Analysis of five fresh EPL stars
Manchester United's Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa . AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES
It’s only week three and the European transfer window hasn’t yet closed, but already there’s a real buzz about the new EPL season. Here are just a few of the fresh faces making an impression, many of them playing in the influential number 10 position.
Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United
It was hard not to enjoy watching Kawaga get in between Everton’s midfield and defensive lines in the opening round and influence through his fluent movement and neat, crisp and decisive promptings.
The type of player that keeps things simple and plays what he sees in front of him, the mobile Kagawa is a master of finding space in the hole behind the striker, and then inevitably picking the right option – be that a penetrating run, a foot on the ball or an incisive ball into the feet or path of a teammate.
Looking every part the perfect link player, Robin van Persie should be licking his lips, sitting on the edge of an opponent’s defensive line, knowing he can go and Kagawa is likely to hit him.
Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, is already looking around, wondering what’s just hit him.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Has any player made such an effective contribution in his opening three EPL games?
It’s hard to imagine anyone could have been as exciting as Hazard, who talked the talk at the time Roman Abramovich was courting him, but has backed it up with three stunning displays.
Right from the opening few minutes of the season, when he turned Wigan’s Ivan Ramis on the half-way line to tee up Branislav Ivanovic, you sensed this kid had the explosiveness to make a mark.
Moments later, Hazard was driving at Ramis again, forcing him to commit inside the box. He has been a constant menace since, against Newcastle and Reading, all twists and assists.
What Hazard loves most is space, and any team playing high against Chelsea will have a tough time trying to stop Hazard in forward transition.
What has surprised me, however, is his ability to penetrate even in tight spaces. He does this through quickness of movement and feet, always on the go, invariably looking to link or ask a question of some petrified and mesmerised defenders.
So fast are Hazard’s feet that you don’t know if he’ll be driving at you, feeding a teammate or striking from distance. Everyone’s on their toes, while Chelsea fans hang on the edge of their seats in anticipation.
Few are enjoying playing with Hazard as much as Fernando Torres.
Gylfi who? Most of the good judges out of Spain, including Sid Lowe and Tim Stannard, went on endlessly about how any La Liga clubs could have picked up Michu for a steal, but couldn’t really afford him due to the economic reality in Spain.
Their loss has been the gain of the opportunistic Great Dane Michael Laudrup, who, after picking up a player who bagged 15 goals from midfield for Rayo Vallecano, has used him as a key influencer in the number 10 role.
Laudrup has asked him to push on and get forward with Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer, in support of Danny Graham, and equally play an important pressing role ahead of the two holding midfielders.
“When we have the ball he is a second striker; when the opposition have the ball he is the third midfielder,” said Laudrup on Michu’s importance in his slightly tweaked system.
Laudrup has shown a desire to be a little quicker in forward transition than Brendan Rodgers was at Swansea, and Michu is clever in this area, getting forward promptly, often beyond Graham, leaving space for Dyer and Routledge to come inside and influence.
Equally, when he sits on the ball and gets his foot onto it, it’s a cultured link-up. Most impressive is an ability to add the currency from behind that most counts – goals.
Joe Allen, Liverpool FC
While he isn’t a new face to the EPL, having been a key part of Swansea’s successful mid-table finish last season, Allen’s arrival at Liverpool, under Rodgers, has many noticing him for the first time.
And what an early impression the keep-ball merchant of the EPL has made, on both fans of Liverpool and the Premiership at large.
Regularly in the 90′s as far as completed passes is concerned, it is Allen’s general tactical maturity, especially for one so young, that makes him great to watch.
Inevitably in the right position, getting his body goal-side when it’s needed and facing forward when it’s time to prompt, Allen’s game is simple but pretty, the work of a man in control.
The closest thing Britain has to Barcelona’s Xavi, Allen is already Rodgers’ tempo setter at Anfield, much as he was at the Liberty, and this is a responsibility he appears only too happy to take, demanding the ball, courageous.
With Lucas likely to be out for a couple of months, the prospect of Allen linking with Steven Gerrard and Yuri Sahin excites, and with 17 year old Raheem Sterling also catching the eye against Manchester City, things are looking up at Anfield.
Santi Cazorla, Arsenal
The Gunners may have lost van Persie on the eve of the season but, in the Spanish schemer from Malaga, they replaced him with one of the hottest players in the world last season.
Santi Carzola may have had limited game-time at Euro 2012 because of the stars around him, but so influential was he last season he took Malaga to fourth place and a first ever Champions League appearance.
Able to play on either flank, it appears Arsene Wenger will use him in the hole, behind Olivier Giroud, where Cazorla’s quick feet, changes of direction and ability to thread an accurate pass should make him stand out.
Against deep sitting defences like Sunderland’s, he can also shoot from distance and draw the opponent out.
The problem for the Gunners against Sunderland, I felt, was the narrowness from both Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, and this tended to restrict the space for Cazorla as they sat on top of him.
If Wenger can keep some width, Cazorla will be even better, able to use the space not only on the ball but by making diagonal runs forward, creating space the likes of Abou Diaby can fill.
Cazorla is very good not only on the ball, but off it, and if Wenger can sort things out tactically, he should get much creativity out of him.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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