Premier League Season Preview: 10 players with points to prove
With no World Cup or European Championship at the end of this season, the goals for players kicking off the new Premier League campaign are obvious: Stay fit, play well and win trophies. But not all of them will succeed, and for some of them, the stakes this season are even higher, either after not living up to previous lofty expectations or confronting new ones.
Here are 10 players looking to prove a point over the next few months, while hoping that season 2014-15 will be a fruitful one:
Jozy Altidore, Sunderland
Altidore scored one Premier League goal in 30 appearances last season; hardly the return that Sunderland expected for its £6.8 million investment last summer. He lost his place towards the end of the season, with replacement Connor Wickham scoring five goals that helped Sunderland avoid relegation, and then pulled his hamstring in the USA’s opening World Cup game.
“It was a tough year for me last year. I struggled, everybody struggled,” he told Chronicle Live. “When things don’t go well, you analyze what you can do better. I’ve done that and hopefully this season I can start out on the right foot. The first year was difficult but it is out of the way now.”
Sunderland has not yet bought a new striker this summer and will be hoping that Altidore, once fit and ready to go, will be like a new signing for it and trend closer to the player who scored 50 goals in two seasons at AZ Alkmaar prior to his Premier League return.
Ashley Young, Manchester United
One of United coach Louis van Gaal's greatest strengths is to get the best out of his players. And he is not afraid to take a risk. He was the first to convert Bastian Schweinsteiger from a misfiring winger into one of the finest all-around midfielders of his generation, and his use of Dirk Kuyt and Daley Blind at the World Cup showed that versatile players will always have a role in his sides.
Young, who joined United three years ago but only completed 90 minutes in five league games last season, could be the major beneficiary after his performances in United's USA tour. He played at left wingback, scored four goals in five games and was a constant threat down the wing. As an alternative to Luke Shaw, the 29-year-old Young could find his career back on track.
Erik Lamela, Tottenham
Lamela's poor first season at Tottenham sure looked like a waste of money and reminded us how hard it can be for a young player who doesn't speak the language to adapt to a new league not least if he is beset by injury problems (calf, back and thigh) and playing for a club who lurched between two coaching methodologies last season.
That's before you mention the pressure of a £30 million price tag. But this could be a new start for the Argentine, whose new coach Mauricio Pochettino at least speaks his language. Lamela has shone in Spurs' preseason, scoring three goals in five games and winning two Man of the Match awards.
"We believe that Erik is ready to show his quality," Pochettino said.
Given that a solid chunk of the Gareth Bale windfall was spent on him, Spurs fans certainly hope so too.
Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
He won the World Cup for Germany last month, so what could Ozil possibly have left to prove? Well, five goals and 10 assists last season was not quite the return fans had hoped for after his sparkling arrival at the Emirates 12 months ago. He did not boss games that often, and in big matches, notably the Champions League game against Bayern Munich (in which he missed a penalty) and the FA Cup final, he failed to deliver. Perhaps the World Cup, and Alexis Sanchez playing ahead of him, will inspire Ozil to more consistency this season and put him in a different light for title-hungry Arsenal fans.
Micah Richards, Manchester City
Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell are among those young English players whom Manchester City has signed and then not used. But Richards is different: he has been at City since 2005 and is the club's longest-serving player. And yet he rarely gets a look-in at the Etihad now, making just two league appearances last season.
He was linked with a move to Newcastle and Liverpool last January, and his versatility (he can play as fullback and center back) could help a decent side. Sinclair (now at West Brom) and Rodwell (Sunderland) at least left City to give their careers a chance: Richards needs to do the same, and fast.
Marco van Ginkel, Chelsea
One month after moving to Stamford Bridge, the Dutch midfielder tore his ACL and was out for six months. That Chelsea allowed Frank Lampard to leave suggests that Mourinho, who sold Kevin De Bruyne in January, likes what he sees in the 21-year-old signing from Vitesse Arnhem. With Cesc Fabreags, Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel and Ramires all competing for midfield places, though, it might seem Van Ginkel's best chance of game time would be a loan spell. But the Dutchman is backing Mourinho to believe in his talent, and while talk of him becoming the new Lampard is premature, this will be a vital year for Van Ginkel.
Joe Cole, Aston Villa
The former England midfielder's return to his first club West Ham two years ago was a sentimental one, and it showed. There was little place for Cole in coach Sam Allardyce's functional system, and unsurprisingly, one of the most talented English players of the last 20 years looked like ending his top-flight career on the bench.
Cole was prepared to drop a division and take on a central midfield role at a club that plays more attractive football Brighton was an option for a while, but Aston Villa swooped in and convinced Cole that he would play as a No. 10 behind recovering (Achilles) striker Christian Benteke. Cole has kept super-fit all summer, and, if Villa keeps to its word, we could see a fascinating renaissance from the 32-year-old. That said, practically half the Villa team has players who could fit into this list: the likes of Philippe Senderos, Darren Bent, Aly Cissokho and Charles N'Zogbia, for starters.
John Stones, Everton
If last season was the breakout for Everton's young midfielder Ross Barkley, this could be the year for his teammate Stones, 20. The central defender starred toward the end of last season and earned a place on the standby list in England's World Cup squad. Instead, his summer highlight was signing a new contract at Everton, worth a reported £30,000 per week.
"There is no doubt in my mind that John Stones will become the best center half in England, and he is reaching a level that I wouldn't expect him to at such a young age," said coach Roberto Martinez.
Stones started 15 Premier League games last season, but he will be looking for more than that this campaign.
Papiss Cisse, Newcastle
Remember when Cisse scored that curling volley from outside the area past Petr Cech at Stamford Bridge? That was back in May 2012, and the Senegalese striker was set to become a Newcastle hero after he scored 13 goals in his first 14 league matches, but he managed only 10 in the next two seasons.
A broken kneecap last May curtailed the end of his campaign, and while he is a month from a full recovery, he is now competing with new signings Emmanuel Riviere, Facundo Fererya, and Ayoze Perez for a place in the starting XI. Cisse was linked with Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor and Roma last season, and with Newcastle still in the hunt for Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette and QPR¹s Loic Remy, Cisse could have a new team in a few weeks and a new environment where he needs to prove himself all over again.
Ravel Morrison, West Ham
When Ravel Morrison jinked from the halfway line through the Tottenham defense last November to score for West Ham, there was talk that he might force his way into the England reckoning in time for the World Cup. But by January he was out on loan to Championship side QPR, and this season will start under a cloud after he was charged with two counts of common assault, against his ex-girlfriend and her mother, and harassment.
West Ham owner David Sullivan wants to extend the 21-year-old's contract at the club but his coach, Allardyce is not convinced. Cardiff City, back in the Championship, is interested in signing Morrison who, for all his talent, seems unable to shake off the reputation that convinced Manchester United to release him. What Morrison needs is a consistent season in the top-flight, with no off-pitch problems as well. Sadly, it seems unlikely.