If you include Manchester United as one of the Premier League’s top five, then four of the top five started the season with a win at the weekend. Already, the Premier League table has an ominously familiar look to it as the top four of last season now occupy similar places in the table once again. The positions of each may have altered, but there’s no doubting that the Premier League’s biggest guns are looking to start the season with a bang.
At the very top sides, squads are blessed with outstanding players throughout so it seems almost unfair to single out one player from each as being vital to that club’s eventual success. When they are, it is usually the eye-catching players that are regarded as the most vital, Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero or Wayne Rooney.
Yet often, it is unheralded players who can play just as important, if not as eye-catching a role in a clubs success. With that in mind, we look at five players at each of the five top clubs who may not be the biggest selling shirt names in the club shop, but who could be vital to each clubs fortunes this season.
1. Manchester City – Key Man: Edin Dzeko
Stevan Jovetic may be fully fit and ready to show his true potential and Sergio Aguero may be the world’s best penalty box poacher, but when it comes to a striker City can rely on, Edin Dzeko has proven to be the main man.
The tall Bosnian may not be as eye-catching as Jovetic or Aguero, but he knits City’s attack and midfield together beautifully, as clearly demonstrated by David Silva’s opening goal for City this season against Newcastle United. Silva burst into the box onto the end of a sumptuous back heel from Dzeko to put City in front of a game that was otherwise very even.
At various points over the last 18 months, Dzeko has been City’s go-to striker in key situations and in most cases he has delivered. Many City fans remember Sergio Aguero’s last gasp goal against QPR to clinch them the title, but it was Dzeko who arguably got an equally crucial equaliser just seconds beforehand.
So while Silva, Toure and Aguero may gain the plaudits, don’t overlook the inestimable contribution Edin Dzeko makes to this City team. They are a much poorer team without him leading the line in attack.
2. Arsenal – Key Man: Mikel Arteta
The conundrum of who will play in Arsenal’s midfield area remains one of the unanswered questions of the season, however despite the furore over whether it will be Rosicky, Flamini, Wilshere, Cazorla or Ramsey who will get the nod, it seems that Arsenal skipper Mikel Arteta is always likely to find a place in Arsene Wenger’s plans.
The ex-Rangers and Everton midfielder never gets a look in for the Spanish national side, yet he plays more games each season than the likes of Cazorla, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and more.
Arteta’s value to Arsenal is as an anchoring midfielder. He holds position and sprays the ball around, similar to the kind of role Steven Gerrard now occupies at Liverpool. In doing so and being disciplined enough to hold his position, Arteta allows the likes of Ramsey and co to get forward as often as they can.
While Flamini is able to deputise for Arteta, and Arsenal also have some young players coming through able to play the role, they are a much stronger team with Arteta as the beating heart of a talented midfield.
3. Liverpool – Key Man: Jordan Henderson
After arriving from Sunderland in a £20m deal, Jordan Henderson looked somewhat lost in his first season at Anfield. Labelled a waste of money by many who watched the Reds during his first season, Henderson seemed destined for the exit door.
However, under Brendan Rodgers, the midfielder has found a new lease of life. Alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield, Henderson has matured into one of the best all round central midfielders in the country and he will be a focal point of Liverpool’s plans this season.
Although he enjoyed a good campaign last year, Henderson will need to step things up again this. He has the talent to score a lot more goals than he does and be more creative. If he can add this to his game on a regular basis alongside his lung-busting work rate and defensive work, Liverpool will have a £20m bargain on their hands.
With Steven Gerrard getting older, Luis Suarez gone, Henderson’s role in the team increased dramatically this season and if Liverpool are going to build on last season’s surprise success, Henderson will likely be a focal point of that.
4. Chelsea – Key Man: Nemanja Matic
It seemed it was all over for Nemanja Matic at Chelsea when he was shipped off to Benfica in the deal that brought David Luiz to the club. However the return of Jose Mourinho brought about a change of heart and this summer, Luiz was out of the door on his way to Paris St-Germain, while last season Matic was brought back into the fold for a whopping £21m.
If that seemed a gamble, it only took one match, his first Premier League start away to Manchester City, to confirm that Matic would be a huge player for Chelsea.
His man of the match display helped Chelsea to a 1-0 win over City at the Etihad Stadium and over the remainder of the season, his pace and power added real steel to the Chelsea midfield.
With Fabregas likely to provide the subtlety, Jose Mourinho has always liked a strong leader in midfield and at 6ft 4, Matic is precisely that. The 26 year old will likely play a key role for a new look Chelsea team this season.
5. Manchester United – Key Man: Juan Mata
While Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie may be the names to fire the goals if United are to reverse their opening day loss and climb back up the table, they are going to need a regular supplier of chances to achieve that. In Juan Mata, they have just the man to provide them with that ammunition, if Louis van Gaal can find the best way to utilise the Spaniard in the team.
It’s been a tough time for Mata at Old Trafford, but at the end of last season, the signs were he was finding the form which saw him earn a starring role at Chelsea a couple of seasons ago.
However a change of manager and more importantly, a change in United’s style of play means Mata’s position in the team is now open for debate. If van Gaal persists with his usual tactical plan, then there is only room for one number 10 in the team and that will likely be club captain Rooney.
Therefore, Mata, if he plays, is likely to be pushed into wider positions where he is ineffective. However, if van Gaal finds a system where Mata plays just behind a two-pronged attack of Rooney and Van Persie…Well, no Premier League defence would enjoy facing that trio.
It’s a big year for Mata because he is one of United’s surprisingly few world class talents. It is key for van Gaal to get the best of him and United’s success this season may hinge on the Dutchman doing so.