The Premier league kicks off on Saturday and the summer months of endless transfer rumours are coming to an end. With the excitement building, Sports News Ireland examines 10 players who fans should look out for over the next nine months.
(1) Daniel Sturridge
Despite some slow developmental years with Manchester City and Chelsea, Daniel Sturridge’s stint on loan at Bolton has turned the 21 year old into one of the most exciting rising English stars. Sturridge’s career up until January 2011 saw him score six goals in 32 matches for Manchester City and nine goals in 40 matches for Chelsea while showing glimpses of talent.
At Christmas, Sturridge found himself behind Drogba, Torres, Anelka and Kalou in Chelsea’s pecking order. The under 21 international proceeded to impress at Bolton with his tireless effort and his prolific scoring record of eight league goals in 12 matches. Sturridge combined his impressive loan spell with a good pre-season and now the 21 year old may have passed Anelka and Kalou in the battle for first team appearances.
Chelsea have recently signed Romelu Lukaku, but Andre Villas-Boas’ refusal to countenance another loan move for the young English striker is a good sign. Regardless of how many matches Sturridge ends up playing this season, he should play a key role for Chelsea.
(2) Adel Taarabt
Adel Taarabt will be well remembered by Spurs fans as a once glittering future star. His career at Tottenham ultimately ended in disappointment, but Taarabt set the Championship alight last year.
Thrifty QPR have survived a summer of £13m transfer rumours for their mercurial talent. Fans will be interested to see if they are treated to the benchwarmer evident at Spurs or the game changer who dominated the Championship last season. As with many creative wingers trying to make their way in the Premier League, the results could be mixed.
(3) David De Gea
David De Gea has the daunting task of filling the steady gloves of Edwin van der Sar. Alex Ferguson has had scouts trawling the globe in search of a suitable replacement for the great Dutchman and the Scotsman ultimately chose 20 year old De Gea.
De Gea is immediately met with a host of pressures. Apart from his inexperience and replacing a legendary goalkeeper, De Gea must also live up to the reported £17.6 fee that made him the fourth most expensive goalkeeper in history.
Ferguson’s signing was somewhat of a gamble. De Gea only enjoyed 18 months of first team football at Atletico Madrid, with the Spaniard conceding a league high 11 goals from outside the box in La Liga last season. This susceptibility to long-range efforts was also evident in a shaky debut in the Charity Shield when Dzeko scored from 30 yards.
De Gea’s detractors may have spoken too soon, however. The 20 year old has shown excellent agility, ball distirbution and shot-stopping skills in his brief career. Under the tutelage of goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, De Gea has the potential to become one of the world’s great keepers. The Spaniard will be eager to confound his early critics and settle quickly in the Premier League.
(4) Sergio Aguero
The transfer of the little Argentine was one of the most anticipated of the summer. “Kun” was one of the stars of La Liga for the past five seasons, scoring 74 goals in 175 league matches for Atletico Madrid. His goal scoring exploits, range of skills and tireless work ethic convinced high-spending Manchester City to pay £38m for the striker. If the Argentine lives up to his billing and adapts quickly to the rigours of the Premier League, Aguero will be a contender for Player of the Year and the Golden Boot. If Carlos Tevez does finally leave for foreign climes, Aguero’s role will be even more important as City try to challenge for a Premier League title.
(5) Mario Balotelli
Another Manchester City striker facing a big season is the mercurial Mario Balotelli. Undoubtedly one of the bad boys of the Premier League, Balotelli is about to embark on a make-or-break campaign. The Italian has shown glimpses of his class, including a quality performance in the FA Cup final against Stoke, but Balotelli has also produced erratic displays on and off the pitch. The petulant striker needs to work on his temperament and showcase his undeniable talent.
The interesting element for spectators is that Balotelli is unpredictable. The talented Italian can quickly turn football games with a moment of genius, while also possessing the potential to disrupt team harmony and create problems for manager Roberto Mancini. Balotelli could easily become a star this season or be gone by January.
(6) Aaron Ramsey
Before suffering a broken leg against Stoke in February 2010, Ramsey was becoming one of Arsenal’s most impressive young attacking players. The midfielder then took a step back last season as he recovered from injury and attempted to regain match fitness with loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff. With Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas potentially leaving Highbury, Ramsey and his midfield partner Jack Wilshere have a golden opportunity to make their mark. Both players have bundles of potential and could be an impressive midfield partnership for Arsenal in the coming years.
(7) Charles N’Zogbia
Charles N’Zogbia’s £9.5m move to Aston Villa has the potential to be one of the signings of the summer. Villa recouped almost £40m for their departed wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, while replacing the talented duo with the upcoming Marc Albrighton and the energetic N’Zogbia.
The Frenchman has been one of Wigan’s star performers in the past two seasons, scoring 14 league goals and providing 14 assists. N’Zogbia also completed a league high 101 successful dribbles in 2010/11. Removed from the perpetual relegation struggle with Wigan and surrounded by better players, N’Zogbia could be one of the league’s best wingers in 2011/12.
(8) Tom Cleverley
One of most impressive performers in Sunday’s thrilling Community Shield encounter was Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley. The 21 year old has been highly touted in recent years and enjoyed successful spells on loan at Leicester City, Watford and Wigan. The midfielder also played well in three successive pre-seasons for the Premier League champions.
His form convinced Ferguson to keep Cleverley in Manchester this season and the playmaker responded with an assured and confident performance in his United debut. Within days, the midfielder received his first England call-up.
The retirement of Paul Scholes has left a creative vacancy at the heart of United’s midfield. Unless Ferguson signs Sneijder before the end of the transfer window, Cleverley could be given the chance to claim a regular berth in the United side.
(9) Shay Given
For Irish fans, the transfer of Given from Manchester City to Aston Villa is a genuine source of excitement. The 35 year old had seen his first team opportunities at City vanish with the emergence of Joe Hart and the Donegal man badly needed a change of scenery.
Given was always likely to attract many suitors, but Aston Villa’s decision to award the Irish international a five year contract was a surprise. The Irish keeper will be 40 when his contract expires and he will want to prove his shot-stopping ability still rates as one of the best in the Premier League.
Given has a lot to prove this season; that he is still Ireland’s number one, that Manchester City have made a mistake replacing him and that awarding him a five year contract is not a risk. All Irish fans will be avid spectators.
(10) Connor Wickham/Jordan Henderson/Phil Jones
The trend of overpaying for young English players has continued this summer. While the prices never reached the ill-advised levels of the £35m paid for Andy Carroll last January, substantial amounts of money were spent on the unproven Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones and Connor Wickham.
All three players have rightly earned positive reviews and have an abundance of potential, but the inflated transfer fees are largely due to their nationality. The highly rated Ander Herrera, who impressed for Spain in the U21 European Championships, joined Athletic Bilbao this summer for £7.5m and provides an example of the saner youth transfer market system that exists in La Liga.
The three England youngsters will be out to prove they are worth the substantial outlay. The £20m Jordan Henderson can expect to start regularly in Liverpool’s engine room, despite a wealth of other midfield options. Alex Ferguson has already claimed £16m Phil Jones has the talent to break into the first team and Rio Ferdinand’s poor recent injury record may give the 19 year old his chance. Sunderland only boast Asamoah Gyan as a regular striker, but the £8m Wickham’s youth and lack of Premier League experience could limit his game time. All three will provide interesting stories in 2011/12.
Fernando Torres will be eager to prove he is worth the £50m Chelsea spent on him in January. Torres’ replacement at Liverpool Luis Suarez made a great start and should be one of the Premier League’s top performers in 2011/12. Ireland fans will be eager to see if Shane Long can score regularly in the Premier League for West Brom. Arsenal’s summer signing Gervinho enjoyed an impressive pre-season and could be key for the Gunners if Fabregas and Nasri leave. Gabriel Obertan will be out to prove his indifferent time at Manchester United was an aberration after his transfer to Newcastle.