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Premier League Key Players – Team-by-Team – Part II

After looking at the key player for each of the Premier League’s top-half clubs last week, here’s part two…

Swansea – Leon Britton

As Swansea start the post-Michael Laudrup era, interim coach Garry Monk will probably make Britton the focal point of his side. Like Monk, Britton has come through the divisions with Swansea and Monk is likely to focus upon restoring the identity of the club, something chairman Huw Jenkins appears particularly keen on.

On the pitch, Britton epitomises the possession-based attacking play Swansea have played throughout the past few years. Although Laudrup wasn’t as obsessed with ball retention as Brendan Rodgers, Swansea’s average of 60% possession is the highest of any Premier League club, and Britton will be crucial in maintaining that statistic.

Hull – Shane Long

Steve Bruce’s Hull have been quietly impressive this season. Widely tipped for relegation in the summer, they’ve proved defensively solid and tactically flexible, and have some talented technical players too.

They clearly lacked a reliable goalscorer, however, with the dreadful run throughout January summing up the situation – four league games played, no league goals scored. It was therefore understandable that Bruce bought both Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, and the latter has managed two goals in his first four matches. Amazingly, that makes him Hull’s joint-leading scorer already, when you exclude penalties.

Stoke – Charlie Adam

Adam is a strange footballer: talented but inconsistent, and almost a diva in terms of the midfield format he needs to succeed. At Blackpool he thrived because he had two hard-working, disciplined players doing his running for him, and therefore was able to drift around as he pleased, and at Stoke Mark Hughes has discovered Adam is best alongside two natural scrappers, too.

He’s hit some sensational goals in recent weeks, and Adam also has great creative potential too, with his diagonal passes working nicely with Stoke’s approach. You can never entirely depend upon the Scot, but if he’s close to his best for the remainder of the season, Stoke won’t go down.

Crystal Palace – Mile Jedinak

From the opening day of the season, the Australian defensive midfielder has led by example, using his tremendous stamina to great effect, and charging across the field to put out fires wherever needed.

That was particularly useful when Palace were playing in Ian Holloway’s shambolic system, and it could be argued that the disciplined unit created by Tony Pulis depends less upon Jedinak. Nevertheless, he’s made more tackles and interceptions combined than any other Premier League player, and this ball-winning ability is crucial considering Palace spent so long without the ball.

West Ham – Andy Carroll

Following Carroll’s Liverpool failure, it was a huge gamble for West Ham to spend a colossal sum of money on him, and then recruit wingers to provide him with cross after cross. His injury problems suggest West Ham were depending too much upon an inconsistent player – and one who’s currently serving a three-game suspension for an unnecessary act of petulance against Swansea.

When Carroll returns, West Ham will play to his strengths. His fine relationship with Kevin Nolan was obvious last weekend, and while Carroll might not be prolific himself, he’ll be the central pivot West Ham can play around.

Norwich City – Robert Snodgrass

Norwich are an unpredictable, seemingly illogical side that never record the results you expect. Chris Hughton often organises his side well defensively but relies upon a burst of speed and a bit of individual magic down the flanks.

Snodgrass is capable of those moments, and statistically he’s one of the Premier League’s most prolific creators – only David Silva, Luis Suarez and Mesut Ozil create more chances per game than the Scot. Also capable of excellent free-kicks, he could be the difference between survival and relegation.

Sunderland – Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson’s last spell of genuinely exciting football came before the previous World Cup, which rather sums up how inconsistent he’s been over the last four years.

But the winger has been excellent over the past month, recording an amazing six goals and two assists in his last five league games.

It’s difficult to explain the sudden transformation – it’s not like Johnson’s game has become any less predictable – but when confident he’s a devastating attacking weapon, and alongside the likes of Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini, he’ll be crucial throughout the run-in.

West Bromwich Albion – Gareth McAuley

One of the Premier League’s most underrated players, McAuley is more crucial to West Brom than their tough-tackling defensive midfielders and their wealth of inconsistent attacking midfielders.

His leadership abilities will be vital, but more importantly he’s simply an excellent centre-back – positionally solid, extremely patient and intelligent on the ground, and formidable in the air. The Northern Irishman has a habit of scoring important late headers, too.

Cardiff – David Marshall

His magnificent save from Andreas Weimann last night was a snapshot of Marshall’s excellent form this season. He’s made more stops than any other Premier League goalkeeper, more a reflection on Cardiff’s defence than the Scot’s work in goal – but when called upon, he’s been extremely consistent.

Cardiff haven’t turned the corner under new coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and continue to concede far too many shots. Marshall will need a couple of man-of-the-match displays if Cardiff are to survive.

Fulham – Lewis Holtby

It’s difficult to make sense of Fulham at the moment – they have new, unknown owners, a strange managerial set-up and a group of players that don’t appear to have any collective identity. The point at Old Trafford demonstrated they can defend deep and counter-attack well, but relegation appears more likely than survival.

In Lewis Holtby, however, they’ve bagged a wonderfully talented midfielder. His excellent assist for Steve Sidwell at Old Trafford on Sunday demonstrates his creative ability, and he’s able to simultaneously dominate the game and provide incision in the final third, too. He’s too good for a relegation scrap.

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February 12th, 2014 by Michael Cox

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