in a 4-1 friendly win over Kilmarnock before he’d even trained with his new team-mates!
The Stirling-born striker has netted 32 goals in the past two seasons, and looks to be ever improving – he even claimed Scottish Young Player of the year last season. His main strength is his ability to score any type of goal imaginable. He can score with either foot or his head and is incredibly composed when at close-range with just the keeper to beat.
I predict that he’ll score around 10 goals for Blackburn this season, which would be an impressive tally given that it’s his first season in the Premier League – it could also give Rovers the edge in what will be a very close contest in the bottom half of the table.
I’ll start this one with a very strong opinion of mine – Stuart Holden is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League.
Until his cruciate ligament injury back in March, the 26-year-old Scottish-born American was on a superb run of form for Bolton and was an almost-ever-present in the side that was placed 7th in the Premier League and reached the FA cup semi-final. After Holden’s injury, Bolton plummeted 7 places down the table – eventually finishing 14th.
The reason Holden is such a valuable asset to the Bolton team is his versatility – he can play on the right, left or in the centre of midfield. He’s also ambidextrous, which gives him an excellent range of options when passing, shooting and crossing.
If he can get back to full fitness and regain his best form this season, I have no doubt that Bolton will finish in the top 10 with Holden playing a key role. There may also be a number of bigger clubs knocking on his door at the end of the season, too…
Is it a tank? Is it Didier Drogba? No, it’s Romelu Lukaku…
Chelsea’s latest signing comes in the form of 18-year-old (yes, EIGHTEEN-year-old!!!) Belgian powerhouse Romelu Lukaku. Standing 6’3” and boasting the build of two regular-sized men, you can see why comparisons are being drawn to players such as Didier Drogba.
I’ve watched Lukaku closely for Anderlecht for two seasons now, having seen him linked with Premier League clubs at the age of just 16. In that time he’s made 98 appearances for Anderlecht, scoring 41 goals and assisting 14 – a very impressive record for a 16/17 year old boy playing in an ever strengthening league. He also boasts 9 senior Belgium caps and 2 international goals – again, excellent stats for someone so young. In my opinion, Lukaku is the perfect example of a phrase we hear a lot in football – “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough”…
It’s not hard to see where Lukaku’s strengths lay. His physique, movement and balance allow him to boss around even the biggest, toughest of centre-backs. With these attributes, I see the Premier League fitting him like a glove – it’s just hard to see when he’s going to get his chance given the wealth of attacking options Chelsea currently possess in Drogba, Torres, Anelka, Malouda, Kalou, Sturridge and Kakuta…
Villas-Boas to experiment with a 2-2-6 formation, anyone?
It’s difficult to pick a player from the current Everton squad given their lack of transfer activity and already-established first-team – but Ross Barkley has certainly made an impression on Everton fans this pre-season.
Barkley is a box-to-box midfielder primarily, but boasts the ability to play upfront, anywhere along the midfield or in defence – perhaps a young Luis Enrique or John O’Shea in the making?
The young Liverpudlian was included on the bench in September for Everton’s home game against Newcastle, but didn’t make an appearance. Shortly after making the step up to the first-team squad Barkley suffered a horror leg-break whilst on England duty playing for the under-19’s which halted his progression through the Everton ranks.
It’s no secret that Everton aren’t in a financial position to spend vast amounts of money strengthening their squad, so it’s players like Ross Barkley who they’ll be looking to in order to sustain the clubs’ excellent Premier League stature.
I must admit, 19-year-old Pajtim Kasami isn’t a player that I’ve seen a whole lot of personally – but I’ve heard rave-reviews from others. He’s primarily a defensive midfielder, but is very capable of contributing in attacking play, too.
He first came to my attention whilst watching the Swiss under-21 team in qualification for the UEFA U21 Championships, but I must admit my attention was more focussed on Xherdan Shaqiri and Yann Sommer.
Serie A club Palermo signed Kasami last summer, aged just 18, and instantly integrated him into their first-team midfield after he hugely impressed the coaching staff. He went on to play 24 games in total for the Rosanero – 14 league games, 8 Europa League games and 2 Coppa Italia games.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Kasami slot straight into Fulham’s first-team, as he did at Palermo, as he has already made two substitute appearances for the Cottagers in their Europa League qualifying campaign.
Suarez has only played 13 games for Liverpool so far, but has already established himself as a huge fan-favourite and made a name for himself as one of the top attacking players in the Premier League.
Although he hasn’t hit the same goalscoring form as he did in the Dutch Eredivisie, his creativity has been a massive boost for a Liverpool team that, for the most part, had a terrible 2010/11 campaign. Suarez offers a spark that Liverpool haven’t seen for some time and the increasing number of quality players around him will only aid his performances.
Liverpool are often slated for paying over the odds for players, but at around £22million I have no doubt in my mind that Suarez will prove to be an absolute bargain over the coming seasons.
I predict that come the end of the season, he’ll be in the Premier League team of the year – not necessarily for scoring goals, but for his all-round contribution to a Liverpool team that look ready to challenge for the Champions League spots again.
You can describe Man City’s latest signing in two words… “World” and “class”.
Aguero has already been on the scene for a long time having made his debut for Independiente in Argentina at the age of just 15 – becoming the youngest player ever to play in the Argentinian league – a record previously set by Diego Maradona.
In 2006, Atletico Madrid paid €23million to bring him to Spain – a club record fee. Although, his move wasn’t totally smooth – he caused some controversy in just his second game for the club by scoring the winning goal using his hand – seems he likes to replicate Maradona, eh?
Whilst playing for Atletico Madrid, Aguero has scored 20 goals or more in each of his last four seasons. Also averaging around 8 assists per season, he’s truly an attacking force to be reckoned with.
Aguero’s main strengths are his unbelievable pace and his deadly finishing ability – two assets that, if he uses to his full advantage, will see him become a massive success in England.
I predict an instant impact from Aguero, so much so that I’ve even made him my captain in Fantasy Football! That being said, though, I believe City have taken one step forwards and two steps back with Carlos Tevez seemingly on the way out of Manchester. Time will tell, I guess…
The moment Manchester United fans have been dreading for years became a reality recently – Paul Scholes, one of the best footballers England has ever produced, finally hung up his boots.
How do you fill the void left by a legend? Quite easily, if you’re Tom Cleverley…
I’ve been doing some number crunching (I love a good stat) and Cleverley’s stats whilst playing for Wigan last season are mightily impressive. First, we’ll start with the basics – Cleverley made 25 appearances for Wigan Athletic (on loan) last season and Scholes played 22 times for Man Utd. Cleverley scored 4 goals compared to Scholes’ 1, whilst also making 2 assists in comparison to 3 by Scholes. You’re saying “so what?”, and I hear you, so let’s delve a little deeper…
Cleverley made 636 passes in total for Wigan – averaging just over 25 passes per appearance with a pass completion rate of 82% (522 completed passes). He also created 26 goal scoring chances – just over 1 per appearance.
Scholes made an impressive 1357 passes for Man Utd – averaging a massive 62 passes per game, more than double Cleverley’s total. Scholes also boasts a better pass completion rate at 90%, meaning 1221 of his 1357 passes reached another Man Utd player. The part where Scholes’ stats fail him are his key passes, or “goal scoring chances created” as I said for Cleverley. Despite making over twice as many successful passes as Cleverley, Scholes only managed 20 key passes – less than 1 per game.
Cleverley also beats Scholes in terms of shots, shot accuracy and shots-to-goals. He took on 29 shots with an accuracy rate of 52% and around a 10% shot-to-goal percentage. Scholes only managed 13 shots with a 38% accuracy rate – giving him an 8% shot-to-goal percentage.
Cleverley trumps Scholes again in terms of dribbles and crosses, having made 35 dribbles and 41 crosses, in comparison to Scholes’ 10 dribbles and 3 crosses.
You’re probably thinking – “Scholes played deeper than Cleverley and wasn’t necessarily in the team to be an attacking threat, more to dictate the game and bring his team-mates into space. It’s hard to compare a central midfielder to an attacking midfielder” etc. which is perfectly fair. Plus, you’re probably sure that Scholes offers more defensively than Cleverley, right? Wrong.
Cleverley made 47 tackles for Wigan, winning 74% of those tackles and picking up just one yellow card. Scholes, on the other hand, made just 28 tackles – winning only 68% of them and earning himself 9 yellow cards. It seems Scholes’ reputation as a bad tackler is justified – given that he earned a yellow card for 1 in 3 of his tackles.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting for a second that Tom Cleverley is a better player than Paul Scholes ever was – I’m just putting this point forward… Why spend £35million on Wesley Sneijder when the next Scholes is right on your doorstep?
Hatem Ben Arfa
There isn’t a single player in the world (outside of my team, Arsenal) that I want to have a great season more than Hatem Ben Arfa.
During his time at Marseille I watched him frequently and was a big fan, so when I heard he was coming to England I was very excited at the prospect of seeing him weekly in the greatest league in the world. Unfortunately, we all know what happened…
During Newcastle’s match with Manchester City, a crunching tackle from Nigel De Jong left Ben Arfa with a double leg-break, on just his 4th appearance for the Magpies. For this reason we’ve seen very little of him in the Premier League thus far and he only has one (absolutely spectacular) goal to his name.
Rest assured – if he comes back to fitness as the same player he was when he got injured, he’ll make a big impact for Newcastle this season.
Similar to Ben Arfa, Vaughan has been plagued with injury troubles and never really fulfilled the potential that he promised, having only played 100 professional games in his 7 year career.
He was the 3rd fastest 100 metre sprinter in Britain at school level as a 13-year-old, a trait which saw him quickly picked up by Everton. Unfortunately, a 19-month spell on the sidelines really scuppered his progression in what was looking to be a very promising career.
Pace to burn, good movement and a good finisher – Vaughan has all the attributes necessary to be a hit in the Premier League providing he can just get a good run of games under his belt. At the age of 23 he still has a long way to go in his career and I’m hopeful that his move to Norwich will give him a regular starting role and a foundation on which to earn back his ever-fading reputation.
My prediction is that with a good run of games, Vaughan can easily score 10 league goals this season.
After last season most people are already aware of Taarabt’s talent, but I couldn’t write about a promising QPR player and overlook him.
I watched nearly every QPR game last season, simply for the pleasure of watching Adel Taarabt work his magic week-in, week-out – and he quickly became one of my favourite players in world football. I clearly wasn’t the only one impressed by him, as Taarabt was the target of a massive bid from big-spenders PSG earlier in the summer, thought to be in the region of £13million.
Blistering pace, fancy footwork and some of the most unbelievable tricks you’ve ever seen – Taarabt has the lot. He’s not usually the type of player I like to watch, as I’m more of a “just get the job done, no messing about” kind of guy – but there’s just something about the way he makes defenders look borderline idiotic that appeals to me.
He also has amazing stats to back up my opinion on him. He scored 19 goals and also assisted 16 times in The Championship last season. I don’t like to use the term “one-man-team”, but Taarabt directly played a part in 47% of all QPR goals. Those are unbelievable stats.
The real question is, can Taarabt make the step up and perform like that against top-class opposition? In my opinion – yes.
He’s going to be man-marked tighter than any player in the Premier League this season, which could be detrimental to the impact he has – but I believe he has the quality to shine despite that. I’m predicting another great season leading to a big-money move.
Although anyone who follows Premier League football will already be familiar with Ryan Shawcross, I thought I’d include him as this could be a potentially massive season for the young Englishman.
With Euro 2012 coming up in a years time and the 2014 World Cup in the not-too-distant future, you’d imagine that this is the season Shawcross will make a big push for the England squad. Just a few months ago he was given the chance to play for Wales, but turned the offer down stating he only wanted to play for England. He has already been included in the England squad once, but didn’t get any playing time – but why should he not get playing time?
Shawcross is still young at only 23, but also has a wealth of experience at the top level – playing 134 games so far. He’s tall, strong, quick and oozes determination.
I expect to see him dominating in the heart of the Stoke defence alongside Robert Huth again this year – their season could well hinge on how solid they stay at the back.
It’s an exciting time for Sunderland fans, having secured a whole host of high-profile players over the summer – and Connor Wickham is arguably the best of the lot.
Sunderland beat off long-term interest from both Arsenal and Liverpool to secure the young Englishman from Ipswich, for a fee that could potentially rise as high as £12million.
He doesn’t score a lot of goals and was often slated by Ipswich fans for being far too inconsistent of a performer, but I think these are things that will come with experience. Perhaps being thrown in at the deep end in a mid-table Premier League battle – where every single point can make a massive difference – will make him perform at his best in every game.
Sinclair’s hat-trick in Swansea’s 4-2 play-off final win over Reading guaranteed his club a massive financial windfall and, more importantly, a place in this seasons Premier League. Now he’s back on the big-stage, he’ll be looking to prove what he can really do
Sinclair netted 27 goals in 50 games in all competitions for The Swans last season, and although he probably won’t reach anywhere near those heights in the Premier League, I can still see him bagging around 10 goals.
I can see Danny Graham being Swansea’s main goal threat, but Sinclair’s pace and direct attacking play will definitely make him the driving force of the Swansea attack this season.
There honestly isn’t a lot I can say about Coulibaly yet, having only seen him play a handful of times for the Ivory Coast in the under-17 World Cup – so this one will be short and sweet…
The 16-year-old established himself as one of the best young talents in the world earlier this summer by netting 9 goals in 4 games for the Ivory Coast in the under-17 World Cup and winning the Golden Boot – yes, that’s right… 9 goals in 4 games…
Real Madrid and Arsenal both came knocking for Coulibaly’s signature, but Tottenham swooped quickly to snap him up. As he’s only 16, his first-team chances will obviously be limited – but keep an eye on him if you should happen to catch his name on the team sheet.
West Brom were caught in the yo-yo of Premiership/Championship football just a couple of years ago, but their fortunes changed last season…
The signing of Peter Odemwingie was an unbelievable success – his 15-goal-season was arguably the driving force in the Baggies 11th place finish. Now they’ve found the striker capable of keeping them in the Premier League, the next step is to sign more quality players to make the next step up.
Cue Shane Long’s arrival.
Long scored 23 goals in the Championship last season – a statistic that had seen him linked to Liverpool, amongst other big clubs. At the age of just 24, Long definitely still has some way left to go before he’s a top-class striker, but he definitely has the potential to become a strong asset in the Premier League.
I’m not expecting an Odemwingie-esque debut season, and I still expect the Nigerian to continue in his role as the star, but whether Long is used as a striking partner or as an impact substitute I can see him bagging 10 goals in the Premier League this season – with West Brom comfortably avoiding relegation.
McCarthy arrived at the DW Stadium two summers ago from Hamilton Academical and in those two years he’s been linked with moves to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd – interest from teams of that quality speaks for itself, surely?
Well, James McCarthy is a tricky one to gauge and you’d probably have to keep an eye on him specifically over a couple of games to cast your own opinion on him.
Amongst the Wigan fans I’ve spoken to about him, he’s a superstar and they think he’s one of the most underrated players in the league. Most other people I’ve asked about their opinion on him don’t even know who he plays for or just say he’s rubbish!
All I can say from my personal opinion at the moment is that he looks to be a good passer, he carries the ball well and looks very determined and hungry to get into space and onto the ball. He’s never stood out to me whilst watching Wigan, but there are a lot of top players who don’t really stand out but still get the job done and prove absolutely crucial to the team. It’s for that reason I’m including McCarthy in my list of players to watch out for this season – I’m going to be watching him closely to form a proper, justified opinion of him and I think you should too.
At £7million this one could easily go down as one of the signings of the season in my opinion.
As Birmingham got relegated last season you could almost sense the number of managers drooling at the thought of the bounty of talented proven Premier League players ripe for picking – all food metaphors aside, Roger Johnson was one of them.
Johnson was an ever-present in Birmingham’s 2010/11 Premier League campaign and his partnership with Scott Dann was one of the best in the league – the pair were even tipped by The Times as “certainties” to contend for a place in the Premier League team of the season.
It goes without saying that Johnson’s main strength is his aerial ability, but I’ll give you some stats to back it up…
Over the past two seasons he has absolutely dominated Premier League attackers in the air, making 560 headed clearances – a staggering 7.5 per game. He made 287 of those headed clearances last season, which was more than any other player in the Premier League. He was also dangerous with his head at the other end of the pitch, most notably nodding the ball on to Nikola Zigic to score one of Birmingham’s goals in their 2-1 League Cup final victory over Arsenal.
I predict Johnson will be a massive help to Wolves’ chances of survival this season, as he’s sure to plug up the gaps in a leaky defence that only kept 5 clean-sheets last season.
So, those were my Premier League 2011/12 players to watch - please feel free to give me your opinion on these players, or any others that you feel warrant a mention more than them, via the comments. You can also find me on Twitter @FourFourTom for football discussions etc.