With just days to go for the start of the Premier League 2017/18 season, Firstpost writers pick players who could stand out with their performances. From new signings to proven veterans, take a look at our candidates for footballers who are most likely to grab headlines over the next 10 months.
Liverpool's swiftness in signing Mohamed Salah is testament to the fact that the team is now firmly under the grip of Jurgen Klopp. The manager quickly identified Salah as the one best suited for his "heavy metal" style of play and Liverpool wasted no time in buying the winger for a club record fee of £36.9 million from Roma.
There's little doubt over the problems Salah would create for defenders with his pace but the most impressive aspect of his play is that he can score goals too. Last season with Roma, he netted 15 goals to go with his 11 assists.
Liverpool's attack now looks more menacing with Salah on the left along with another fast-running Sadio Mane on the right and Roberto Firmino in a false nine role. Salah has also raised expectations by showing how quickly he has adapted to the team, scoring four times in Liverpool's pre-season matches.
If he manages his consistency and keeps himself away from injuries, he can become a game-changer for title-chasing Reds.
— Anish Anand
The Swansea player on loan from Chelsea had single-handedly saved Championship side Bristol City from relegation last season with his 23 goals. He will be in a similar situation this season as Swansea City battle to avoid the drop again.
The Chelsea academy player will be hungry to prove himself in the Premier League and avoid the fate of former Chelsea forward Patrick Bamford who, after a successful stint on loan at then championship side Middlesborough, failed to make an impression in the top tier of English football last seaon.
Abraham has already scored thrice in pre-season for the Welsh side and with first choice centre forward Fernando Llorente set to miss the opening few fixtures due to a broken arm, Abraham can cement his claim to the lead the forward line.
If Gylfi Sigurdsson stays at the club, the Icelandic playmaker will find Abraham eager to feed off his talents. The lanky forward is not just a poacher but offers more in buildup play than Llorente, which will benefit the likes of Tom Carroll and Leroy Fer prowling near the edge of the box.
Of all the Chelsea players out on loan this season bar Kurt Zouma, Abraham looks most likely to force his way into Antonio Conte's plans next season. Oh and at 5.5, he's a steal for Fantasy League managers.
— Dilip Unnikrishnan
Last season, when Arsenal signed Granit Xhaka from Borussia Mönchengladbach, their midfield was considered to be their biggest strength with Santi Cazorla being the pivot around which the midfield revolved. However, Cazorla’s injury was a major setback and the midfield crumbled in the first half of the season.
Xhaka was expected to step up in Spaniard's absence but somehow he seemed off-colour. He was publicly criticised by Arsene Wenger for his indiscipline. However, Xhaka stepped up late in the second half, and along with Aaron Ramsey, formed a formidable pairing in the midfield and played a crucial role in Arsenal's late surge.
He seems to have continued the momentum at the start of this season with an impressive display against Chelsea in the Community Shield. He looks an improved player. His aggression might go against him at times but he brings solidity and in-your-face attitude, which the club has been missing for years.
His passing ability to play through the lines from deep positions, work rate, aerial presence and tackling capabilities make him a crunch player for Arsenal. He can be dangerous from dead-ball situations and can pull off long range screamers.
Xhaka brings a lot to the table and this is his chance to step into Cazorla's shoes and help Arsenal break Premier League Trophy drought.
— Jigar Mehta
There were whispers all around about the German-born Bosnian's move to Arsenal even before the end of the 2016-17 season. That he was at the end of his Schalke contract and even bid his fans in Gelsenkirchen adieu was of no comfort. Arsenal have something of a reputation for fluffing transfers, after all.
Which is why it was so refreshing to see the deal done and dusted early enough to give Kolasinac a run out with the team in pre-season.
The pre-season gave the world a better look at what the Bosnian tank would be like in an Arsenal jersey. Whether it was the fantastic assist for Theo Walcott in Australia or the near-effortless header past a motionless Thibaut Courtois last weekend, the man screams "POWER!"
The signing of Xhaka last season seemed like an anomaly. Kolasinac's transfer indicates a trend — one that suggests Wenger is looking to add steel to the style with which his teams are usually blessed.
With the three-at-the-back formation, the versatile Kolasinac is a two-in-one player: Solid in defence, destructive as a wingback and we don't even know what he'll be like should he be deployed as a defensive midfielder. And best of all, it doesn't look like he'll need much time to adapt to the English game.
With more teams switching to the 3-4-3, wingbacks will become even more important than they were last season, and having one that doesn't merely run past opposition players — he veritably runs through them, Kolasinac will hold the key to Arsenal's season.
— Karan Pradhan
Chelsea's Eden Hazard might have featured in every 'Premier League player to watch out for' list since joining the club in 2012. After winning the PFA Player of the year in 2015, and being among the best players in the league last season following a massive dip in form in the season in between, Hazard will once again attract plenty of attention this time out.
The reason is simple. When in form, the Belgian is among the top three players in the league, if not the best. Yet, after every season, there is a feeling that the Belgian could do a lot more.
Last campaign was all about redemption for Hazard, and it will be fair to say that he played himself back to the level that saw him being named the best in the league by his fellow players.
One area which Hazard will need to primarily improve on to realise his full potential is goal-scoring. Last season, Hazard has his best campaign in front of goal in a Chelsea shirt as he banged in 16 goals, but he will have to add another 5-10 goals to be considered a true attacking great.
With Diego Costa all but out, and Alvaro Morata needing time to find his feet, Hazard will have to make up for the lack of goals. This could be the season Hazard peaks, and if he does, Chelsea will have a shot at defending their Premier League title.
— Kaushal Shukla
Dominic Solanke is a man (technically still a 19-year-old teenager) on a mission. After being frozen out by Chelsea due to a contract issue last season, Solanke decided to shift his allegiance to Liverpool in the summer, and provided a teaser to his potential by top scoring in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in June.
Solanke was perhaps the brightest of Chelsea's academy prospects and the young forward has backed his great performances in the World Cup by frequently scoring in Liverpool's warm-up games.
Fast, versatile, and good in the air, Solanke reminds you of a young Fernando Torres, making clever runs behind the defence and working selflessly to create opportunities for his teammates. He has already overtaken Divock Origi in the pecking order and if Liverpool lose Brazilian Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona this summer, Solanke will find himself in the starting line-up.
What also works for Solanke is that he is slightly ahead of his teammates in terms of preparation. After sitting out most of 2016, the Brit's personal season started with the U-20 World Cup. Unlike his peers who started training mid or late-July, Solanke is now two full months into his season, usually the time when players peak.
Solanke has everything Klopp demands in a footballer. And considering how former U-20 Golden Ball winners — Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero — went on to conquer the footballing world, it is only fair to expect Solanke to provide some fireworks this Premier League season.
— Nevin Thomas
Jose Mourinho signed the 29-year-old midfielder from rival club Chelsea for £40 million, and he could prove to be the Portuguese manager’s most crucial signing in the season ahead.
In Mourinho’s own words, Matic adds “position, stability and control” to the team. His aggression and discipline fill a gaping hole in the United line-up and he is being seen as an apt candidate to fill aging Michael Carrick’s big shoes. His elegant passing and composure will be a massive boost for United’s title challenge.
The Serbian will fit right into Mourinho’s preferred three-man midfield, and should be a regular in the starting XI with Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba. Herrera is one of the best pressing midfielders in the league and Matic is an excellent defensive presence. A partnership between the two will allow Pogba more freedom to express himself.
Last season, the Frenchman seemed to be shackled by defensive duties, and failed to live up to his devastating best. With Matic’s addition to the sqaud, Pogba will have the license to roam forward, which will in turn lead to more goals.
Matic will also provide adequate cover to the United backline as he likes to sit deep. Standing at 6’4, Matic is an imposing physical player and his versatility make him one of the players to watch out for.
Chelsea’s 2016-17 season win was catalysed by one major transfer – N’Golo Kante from defending champions Leicester City. This season, Manchester United will hope to replicate that same result with Matic.
— Nikhila Makker
West Ham United have not just purchased a star striker in Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, but a dynamic forward who wants to be on the scoresheet regardless of the result.
For a player who scored 20 goals and won the fans' Player of the Season award in his debut season at Manchester United, £16million sounds like a bargain in a market where £30m-plus fees have become the norm.
Hernandez is a skilled striker and has the ability to destroy defences with his blistering pace and 'fox-in-the-box' style of play. Notably, he’s fifth in the list of best minutes per goal ratio in Premier League history.
Last season in the Bundesliga, Hernandez, arguably the most decorated player Mexico have ever produced, netted 11 goals and was Bayer Leverkusen’s most valuable player for the second year running ahead of Stefan Kiessling and Julian Brandt.
Interestingly, of the 44 goals he scored in the league for Manchester United, every single one was from inside the box, a mix of first-time finishes and scrappy tap-ins, celebrated with the zeal of a teenager scoring against the big teams.
Hernandez's gift lies in making scoring goals look ridiculously easy. Under Slaven Bilic, the man who wanted to sign the Mexican desperately in the summer of 2016, exciting times await Hernandez and a rejuvenated West Ham.
— Shivam Damohe
Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne is a nifty dribbler, has a wicked long-range shot and immense ability on the deadball. But more than any of that, what sets him apart is his vision and passing. At times, he plays like he is being fed a top-down view of the field as his first-time passes to release the forwards are a thing of beauty.
Last season he led the assist charts with 18 assists. And that was when he was surrounded by the likes of Bacary Sagna and Jesus Navas. This season, there is a considerable step-up in quality around him with the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy coming in, who love to get forward and are much more likely to get goals.
With the Leroy Sane-Gabriel Jesus-Rahim Sterling trio wreaking havoc in front of him and the full backs stretching the pitch, De Bruyne’s talents should reap Manchester City excellent dividends this year.
— Utkarsh Srivastava
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Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 21:46:57 IST