English Premier League 2015/2016 - Five to Watch
Radamel Falcao - Chelsea
Many were perhaps surprised with the loan signing Chelsea made when they elected to take Falcao for the forthcoming season. I think this could be a shrewd move by Jose Mourinho. Having lost Didier Drogba at the end of last season, Mourinho needed a suitable replacement should his number 1 starter, Diego Costa get injured. Enter Colombian Falcao who has played with Costa whilst the pair were at Atletico Madrid. Do not be misled by Falcao goal scoring record at Manchester United. Yes he only scored 4 times in 26 games but the reality is that he only started 14 of those. For a player coming of the back of a serious knee injury, where his recuperation was rushed in an effort to make the 2014 world cup, he was bound to find the Premier League hard but never the less he scored crucial goals against Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke and Leicester to gain 8 important points for United in their race for the top 4 not to mention the assists he had against Burnley and Sunderland. In a season where United had no Champions League it was a smart move for the club to sign an experienced centre forward whilst Van Gaal ran the roost over his squad. Falcao, whilst only 5ft 10, is powerful in the air and has excellent close control. He has a good temperament and the ability to bring others into the game. He is also well liked by his team mates. I was fortunate enough to attend the Man Utd v Hull City match last season and Falcao replaced Robin Van Persie after 60 minutes or so. It was clear from the reaction of his team mates, Van Persie included, that he was an excellent team mate who they all though a lot of and were willing to score. He developed a cult following at Man Utd and was unfortunate not to score in that game. Whether Mourinho will be brave enough to change this formation and play two upfront remains to be seen but if he does, with Hazard supplying the bullets this could be a good year for the Colombian.
Memphis Depay - Manchester Utd
It is some what fitting that the player they call the dream chaser should end up at the Theatre of Dreams as Manchester United's Old Trafford ground is known. He prefers to go by his first name on his shirt as opposed to his surname due to his father having left he and his mother when he was a young boy. Whilst Memphis has not lit up the Premier League just yet, he has shown in the Champions League what he is capable of with 2 stunning goals against Belgian side Club Brugge. At just 21 years old, the youngster is not short on confidence and has that swagger that United have been missing over the last two seasons. He was signed by Manchester United just before the start of the transfer window for a fee in the region of GBP25 million from PSV Eindhoven. A dutch international, Memphis played 124 times for PSV scoring 50 goals in all competitions. As PSV won the dutch title last season, Memphis scored 22 goals in 30 matches and had 5 assists. He also scored 7 goals direct from free kicks and he earning a feared reputation from set pieces with his technique drawing comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo. Memphis lists the Portuguese captain and former United star as one of his heroes and it is therefore fitting that he was given the famed number 7 shirt once it was vacated by Angel Di Maria. Apparently he requested the number once it became free which is a confident thing to do given the weight it has for some players.
Memphis is familiar with United manager Louis Van Gaal having worked under him at the 2014 World Cup and in an interview with the BBC shortly after his move he acknowledged that he needed the structure and discipline that Van Gaal provides in order to ensure that his career stays on the right track. Memphis is quick and enjoys running at players. He is a powerful striker of the ball and his early form reminds me a little of the early days of Ronaldo. Once he becomes accustomed to the Premier League, do not be surprised to see big performances from a player suited to and certainly not phased by the big stage. Also expect the United faithful to be singing their own version of the Marc Cohn classic in the near future.
The Dream Chaser
Raheem Sterling - Manchester City
Across the other side of Manchester is a new number 7 too in the shape of former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling. Sterling sealed a move to Manchester City in the summer for a fee in the region of GBP49 million. He had been in a contract standoff with Liverpool who had signed him in 2010 from QPR who could gain as much as GBP5 million from his latest transfer. Liverpool were keen to tie him down to a longer deal but Sterling felt otherwise and made no secret of his desire to leave earning he and his agent much criticism. At the the time I have to admit I did not like the way Sterling behaved but having seen how he has adapted to Manchester City's style of play and how he seems to be playing in a much more relaxed manner, it seems a good move for him.
After an impressive youth career, Sterling really broke onto the scene in the 2012/13 season and had a stand out season in 2013/14 when Liverpool almost won the title. That year, the Liverpool team, containing Luis Suarez, was set up perfectly for Sterling as they played fast attacking football. Once Suarez left, Sterling found it harder as he received more focus from opponents during the 2014/15 season. He managed 18 goals in 95 appearances for Liverpool but I expect this move to City to bring him back to the form he showed in 2013/14. Last season, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers occasionally deployed Sterling as a centre forward which is not really a good position for him at this stage of his career. Don't get me wrong, he can finish but he is better suited out wide as a winger where he can utilize his pace and low centre of gravity. Playing in a City side containing David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Kevin De Bruyne will take the focus off Sterling and allow him to enjoy his football more. I also think that playing with Aguero will bring a set up similar to that Sterling enjoyed in the 2013/14 season with Suarez.
With the European Championships looming next summer, England need a good solid season from Sterling where he can enjoy his football again and I think under the management of Manuel Pellegrini and his team he will get that. He is a supremely talented and exciting player and still only 20 so has many good years at the top to look forward too.
Sterling - the Finisher
Roberto Firmino - Liverpool
Having lost Sterling, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers wasted no time in spending GBP29 million on Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino. In some quarters he is described as an attacking midfielder but I think he is more a creative forward and he reminds me of a quicker version of former Manchester United player Shinji Kagawa. The new Liverpool number 11 is a very intelligent footballer who is very unselfish and creates chances for others. He is also a good finisher himself with 38 goals in 140 games for Hoffenheim, the club Liverpool signed him from. He can dribble, has a good shot on him and is good in the air.
At just 23 he made his debut for the Brazil national team in 2014 and played in the Copa America standing in for Neymar after his suspension. He has 4 goals in 11 matches so far. He is known for being a very modest player with a good attitude. He is a good buy for Liverpool but quite how Brendan Rodgers plans on using him is unclear but perhaps it will mean Liverpool playing Firmino just behind Benteke or behind Benteke with Coutinho. Either way it would appear to put Daniel Sturridges place in doubt as I suspect Rodgers will not want GBP29 million of talent sat on the bench. None the less Firmino is an exciting talent and one for the neutrals to enjoy.
Who Needs Sterling?
Georginio Wijnaldum - Newcastle
In looking at Georginio Wijnaldum, his first name immediately reminded me of the Harry Enfield sketch of the 1990's and spoof South American player Julio Geordio who was supposed to be playing his football in the North East. Wijnaldum though is no fancy dan South American and could prove to be the signing of the season for manager Steve McClaren.
At 24, the dutch international midfielder managed 64 goals in 220 games for both Feyenoord and PSV between 2007 to 2015. Last season he captained PSV to the league title and his role there allowed him to score and create from the midfield positions. It says a lot about him that despite being just 22, in 2013 he was selected as captain after the departures from PSV of Mark van Bommel and Kevin Strootman. Expect to see a box to box energetic style from Wijnaldum which Newcastle have been lacking in recent seasons. The defensive qualities of Check Tiote and Vernon Anita should allow Newcastle to exploit Wijnaldum's attacking skills and get goals from midfield as he showed in the season opener against Southampton. He is certainly one for your fantasy team.