The Premier League campaign now kicks off in only a matter of days and the league has a fresh new look about it. The managerial changes across the league has grabbed much merited attention with the additions of Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho to name a few.
Every club in the league has their own respective targets this season, whether it be a title charge, a European push or a relegation survival so who is integral to each club’s own goals.
Arsenal: Mesut Özil
This is a big season ahead for Arsenal and their supporters. Last season was seen as the best opportunity they have had to win the league for a number of years, but make no mistake about it this season they should still be amongst the title chasers despite the changes at their rival clubs. If they get the Mustafi signing over the line and add the German international to their ranks he could provide a very influential player at the Emirates, but one player who provides the club with more influence than anyone else is Mesut Ozil.
The former Real Madrid man is often criticized about his work rate but his work is done creating spaces and the killer passes that leads to chances and assists for his team. When Arsenal play well Ozil plays well and he is always two passes ahead of everyone else on the pitch. All the talk is for Arsenal to sign a world class centre forward this summer, but the importance of getting a striker to work with Ozil is vital for the club. Ozil was the clubs best player last season and would expect the same this campaign.
Bournemouth: Harry Arter
Last season was a troublesome year for Republic of Ireland international Harry Arter; however his influence in the Bournemouth side always looked vital to them staying in the Premier League.
Centrally Bournemouth are not the strongest, while investing in 15 million Jordan Ibe and over 5 million for Lys Mousset it still looks like some of the players that won promotion for the club could be the major influences for them staying in the league for another season. Arter really dictates a game when he plays and has a tremendous work rate in the centre of the park, adding Lewis Cook alongside this season might take some of the burden of the shoulders of Arter but certainly not the influence.
Last time out Bournemouth suffered a horrific time of it with long term injuries, the return to full fitness of Callum Wilson will be massive for the club, but the reliability of Arter will be key.
Burnley: Andre Gray
Burnley know that they will be in a fight for relegation this season, so they will be looking towards Andre Gray to follow on from his great season last year in the Championship to provide the goals for the club to stay up. Gray is a tireless worker in the final third, taking defenders to areas of the pitch where they don’t want to go, and in the Premier League his pace will be a major scare for opposition defenders.
The importance of keeping Michael Keane at the club who has subject to interest from several Premier League sides is he for the club, but getting Gray firing on all cylinders will be the key for the clubs success this term. An admirer of Gray I believe he will produce in the Premier League and is a top division striker, he could potentially fire himself into the equation for an inclusion in Sam Allardyce’s England squad.
There are a lot of questions unanswered at Stamford Bridge this summer, what system Conte plays? Where does Hazard play if Conte plays his two up front policy? Who else might come in at Chelsea? So taking a stab in the dark at this one really, obviously Kante is a top class addition to the Chelsea side and will be a key man for the club this season, but one of the best decisions Conte might just make if the role of Oscar at the club.
In two of the pre-season friendlies Oscar played in a three man central midfield with that license to drift forward more knowing Kante and Matic was holding the midfield, and he was a great influence on the team. Oscar at times has been frustrating at Stamford Bridge, almost just thrown into positions in the final third, either out wide or as the number ten however this role in a three man midfield I believe would suit him as he does like to mix it up physically and can grab a game and dictate the play. As mentioned what Conte does at Stamford Bridge will influence who would be their stand out player.
Crystal Palace: Scott Dann
When we talk about Crystal Palace we often think of their pace and attacking players, the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha, Jason Puncheon and new signing Andros Townsend. Scott Dann however in the heart of their defence is invaluable and perhaps one of the most underrated central defenders in the Premier League for the last number of years.
Still without an England cap and you consider that England are not blessed with many top class central defenders to say the least, but Dann is so reliable, very steady, a huge character in the Palace set up. His leadership and organisational skills are evident almost every game you watch Crystal Palace who without the stalwart defender would look in massive trouble.
The inclusion of Steve Mandanda finally gives true stability behind Dann and with two big leaders at the back for Palace this gives them a big platform to go out and express themselves. It would be great to see Dann get a chance on the England scene this season.
Everton: Ross Barkley
The last two seasons have promised so much for the Everton and England midfielder yet he has yet to reach the heights of his ability. I believe that James McCarthy is vital for Everton and is only fully appreciated when he is not in the side but I believe now that under the guidance and support of new manager Ronald Koeman that this has to really be the breakout season for Barkley at Goodison Park.
The ability that Barkley does possess is unquestionable and is appreciated by most; it is now applying it on a more consistent basis and producing more match winning performances. This could be a massive season for Everton and how their short term future is dictated and Barkley could and should be a massive influence on how this plans out. I believe that Barkley was unfairly treated in the summer by England, not getting a minute at the Euro’s in France will have hurt and he will be looking to prove his worth to both Everton and England this term.
Hull City: Tom Huddlestone
After what has been pretty much a disastrous summer for the Yorkshire club Hull need to really focus on the challenge ahead of them this season. There is no expectation real pressure or expectation of these players right now so they do have a certain freedom ahead, however they need to compete and Tom Huddlestone is vital to do so.
The group does have Premier League experience which is always a benefit, but with the players available to Mike Phelan he will be looking more to Tom Huddlestone to be a major influence both on and off the pitch.
Huddlestone’s ability to move into the central of defence might well prove vital for Hull if they change to a three man defence or even just to influence a game from deep. Often criticized for the manner in which he moves around a pitch, Huddlestone isn’t a fantastic mover around the pitch but is a smart mover instead. His reading of the game and the ability with the ball at his feet is on a level above what is currently at the club, so hopefully we will see a big season for the former England international.
Leicester City: Riyad Mahrez
What a season last year for Leicester City as a whole but also a year that Riyad Mahrez put himself on the map. Despite losing N’Golo Kante who may like myself believe was the key to Leicester’s surprising title win the atmosphere around the club remains massively upbeat.
The club has recruited relatively well but most importantly they have kept last season’s Player of the Year winner and the player who was involved in the most goals in the Premier League. The Algerian forward possesses great skill and balance with the ball at his feet and can glide effortlessly past players, the worrying sign for defenders this season is that Mahrez during pre-season games anyway looks to have a better control of the ball which will add an extra element to his game.
If Leicester is to pull up any strings again this season they will be relying on their weapon in Mahrez to have yet another big season.
Liverpool: Saido Mane
It is very easy to look at Liverpool and say that for the team to have a successful season they need to keep Philippe Coutinho and have him firing on all cylinders, but they needed an extra dimension to their game with Coutinho, and they could have found it with Mane.
The former Southampton man has attitude and a confidence in himself that is admirable, and to play for a club in the magnitude of Liverpool it is exactly what they need.
At Southampton we seen Mane at his best and he is a player who can get even better. His ability to play either side or through the middle gives the team great options, at Liverpool if they get Mane through the middle they could really be a force next season. His pace and movement is very intelligent and loves to run in behind defenders, he could really be the answer to the problems Liverpool have had the last few seasons. Big money was spent on Mane, but if Klopp gets this right he could look a bargain for 36 million.
Man City: Kevin De Bruyne
The arrival of Pep Guardiola and who he would bring to the Etihad this summer has surrounded much of the talk around Manchester City leading up to the current season, however last summer’s arrival of Kevin De Bruyne still looks to be the best business the club has made since the signing of Sergio Aguero.
The Belgian international is a tremendous talent and we saw the influence he has had at City when he had that lengthy layoff during the start of the second half of last season when Man City threw away any possibility of winning the league.
The fee the club paid for De Bruyne was hefty but when looking at the money being spent on some players this window and windows gone by he looks a bargain. This season will see a new Manchester City but the possibility of an even better De Bruyne. Play the Belgian in an attack with Aguero, Nolito, Silva, Sterling and the new City attack looks impressive. This early stage would have De Bruyne already fighting for the Player of the Year award.
Man Utd: Eric Bailly
The lowest key Manchester United signing at 26 million and Bailly could be the one who could prove the most influential. Over the last two seasons the central defence for Manchester United has not been good enough, last season playing Daley Blind at centre back showed their shortcomings.
Now however especially with the club paying scandalous money for Paul Pogba and all the hype surrounding the signings of legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Armenia captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan there look seemingly less pressure on the shoulders of Eric Bailly. Having watched Bailly from his spell at Villarreal, know what a good solid centre back they are getting, a no nonsense attitude and can match up physically with most strikers across Europe, he could really form a fantastic partnership with Chris Smalling.
There is still work needed done at Old Trafford but the addition of Bailly will be the most important this summer.
Middlesbrough: Ben Gibson
Middlesbrough is finally back in the top league and what a statement they have made this summer, with signings such as Victor Valdes, Alvaro Negredo and Viktor Fischer but one of the guys who helped get them to the top might just be the key to their season. Ben Gibson is twenty three years of age but already looks like he is an experienced centre back with over 100 appearances for the club already.
Obviously Boro will need the goals to be scored to keep them up but the influence Gibson has from the back is highly influential and highly motivational. Already touted as a future England international the left sided centre half has the ability to play at the top and is a real competitor in both boxes.
There might be questions about whether he starts for the team in the Premier League but I would expect him to start and play a massive role in keeping Middlesbrough in the Premier League for another season.
Southampton: Virgil van Dijk
Southampton are somewhat of a club that most fans and experts alike don’t quite know what to expect next season, the one thing that we do know is that if they are to have a successful season then captain Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk will be key for them.
Claude Puel has been going about his business this summer relatively quietly so the club are not grabbing much attention, with the usual talk of departures away from St Mary’s it is vitally important they hold onto both centre backs, more so Van Dijk. The Dutch international last summer made the move from Celtic to Southampton and despite a relatively short transitional period to his new environment, the big Dutchman grew in stature in the league and has already emerged as one the most consistent central defenders in the division.
His ability to pop up with the occasional goal is important as well as his ability to defend his own goal. Southampton is going under the radar again while looking a strong outfit in the Premier League.
Stoke City: Giannelli Imbula
The French centre midfielder joined Stoke in the January transfer window last term and struggled to make a big influence on the team or the league. The former Porto man has got a pre-season under his belt though and a much needed partner in Joe Allen and together they could take Stoke to new level.
The club has looked short in certain areas the last few seasons and centre of the park has been one of them, now with Imbula and Allen they look they could really be ready for a bigger push forward. Imbula is a dynamic centre midfielder who wins a lot of second balls, his driving runs and power can grab games and from his time in France and Portugal he can add goals to his qualities. If Stoke are to have a good season much will depend on their French record signing while also looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joe Allen, as this could be a real force this season.
Sunderland: Jan Kirchhoff
The powerful German defender/midfielder was a massive signing for former manager Sam Allardyce last season in their pursuit of staving of relegation. Kirschoff played a holding midfield role, his ability to stay close to his central defenders while also covering both full backs could yet again prove essential for new manager David Moyes.
This could be a huge season for the North East club in terms of pushing themselves from a relegation threatened club to a mid-table club and in David Moyes he could be the real importance for the club achieving what they want to achieve this term, however on the pitch Kirschoff looks like he could be a real leader of this group and has a big personality amongst his group. Aerially he is a threat all over the pitch and his physical frame is exactly the sort of player David Moyes needs around the team.
Swansea: Gylfi Sigurðsson
The Iceland international is the heart and soul of the Welsh club and yet again he will be a major influence for the club and their goals. Francesco Guidolin has really not received a creditable amount of acclaim for the job he did last season, and the influence he has had at the club since his arrival. Losing club captain Ashley Williams and frontman Andre Ayew will both be big losses for Swansea but with the ability of Gylfi Sigurðsson at their disposal and especially the positivity from contract renewal then they could still achieve another respectable season.
Technical ability isn’t appreciated enough in the modern game and this is the strongest element to the game of Sigurðsson, his ability in hitting free- kicks, dead balls and his movement on the edge of the opposition penalty box is right up with the best in the Premier League right now.
Tottenham: Harry Kane
There are a number of Tottenham players that many would say are the key to this Tottenham team and how they play, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier and Dele Alli to name a few. Harry Kane however is the vocal point of this side and provides the ammunition for his teams’ success. Not just a goal scorer his movement and ability on the ball really pushes him to the top of the pile when we talk about the best strikers in the Premier League. The harsh and unwarranted criticism of the Spurs frontman at the European Championships for England will give Kane with even further motivation to show and prove any doubters that he does has wrong.
Tottenham have added Vincent Janssen to their striking options and will take some of the burden away from Kane, but I think Kane somewhat thrives on that burden. Watching the two as a partnership might be very intriguing and if Kane is firing again this season I could see Tottenham have another charge at winning the Premier League crown.
Watford: Étienne Capoue
The French central midfielder revitalised his career with his move to Vicarage Road last season and proved an integral member of the team to help keep the club in the top tier fairly comfortably. Now under the leadership of ex Inter Milan manager Walter Mazzarri it is all change again at Watford this season. They will still be looking towards Troy Deeney and Ighalo to score the goals to keep them in the Premier League, but with Étienne Capoue they have reliability and a drive in the centre of the pitch to compete and get physical against other clubs within the league.
Mozzarri’s Watford are being tipped by many to have more of a struggle this up-coming season in the league but with the likes of Capoue and Mario Suarez in their midfield they have a good amount of experience needed to have another successful campaign.
West Brom: Darren Fletcher
It has not been a summer to get on the edge of your seat with West Brom, but with Tony Pulis and his teams you know what to expect. Last season was the first time watching a Tony Pulis side where defensively though you thought they were not quite as strong as what we come to expect, the big difference maker last term was former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher. This season would have to be much the same from Fletcher if West Brom is to reach their team goals.
A fantastic leader and the willingness to take the ball in any situation Fletcher is key to this West Brom side and with a team of mediocre standard players, this might just be a very difficult season ahead for the club. Only adding Matt Phillips from QPR so far of real note the club needs to add extra quality in that team to give West Brom and Fletcher any real chance.
West Ham: Winston Reid
Last season we seen Dimitri Payet steal the show and grab the headlines at West Ham, club captain Mark Noble is never too far away from the big acclaim and deservedly so, but the importance of central defender Winston Reid is equally as important to West Ham as both Payet and Noble.
The Zimbabwe centre back has emerged as one of the best centre backs in the top tier of English football and working with Slaven Bilic for a season he looks an even better player. West Ham had a fantastic season last time around with so many key performers, however going into this season I believe that they really need that steady influence of Reid in front of stopper Adrian.
Moving into their new home stadium will be huge for the club and they really look to be going in the right direction, and with Winston Reid at the heart of their defence they look to have a real leader at the back amongst their ranks.