With the English Premier League season set to start this weekend (at least we hope so, as the league may postpone games due to the recent riots in the U.K.), our top soccer writers give their take on who will surprise and who will disappoint this season.
Gervinho (M/F) Arsenal - With the increasing price tags attached to some of this summers biggest transfer targets, Arsene Wegner may have found a great deal when he signed Gervinho from Lille for a fee believed to be under 15 million Pounds. Gervinho may not be that big of a name in English soccer as of yet, but has shown that he has a nose for goal that Arsenal dearly needs. It is uncertain how Gervinho will team up with Arsenal's superstar striker Robin van Persie, but his goalscoring record with Lille showed that he will be able to take some of the scoring pressure off his Arsenal teammates.
Brede Hangeland (D) Fulham - The lanky Norwegian has proven himself to be a quality central defender that Fulham have and will be relying heavily on. Hangeland may not be a household name as of yet for soccer fans not including Fulham supporters, but he has proven himself to be a very durable defender while playing in all but one Premier League match last season. Standing at over 6'4" Hangeland scored seven goals in all competitions for Fulham in the previous term, and there is no sign that new manager Martin Jol won't use his aerial presence to his advantage next season.
David de Gea (G) Manchester United - As the hand picked replacement to the immortal Edwin van der Saar, de Gea will be put under the microscope of the millions of Manchester United fans. Many young goalkeepers with loads of potential have come to United only to leave with their reputation somewhat tarnished (see Tim Howard and Ben Foster). Goalkeepers are universally the ones to take the blame when a team does poorly, and if there is any hint that de Gea is struggling it is certain that the British media will jump at the first sign of blood. With the immense amount of hype that followed his move from Atletico Madrid, de Gea will be labeled a bust unless he helps delivers United a trophy.
Cesc Fabregas (M) Arsenal - The Arsenal captain has been rumored to be on the move to Barcelona for quite some time now, and it seems like it may have been affecting his play. One way or another, don't expect Fabregas to have great season next year; if he plays for Barcelona he will have to compete with some of the best midfielders in the world, and if he stays at Arsenal he will undoubtedly have Barca on his mind the whole time. The Catalonian distractions coupled with a growing uncertainty about his health means that Fabregas is bound to have a poor year ahead of him.
Jermain Defoe (F) Tottenham Hotspur - JD had a nightmare season in 2010-11, netting only four times in 22 games for Spurs. His name has been thrown around the rumor mill all summer long, but no matter where he goes, or even if he stays at Tottenham, Defoe is too good to not return to his 12 to 15 goal form.
Edin Dzeko (F) Manchester City - Dzeko came to Man City from VFL Wolfsburg on a big money move last winter and did relatively little as he got acclimated to the weather in England and the style of play in England. But his record for Wolfsburg speaks for itself, 66 goals in 111 games, and 17 goals in 37 games for his country, Bosnia & Herzegovina, is enough for me to think that he will burst onto the scene in a big way this year.
Gervinho (F) Arsenal - I just don't see how Gervinho’s game translates to Arsenal, especially an Arsenal team who already have plenty of talented players who are trying to get on the field on a regular basis. His price will already be inflated because he plays for the Gunners…stay away.
Luka Modric (M) Tottenham Hotspur - Modric simply doesn't score goals, yet his reputation has grown because of the insane amount of interest he has gotten in this summer's transfer window. The Croatian netted three times in 32 appearances in 2010-11, and while he is an absolutely brilliant central midfielder, and may be the best passer in the Premiership, the transfer hype would have you believing he's the next Cristiano Ronaldo.
Aaron Ramsey (M) Arsenal – After spending most of last season on loan to recover match fitness, Ramsey is back with Arsenal, and ready to reassert his presence. Ramsey should have plenty of opportunity to shine in the coming year with Arsenal’s squad nearly in shambles. Both Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas are facing questions about their time left with the club, but Ramsey is content and settled. He joined the squad in 2008, and his ability to deliver exceptional passes makes him integral in the Arsenal side. Being fit should make Ramsey a go-to option for Arsene Wenger as he looks to solidify his midfield.
Chris Smalling (D) Manchester United – Smalling joined Manchester United from Fulham in July of 2010, only having made 13 appearances or Fulham. He entered a team that already had rock solid central defenders in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Despite his lack of experience, and seemingly cemented defensive incumbents, Smalling eventually made enough appearances to earn his first championship medal with the team. He was the go-to player for the side once Ferdinand was ruled out by injury, and in the current preseason tour of the United States, is seeing action in midfield as well. Smalling is clearly going to be a fixture with the side, and should have more opportunities to play in different roles with the departures of Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
Charlie Adam (M) Liverpool – After 78 appearances for Blackpool, Adam has joined Liverpool. His performances for Blackpool were the talk of the league despite their relegation from the top tier. Adam was widely considered to have been the inspiration behind the team’s success, and Liverpool jumped to bring him on board. With Liverpool, though, Adam enters a midfield where he will not be the focus. Players like Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodriguez, Jordan Henderson and others will be his competition for playing time, Adam may struggle to find his voice when that time does come. He will be playing a different style of game than he did with Blackpool, and these factors could lead to a very quiet season for the midfielder.
John Arne Riise (D) Fulham – After leaving Liverpool in 2008, Riise spent the past three years at Roma. The now 30-year-old defender has been signed by Fulham’s new manager Martin Jol, and will provide options in defense. His experience will be valuable to the team, and Jol will certainly use him as a leader in the locker room. The left back admitted that he was behind the other players in fitness, though, and put himself on an individual plan to help work himself forward. Riise may fill an important gap that Fulham has been missing, as well as provide some flexibility, but his stamina and tenure with the club have to be questioned at his age. Does he still have what it takes to keep up with the fast pace of the English game?