A new decade, a new year, and 10 players I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on for one reason or another in 2010. We all know Drogba, Rooney, Torres, Defoe and the lot will get their 20+ goals and single handily place their teammates on their shoulders and march onwards. But what about the role players that could make or break their clubs championship winning run, help their club break into the top 4, or save their club from relegation and a year in the Championship?
Lest we not forget the players on the brink of earning a ticket to South Africa. Most of, if not all of the 32 nations competing in the World Cup Finals have their starting eleven solidified, but there’s still a few valuable bench spots left open for those fringe internationals that will have a few short months to prove their worth and make the trip of a lifetime.Without further ado, I’ll attempt to explain why I’ll be watching these 10 Premier League players and what’s at stake for them in 2010.
- Joe Hart – Birmingham City, Goalkeeper – The Good – In my opinion and on current form, I believe Hart to be England’s #1. A regular for the U21’s, Hart has been called up by Don Fabio a few times but has only seen limited action. On loan at City (Birmingham) from City (Manchester) Hart recently displayed arguably the performance of the year in goal at home in a 0-0 draw with league leaders Chelsea. A major contributing factor in Birmingham City’s current 8th place position. Strong, commanding and solid in goal. The Bad – Age and experience. Will need more top-flight matches under his belt to break into the senior England squad. Will need to prove he can sustain top form over the course of a 38 game Premier League season. Must also maintain his current run of form to be noticed by Capello. What to Watch For – A ticket to South Africa.
- Gabriel Agbonlahor – Aston Villa, Forward – The Good – Incredible pace, strength and he’s a goal scorer (he recently scored the winner at Old Trafford). Villa have been flirting with a top four finish for a few years now with Agbonlahor contributing his pace and goal-scoring abilities to a team largely made up of English players. The Bad – Currently carrying a heavy work load for Villa – risks burn out and also like Hart, still young and in need of more experience. Also has a slight tendency to disappear from big matches from time to time. What to Watch For – Slim chance of making South Africa, so more important to Agbonlahor and Villa fans, a top four finish.
- Eduardo da Silva – Arsenal, Striker – The Good – The Brazilian-born Croatian is a natural goal scorer. He could be the difference between Arsenal winning the title and simply finishing 3rd. At his best, Eduardo is easily a 20+ goal a season scorer. The Bad – much talked about (and I’m sure still remembered by Eduardo himself) horrific leg injury from 02/2008. Eduardo still hasn’t returned to top goal scoring form since the comeback. What to Watch For – The league title. If Eduardo can regain his predatory instincts in front of goal, the high-flying Gunners have just as good a shot at the title this year as any team. Arsenal will need a fit striker to help relieve some of the burden on Cesc Fabregas if they are to stay in the hunt before the return of Robin van Persie.
- Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United, Striker – The Good – Silky-smooth passer, proven goal-scorer (all time leading goal scorer for Bulgaria), creative player that when on his best can score three goals or set up three goals just as easily. The Bad – £23.40 million price tag that in all honestly hasn’t been paid off just quite yet for United. Often criticized for his lack of pace, movement and effort, the languid striker has work to do and goals to still score for United. What to Watch For – Manchester United’s fourth league title in a row. Like Arsenal, United will need another proven goal scorer if they are to finish top. Berbatov could risk losing his spot to Michael Owen if Owen starts scoring regularly for United.
- Jozy Altidore – Hull City, Striker – The Good – the 20-year old American striker has a physique like a bull, he’s strong with the ball at his feet and has pace. He’s definitely headed to South Africa as long as he’s fit. He’s scored meaningful goals for the United States, but will want to start scoring goals for Hull City to stay playing. The Bad – Altidore is currently on loan to Hull City from Spanish side Villarreal where he didn’t impress. Villarreal loaned him to Xerez in the Spanish Segunda where he suffered a minor toenail injury never actually making an appearance for Xerez. Jozy needs to fit in at club level quickly. Although he’s only just 20, he won’t want to be continually shipped back and forth to different clubs and never settle. What to Watch For – Hull City face a tough relegation fight and Altidore could be the bit of pace and quality they’ll need to get a scrappy goal or win a penalty (like he did against Manchester United recently). Will also want to prove to United States teammate Clint Dempsey (Fulham) that he too belongs in the Premier League.
- Alessandro Diamanti – West Ham United, Attacking Midfielder/Forward – The Good – The Italian applied his trade in the lower divisions of Italian football before impressing in 2008-09 with Livorno scoring 20 goals and assisting in their promotion to Serie A. The Bad – the 26 year old is new to English football and won’t have a comfortable settling in period as the Hammers have struggled in the first half of the 2009-10 season. What to Watch For – West Ham will need Diamanti’s experience in a gritty, grind-it-out type of match they’re sure to see as they, like Hull City, look set for a relegation dog fight.
- Darren Bent – Sunderland, Striker – The Good – On current form, Bent cannot stop scoring goals for Sunderland putting in 13 this season thus far and while he’s at it, seems to have formed a pretty formidable strike force with Kenwyne Jones. He’s strong, a big target and has natural finishing abilities. The Bad – Sunderland’s recent dip in form could cause England boss Fabio Capello to not take notice. In Bent’s most recent call up – an international friendly with Brazil – he failed to impress in an abysmal England attack resulting in a 1-0 loss. What to Watch For – A ticket to South Africa. If Bent stays fit and continues to bang in goals for club, Capello will have no choice but to call him up. Bent is on pace to score 25+ goals this season.
- Maynor Figueroa – Wigan, Defender – If you haven’t seen Figueroa’s goal v. Stoke City from his own half, check it out here. The Honduran’s absence was a large contributing factor to Wigan conceding 9 goals v Tottenham at White Hart Lane recently. The Bad – No offense to them, but Wigan seem to be one of the most unglamorous clubs to play for in the Premier League. Although they’ve been in the top-flight now since 2005, Wigan look set for mid-table mediocrity as long as they stay up. What to Watch For – Figueroa will represent his country in South Africa this summer and Wigan have no shot at a top four finish, so Figueroa will look to make a big summer move to a top four club.
- Rafael da Silva – Manchester United, Right back – The Good – A Dani Alves type Brazilian defender who loves to bomb forward in attack, Rafael is a burst of pace and a hard tackle waiting to happen. With Gary Neville facing inevitable retirement sometime in the near future, Rafael could claim the starting right back spot for United. The Bad – Rafael could also be a yellow card or red card waiting to happen. His youth is equal parts positive and negative as he can run all day, but he needs to mature as a footballer and hasn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt he can cope with the demands of United’s crowded fixture list year after year. What to Watch For – Unsure if Rafael has a shot at representing the loaded Brazil in the World Cup. More important for Rafael at this point is his contribution to a depleted United back line. With injuries continuing to pile up at Old Trafford, Rafael has a chance to be a major contributor as United look to claim their fourth straight title.
- Nigel de Jong – Manchester City, Defensive midfielder – The Good – The Dutch international has quietly been incredibly effective for City this season as they look to become the new kid on the big 4 block. de Jong suffered a semi slow start to his career at Eastlands, he’s since claimed his midfield position with solid performance after solid performance as the holder in midfield. The Bad – Knee injury kept him out of World Cup 2006. He’s been a regular in the Dutch side ever since and baring match fitness will represent Holland this summer. What to Watch For – Possible top four finish. His spot with Holland confirmed, de Jong will prove a huge factor in helping City break the top four this year. City’s back line has barely looked stable this season in most matches. With de Jong at his best protecting City’s back line, City will have no problem banging in goals with their potent attack force.
There you have it, 10 players to definitely keep your eye on this year. Most of them won’t score 20 goals or be voted player of the year, but their small contributions week in week out for their respected clubs will go a long way in deciding the fate of their season and possibly their country at the World Cup Finals.