With the January transfer window now finished, managers are unable to strengthen their side this season, and must instead concentrate upon maximising their existing resources.
Here’s the first part of a look at each Premier League club’s key player for the remaining 14 games of the campaign…
Arsenal – Olivier Giroud
Aaron Ramsey’s return will be crucial, and Mesut Ozil needs to rediscover his early season form, but Arsenal have enough creative midfielders to compensate for their potential absence, or underperformance.
Upfront, Arsenal are obviously dependent upon one player, and while back-up Nicklas Bendtner isn’t quite the liability some would suggest, Giroud plays a crucial role for Arsenal with his link-up play, and his penalty box presence. Without Theo Walcott, Arsenal need all their players to contribute their share of goals, something they’ve done excellently over the past 18 months – but Giroud will probably need to score a goal every other game, if
Arsenal are to win the league.
Manchester City – David Silva
David Silva isn’t quite the best player in English football, but at his absolute peak, he does things no other player in the division is capable of. His statistics in terms of ‘chances created per game’ are the best in the Premier League by a considerable margin, and in the absence of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, he needs to do a bit of both players’ job – provide an attacking spark from between the lines, and help control games.
Silva hasn’t really performed consistently over the course of a Premier League season, and tends to have quiet matches. But if he reaches his best, City will be champions.
Chelsea – Eden Hazard
Chelsea have a plethora of talented attacking midfielders, but Hazard is Chelsea’s top goalscorer, top assister, and dribbles past opponents more frequently than any other player in the Premier League. He’s been, by a distance, Jose Mourinho’s most important player over the past couple of months.
For all Chelsea’s brilliance on the break against Manchester City, against lowly opponents they won’t have such space to attack into. While fast, Hazard can beat defenders with his trickery, too, and that’s a vital weapon regardless of the opposition’s tactics.
Liverpool – Luis Suarez
For ‘Chelsea’ and ‘Hazard’, read ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Suarez’, and then double his weight of importance to the side. No-one has ever ended a Premier League campaign with better than a goal-per-game ratio, but Suarez has a genuine chance of achieving that, which would be an astonishing feat.
Criticisms about whether he scores frequently enough against the big sides might be legitimate, but to a certain extent, that doesn’t matter. Overhauling the three sides above them in the Premier League is only an outside bet for Liverpool – previously, they’ve struggled to reach fourth place (their target at the start of the campaign) because they’ve dropped cheap points in seemingly easy games. Suarez has made that a thing of the past.
Everton – Kevin Mirallas
Mirallas seemed the perfect fit for Roberto Martinez’s style of play, but took a while to establish himself as a key player, with his compatriot Romelu Lukaku leading Everton’s charge.
With Lukaku out injured and Mirallas scoring three goals in his last four matches, however, perhaps we’re about to witness his first genuinely consistent spell in English football. Yet another brilliant dribbler, Mirallas is more effective when he’s freed of defensive responsibilities, and Martinez must be brave with his deployment of the Belgian.
Tottenham Hotspur – Hugo Lloris
With star defenders and midfielders set to return, plus Spurs scoring plenty of goals in Tim Sherwood’s brave, aggressive system, the main question mark is in goal. Hugo Lloris was excellent in his debut Premier League campaign, and was clearly suited to playing in a high defensive line under Andre Villas-Boas, but is he as effective behind a defence?
His proactive nature makes for fascinating viewing, but in recent weeks his decision-making has been very suspect. At his best he’s arguably the best goalkeeper in the league, but on current form he’ll cost Spurs points.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney
With Robin van Persie’s fitness uncertain and Juan Mata likely to take a while to find his place in the side, it comes down to Rooney to salvage something from Manchester United’s most troubled campaign for decades.
Although linked with a move away from the club last summer, Rooney has become United’s star man once again, providing moments of magic when David Moyes’ side have been struggling. Question marks remain about his consistency, his temperament and his tactical discipline, but United’s best hope of Champions League qualification is Rooney winning games solo.
Newcastle United – Moussa Sissoko
It’s difficult to outline precisely how good Yohan Cabaye had been in the weeks before his departure. He played at the head of the midfield triangle and was contributing everything – pressing high up the pitch, tackles deeper in midfield positions, clever passes out towards the flanks, reliable set-pieces, and increasingly regular goals. He’s a huge loss.
Without a direct replacement, Sissoko is the player who needs to step up, and provide those qualities. After a full year in the Premier League he understands the nature of the league and the tempo of games, and should thrive in a more central position.
Southampton – Morgan Schneiderlin
Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana have hit the headlines, but Southampton’s most important player might be Scheniderlin, the French defensive midfielder who is responsible for so much of their energetic, proactive play without the ball.
Schneiderlin doesn’t just sit in front of the defence and tackle – he pushes forward and harries opponents in possession, immediately winning the ball and setting his side on the attack. Victor Wanyama has done reasonably well in his debut campaign, and Jack Cork has impressed with his neat passing, but Schneiderlin’s tackling sets the tone for Southampton’s entire side.
Aston Villa – Christian Benteke
Benteke suffering from ‘second season syndrome’ doesn’t really make sense. Often, strikers who encounter this problem are somehow limited, and opposition centre-backs work them out after a while, and nullify their strengths. However, Benteke’s strengths were always obvious – it was simply that opponents couldn’t cope against him in a physical sense.
Whatever the reason for his apparent loss of confidence, he seems to have turned things around. With three goals and two assists in his last four games, his form should keep Villa out of danger.
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