Soccer is far from being a one-man game. However having instrumental players in-form in key games surely increases the chances of winning any match by any team against any opposition. The following is part one of a four-piece feature where I choose one player from each English Premier League team who I believe will be key in his side’s chances achieving their objectives, be it avoiding relegation, reaching the top 4 or winning the title.
During the past year, much has been made of the lack of striking cover Arsenal had for Olivier Giroud. With the emergence of Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell and the £35million acquisition of Alexis Sanchez, Arsene Wenger will surely put all those groans to bed.
Sanchez, who has scored 24 goals in 71 caps for Chile, has arrived from Barcelona with quite an impressive record in the attacking third as he scored 47 and assisted 34 goals in three seasons where he competed against the likes of Lionel Messi, Pedro, David Villa and Neymar for a starting berth.
Arsene Wenger’s back five seem to be getting stronger season after season as Wojciech Szczesny is slowly turning into a top class goalkeeper and Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker’s partnership has forced Thomas Vermaelen to join Barcelona.
Now the onus is on their front players, led by Alexis Sanchez, to bring more glory to the Emirates Stadium. The Tocopilla-born 25-year-old possesses an impressive burst of pace as well as great body strength that allows him to brush challenges ala Sergio Aguero. Much is expected from a player who has cost £60million in transfer money in three years. Will he be the missing piece that finally delivers another Premier League title for Wenger?
In the six Premier League matches that Vlaar missed last season, Aston Villa failed to register a single clean sheet. When he was in the side for the other 32 matches, they managed to keep a clean sheet on nine occasions. Coincidence? Possibly.
Fresh from a tremendous World Cup leading the Dutch defensive line, the Aston Villa skipper will be a huge part of Paul Lambert’s plans for this season. The 29-year-old centre-back has been linked to other clubs but Lambert will be keeping his fingers crossed that the chairman Randy Lerner won’t want to cash in on his captain.
Surely Villa fans all over the world would rather see their trusted-captain lead their defensive line rather than former Fulham and Arsenal misfit Phillippe Senderos!
The transfer window at Villa Park has been underwhelming to say the least as their American owner looks for a buyer with Aly Cissokho, Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson joining Senderos through the entry gates. Aston Villa is currently riddled with players bought from lower leagues who have failed to make a lasting impact on the Premier League.
On the other hand, Ron Vlaar fully deserves his place in the league and if Aston Villa want to stay in the league, they’d better keep hold of him.
At the beginning of last season, Sean Dyche decided to stick by a 21-year-old striker who had scored 6 goals during the whole of the previous two seasons to replace the QPR-bound Charlie Austin. The player was Danny Ings who rewarded his manager with 21 goals in the Championship and 26 goals in all competitions.
Upon arriving in Burnley, Dyche made sure to strengthen his defense and last season’s 37 goals conceded (the best defensive record of the league) were the fruit of his hard work. With the arrivals of veterans Steven Reid and Chris Baird, one feels that The Clarets are better equipped defensively this time round than they were in the 2009/2010 season where they were the team that conceded the most goals (82).
That was their first ever season in the Premier League and it didn’t end well as they were quickly relegated. That time, Steven Fletcher’s goals gave them a fighting chance and Sean Dyche will he hoping that his forwards will contribute similarly. Last season, Sam Vokes and Danny Ings scored 57% of their league goals. Last January, Ings was said to be close to a transfer to Liverpool and now that he’s in the first tier of English football, he will be eager to show his finishing qualities and pace. Dyche will certainly hope that Turf Moor will see plenty of more goals from their gem.
This time round, Chelsea must be considered as the title favorites. Whatever Mourinho’s words about little horses, one still feels that had Chelsea not lost precious points against the likes of Aston Villa last season, they would have easily stolen the title from the grasp of Manchester City.
Chelsea version 2014/2015 is now even stronger than the 2013/2014 one with the smart acquisitions of seasoned top class players. Mourinho has the strikeforce that, as he nauseatingly always reminded us, he lacked last season with Diego Costa and Didier Drogba replacing Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba.
However, I believe that Chelsea’s trump card for this season is an acquisition they made last January. Towering at 194cm, Nemanja Matic was instrumental in Chelsea’s victories in the Premier League last season against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham where they scored a total of 13 goals and didn’t concede any. His sheer power and body strength were the more evident as he brushed the giant Yaya Toure multiple times in the Etihad Stadium.
Added to his industry and passing ability, the 26-year-old acts as the perfect link between defense and attack in a way that John Obi Mikel can only dream of doing. After his January transfer, Matic boasted an impressive 85% pass completion rate for Chelsea. Why did Chelsea ever let him go in the first place?!
Ever since Tony Pulis took over at Palace, they have become defensively very organized as he managed to turn a side that was shipping in goals into when that is incredibly difficult to beat. Pulis’ tactics may not be everyone’s cup of tea but one has to admit that this Palace side is easier on the eye than his Stoke side. Has Pulis decided to bend his principles? Or is it just a matter of this time having forward players that are suited to his system?
It’s no secret that Pulis expects his players up-front to do a lot of dirty work and at Stoke it seemed as if his forwards were, as a consequence, not being as much of as a threat to opposition defenses as they should have been. They were hard to beat, but they were also difficult to be beaten by.
On the other hand, last year with Crystal Palace, Pulis’ side also seemed to be capable of getting a goal from somewhere and this was in no small part due to Jason Puncheon’s contribution. The former Blackpool and Southampton winger had a magnificent second half of the season as he scored 7 goals from 1st January onwards directly contributing 16 points to the table, having scored just 9 goals in his Premier League career previously.
His ability to cover opposition fullbacks and at the same time be a threat with his pace and direct approach makes him ideal for Pulis’ philosophy. Palace fans will be thinking: “More of the same, please!”