Top Tenner: Stars with a point to prove
The new season is nearly upon us, and the Premier League has plenty of players with a point to prove. We pick out 10 of them here ...
10. Stevan Jovetic, Manchester City
Arguably the most frustrating striker in the Premier League last season, largely because of the injuries (about which Manuel Pellegrini appeared to cast doubts at various points) that limited him to just two Premier League starts, Jovetic could well get his chance this time around. With Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero suffering with their own fitness issues, Edin Dzeko as enigmatic as ever, and no other striker likely to come through the door at Eastlands, Jovetic will probably be given the opportunity to show what he can do this season, particularly in the early stages. The Montenegrin certainly has the talent to take the chance, he will just hope he's fit for long enough to do so.
9. Rio Ferdinand, QPR
Harry Redknapp signing Rio Ferdinand for QPR was perhaps the most predictable move of the transfer window: giving the manager an experienced rock on which to hang his defence, the player one last shot at Premier League football and the club a marquee name to drive their marketing machine. One wonders about the wisdom of that approach, given that they tried it in the top flight in 2012-13 only to get relegated, but Ferdinand could still have a fair bit to offer, and with young Steven Caulker he could form a pretty good defensive partnership. Or he could sleepwalk his way through the season and prove another expensive waste of money, disappearing to Major League Soccer next summer with a shrug and a pocket full of cash. We shall see.
8. Jack Rodwell, Sunderland
A few years ago, Jack Rodwell was always a fixture in those slightly pointless predictions of how the England team would look in a decade. However, injuries have been a constant blight on his career, preventing him from blossoming properly at Everton or having a chance of nailing down a first-team place at Manchester City, but if he can get himself fit -- and that's a big if -- then he could still establish himself as a Premier League player of substance. The move to Sunderland will help, as he will probably take Jack Colback's role in midfield -- as opposed to being shuttled between defence and the middle as he has been for much of his career to date -- but Rodwell undoubtedly has a point to prove.
7. Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
Don't laugh, but Marouane Fellaini could still have a future at Manchester United. Seriously. It's widely accepted that Louis van Gaal needs another central midfielder, ideally a strong, destroyer type, but equally you wouldn't bet a huge amount of money on Ed Woodward coming up with a deal for Juventus' Arturo Vidal or similar -- especially if Van Gaal's penchant for playing three at the back continues and the recruitment of another centre-back or two becomes more pressing. It's not as if Fellaini is a calamitously bad player, and at least part of the derision directed at him was because of his ties to David Moyes. Even though he was clearly poor last season, there could still be a place for the Belgian, now shorn of his once-bountiful locks, at Old Trafford.
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6. Oscar, Chelsea
Chelsea's Brazilian playmaker had a deeply strange season last term. In the early months he was exceptional, providing some of that dogged running that Jose Mourinho values so much to go with his delicate creativity, but in the second half of the campaign his form disappeared through the floor. Equally, while he wasn't the biggest calamity in the Brazil squad this summer (that honour goes to the defence), he wasn't particularly impressive at the World Cup either, so it will be interesting to see how he starts the new campaign. Oscar has the adaptability to fit into either one of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 systems that Mourinho is likely to play this season, but if the midfielder performs like he did at the end of the 2013-14 season, he won't get into either particularly quickly.
5. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
It seems Wayne Rooney will have a point to prove for the rest of his career. Possibly the rest of his life. There will always be a sense that he has never quite fulfilled his potential, which might be unfair given most are judging him against the absurd expectations which came after those wonderful early years, but Rooney seems to have settled into a groove of having streaks when he's virtually unplayable, followed by periods when he's virtually unpickable. However, with a tough new manager in the shape of Van Gaal, the latter spells might not be tolerated for too much longer. Rooney must become more consistent, otherwise his career might start to simply peter out.
4. Joe Cole, Aston Villa
If his return to West Ham looked like Joe Cole's last chance, then this move to Aston Villa is really his last chance. Before he broke into the Hammers' first team as a fresh-faced youngster back in 1999, Cole was viewed as the great creative hope of English football, the skilful genius that the national team could build around for years to come. Of course, things haven't quite turned out that way, for which you can blame anything from the traditional inflexibility of the English football mentality that hampered the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Matt Le Tissier, to injuries, to Cole himself. Whatever you choose to point the finger at, Cole only started six games last season, and was thus probably lucky to even get a contract at a Premier League club, so it could be a grim campaign for team and player if he doesn't show some of his old flair.
3. Roberto Soldado, Tottenham
There's a player in there somewhere. Last season the Spanish striker showed in flashes that he could be capable of reproducing the 81 goals in three seasons he scored for Valencia, but for much of the rest of the time he simply looked terrified of his own shadow, a player bereft of confidence for whatever reason. However, under a new manager that could all change, and Soldado certainly seems to be part of Mauricio Pochettino's plans for the season ahead. Indeed, part of the reason Spurs fans should perhaps not panic about the relative lack of transfer activity so far is that they already have a collection of excellent players, it's just many of them didn't show it last season.
2. Erik Lamela, Tottenham
More than most, Spurs fans will know that preseason performances don't mean a great deal. Before the 2008-09 season, they played eight games, winning seven of them, scoring 33 goals and claiming victories over Borussia Dortmund (3-0) and Roma (5-0). Eight games into the real season, they had two points, Juande Ramos was chucked into Daniel Levy's "Big Bin O' Managers" and Harry Redknapp took over. Still, Lamela has, by all accounts, looked very impressive in their friendlies, and it's genuinely difficult to imagine that a player as talented as he could be worse or even as bad as he was last season. The 30 million-pound man will have to prove it, but Lamela has the potential to produce one of the best comeback seasons the Premier League has seen.
1. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal
Arsenal, it's fair to say, are pretty well stocked in midfield. And even then, rumours abound that another central player will be arriving, with William Carvalho seemingly the name du jour in the gossip pages. Even assuming nobody else arrives, it doesn't take a colossal contrarian to name a first-choice Arsenal starting XI without Jack Wilshere in it; indeed, with Aaron Ramsey's spot set in stone there's only really one place for Wilshere, and few would disagree if you selected Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini in the deeper midfield role instead. It's all very strange for the man once thought of as England's answer to tiki-taka, the midfielder with the rapid passing ability to keep the carousel turning for club and country. He could still find a role -- and one must only look at Abou Diaby's continued employment to see that Arsene Wenger does not easily give up on a player -- but Wilshere enters the season as a man who needs to win his place, rather than one whose spot is assured.