BY PETER SWALLOW
When August 16th comes along, arguably the most exciting league in football will commence for its 23rd installment, and what a season it promises to be. The vast majority of the 20 sides in the league have strengthened their squads in some way, shape or form while the managerial merry-go-round began its devilish rotation almost immediately after the final whistle brought last season to a close. Itâ€™s all set up to be an incredible domestic campaign that guarantees to thrill and surprise in equal measure. Hereâ€™s your definitive Barclayâ€™s Premier League preview.
As expected the leagueâ€™s big boys have strengthened considerably since the start of the summer, with the World Cup providing an ample array of new and exciting talents upon which Premier League clubs have gazed upon with prying eyes.
Despite being champions, Manchester City will enter the new season in somewhat of a malaise, usually keen to establish their position as the Premier Leagueâ€™s biggest spenders; Cityâ€˜s transfer dealings have been decidedly understated. Willy Caballero will come in to provide stronger and more consistent back up to Joe Hart, but bar a calamity of biblical proportions, the England International should maintain his position as Manchester Cityâ€™s number one.
Speaking of back up, Bacary Sagna will be just that in regards to Pablo Zabaleta, but with City expecting to challenge on five fronts, itâ€™s a much-needed requirement of the modern day super club.
As of writing however, Cityâ€™s marquee acquisition is Fernando from Porto. A hard hitting defensive midfielder who has undoubted quality, but Iâ€™d be hard pressed to say heâ€™s better than Fernandinho or Yaya TourÃ©, while breaking up their formidable partnership is perhaps the most worrying aspect of his arrival for City fans.
Eliaquim Mangala has been close to a reported Â£32 million move to the Etihad Stadium but as of writing, heâ€™s still a Porto player, and despite the shrewdness and importance of signing Mangala, thereâ€™s still an impending sense of City resting on their laurels, just as they did when they last won the league three seasons ago. Just as Manchester United brought in Robin Van Persie, Chelsea have acquired Diego Costa, and that spells bad news for Manchester City. Of course this is largely due to the slap on the wrist from UEFA regarding the clubs disregard for Financial Fair Play. However, it still leaves City lagging behind.
There are positives however; Manchester City still possess one of the strongest squads in the league, and in Sergio AgÃ¼ero the best striker who, if he stays fit, is more than capable of leading a title charge. Theyâ€™ll still challenge for the title, but itâ€™s another team in blue who are the favourites for the whole shooting match.
That club is of course Chelsea. Many not so astute prophets foretold Jose Mourinhoâ€™s return to West London. As such, it was hardly a surprise but the fact that the â€˜Bluesâ€™ didnâ€™t win the league came as a shock to many, especially considering the track record of the self-styled â€œSpecial Oneâ€ when it comes to delivering the goods.
In the cold light of reality, Chelsea look utterly irresistible, as theyâ€™ve strengthened in the areas that most needed improvement. Diego Costa will provide them with a consistent and dangerous goal threat, (the lack of which essentially cost the club the Premiership last time out), Filipe LuÃs has come in as a more than suitable replacement for Ashley Cole, and Thibaut Courtois, who has ended his three year affiliation with AtlÃ©tico Madrid, looks set to become Chelseaâ€™s first choice stopper.
Apart from Costa, the most significant Chelsea signing of the summer is undoubtedly Cesc FÃ¡bregas. The former Arsenal captain joined from Barcelona and will provide some much needed creativity and goals from midfield. Last season Chelsea depended far too heavily upon Willian and in particular Eden Hazard; Cesc will alleviate all that.
Not only that, but in Jose Mourinho, they have arguably the best manager in the league and Chelsea now look capable of dominating in a similar manner to when Mourinho first showed up on these shores.Â So convincing is the Chelsea argument that some are predicting the West London club will dominate the division, and as it stands, I find it hard to disagree.
For many, the Premier League represents a two horse race, but we must not forget the plucky underdog. Rare that Arsenal are that club, but even after signing Alexis SÃ¡nchez and Mathieu Debuchy, thatâ€™s exactly what they are.
Having ended the clubâ€™s trophy drought with last seasonâ€™s FA Cup win, Arsenal appear completely revitalised. Not only did that trophy quell the discontent surrounding Arsene Wengerâ€™s position, but it also installed the belief that having finally overcome the psychological barrier of underachievement, the Premier League isnâ€™t so far out of reach.
Their squad is still too thin to fight on all fronts and still looks set to struggle should the club be struck down by yet another injury crisis, and while theyâ€™ve improved defensively, theyâ€™re still far weaker in that department than their main rivals. The performances of the back four against other title contenders will be Arseneâ€™s main concern going into the new campaign.
Regardless of that fact, in typical Arsenal fashion they still play the best football in the league, and if they can stave off injuries, theyâ€™ll be in the title race once again.
Champions League seekers
Some may see the decision to place Liverpool outside of the bracket of title contenders as somewhat controversial; after all they did manage to finish second last season. But there remains some worrying questions surrounding Liverpool that pre-season hasnâ€™t come close to solving. The main source of worry is the loss of Luis SuÃ¡rez. The troublesome Uruguayan has left for Barcelona for what is good money, Â£75 million to be exact, and while many felt his off the field antics were bringing the clubâ€™s reputation into disrepute, it is inevitable that the club will suffer on the pitch from such a devastating loss.
Obviously, many are drawing comparisons with Tottenham, as both clubs have attempted to replace a superstar with a raft of individuals. Liverpool are however, far more stable than Spurs were last season, with the sense that Brendan Rodgers is secure in his job and gets the signings he wants, whereas rumours were rampant of AndrÃ© Villas-Boas not being able to recruit the players he would have liked. So while certain circumstances are similar, it doesnâ€™t necessarily mean Liverpoolâ€™s new players will struggle to the extent of Tottenhamâ€™s.
Perhaps thatâ€™s because of the Southampton theme across the new arrivals, with Adam Lallana, Ricky Lambert and Dejan Lovren all coming in from the South Coast, while Lazar MarkoviÄ‡ and Emre Can are the other standout arrivals. They all represent good signings, but taking the spine of a club that finished in 8th is a very risky move.
Liverpool rank amongst the biggest names in the Premiership and under Brendan Rodgers have found a distinct way of playing, but ultimately their season will be dependant on how the players adjust to the loss of Luis SuÃ¡rez. Even so, replicating last seasonâ€™s extraordinary performances will be a difficult task.
Manchester United meanwhile are coming off of a cataclysmic season. It was supposed to be one of transition under David Moyes, but few expected United to drop to such deplorable depths. After all, the â€˜Red Devilsâ€™ have dominated the Premier League era and restoring that fear factor around Manchester United will be Louis van Gaalâ€™s primary task.
If pre-season is anything to go by however, then he may have already done it. The club look in fantastic shape having won the International Champions Cup and while pre-season can be somewhat of a false friend, United have played some irresistible football so far. That has partly been helped by the new formation change implemented by Van Gaal who seems to favour a 3-5-2 formation. This allows both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie to play up front while Juan Mata will no longer be shoe horned into a wide position.
Ander Herrera may well represent the signing of the summer and will provide the sort of qualities that were severely lacking in a lacklustre midfield last season. Unfortunately, thereâ€™s a sense that itâ€™s a season too early for an Old Trafford title push, with many players still fighting for their place at the club. Itâ€™s important to remember that United have a good crop of players already in place, and without the rigours of European competition, they should find themselves around the top 4 come May 2015.
The outsiders once again are Tottenham, who in reality, weâ€™ve yet to see the best of. New direction rather than new content is the hope for Spurs with Mauricio Pochettino at the helm and the belief that he will be able to get the best out of a side who last season, seemed more like a group of individuals. In reality that is the only thing stopping Tottenham from making a real push for a top 4 place, as some of the players at their disposal are genuinely world class. The Europa League must be considered a bogey prize though, as itâ€™s a notoriously taxing tournament, in which teams with only the strongest squads are able to traverse, while itâ€™s rare that sides can maintain their league form and striking the perfect balance will be all-important.
It must be heartbreaking for Spurs fans that after all the money thatâ€™s been spent on the pursuit of 4th place they donâ€™t appear to be any closer to achieving that goal. Should the club gain some unity on the pitch and have a bit of luck, they might just sneak into a Champions League place. Itâ€™s a long shot but stranger things have certainly happened.
What can we say about Everton? Well the first thing to note is that they were a revelation last season. The decision to hire Roberto Martinez was strangely polarising. Some cited the fact that he couldnâ€™t keep Wigan in the Premiership as an indicator of his managerial quality, while others were quick to point to his FA Cup success. In the end, it was a shrewd appointment and one that brought Everton to the fore as one of the most attractive footballing sides in the division. Often described as financially weak, theyâ€™ve dispelled that myth by signing Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for Â£28 million, beating many top European sides to his signature in the process.
Like Tottenham, Evertonâ€™s season will be decided by how well they adjust to the Europa League challenge. In the past weâ€™ve seen Newcastle and Swansea suffer dramatic declines in league form while competing in the tournament, and it looks set to stretch an already thin squad to its limits.
Regardless of how well the season is going, Everton will persist with their particular brand of football, but in times of trouble, they lack another dimension to their game that could help them against technically similar opposition.
Newcastle United are probably the best equipped of the â€œotherâ€ clubs in terms of challenging for a Europa League place. Thereâ€™s a never-ending stream of drama on Tyneside, and a dreadful 2014 resulted in many fans losing faith with the clubâ€™s owner and manager. However, a slew of genuinely exciting signings has quelled feelings of unrest for the time being, but it wonâ€™t take many poor results to light the blue touch paper. Itâ€™s imperative therefore that the â€˜Magpiesâ€™ start strongly, a poor start this time out could be disastrous.
With nine new faces, theyâ€™ve been the leagueâ€™s busiest club during the summer, and as such, concerns as to whether they will adapt to the Premier League are genuine, as is the fear that many will go to waste under the guise of Alan Pardew whose man management skills have been heavily criticised in the past.
Newcastleâ€™s season appears set to replicate a pendulum, if they start well we could see a genuine fight for a European place with the formidable St Jamesâ€™ Park acting as the perfect raucous base. If things start to go wrong however, the fans will quickly lose faith, and we could see a promising season unravel at an alarming rate.
Stoke City will go into the season with an air of confidence never before seen at the Britannia Stadium. Last season, the fans saw a club identical in name, but not in nature as Mark Hughes transformed the once ugly duckling of Stoke, into a beautiful swan, hell bent on playing attractive, passing football.
Few could have predicted the success of their metamorphosis. By the end of the season, all the pieces of the puzzle were comfortably in place and the club were a joy to watch. Their latest signings reflect the change in emphasis, particularly the acquisition of one Bojan KrkiÄ‡ who, before last season, was as far away from a typical Stoke player as was humanly possible. Ninth place represented a brilliant season after a less than impressive start. Improving on that will be a big ask and one Iâ€™m not entirely confident they can accomplish, but expect them to be floating around a similar area of the table, and with some luck they could just sneak in, but it seems likely the club will fall short of bringing European football to the Potteries.
The Mid-Table Scrappers
Mid-table remains a completely polarising entity, for some, finishing in this corridor of averageness is a complete disaster, a sign of a failed season to be wiped from the history books. For others, it signifies an upward trend, a season in which the club have managed to clamber away from the relegation battle many expected them to fall victim too.
Southampton could have been considered as potential Europa League qualifiers, but like an apple, the Saints have been cored. Much of their quality has been lured away by more financially powerful clubs, and as such, it looks like being a lean season on the south coast with more names likely to join the exodus before the big kick off on the 16th August. Ronald Koeman is an experienced manager but it remains to be seen as to how he will adapt to life in the Premier League. For me though, theyâ€™ve got too much quality to be embroiled in a relegation scrap, but it wonâ€™t be as happy a season at St Maryâ€™s.
From the south coast to South Wales and Swansea City are once again flying the Welsh flag in the Premier League. Despite having vanquished bitter rivals Cardiff City, this is going to be a season of flux for the Swans. Much like his Dutch counterpart, this will be Gary Monkâ€™s first full season in the Premier League and while he did well to secure the Swansâ€™ top flight status, many question whether he has the tactical ability to steer them to safety once again. The additions of BafÃ©timbi Gomis, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jefferson Montero should give Swansea some much-needed firepower aside from Wilfried Bony. Regardless of whether or not the Ivorian stays at the club, Swansea should have enough firepower to steer them clear of a relegation battle, so long as Gary Monk doesnâ€™t attempt to change their style too much.
Hull City meanwhile look set for a difficult season. Despite being under the astute leadership of Steve Bruce, the â€˜Tigersâ€™ stupendous FA Cup final run, in a cruel twist of irony, may cost them this season. The Humberside clubâ€™s progression into the Europa League will stretch a thin squad down to the bare bones. The tournament is notorious for causing such problems with more capable sides having suffered dramatic collapses in league form because of it. They may find themselves towards the lower end of the table for much of the season but they have strengthened smartly and have an experienced set of backroom staff. All in all, the guile and experience of Steve Bruce should keep them away from danger.
The same could be said for West Ham. The Hammers have made some genuinely exciting purchases in the summer but the continued speculation surrounding the future of Sam Allardyce makes for a less than perfect backdrop to start the season, which hasnâ€™t been helped by the clubâ€™s poor pre-season tour of Australia. Having said that, â€œBig Samâ€ is known for keeping teams afloat in the division and he proved he is worthy of that reputation last season. Regardless, it was still a disappointing year, and the minimum target will surely be a top 10 finish. If all the new pieces mould together, it could well be within their grasp but itâ€™s all about continuity.
Crystal Palace meanwhile, can boast a manager of similar qualities; the remarkable upturn in fortune under Tony Pulis was nothing short of astronomical. After a disastrous and usually fatal start to the season under Ian Holloway, they managed, remarkably, to finish in 11th position last season. Replicating such a feat will be difficult, especially as the vast majority of their rivals have strengthened to a far greater extent than themselves. As it stands, Palace will remain an underdog (which isnâ€™t necessarily a bad thing) and possibly relegation candidates to some. Second season syndrome may not condemn them to a season in the Championship. However, I expect it to have some impact in terms of just where they will finish.
The Basement Battle
Once upon a time, relegation battles were the reward for the three clubs who had just earned their place in the promise land. With the steady and relatively even financial growth across the Premier League however, the umbrella of potential relegation candidates has steadily expanded to include some rather big names.
Many peopleâ€™s favourites for the drop this time out are Burnley, who understandably will be fretting about the new season. Sean Dyche may have worked a veritable miracle in getting Burnley this far but keeping them in the league would constitute a far greater achievement. Itâ€™s his first foray into the often-murky waters of Premier League management and while Burnley could hardly be constituted as trigger-happy, the odds will be short on â€œthe Ginger Mourinhoâ€ being the first manager to lose his job, while their signings donâ€™t ignite the flames of excitement either. It may be slim pickings at Turf Moor this season but anything above 17th would be a successful season.
The same can be said for Leicester City, who stormed to the Championship title last season. Unfortunately, that has proven to be of little significance in the battle to avoid the drop and like Burnley, it will be Leicesterâ€™s home form that will determine how long they remain in the Premier League. Happily for them, theyâ€™re more financially secure than most newly promoted clubs, and have demonstrated that fact by signing striker Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton for Â£7 million. The astuteness of said signing remains a mystery set to be solved by time but the club are capable of playing some neat football when given the opportunity. Just how often theyâ€™ll be afforded said luxury might be the determining factor in Leicesterâ€™s season.
The last of the three promoted clubs are, of course, Queens Park Rangers. Theyâ€™re a difficult club to preview, as they possess the wealth to rival sides much higher up in the football sphere than themselves, but without the sensibility of how to spend it. Relegation was supposed to be the fatal nail in the coffin, yet here we are once again with Loftus Road a destination on the Premier League map. This time around theyâ€™ve got Harry Redknapp steering the ship from day one, which can only be a positive. However, unpredictability and QPR seem to be intertwined. Last season their star-studded squad should have won the Championship at a canter, yet it took a last minute Bobby Zamora goal to snatch an underserved victory in the Play-off final, which means they seem just as likely to finish in the top half, as they are to finish bottom of the pack. They do have a manager with experience and players with enough quality to survive but the rollercoaster nature of the club makes that absolutely anything but a certainty.
The north east is somewhat of a football hotbed, with passionate support often being the most notable aspect of football up north. For the supporters of Sunderland however, that passion has rarely been matched by the performances of their side on the pitch. Paolo Di Canioâ€™s tenure was an unmitigated disaster and sizeable improvement was made under Gus Poyet last season. Regardless of that fact, they appeared to be dead and buried at numerous points last season, yet a string of superb performances towards the back end of the campaign ensured survival, but 14th place was by no means a barometer of how successful the season was. Once again theyâ€™ll be contenders for the drop, but Gus Poyet is an excellent manager who slowly but surely has Sunderland playing decent football. Their acquisitions are of the solid variety rather than game changing, but that is hardly a bad thing for a club longing for an ounce of security. Theyâ€™ve got the knowledge and know-how to survive a relegation dogfight and theyâ€™ll be hoping for greater things than simply survival. With some security however, that may very well become a reality, but it all hinges on whether Gus Poyet stays around long enough lead the fight up the table. Without him it would be a very difficult ask.
West Bromwich Albion are worrying. Sad to say but there is little other way of stating things. For the Baggies, last season was one typified by insecurity and uncertainty. The sacking of Steve Clarke was puzzling at the time but looking back it seems even more bizarre. Pepe Mel was drafted in as his replacement but he failed to have the desired effect. Alan Irvine is the man now tasked with keeping the Baggies afloat, which would be an unenviable job for even the most experienced of managers. Despite that fact that the signings of Joleon Lescott and Craig Gardner speak of solidity, numerous reports have surfaced stating that Lescott is far from enamoured with his new surroundings. They have however, managed a marquee signing in the form of Brown Ideye from Dynamo Kiev for Â£10 million. Unfortunately the admittance of Irvine that he hasnâ€™t seen Brown play is seriously worrying. West Bromâ€™s season could be a positive surprise, or an unmitigated disaster, the truth of which is probably somewhere in between but I expect them to be playing Russian Roulette with the bottom three.
Fellow Midlands club Aston Villa are arguably the most worrying of the non-promoted clubs. Paul Lambert is a good manager but he is not universally popular among the Villa fans, whilst the situation regarding the clubâ€™s owner Randy Lerner remains complex to say the least. The signings theyâ€™ve made are also perplexing; Joe Cole has sadly seen better days and remains injury prone, while Philippe Senderos is hardly a bastion of defensive solidity. Furthermore, both players signify a shift in emphasis for a club who at one point seemed entirely dedicated on the promotion of youth. While the clubs objectives may be markedly more ambitious, survival should be the key here.
Ones To Watch
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of a new season is seeing just how your clubâ€™s brand new acquisitions adapt to their new surroundings and the Premier League, or if your clubâ€™s young starlet will finally have his breakthrough season. Hereâ€™s my selection of the leagueâ€™s players to look out for.
Alexis SÃ¡nchez (Arsenal) Undisclosed from Barcelona
Who said Arsene Wenger is reluctant to spend money? Last season Mesut Ã–zil represented the metaphorical kick up the backside that Arsenal needed, and while the best of the German is yet to come, Alexis SÃ¡nchez should make a more immediate impact on the pitch.
The Chilean has all the qualities to be one of the leagueâ€™s best players. Heâ€™s quick, technically gifted, amazingly clinical and perhaps most importantly, versatile. At Barcelona, SÃ¡nchez was forced to play out wide much to the detriment of the player, but for his country, SÃ¡nchez is deployed centrally and it is here where he flourishes.
In the Emirates Cup against Monaco he proved to be far more effective in that role and Arsene Wenger should consider making that position his permanent home. Regardless, Alexis has the potential to be a much-needed missing piece in the Arsenal puzzle, and the prospect of Mesut Ã–zil and Alexis SÃ¡nchez combining has football fans all over the world salivating.
Lazar MarkoviÄ‡ (Liverpool) Undisclosed from Benfica
The loss of a world-class player is always going to be a difficult one to overcome, especially when his name is Luis SuÃ¡rez. The Uruguayan may have been a somewhat controversial figure, but his impact on Liverpool was phenomenal.
With a cool Â£75 million coming from the sale of SuÃ¡rez, it is hardly surprising to see Liverpool splashing the cash so to speak and possibly the most interesting new signing is Lazar MarkoviÄ‡.
At 20 years old, the Serbian is one of the most exciting young players in European Football, and at Â£20 million also represents amazing value. The winger has all the traits required in a wide man, pace, trickery and a good end product, but itâ€™s his unflappable work rate that will surprise most of the Anfield faithful.
As a young player, he may take some time to adjust to the pace and physicality of the Premier League, but once heâ€™s suitably settled in, there may be no stopping the Serbian wonderkid.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United) Undisclosed from Athletic Bilbao
Football is a game riddled with cruel ironies; take Manchester Unitedâ€™s midfield for example. It was an area of the pitch that came under intense scrutiny last season, yet those problems would never have arisen had Sir Alex Ferguson shown more faith in a lanky, young Frenchman known as Paul Pogba. Devoid of trust, the youngster took his prodigious talent to Juventus and the rest as they say, is history.
Another bit of irony was David Moyesâ€™ failed attempt at luring Ander Herrera to Old Trafford. Twleve months later and Moyes is long gone, but his replacement, Louis Van Gaal, has continued from where his predecessor left off and is reaping the rewards.
Herrera is hardly a goal-scoring midfielder, but itâ€™s his creative genius, which will be admired most by United fans (heâ€™s already garnered more assists in a single game than Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini managed all season), while heâ€™s not afraid to get stuck in when required.
Many fans are already seeing parallels with a certain diminutive ginger playmaker who once ruled Old Trafford. Such praise does more to indicate his potential than anything I could write, but one thing is for certain, Unitedâ€™s midfield wonâ€™t drop to the abject depths it reached last season for as long as Ander Herrera is around.
RÃ©my Cabella (Newcastle United) Â£12 million from Montpellier
Newcastle United have not exactly been devoid of quality wingers over the past few years, the most notable of which is Hatem Ben Arfa. A player who as a youngster had the potential to be one of the best wingers in the world. Sadly he didnâ€™t live up to the hype for one reason or another.
Ben Arfa has now found himself ostracised from the Newcastle United first team, and it appears only a matter of time until the Frenchman ends his time on Tyneside, his replacement however, is already there.
After strained negotiations, RÃ©my Cabella finally completed his move to Newcastle United and is an exciting addition to the Premier League. He can play as either an attacking midfielder or winger and has the necessary talent to succeed in either position. The Corsican scored 14 goals for Montpellier last season and as such, he should add a much needed goal threat from midfield.
Alan Pardewâ€™s man management is still questionable, but if Cabella is managed properly, he could be a real Black and White gem.
Bojan KrkiÄ‡ (Stoke City) Â£3 million from Barcelona
Perhaps the most surprising purchase of the season is surely Bojanâ€™s move to the Britannia Stadium, as his play style completely contrasts to the way many people perceive Stoke City.
Under Tony Pulis it seemed part of the clubâ€™s transfer policy to include a 6ft 2 or over height restriction, and while not an incorrect method of recruiting target men, it serves as a marker of the clubs marked metamorphosis.
Stoke now play possession based football, which Bojan will be more than familiar with having been taught at the famous Barcelona academy La Masia. It seems incredible to think that Bojan is only 23 years old, but he did make his Barcelona debut at only 17 years old, which in itself, serves as a reminder of his talent, but also that heâ€™s a case of what could have been.
The Spaniard hasnâ€™t reached the astronomical heights that many expected of him as a young player, but heâ€™s a more than capable addition to the Stoke City team, although his lack of consistency in terms of goal scoring is a matter of much frustration.
Yet given the opportunity and some confidence, Bojan is more than capable of being a surprise package in the Premier League this season.
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur) Â£4 Million from Sporting Lisbon
For one so young, so much is rested upon his young shoulders. Exclude the fact that Dyer is one of the most promising young defenders in the game, or that his technique and ability to read the match are both fantastic.
But Dier is a case study so apt at this particular junction in time. For those who donâ€™t know, he is English but has lived in Portugal since the age of 10 and was snapped up by Sporting Lisbonâ€™s famed academy.
Heâ€™s a rare breed; an English player who has learnt his craft away from these shores and as such, should provide an indicator in what our academies are doing wrong in comparison to our continental rivals.
Regardless of all the academy jousting that is likely to take place, Dier represents a fantastic deal at approximately Â£4 Million, which, for an English player with such a bright future is an incredible bargain.
Eric Dier is an English player by name, but whether he is English by nature is one of the most intriguing aspects of the upcoming season.
Cheikhou KouyatÃ© (West Ham United) Â£7 Million from R.S.C.Â Anderlecht
24-years-old with 11 caps for his country, Champions League experience and 4 League titles. This is the list of achievements that West Hamâ€™s Cheikhou KouyatÃ© can put on his CV. So great is his talent that he has been linked with Arsenal and Manchester City in the past, while it was also rumoured that the Senegalese international was keen on becoming a Belgian citizen to bolster his prospects of gaining a work permit should an English club come knocking.
Such drastic action was never needed, and West Ham have secured a brilliant player whose 6ft 4â€ frame will suit Sam Allardyceâ€™s particular playing style.
To say that heâ€™s purely a destructive entity would be a huge disservice to the player himself. Heâ€™s also capable of being deployed in the centre of midfield. His physical dominance is obvious, but his ability to read the game and carry the ball forward will be surprising to many, as will the well roundedness of his abilities.
There was, and still is significant discontent towards â€˜Big Samâ€™ and his relative financial splurge should quieten the angry mob for the time being, and if Cheikhou KouyatÃ© finds top form, West Ham should steer well clear of last seasonâ€™s disappointment.
Muhamed BeÅ¡iÄ‡ (Everton) Â£4 Million from FerencvÃ¡ros
The singing of Muhamed BeÅ¡iÄ‡ could have caused the internal alarm bells of Everton fans to go into overdrive, for he fits perfectly into the mould of a player signed purely off of the back of a World Cup, and many sides have been bitten on the backside thanks to taking that most risky of gambles.
More worrying still is BeÅ¡iÄ‡â€™s track record. Born in Germany, the Bosnian international began his career at Hamburg where his impact was minimal to say the least. Yet, his time in Hungary with FerencvÃ¡ros has been nothing short of revolutionary in terms of his career, securing his place as a permanent fixture in the Bosnian squad, and now, a big move to the Premier League.
A defensive midfielder by trade, BeÅ¡iÄ‡ stood out in Brazil due to his persistent work ethic, technical ability, positional awareness and ability to pick out a pass, while his desire not to overcomplicate will be of great benefit in terms of solidity. Think a quicker Gareth Barry and youâ€™ll soon understand the type of player Everton have signed.
Roberto Martinez will hope that he can prize more of a goal threat out of the 21-year-old as he develops, but for now heâ€™ll be pleased to have a ball winning, possession-orientated young midfielder at his disposal.
Diego Costa (Chelsea) Â£32 Million from AtlÃ©tico Madrid
Last seasonâ€™s Premier League title was, in reality, completely up for grabs. Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea could all look back and say they should have won the title
All bar Manchester City faltered in their quest for the title, and each thanks to different deficiencies. Chelseaâ€™s failings were down to one thing and one thing only, their lack of a top class striker.
Chelsea are one of the best defensive sides in the Premiership, especially under Jose Mourinho. No other side in the league for example, could go to the Etihad Stadium with an aim of securing a 1-0 victory, or Anfield for that matter and get the required result.
However it was their lack of a clinical striker and the lack of supply, which ultimately halted the â€˜Bluesâ€™ title challenge, Diego Costa, should change all that.
I say â€˜shouldâ€™ simply because the Premier League is the cruellest of mistresses for strikers, many who youâ€™d expect to flourish simply donâ€™t and Chelsea are well versed in that regard (think Andriy Shevchenko for example). While the fact that in reality heâ€™s only had one superb season in football is another issue entirely. Nevertheless, Costa has all the traits to suggest that heâ€™ll be a sensation in England.
Physically dominant, extremely clinical, aggressive and surprisingly quick, Costa possesses all the traits which defenders find most terrifying.
Chelsea needed a striker, and theyâ€™ve got one who, on his day, is as deadly as any in world football. The only conundrum is if the Premier League, the graveyard of many a promising striker, will claim another high profile victim. If he survives, then many feel Chelsea may be unstoppable this season.
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