Hands up who thought a man who played for Bolton in the Championship three years ago and another who had spent three of his four years at Chelsea on loan at three different clubs would be integral to the Blues’ success under Antonio Conte. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have enjoyed the most notable improvements under the Italian, but it is the respective form of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses which has most impressed.
Alonso might have struggled with Bolton and Sunderland, but his spell with Fiorentina transformed him into a £23million player. As for Moses, consecutive spells with Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham pointed to a future away from Stamford Bridge. Few could possibly have expected he would become such a crucial cog in the Conte machine.
The Nigerian will be difficult to displace in the starting line-up, having started the Blues’ last six fixtures in all competitions. He already has five Premier League starts; he made just six for Liverpool in 2013/14, and had only started 12 for Chelsea before this season. But no Garth, he’s not the new Ashley Cole.
“You can say I am a new player,” was Kevin Mirallas’ pointed message to Everton fans in the summer. His timing was impeccable, coming mere months after the sacking of Roberto Martinez. The Belgian had endured a public and difficult three-year relationship with his manager, including missed penalties, threats to leave and a lack of regular playing opportunities.
When Ronald Koeman took over the Goodison Park lease in June, he wasted little time in refurbishing. He loaded a shiny new Yannick Bolasie into his moving van, expecting to completely overhaul a side that had finished 11th last season. Then he found Mirallas, discarded without even a passing thought by the previous tenant.
The Belgian has not quite been a revelation under the Dutchman, but his development has been marked. An unloved nuisance for one manager has become a valuable commodity for another. Having started just ten Premier League games under Martinez last campaign, he is one of only three Everton players – along with Gareth Barry and Phil Jagielka – to have featured in every league game so far.
And you thought Phil Jones was simply a gurning, blonde-haired man-child who looks utterly hilarious when wearing a suit. On Sunday, the defender made his first Premier League appearance since January 2 in the 3-1 victory over Swansea. It was lovely to see him back.
It was also unfathomable at one point. Daniel Storey wrote the following on ‘the king of tragicomedy’ in May:
‘This summer, Jones faces an initial battle to remain at Old Trafford, and then a further fight to stay fit and regain his first-team place. Fail in either task, and a vaunted youngster will only further establish his reputation as English football’s tragicomic king.’
Jones had cultivated an image of a (barely) walking, real-life version of ‘Operation’. Be it knee, back, concussion, shoulder, hamstring, shin, calf or ankle, the 24-year-old had suffered more injuries than Jose Mourinho’s ego over the past three years. From 2012/13 to 2015/16, he missed 75 games in all competitions through injury. During that sequence he played just 106 times.
Swansea provided a welcoming opponent, but Jones’ weekend return was seamless. After receiving high praise from his manager post-match, there might be hope yet for a prolonged Old Trafford career.
Southampton always had the answer. When Luke Shaw left, Ryan Bertrand came in. Adam Lallana would be replaced by Dusan Tadic, Morgan Schneiderlin became Oriol Romeu, and Cedric Soares was a ready-made replacement for Nathaniel Clyne. Even in terms of managers, the transition from Mauricio Pochettino to Ronald Koeman was smooth.
This summer was no different. Sadio Mane’s exit for Liverpool was subsided with the signing of Nathan Redmond. And when Graziano Pelle departed for China, many felt the club would scour the globe for a similarly tall, similarly handsome and similarly effective forward. But it turned out his successor was already at the club.
Such was Charlie Austin’s strange half-season at St Mary’s after signing in January of this year that many forgot he had even left Queens Park Rangers. The striker scored the winner on his debut against Manchester United, but was then afforded just 198 Premier League minutes for the rest of the season. Pelle’s exit has reinvigorated the 27-year-old, who already has five goals to his name.
Granted, it would take a bloody massive sofa for Victor Anichebe to find a home. But on Saturday, the striker emerged from the shadows at Sunderland to inspire them to a first victory of the Premier League season.
In truth, the 28-year-old was simply returning the favour David Moyes had paid him in the summer. The former Everton manager saved the Nigerian’s Premier League career by signing him on a free transfer in August; Anichebe rescued his boss by scoring a goal and winning a vital penalty against the Cherries. It was his first start in England’s top flight since featuring for West Brom in a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle in February; it was his first goal in England’s top flight since scoring for the Baggies against the same side in May 2015.