What to Expect from the New Premier League Stars on Debut
The 2014-15 Premier League season kicks off in just four days, and the summer transfer activity throughout the top flight has seen a number of prime talents arrive at many clubs.
Whether it's the big-spending of the likes of Chelsea or opportunistic signings from lower down the league, there are a number of names with large reputations who have arrived to the English shores over the summer. All eyes will be on how quickly they settle into the Premier League.
After all, top reputations are gained for one reason only: impressive performances, either early on in a career or over a span of time.
Here's a look at 10 of the biggest new stars of the league and what we can expect from them in their opening game and beyond.
Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Alexis Sanchez has already made his competitive debut for Arsenal, of course, having featured in the Community Shield, but the Premier League is a different animal to what is essentially an extension of pre-season.
The Chilean forward looks as though he'll be starting off on the right flank for Arsenal, but crucial to getting the best out of him is giving him ample licence to break infield whenever he senses the opportunity and, especially, in transition play and on counter-attacks.
Arsenal face Crystal Palace on the opening weekend, who were tough to break down last season under Tony Pulis and offer a counter-attacking threat of their own.
Alexis won't find it terribly easy to find space for himself against such opposition, but he does possess great work rate and a willingness to press defenders high up the pitch.
That in itself could certainly see him dart in behind the defence and look to supply low balls in for the forwards—but Arsenal must utilise Alexis as almost an end product rather than a creator.
Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea
Cesc Fabregas is no stranger to the Premier League having spent time as an Arsenal youth player, breakthrough starlet and eventual captain. Now clad in the blue of Chelsea, he will fill the role of a central, though offensive, midfielder.
The former Barcelona man is at his best when driving into space from deep, looking to link play with one-touch passes as he moves into the final third and get on the end of pull-backs or through balls just inside the penalty box.
He can certainly be a big goal threat for Jose Mourinho's team, though the amount he is expected to get forward could alternate depending on if Chelsea play Oscar as a true No. 10 or line up the midfield in a 4-3-3.
Chelsea begin their season against newly promoted Burnley and, with respect to the north-west club, it's a game that has the potential to see the biggest opening-weekend scoreline.
Burnley haven't improved significantly with Premier League-standard players, while Chelsea have recruited heavily from the very top end of the market.
Even if Burnley sit deep, remain compact and stay tight defensively, Cesc and his off-the-ball movement is exactly the type of additional, unexpected threat that could find the first way through to goal for the Blues.
Diego Costa, Chelsea
It's not just Cesc who will be the threat, of course: striker Diego Costa has very much been signed as the new starting centre-forward for Chelsea, and he'll be expected to hit the ground running with his goal return.
The Spanish international is aggressive, relentless in his movement and hounding of defences, powerful and full of running, with and without the ball.
He is a spiky character who refuses to contemplate defeat, resorting to whatever means he deems necessary to gain an advantage over his opponents.
Most of all, though, he showed last season with Atletico Madrid that he can lead a line by himself, drive forward with the ball from deep or be a predator in the penalty area—and score goals at an incredible rate.
Burnley will not present the toughest challenge he faces in 2014-15 by a long way, even with their promotion-based optimism, enthusiasm and energy.
His all-out approach will be tough for the Clarets to contend with, and Costa is the type of forward who is completely unaffected by missing two or three chances—as long as two or three more fall his way.
Don't bet against him hitting a debut league goal.
Lazar Markovic, Liverpool
Liverpool's summer of expenditure has seen them land one of Europe's most interesting young talents, 20-year-old Lazar Markovic from Benfica.
A wonderful dribbler of the ball with close control, two good feet, the ability to change direction quickly and good acceleration over short distances, Markovic is an exciting performer who will fit in well with the team's ethos of attacking, then attacking again, and then attacking some more for a bit of variety.
He needs work, tactically and with his off-the-ball movement, but he'll have time to adjust to the league and improve his all-round game at Anfield.
Liverpool open against Southampton, but a pre-season injury means Markovic's debut may just come the following week, against league winners Manchester City.
As a result, he'll likely be used as an impact substitute. As well as displaying Liverpool's depth in the final third, he's also a player already good enough to come on, pick up the pace of the game and ensure the team's quality doesn't drop when a first XI player comes out.
Markovic will have to work hard to win himself a starting role every week, but he has the talent to become one of the stars of the league in time.
Emre Can, Liverpool
Emre Can is another Liverpool signing for the summer, arriving at Anfield from Bayer Leverkusen.
The German midfielder is a versatile addition to the squad, having played at left-back, as a holding midfielder and as a powerful box-to-box player last season, but it's already clear that his best position for now will be in the latter role.
Can has strength in abundance and, though he perhaps lacks initial acceleration, is a fast mover once he gets going—especially running toward goal.
He can dribble with the ball at his feet or play accurate, sharp passes over varying distances.
A powerful shot is another part of his armoury, though he'll be seen more as the link player to get the ball from deep areas of the pitch toward the final third, rather than a regular name on the scoresheet, at least initially.
Tactically he suits the team's game, and he has every chance of winning a starting role for Liverpool's opener against Southampton.
His presence in the middle of the park could help the Reds win control of the game early on, which is an important part of the game plan for Liverpool. He has also shown more than enough technical ability already to suggest he can thrive with the movement ahead of him from the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
Eliaquim Mangala, Manchester City
Manchester City's biggest summer signings have been defensive-minded players, with the acquisition of Eliaquim Mangala their most expensive of all.
The centre-back impressed with FC Porto in the Liga Sagres, and his physical approach, his ability to dominate on the ground or in the air and his fleet-footed nature should all combine to make him a good foil for first-choice defender and captain Vincent Kompany.
Along with City's other signings in the back line this summer, Mangala probably gives them the best first-choice back four and the best overall defensive-line depth in the entire Premier League.
City begin their league season against Newcastle United—a tough opening fixture away from home, but it's one that Mangala may not yet take part in, as he will have had limited time in training with his new team. Then again, the fixture list doesn't get any easier, as they face Liverpool soon after, who were runners-up from last year and one of the most offensive-minded teams around.
Either way, Mangala will very quickly be given an idea of what he's up against in the Premier League and just how well his partnership with Kompany might stand up to the challenge.
Fernando, Manchester City
Another Manchester City signing from Porto, Fernando Reges is a defensive midfielder who offers depth to City's centre of the park but also gives manager Manuel Pellegrini options to alter the layout of the team tactically.
Fernando is a tough tackler, positions himself well, deep in midfield, and keeps his passing short and simple to keep the momentum of the team ticking over.
He covers the channels well when full-backs push on, as they tend to at City, and has good stamina to constantly move into the middle third himself when possession is maintained high up the field.
The established pairing from last season of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho is a difficult one to break into, but Fernando's benefit is that he can play with both individually as the sitter, allowing the other to push on, or else play alongside Fernandinho with Toure deployed as a powerful No. 10.
Fernando played in the Community Shield, but his first league start could be against Liverpool, as City potentially look to give increased protection to the back line and bulk up the centre of the park.
Ander Herrera, Manchester United
Across the city, Manchester United have recruited Ander Herrera as their big-name import so far, though he's not likely to be the last as Louis van Gaal re-shapes the squad for a top-four challenge.
Herrera is everything you'd expect from a modern La Liga midfielder: technically sound, confident on the ball with a good passing range; he also has a tenacious side that sees him happy to work hard defensively, making challenges and pressing opponents.
The former Athletic Bilbao man can play a range of roles through the centre from a deep controller to a creative No. 10, but United's 3-5-2 system will dictate that he plays something rather in-between both.
Manchester United open the season against Swansea City and, with regard to Herrera, that's probably as perfect an opener as he could have wished for: a technical side, not overly aggressive and, in truth, not really that good.
Herrera will play as the dictator of the team's tempo and direction, constantly receiving the ball in the centre of the park, turning and playing in a team-mate, before making himself available in space once more. He'll be the metronome, the player the three centre-backs search for in possession and the man to find the rotating Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, dropping deep to instigate attacks.
He could look great in some games and anonymous in others if you don't watch him closely, but Herrera will certainly play a big part for Van Gaal's side this season.
Siem de Jong, Newcastle United
Newcastle United's restructured attack sees former Ajax captain Siem de Jong coming in this summer, a genuinely impressive addition for the Magpies who should serve as a link between midfield and strikers.
The Dutchman can play a variety of roles, whether as a central midfielder or as a striker, when the need arises, but he's likely to operate as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 initially with a No. 9 ahead of him.
De Jong is technically sound and a workhorse for his side, but he offers a goal threat of his own too and is adept at timing his runs into the penalty box.
As he's not a hugely inventive player, Newcastle will look to provide creativity around him rather than expect him to fulfil that role too, but he gives Alan Pardew a terrific blend of attacking threat and off-the-ball balance with his ability to drop back into a deeper line out of possession.
Newcastle face a tough start by playing at home against Manchester City—De Jong could struggle to see much of the ball there—but they should at least be confident of going about the season in a better state than the second half of 2013-14 when they were dreadful, and De Jong is certainly a significant part of the reason why.
Bojan Krkic, Stoke City
Stoke City aren't generally associated with signing the biggest names in European football, but their capture of Bojan Krkic is as intriguing as it is opportunistic.
The one-time Barcelona wonderkid has seen his career stagnate and stall at the likes of Roma, AC Milan and Ajax in recent seasons, so a move to the Premier League and Stoke City is a huge challenge to take on but one that could see the gamble pay off handsomely for both club and player.
Rather than focus on the one-cap Spaniard's failings over the last few seasons, it will be his early talents that Stoke boss Mark Hughes will look to make the most of: good movement off the ball, particularly between and behind defenders, and an ability to finish off moves which initially marked him out as such a prodigy.
Stoke City play Aston Villa at home in the first match of the season, probably as good an opportunity to see what Bojan might achieve as any fixture.
Villa try to sit and be compact but are exposed at times in defence, which is the perfect setting for Bojan to take advantage of—if he is given game time.
At this point, it's tough to know whether he'll be a starter or an impact sub for Stoke, and the first few weeks of the season could shape his time in the Premier League.