Ten Players to Watch in the 2014/15 Premier League season

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It’s never easy to craft a ‘Top 10 players to watch’ list, mainly because it falls into that amorphous space among lists concerning ‘Top 10 players’, ‘Top 10 transfers’ and ‘Top 10 dark horses’. So we dug deep, removed the ‘Top 10’ aspect and have put together the perfect list of Premier League players you need to keep your eye on in 2014/15.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Of course, the list is still a bit subjective but if you disagree or feel we’ve lost the plot, have your say in the comments. Regardless, the most important point remains – the Premier League returns in only five days. Get in!

Diego Costa – Chelsea

If one were to single out where Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho got it wrong last year most would agree it was at striker where the trio of Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba proved lame. So this summer the Portuguese manager set out to find a powerful, clinical, hulking striker to play the role of Didier Drogba 2.0. Diego Costa, who scored 36 goals in all comps last year for Atletico Madrid, has been donned that man. And, just in case the Brazilian striker doesn’t come good, Mourinho went out and signed Drogba 1.0 as well (although he’s already caught the injury bug).

Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

In one of the most high-powered signings of the summer, Arsenal broke the bank to bring Alexis Sanchez to North London. Similar to the deal for Mesut Ozil last year, it was one that Arsenal didn’t have to make out of necessity but instead, simply couldn’t pass up. Sanchez enjoyed a brilliant World Cup for Chile and made no secret of his desire to leave Barcelona – where he, like Cesc Fabregas, was under appreciated – to play under Arsene Wenger. How the gaffer will line up his stacked squad is anyone’s guess but expect Sanchez to pop up on the right and left wings, an attacking center midfielder and as a striker.

Luke Shaw – Manchester United

There isn’t a player in the league with more pressure on his shoulders than Luke Shaw, having arrived at Old Trafford this summer on a $50 million dollar transfer fee. For a 19-year-old left back, that’s some serious loot. Then again, Shaw is a big talent, both literally and metaphorically. The question becomes, what kind of impact will he have in year one? Louis van Gaal has already cut him down by publicly noting his lack of fitness and handing Ashley Young a fair shot to win the left-back spot. And, shockingly, the former Villa man has looked quite good in pre-season. Tough times for Shaw but watching him overcome the odds will be a joy.

Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea

Can’t wait to see Fabregas back on Premier League pitches but in Chelsea blue?! That will take some getting used to. The former Arsenal midfielder arrived at Stamford Bridge following a three-year stint at Barcelona where his qualities were not fully appreciated. Now, back on English soil, pundits will be looking to see if Cesc can re-capture the reputation he gained at the Emirates as one of the best play-makers in the world.

source: Getty ImagesRoss Barkley – Everton

Everton made headlines this summer with the $47 million purchase of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea but equally significant was the re-signing of midfielder Ross Barkley to a new four year deal at the club. Barkley scored seven goals in 38 appearances for Everton last season, beasting opponents with a combination of power, skill and a knack for big goals.

Rumors were rife with Manchester United and Chelsea were in to sign the 20-year-old maestro but in the end Everton was too close to his heart: “This contract means everything for me. It is my dream to play for Everton. This is the club I love and I see it as home.”

Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City

Stevan Jovetic struggled with injury in his first season at City but has been fantastic in this summer’s pre-season. With injuries to Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo heading into the start of the season, look for Jovetic to partner Edin Dzeko up top and to finally make his mark in the Premier League. If the Montenegrin comes good for the Citizens early on, look for him to move out to the wing once Aguero returns from injury.

Enner Valencia – West Ham

Feels like ages since West Ham have had a healthy, proper striker ready to go. Last year they banked on Andy Carroll before injuries struck him down leaving the cupboard bare. This year, the Hammers smartly hedged Carroll (who recently injured himself again) by dropping $20 million on Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia. The former Pachuca man (18 goals in 23 matches) dazzled in the World Cup, scoring three goals and proving himself a menace to opposition with blazing speed and incredible aerial ability. Here’s to hoping West Ham’s new gem can stay healthy.

Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal

Keep Aaron Ramsey healthy and Arsenal are realistic title contenders. At the beginning of last season the Welsh Wizard was brilliant for the Gunners, using his silky skills to playmake throughout the midfield while scoring eight league goals before the end of November. But in December, injury struck Ramsey and down went Arsenal’s title hopes. This summer he’s healthy and looking as lively as ever with Goonah fans everywhere frothing at the mouth over the prospect of Ramsey, Ozil and Sanchez linking up together.

source: APThibaut Courtois – Chelsea

After two years on loan at Atletico Madrid, the gigantic Belgian returns to Chelsea where one of the most compelling goalkeeping battles of all time is set to commence: Thibaut Courtois v. Petr Cech. Courtois’ size (6′ 7″), split-second reactions and soft hands have seen him rise the ranks of goalkeepers, with many believing he’s No. 2 just behind Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. But what about Cech? He’s long been one of, if not the best, keepers in the Premier League and he’s not going down without a battle. How Mourinho decides to divide up the playing time and each player’s reaction towards that decision will be an incredibly compelling storyline for the entire season.

Ander Herrera – Manchester United

After multiple attempts to sign Herrera last year, United finally landed the deep-lying playmaker from Athletic Bilbao and he already looks at home in the Red Devils midfield. Lively, with brilliant technique and passing ability, Herrera will play alongside Michael Carrick and, at times, Darren Fletcher, to provide the creative link to Juan Mata. A fantastic signing for Louis van Gaal.

Others to Watch: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Callum Chambers (Arsenal), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Danny Ings (Burnley), Felipe Luis (Chelsea), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Frazier Campbell (Crystal Palace), Dwight Gayle (Crystal Palace), Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace), Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), John Stones (Everton), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Muhamed Besic (Everton), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City), Thomas Ince (Hull City), Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Willy Caballero (Manchester City), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Remy Cabella (Newcastle), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle), Loic Remy (QPR), Jordon Mutch (QPR), Mauricio Isla (QPR), Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Saphir Taider (Southampton), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Steve Sidwell (Stoke City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Bojan Krkic (Stoke City), Adam Johnson (Sunderland), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Jack Rodwell (Sunderland), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea City), Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City), Jefferson Montero (Swansea City), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Joleon Lescott (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Brown Ideye (West Brom), Kevin Nolan (West Ham), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Ravel Morrison (West Ham)

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.