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Premier League Preview: Top 5 Midfielders to Watch

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In addition to previewing two teams from the Premier League each day until the beginning of season, we will name five players to watch at each position, goalkeeper through forward. The 2013-14 season begins Aug. 17, and for the first time, every game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports

Any discussion of midfielders must define its scope. Particularly in a world where the 4-2-3-1 formation is so prevalent, the line between midfielder and outright attacker is easily blurred. Some players deployed in the line of three may be tasked a conventional midfielder’s responsibilities: moving to provide an outlet for play coming forward; linking to and creating chances for more advanced attackers; marking opposition in deeper areas of the opposing midfield. Other players are more outright attackers – wingers and forwards whose defensive responsibilities often lie along the opponent’s back line.

Today, we’re focusing on the first category – the players who play like midfielders. So even though a Gareth Bale or and Eden Hazard may vaguely play similar positions to players on this list, we’ve passed them on to tomorrow, when we’ll rank the Premier League’s five forwards. Today, we’re staying in the middle.

Santi Cazorla, Arsenalsource: AP

The former Villarreal and Malaga man may have cost Arsenal a record fee last summer, but with some of the prices we’ve seen paid for lesser talents this summer, £15 million is a steal for somebody of Cazorla’s talents. The 28-year-old Spanish international can function as a central playmaker, wide man, or somebody that can go get goals for Arsène Wenger’s team, versatility that was reflected in his 2012-13 output. In his first season with the Gunners, Cazorla posted 12 goals and 14 assists in all competitions, numbers which could improve with a year’s experience in the unique Premier League. Capable of playing any of Arsenal’s attacking midfield spots, you’re most likely to find Cazorla was Wenger’s No. 10 or wide right when his club hosts Aston Villa on Saturday.

source: Getty ImagesMarouane Fellaini, Everton

Thanks to former manager David Moyes using the Belgian international behind his striker for chunks of the last two seasons, Fellaini began garnering attention that transcended Premier League diehards. For the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, he was part of the conversation for player of the year, and while that buzz eventually dissipated, broader respect for Fellaini’s game did not. Tall, strong, and sporting with an afro that’s often as talked about as his on-field contributions, Fellaini can play either as a supporting striker or in his preferred role: deep-lying midfielder. Under new manager Roberto Martínez, that versatility could prove vital to Everton’s chances of replicating last year’s success. Playing in a more fluid system, Fellaini could see more opportunities to leverage his versatility, his ability to couple goal scoring, target man’s prowess, physicality and defensive impact again making him one of the league’s top players.

Juan Mata, Chelsea

Since arriving from Valencia two years ago, Mata (pictured, at the top) has been the Premier League’s most prolific player. In 118 all competition appearances, the Spanish international has scored 32 goals and recorded 59 assists. So why is Mata rarely mentioned with Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez, and Robin van Persie as one of the best players in the Premier League? Because physically, there isn’t much to him. He’s just short of 5’9″. He isn’t particularly strong or fast. He’s yet to carve out a major role for his national team, and the two years he’s been at Stamford Bridge have been strange (if successful) ones for the club. Ultimately, however, the production speaks for itself. If you like watching players who create and score goals, Mata is as watchable as anybody in the Premier League.

source:  Oscar, Chelsea

Just under a month short of his 21st birthday, Oscar is already a starter for both Chelsea and the Brazilian national team, and although his in-league numbers weren’t particularly impressive (four goals, seven assists), his youth, all competition production (12 goals, 13 assists in all competitions), and skill demand a place on this list. With the talent to become one of the best creators in the league, Oscar’s numbers will certainly improve. Even if they don’t, his ability to make himself available for the ball and get it to Chelsea’s creators further up the field (Mata, Hazard, who combined for 60 assists) shouldn’t be overlooked, even if basic statistics do.

source: Getty ImagesYaya Touré, Manchester City

Two years ago, Touré was the league’s best player – an absolute beast, attacking and defending, during Manchester City’s first Premier League title. Last year, like the rest of his team, he waned. Whether that was because of natural regression, wear-and-tear, or his commitments at the African Cup of Nations, City will need the 30-year-old Ivorian to be the same, dominant player he was in 2011-12 if they’re to reclaim the title. If he plays at that level, Touré will not only provide a perfect complement to the newly purchased Fernandinho, he will again be one of the league’s best players. He has the strength and awareness to be the league’s top defensive midfielder (when played there). He also possesses the range and skill to fill the space behind City’s phalanx of forwards, allowing Fernandinho to sit and distribute while adding another goal-scoring threat to City’s attack.


Your mileage may vary, and in players like Manchester United’s Michael Carrick, Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, and Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, there are certainly strong candidates to replace those on this list. In reality, there are far more than five midfielders to watch this season in the Premier League. But if you were going to focus on only five, we’d suggest Cazorla, Fellaini, Mata, Oscar, and Touré.

VIDEO: “The Beast” leads Wimbledon to promotion; leaves club with epic interview

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Adebayo Akinfenwa’s time at AFC Wimbledon may be over, but he will never be forgotten.

The striker scored a penalty kick at Wembley on Monday deep into stoppage time to seal Wimbledon’s promotion to League One after a 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.

Headed to League One for the first time in club history, the win caps off a remarkable rise for Wimbledon that started in the ninth-tier of English football back in 2002.

[ MORE: Pellegrini rues Pep announcement ]

Akinfenwa, a journeyman striker in England’s lower leagues, has gained cult-hero status due to his large frame, listed at 5-foot-11-inches and weighing in at over 220 pounds, earning him the nickname “The Beast.”

Speaking to Sky Sports amid the promotion celebrations, Akinfenwa asked for other managers to shoot him a text as his contract expires with Wimbledon this summer.

It’s what dreams are made of. I’m more tired now running around [celebrating] than I was the whole game, but it’s a beautiful feeling.

Sidebar, I think I’m technically unemployed. So any managers, hit me up on the WhatsApp and get me a job.

There ain’t no better way to leave this club than to leave them promoted, it’s beautiful. For all them who said I was too big to play football, come on now.

Akinfenwa also joked about his late-match penalty, in which he was seen wrestling the ball away from teammate Callum Kennedy. When asked about the situation, Akinfenwa responded “It was just set up too beautifully, and I’m bigger than Cal, so Cal was unlucky. I’m sorry Cal K, I love you though.”

Saints to offer Shane Long new deal as Liverpool, Spurs show interest

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Shane Long of Southampton is chased down by Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on May 8, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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After scoring ten Premier League goals this season, Shane Long looks set to be rewarded with a new contract at Southampton.

Despite having two years remaining on his current contract, multiple reports state he will get a new deal to fend off interest from Liverpool and Tottenham.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO 2016 coverage ]

Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino was in Dublin this past weekend to watch Long play for Ireland, where he was pictured sitting with the player’s agent Pat Dolan. The Saints’ striker scored Ireland’s only goal in a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.

Liverpool had also reached out to Southampton back in January about a possible move for Long, and it is believed Jurgen Klopp is quite fond of the Irish striker.

[ MORE: Klinsmann aiming for top-four finish at Copa America Centenario ]

Having already inked Virgil Van Dijk, James Ward-Prowse, and Fraser Forster to new deals, Southampton will be eager to lock up Long before EURO 2016 kicks off.

Likely to be the top striker for Ireland at the tournament, a good showing for Long on Europe’s biggest stage could lead to even more interest in the 29-year-old.

Arsenal’s Bellerin set to make Spain EURO squad after Carvajal injury

ST GALLEN, SWITZERLAND - MAY 29:  Hector Bellerin of Spain competes for the ball with Sead Kolasinac (L) and Ervin Zukanovic of Bosnia during an international friendly match between Spain and Bosnia at the AFG Arena on May 29, 2016 in St Gallen, Switzerland.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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With just one cap to his name, Hector Bellerin looks poised to make Spain’s final 23-man roster for EURO 2016.

The Arsenal right-back will take the spot of Dani Carvajal, who tore his hip flexor in Real Madrid’s win in the Champions League final.

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Bellerin, 21, made his debut for the Spanish first-team this past weekend, playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 win over Switzerland.

Speaking before the extent of Carvajal’s injury was revealed, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque had said “We have two days until I name my list of 23 players. While we are waiting to hear from the medics [about Carvajal], Bellerin stays with us.”

[ REPORT: Barcelona interested in Manchester United’s Juan Mata ]

Despite a lack of experience with the national team, Bellerin has played more than 50 Premier League games with Arsenal, named to the PFA Team of the Year this season as the league’s best right-back.

Spain’s first match of EURO 2016 is on June 13 against the Czech Republic, also paired with Turkey and Croatia in Group D.

Switzerland picks 3 teenagers in final Euro 2016 squad

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 29: Breel Embolo of Switzerland (R) fights for the ball with goalkeeper Jasmin Buric of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the international friendly match between Switzerland and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Stadium Letzigrund on March 29, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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LUGANO, Switzerland (AP) Switzerland has three 19-year-olds in its final European Championship squad of 23 players that features new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka.

Coach Vladimir Petkovic was expected to pick Basel forward Breel Embolo, and on Monday also selected teenagers Nico Elvedi and Denis Zakaria.

Elvedi, a defender with Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Young Boys midfielder Zakaria both made international debuts on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Belgium in Geneva.

[ MORE: Barcelona will chase Mata if available from United ]

Zakaria takes a holding midfielder’s place left vacant when Petkovic left out former captain Gokhan Inler over a lack of playing time at Leicester.

Petkovic also omitted defenders Philippe Senderos and Silvan Widmer, and midfielder Luca Zuffi, who had been on the provisional squad.

Switzerland’s final warmup match is against Moldova in Lugano on Friday.

Switzerland is in host France’s group at Euro 2016 along with Albania and Romania.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (Augsburg)

Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Johan Djourou (Hamburger SV), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Fabian Schaer (Hoffenheim), Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg)

Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Watford), Blerim Dzemaili (Genoa), Gelson Fernandes (Rennes), Fabian Frei (Mainz), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Denis Zakaria (Young Boys)

Forwards: Breel Embolo (Basel), Haris Seferovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa), Shani Tarashaj (Everton).