10) Moussa Sissoko
In Newcastle’s brave new world of ambition and forward-thinking, the message regarding transfers has been pretty clear: a) it’s time to spend the cash, and b) we must keep Moussa Sissoko.
Signed in January 2013, the 25-year-old has been one of the few bright lights for the Geordies, but the suspicion lingers that he is capable of so much more. Three goals and four assists came in his first half-season, followed by just seven goals and eight assists in his next 69 Premier League games. The Frenchman needs to remind everyone just why Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and PSG are reportedly interested.
The powerful box-to-box midfielder has hardly helped himself in that regard. Back in January he warned fans to “ignore the rumours” amidst apparent interest from Arsenal, before admitting they were “the club of my heart” three days later. If he produces what we all know he can next season, Sissoko won’t have to do much talking.
9) Troy Deeney
Charlie Austin, Rickie Lambert, Grant Holt, Danny Ings. Recently, the Championship striker has been able to adapt to the top tier with relative success. Whereas 2014/15 was Austin and Ings’ year to thrive, 2015/16 delivers the opportunity for Watford forward Troy Deeney.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Deeney has had his shot at the big time. After scoring at least 20 goals in each of his last three seasons in the Championship at Vicarage Road, the 26-year-old has been linked with a move away every transfer window. Leicester had a £12m bid refused last summer, while the same fate has befallen Swansea just this month.
But the Hornets and their captain are a happy couple, rejecting all-comers. As a reward, Deeney gets his Premier League chance. He will know of the challenges ahead all-too well, but he looks like a very confident boy.
8) Vincent Kompany
Once one of the world’s finest centre-halves, Manchester City’s skipper would do well to rank in the top 20 current Premier League defenders. The 2014/15 campaign brought one of huge regression for the Belgian; the 2015/16 campaign provides an opportunity to prove he’s still got it.
A player once blessed with every physical trait necessary for a centre-half, as well as the calm, assured experience that comes with captaining a two-time Premier League-winning side, Kompany was a shell of his former self. Mistakes riddled his game, partnerships with Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala faltered with the Belgian sometimes even looking like the weakest link, and City suffered as Kompany was often the one to blame.
At 29, Kompany still has years of first-team football ahead of him, at least in theory. Based on his late-season form, he will be lucky to reprise his role at the heart of a new-look Manchester City.
7) Emre Can
“I’ll be playing my best position soon, which is central midfield,” said Emre Can just last week. No more centre-half or right-back, it’s straight up the centre of the park for Can.
He’ll certainly hope so, with the season-opener at Stoke providing the most poignant reminder of just how precarious Can’s position at Anfield – in more ways than one – currently is. Visions of Marko Arnautovic tearing him a proverbial new one will live long in the German’s memory.
You hope for Can’s sake that Brendan Rodgers will stop playing Russian roulette with his future. The boots of Steven Gerrard are huge ones to fill, but Can is Liverpool’s best hope of filling them. Currently starring in a midfield role for Germany at the Under-21 European Championships, he has the promise. Removing the safety net of positional excuses will make or break him.
6) Micah Richards
As my esteemed(?) colleague Dan Storey wrote last week, a free transfer move to Aston Villa represents last chance saloon for Micah Richards. Formerly England’s next big hope, the defender no longer has ‘potential’ to fall back on. At 26, time is running out.
Deemed surplus to requirements by Manchester City a long ago, and criticised for his fitness levels and attitude during his loan at Fiorentina last season, some would say Richards is lucky to land a gig even at relegation-battling Villa. Having made just 16 league starts since April 2012, does anyone really know how good he currently is? He has one final opportunity to show everyone, including himself.
5) Jack Wilshere
By his own admission, the season ended too soon for Jack Wilshere. After missing six months through injury, the 23-year-old returned with a bang. An excellent goal against West Brom was followed by two even better strikes for England, his first for his country. The time has now come for Wilshere to step up consistently.
Of course, the small matter of where he’s playing next season is key. Would Arsenal turn down a £40m offer from Manchester City for a player who has only just made his 100th Premier League appearance despite breaking into the first team seven years ago? Is there a place for him in a predictably well-stocked midfield? Based on what he can do, irrefutably yes. Based on what he has done, well…
But ‘where’ he plays does not concern only his club, but his position. Many have questioned where Wilshere’s future on the pitch lies, but the midfielder provided the most emphatic response so far for England earlier this month. If he steers clear of injuries, Wilshere needs to enjoy another breakthrough season five years after his first.
4) Angel Di Maria
“It was a hard season for me. I couldn’t adapt myself as I wanted to. It was not easy at all.” After bursting out of the blocks at Old Trafford at the start of the season, Angel Di Maria suffered a sharp decline in form. Injuries played a part, but hands up who expected Ashley Young to start more games last season.
What can be said for the £59.7million record signing is that he knows he needs to improve. That Cesc Fabregas (18) and Santi Cazorla (11) were the only players to have made more Premier League assists last season will matter little to Manchester United and, most importantly, Louis van Gaal.
“Players have to adapt to the team philosophy and Di Maria has to do that,” was the Dutchman’s stark warning to the 27-year-old last season. “He has to perform in a way we want.” The floor is yours, Angel.
3) Radamel Falcao
From one of Europe’s most-feared strikers to a figure not even of hilarity but pity. Radamel Falcao’s transition from El Tigre to El Kitten within a season was as alarming as it was disappointing. Manchester United were unsurprisingly unpersuaded to part with £40m to keep him, but he seems destined to fall into the open arms of Jose Mourinho.
Before his ill-fated Old Trafford spell, Falcao had bagged 155 goals in 200 games in European club football. A goal-per-game ratio of 0.775 over seven seasons became that of 0.137 at the Red Devils. The effort was undeniably there, but be it through injuries, system or just pure bad luck, that deadly touch was not.
He may be more of a back-up to former protégé Diego Costa if he completes his expected move to Chelsea, but new surroundings could inspire a new lease of life. Then again, it’s just as likely that his latest season has now become the norm, not the anomaly in the Colombian’s career.
2) Harry Kane
The fairytale of the 2014/15 season most certainly belonged to Harry Kane. A bit-part player with failed loan spells at a list of lower-league clubs, the poor form of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor saw him granted his chance in the Spurs first team by November. By March, and having given his rivals a two-and-a-half-month head start, he was the Premier League’s top goalscorer. Taking silver in that particular race by season’s end was no blemish on Kane’s emergence, but the fact he will have been disappointed to lose out signifies just how far he has come.
The challenge now is to back it up. Murmurs of ‘one season wonder’ are typically surfacing, while claims of Manchester United’s £40m interest linger. It’s somewhere in between those opposite ends of the spectrum where the truth on Kane lies. Will the pressure of expectation from the start weigh on his shoulders, or will he step up with all eyes on him?
“I still don’t think of myself as a top player. There’s still room for me to improve,” was his candid self-assessment not long ago. Expecting another 30-goal season may well be too much for the 21-year-old, but he has the chance to prove himself as a club and international star next campaign.
1) Ross Barkley
Once judged on a par with Raheem Sterling as precocious young talents heading to the 2014 World Cup, Barkley’s progress has stalled to a halt while Sterling is at the centre of a £50m transfer battle. Comparisons with Paul Gascoigne were originally misplaced, but now they look preposterous.
With seven goals in his breakthrough campaign in 2013/14, huge things were expected of the latest technically gifted talent from Merseyside. Barkley followed his opening salvo with a dud two goals last campaign, while he still has just two assists to his name in 76 Premier League appearances. The 21-year-old will soon no longer be able to rely on ‘what may be’, for he needs to be judged on what he has done. which, in all honesty, is close to bugger all.
That Barkley was bracketed alongside Sterling, Wilshere and Luke Shaw as ‘too good’ for England’s Under-21 side at this summer’s European Championships should come into question. While the rest have kicked on to admittedly varying degrees, Barkley has found himself struggling to make good on his promise.
Forget England. That Roberto Martinez saw fit to utilise Barkley in five separate positions in his 22 Premier League starts last season speaks volumes. Here is a player tipped as a ‘match winner’ with no substance to be submitted as evidence. Time to show us what you’re made of, Ross.
Matt Stead – follow him on Twitter
10) Moussa Sissoko