10) Ibrahim Afellay (Stoke City)
Stoke City’s transformation from Pulis-ball cloggers to tiki-taka lite is one of the Premier League’s more heart-warming stories. The stand out statistic is this: Stoke now have more Champions League winners in their squad than Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. Mark Hughes is bringing sexy back.
“I wouldn’t call it a special relationship but we get on well with Barcelona,” said Stoke’s chief executive Tony Scholes last week. It’s a sentence that epitomises the Premier League’s financial success. Five years ago Stoke were signing Carlo Nash and Marc Wilson – way to change.
Afellay is the latest high-profile arrival from Catalonia, following Marc Muniesa, Bojan Krkic and Moha El Ouriachi. The Dutchman’s star has undoubtedly fallen during mediocre loan spells at Schalke and Olympiakos but, at 29, there is still plenty left in the tank.
The winger also represents a shot to nothing, a free transfer that could spur Stoke to replicate their top-half finish of last season. There’s nothing more exciting than a pacy winger with a point to prove.
9) Dimitri Payet (West Ham)
There has always been a suspicion that Payet has been one of France’s numerous ‘just not quite’ players, a supremely talented midfielder whose ability justified far more than the 14 international caps than he has received. Mathieu Valbuena is another – gorgeous on his day, frustrating otherwise.
Last season, however, Payet really stepped things up. He managed a ridiculous 17 assists in 36 Ligue Un games, and also played more successful through balls than any other player in Europe aside from Lionel Messi. There are valid concerns about his ability to settle in a new league having left France for the first time in his career, but West Ham have got a potential cracker.
That’s certainly the view of former French coach Raymond Domenech: “I think for him, West Ham is not enough. Maybe like some players, they say, ‘If I play one year in a good club but not the best, next year I could get a club like Chelsea or Arsenal’.” Alright Raymondo, steady on.
8) Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace)
Having spent one season on loan in League One and two in the Championship, Bamford finally gets his chance to shine in the Premier League. He may have preferred his opportunity to come at Stamford Bridge, but Jose Mourinho will be taking a firm interest in his displays for Palace.
Since moving to Chelsea in January 2012, Bamford has scored 43 goals in 96 league games, with 15 of those being substitute appearances. Turning 22 in September, he has earned the opportunity to prove himself capable of playing at the highest level, and a hat-trick on his Palace friendly debut will have done little to quell the anticipation.
Bamford is a young, English striker with an exemplary attitude and work-rate. He chose to turn down a place at Harvard University to stay in England, and then left Nottingham Forest at 18 to try and hit the big time. After the surprising success of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings last season, is this the latest English forward to take the Premier League by storm?
7) Jordy Clasie (Southampton)
It has been decreed that comparing transfer fees is deeply uncouth and reductive, but every now and then a price tag makes you sit up and open your mouth in amazement. Clasie moving to Southampton for £1m more than Norwich paid for Robbie Brady makes your brain feel a bit mushy.
Clasie is the perfect replacement for Morgan Schneiderlin, with Southampton leaving those negotiations with £16m jangling around in their pockets. Only turning 24 in June, Clasie has 11 Dutch caps (*childish giggle*),yet another successful product of Feyenoord’s academy.
I don’t want to pile on the pressure, but this is a midfielder previously labelled the ‘Dutch Xavi’, and only three Eredivisie players completed more passes than Clasie last season. As far as I know, Brady has never been dubbed the ‘Irish Cruyff’.
6) Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
‘Why isn’t Roberto Firmino linked with a move more?’ I tweeted on June 8. ’32 goals in 2 seasons from atticking midfield. 23, Brazilian international at mid-table Bundesliga club.’ You are most welcome, Liverpool supporters.
A transfer fee of £22m (plus £7m add-ons) puts huge pressure on Firmino to hit the ground running, and Brazilians have often struggled to make an impression in England. That said, those who have watched the Bundesliga regularly over the last two years would back him to succeed
Comfortable out wide and behind the striker (and used as a central striker by Brazil), Firmino’s dribbling, passing and creativity made him one of the best players in Germany last season. Only two players registered more assists, all the more impressive considering Hoffenheim’s mid-table finish.
Crucially, Firmino has the purpose to match his technical attributes. Holger Stanislawski, his former manager at Hoffeinheim, describes him as “unbelievably good tactically”, while the Guardian recently quoted praise from German newspapers: “Firmino is the clever, first stealer of balls in Hoffenheim’s pressing system” and a player “who stays focused for the entire 90 minutes.” It all sounds right up Rodgers’ street.
5) Petr Cech (Arsenal)
The faux-calculations for quite how many points Petr Cech will be worth to Arsenal are getting tiresome in the extreme. In his post-match reaction after the Community Shield, the Daily Telegraph’s Ben Rumsby boldly stated that ‘Petr Cech really could be worth 12-15 points for Arsenal this season.’ Have I missed the formula for working that out?
Rather than creating my own Cech abacus, I’m going to take the controversial stance of just enjoying a world-class goalkeeper being first-choice again and thriving in that scenario. Having blocked Demba Ba from joining Arsenal in September 2013, it seems a decision of extreme generosity for Chelsea to allow Cech to make the same move. Time and performance will dictate any potential regrets, but that only makes it more interesting to watch.
Only the wild Arsenal cheers every time Cech makes a regulation save threaten to dampen my enjoyment. Is that going to be this season’s version of the referee taking out his vanishing spray?
4) Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United)
I think that Georginio Wijnaldum (or Geordie Wine Gum, as he’s been christened) could be one of the signings of the summer, but there is a special place in all of our hearts for a striker who has a reputation for being absolutely bats**t mental.
Mitrovic has scored 36 goals in 69 league games for Anderlecht since moving from Partizan Belgrade in 2013, and scored against both Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last season. That’s the boring bits out of the way.
In May 2014 he head-butted Club Brugge defender Bjorn Engels, after being sent off for allegedly spitting at fans who were insulting him in the reverse fixture. A year earlier he was sent off for violent conduct after striking Neftchi Baku’s goalkeeper in the Europa League. He put on weight over summer 2014 after eating too much of his mother’s cooking, and celebrates goals by flicking his tongue between his middle and index finger. You wouldn’t take him home to meet your mother, but you might do if you knew she was out.
It could go brilliantly or it could be a disaster, but it will always be worth watching. Mitrovic has spoken about following in the footsteps of Alan Shearer at St James’ Park. Combine Faustino Asprilla and Temuri Ketsbaia for more likely (and exciting) expectations.
3) Memphis Depay (Manchester United)
It is attacking football’s holy trinity: Pace, power and skill. All professional players can boast at least one, while the upper quartile can call on two of the three. Only an elite few complete the set – there are many in Netherlands who believe Depay is a member of that elite.
Daley Blind describes him as “a player who can change games”, while Dutch journalist Elko Born compared Depay to a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Brendan Rodgers also heaped praise on the forward when discussing Liverpool’s transfer targets for the summer. After an extraordinary season with PSV in which Depay scored 22 goals from a position on the left of a front three, it was clear that a big-money move was in the offing.
It is easy to forget how young Manchester United’s biggest summer signing is. Had he scored in the Premier League last season he would have been the eighth youngest player to do so. Depay has arrived at the very top of the game at the age of 21. The only question remains whether he can now become one of Europe’s best.
2) Christian Benteke (Liverpool)
It is one of the hallmarks of our overwhelming football addiction. The concept of ‘wait and see’ has become completely defunct, lost in the ether as we debate which players will be successful and which will fail. Thousands of words are written to tell us why (or why not) we should be optimistic over a new signing. The conclusion: Nobody really knows for sure, and that’s what keeps us watching.
Benteke is this summer’s prime example. Some Aston Villa supporters believe he can be replaced, some believe he will leave a huge hole. Some Liverpool supporters believe he will be the answer to finally replacing Luis Suarez’s goals, some believe they have significantly overpaid. Again, nobody knows.
The fevered debate over Benteke is a symptom of three things: 1) The anticipation and excitement at the new season beginning, 2) The desperate clamour from Liverpool fans to reclaim their top four place that was given away so meekly last season and, 3) The pressure heaped upon Brendan Rodgers. It is far from melodrama to suggest that if Benteke fails, so does Rodgers. And then the fun really starts.
1) Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
After a summer in which his reputation has been so drastically dented, one presumes Sterling is desperate for the new season to begin. Only then can he begin to repair a reputation that is now in tatters in the eyes of the majority.
From playing as a wing-back and central striker for Liverpool, Sterling could now be part of a front four alongside David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Should Kevin de Bruyne arrive from Wolfsburg, Toure will drop back into central midfield to make it a five. Whatever your opinion on Sterling’s public demonstration of ambition, you can’t deny that that forward line is hugely exciting.
Sterling’s potential has almost been overlooked in the controversy of his move from Liverpool, but he now has the opportunity to demonstrate the logic behind that deal. Replicate his form of 2013/14, win the title at Manchester City and enter Euro 2016 and England’s brightest talent, and talk of redemption would be rife. Whatever the ending, Sterling’s journey will be fascinating to watch.