Before we know it, a new Premier League season will be upon us and the thrill, excitement and all that accompanies the start of a fresh season will return with renewed energy and conviction.
Defending champions Leicester City will have to fight even harder to keep hold of the crown they surprisingly won as the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all vie to steal it from the Foxes.
There is already anticipation brewing ahead of the 2016/17 campaign and, although that might seem a little premature, when all the possible rivalries, mouth-watering clashes and permutations are considered, it’s really just a natural reaction.
Over the summer months we are likely to see plenty of transfer rumours crop up in relation to some of the league’s best players and that is likely to continue right up until transfer deadline day, so the fans can expect plenty of sleepless nights over whether or not their club will manage to hold on to their top stars.
You know the sort of player – the one guy on each team who they simply couldn’t do without, the player whose boots are impossible to fill. Every team has the one professional who holds the team together, whether it’s through their goals, assists, talismanic qualities or even their sheer experience.
They can be dazzling stars who produce otherworldly bits of skill on a constant basis or simply the anchor in midfield who bolsters the starting XI with tough-tackling and no-nonsense football. The spectrum is multifaceted and vibrant and that’s what makes the league so entertaining.
Every fan has their own opinion on just who that player is for their respective club, so make sure you leave your comments down below to let us know your thoughts on the subject.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
A wizard with the ball at his feet, Mesut Ozil is undeniably one of the best playmakers in Premier League football today. Although Arsenal have been missing an engine room in certain years (the arrival of Francis Coquelin helped things somewhat), it is Ozil who makes them tick on an altogether different level. He has unrivaled vision, knows how to read a game with experienced eyes and always puts in a shift for his team.
If Arsene Wenger intends on staying in the hotseat for another few seasons, he will need to make sure the Gunners retain Ozil’s services. Provided they can bring in a 20-goal-a-season man, the Germany international will be more than capable of serving up assists on a plate for him – he might just break Thierry Henry’s record of 20 this time.
Matt Ritchie (Bournemouth)
Matt Ritchie’s four goals and six assists in the league don’t tell the full story about how pivotal his continued presence in the Bournemouth team will be. While Josh King was the Cherries’ top scorer, Ritchie often set the tempo for the team’s cohesion, flair and incision. Indeed, it’s a credit to the 26-year-old that clubs like West Ham United have already inquired after his services. However, it’s vital that regardless how much money the suitors throw at Bournemouth, they retain him for next season.
Having been with the club since 2013, Ritchie knows all about what this club means to the fans. That solidarity has become ingrained in him over the years and he has often used it as a weapon, regularly refusing to give up on lost causes, loose balls or stray passes. Make no mistake, he is a very skillful guy and his experience, penchant for long-range efforts and tremendous work ethic make him a priceless part of the squad.
Andre Gray (Burnley)
Newly-promoted outfits don’t often find the going easy in the big leagues, so Burnley are sure to need all the reinforcements they can get over the summer months. However, the Clarets already have a ready-made go-getter among their ranks in the form of Andre Gray, so they have the good fortune of housing what looks like a natural goal-scorer.
Having scored 25 goals as well as racking up nine assists in the SkyBet Championship as the Lancashire club stormed to top spot to secure automatic promotion, he knows all about what it takes to become a goal-scoring club hero and if they are ever going to need his net-rattling ability more, it will be in the Premier League where goals don’t come easy and defences can be notoriously difficult to navigate.
Some might think that it would have been easy to rise above the poor level of football Chelsea were churning out last season, but that would be a cynical view to take. The truth is that when a squad is in the gutter, it’s hard for anyone to put in an outstanding shift. However, Willian really catapulted himself into Chelsea fans’ hearts with a series of fantastic showings in the famous blue shirt and his free-kicks became one of their only sources of nourishment in a campaign otherwise starved of good football.
His willingness to pour his all into his displays meant that he was far and away their best player and if he can produce those kinds of performances when things are going poorly, it’s exciting to ponder what he’ll do with a fresh start under incoming boss Antonio Conte. If the Blues intend on regaining the crown they lost to Leicester City, they need to hold on to Willian and build a team around him, his mentality, his skill and his passion.
Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace)
He often runs with reckless abandon, but that’s precisely what makes Yannick Bolasie such a uniquely talented footballer. His capacity for wrong-footing defenders with his helter-skelter dribbling has often made for a really exciting spectacle. Innovative and unconventional number 10’s like him are precisely what a club like Crystal Palace need to continue competing in the top flight.
Bolasie has been linked with a move away in the past, so it’s clear he is a wanted man but Alan Pardew will have to fend off any future advances because the 27-year-old DR Congo international is one of the London club’s best players and attempting to replace him would be an unenviable task to say the least.
Ross Barkley (Everton)
With Romelu Lukaku seemingly headed for the Goodison Park exit, it becomes quite difficult to pick an Everton player who is truly irreplaceable. The Belgian front-man would get this position, hands down, if he was staying but it would appear he has his heart set on a departure. However, to be fair to Ross Barkley, if he knuckles down and tries to really improve his core strengths, he could blossom into a brilliant player ready to deliver the Toffees away from another season of mediocrity.
There can be little denying his innate ability. He has it in him to become a Merseyside legend, but through one aspect or another, he hasn’t fully delivered. A poor team season will have knocked everyone’s confidence, but if Barkley wants to step beyond the status of a nearly man, he’ll have to take on board everything the new manager tells him and swap the ‘starlet’ title for the ‘star’ one.
Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull City)
Widely considered to be one of the most exciting full backs to have graced the Championship last season, his gung-ho performances earned him rave reviews. Capable of playing as a wing-back or an out-and-out winger, his versatility and comfort in a variety of positions means he would be a prized asset for anyone, particularly a team desperate to not go straight back down a division.
The step up won’t be an easy one to make but with the 28-year-old Egyptian rampaging up and down the flanks, they have a real weapon at their disposal. Difficult to defend against, he will carry plenty of firepower, so the supporters will just have to cross their fingers that he stays injury-free for as long as possible.
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Plenty of football fans are still reeling from Leicester City’s fairy-tale league triump, and even more are wondering what they are going to have to do to repeat the feat when they start defending their crown after the summer comes to a close. What is a little more certain, however, is the fact that they will need to keep hold of PFA Players’ Player of the Year winner Riyad Mahrez.
A magical player, the Algerian took everyone by surprise with his twinkle-toes as well as his 17 goals and 11 assists. Because while Jamie Vardy was the goal-scoring, record-breaking hero and N’Golo Kante the supreme motor, Mahrez sprinkled the x-factor on the Foxes’ season and introduced the va-va-voom every memorable team possesses.
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
The arrival of Jurgen Klopp gave Liverpool fans real cause to celebrate and he was unfortunate not to guide the club to silverware, despite helping them reach two cup finals. For many, Roberto Firmino was key to those nearly-successes as he bagged 11 goals and nine assists in all competitions. Injecting some Brazilian samba magic to proceedings, the 24-year-old was the attacking bite the Reds needed to complement their ‘gegenpressing’ work.
Fans dubbed his combination with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho ‘LFC’ last term and although they didn’t rival their ‘SAS’ bond of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the signs were there that they could sprinkle some pizzazz. Simply put, losing Firmino would be a big blow to the overall team structure so they’ll need to make sure he stays for the long run.
Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Injuries hampered his season at the Etihad in 2015/16, but Kevin de Bruyne was certainly Manchester City’s stand-out player when he was fit and available for selection. Unlike his team-mate Raheem Sterling, de Bruyne has really delivered on his promise and talent since arriving, putting in a number of top-notch displays so far. His skill on the ball, ability to conjure goals from distance and his work-rate mean he will be a great asset for years to come.
With new manager Pep Guardiola set to take charge ahead of the forthcoming season, de Bruyne could turn out to be his star player; the guy who can really help him craft a lasting legacy in Manchester. This summer will see de Bruyne play a part for Belgium at Euro 2016 and if anybody needs reminding just how good he can be in full flow, make sure to tune in to a few of the matches involving Les Diables Rouges.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Fans of the Red Devils will breathe a huge sigh of relief that Manchester United have managed to tie Marcus Rashford down to a new deal. A genuine nobody in professional football a few short months ago, the United starlet has come a very long way in such a short space of time. His ability to score goals for fun obviously helped endear him to the Stretford End faithful pretty quickly, but it has been his attitude which has really seen him settle since his cataclysmic start.
Whenever he was selected to feature for the club under Louis van Gaal, his hunger and desire to impress was clear to see, and it has paid off for him. Anthony Martial is also going to be a key figure for them in the next few seasons, but Rashford embodies the club’s philosophy of giving youth a chance, so it would be fitting for him to become their next idol. The early signs bode well and next season should see him really kick on and become truly irreplaceable.
George Friend (Middlesbrough)
Included in quite a few best XIs of the 2015/16 season, Middlesbrough’s popular full back will be one to watch as Boro make their long-awaited return to the top rung of English football. The 28-year-old was immense in helping his team to a second-place finish as well as playing a part in their promotion play-off, and even though the next level will pose different challenges, the general consensus is that George Friend will be up for it.
Every team who doesn’t want to become a yo-yo club needs to have a strong core in place and it’s pretty clear Friend is central to that. In fact, he is arguably more important than any other player on the pitch because not only can he defend with authority, but he lends himself expertly to their forages forward as well.
Shane Long (Southampton)
When you’re being scouted by the manager of a club who narrowly missed out on the league title, it’s got to be confidence boosting. Yes, Shane Long was recently watched by Mauricio Pochettino and is being constantly linked with a move away from St Mary’s Stadium.
Initially brought in as a back-up for Italian Graziano Pelle, the Republic of Ireland international has gone on to become the Saints’ best striker following a really good season. His lithe frame, fluid movement and electric burst of pace have made him a real handful for his markers, something his 10 strikes in England’s best division outlines.
Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
Contributing directly to 17 goals in the league is rarely terrible by anyone’s standard and that’s precisely what Marko Arnautovic did in 2015/16 as Stoke City lurched from excellent to lethargic from one week to the next. They were the epitome of Jekyll and Hyde football, but Arnautovic was one of their most consistent players.
Mark Hughes has done a great job in giving the Potters a real face-lift because they are no longer regarded as the long-ball specialists who look to hoof it long into the opposition area. The likes of Bojan Krkic and Xerdan Shaqiri have seen to that, but it’s undoubtedly Arnautovic who has made the biggest difference with his goals. Unique.
Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)
One of the highest-scoring players in the history of the league, Jermain Defoe has always known how to find the back of the net. His goals last campaign (15 in all) were one of the main reasons Sunderland avoided relegation, something Sam Allardyce and the throngs of Black Cats fans will have been more than a little grateful for.
A genuine fox in the box, he has shown few signs of slowing down at his age and it’s vital the club keep him on their books if they intend on steering clear of the drop zone this time around. Watching him contort himself into goal-scoring positions is a real joy to behold, especially when he pulls it off under pressure – there were even calls from some quarters that he should have gone to Euro 2016 with England.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
One of the best dead-ball specialists in British football, Gylfi Sigurdsson is a really important cog in the Swansea City machine. Moreover, his uber-graceful ability in open play makes him one of their best all-round squad members. Seeing him set himself before taking a free kick is one of the most captivating sights in English football today and his flair for getting the better of keepers up and down the country have made him the Swans’ best player.
Making the most of goal-scoring opportunities is a part of the game the Welsh club have got to improve on because they normally opt for a rather defensive approach, but with Sigurdsson among their ranks, they often capitalize on the fouls they draw and the turnover he brings really does make a big difference over the course of a hectic schedule.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
When you become the first English top scorer in a Premier League season since Kevin Phillips, you’ve got to be doing something spot on. For a few weeks, it seemed as if Tottenham Hotspur would go on to challenge Leicester City for the league title until the final day of the season, but their ultimate implosion halted them abruptly in their tracks. However, it was Harry Kane’s goals (25 of them, to be precise) which played a key role in their brilliance up until their two all draw with Chelsea when Eden Hazard scored that deadly strike.
There are obviously plenty of top players in the Lilywhites’ squad but Kane is arguably the most important because he is their primary marksman and as the old adage goes. ‘goals win games’ – it so often really is as simple as that. If he was to be sold, Mauricio Pochettino would have one hell of a task trying to replace him.
Odion Ighalo (Watford)
His 15 goals and three assists in the league meant that Watford secured a decent 13th-place finish at the denouement of the campaign. Alongside Troy Deeney, he continued his formidable partnership as they almost bagged 30 goals between them. His rate of scoring slowed considerably as he converted just twice in his last 10 matches, but he remains a valuable player and that drop off in form should not be used to rate him in the least.
Under Quique Sanchez Flores, the Hornets look a team reborn and if they want to stay alive, Ighalo needs to be held on to. Sure, they could cash in on him for between £15 to £20 million in the next few months, but they would be taking a huge risk. The chemistry he has with his teammates is a formula they should not tamper with if they want to steer clear of relegation and challenge higher up the table.
Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion)
A midfield general for West Bromwich Albion, Darren Fletcher is certainly the player the Baggies’ rely on most of all. He doesn’t bring the glamorous side of the beautiful game to new heights, he doesn’t score thunderous goals week-in, week-out and he doesn’t do nutmegs like their going out of fashion, but he is the rock they need and he performs his duties like a true champion.
That’s probably because he spent so long at Manchester United, so he has bags of title-winning experience and that has proved invaluable for Tony Pulis’ team in recent times. He knows how to keep hold of possession, he distributes it with confidence and he lends balance and assurance to their midfield. Losing him, even at 32 years of age, would be a disaster.
Dimitri Payet (West Ham United)
West Ham United enjoyed an outstanding campaign last term and will be confident of doing even better this season. Under Slaven Bilic, the Hammers have been playing like men possessed, eagerly shaking off their tag as a mid-table club with no aspirations. The manager has really transformed the team into a force to be reckoned with, and it’s thanks to the way he has not only improved things tactically, but also to the way he has imbued them with a sense of real belief.
Of course, it helps when you have players like Dimitri Payet at one’s disposal because the France international is a supremely talented individual who adds a certain element of class to proceedings. He is their innovator, their pulsating talisman and his audacious attempts at goal, free-kick ability and trickery are what catch the eye so often. To be their best, they need him – it’s as simple as that.
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