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)

Why are we so concerned with Dele Alli and diving?

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Another weekend, another debate about Dele Alli taking a tumble in the penalty box.

Rinse, repeat.

Although, there should be no debate about the latest penalty kick he won late on against Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. He was clearly fouled and both opposition players and their manager had no complaints as the nimble Englishman went down under contact.

Alli, 21, was brought off the bench to try and drag Spurs back into the game and he did just that with Harry Kane slamming home the spot kick Alli won to put Spurs 2-1 up late on, only for the Premier League side to let in a late equalizer against their third-tier opponents to set up a replay at Wembley in 10 days time.

Yet it is the constant hubbub around Alli and diving which is the biggest issue which needs to be addressed.

With three yellow cards for simulation while playing for Spurs in the Premier League (more than any other player since 2015-16), plus his manager Mauricio Pochettino saying he understands diving to gain an advantage after Tottenham’s controversial 2-2 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, Alli is in danger of being pigeonholed as a cheat, if he hasn’t been already.

Speaking after the FA Cup game this weekend, Rochdale manager Keith Hill discussed the 88th minute penalty being awarded and Alli’s actions.

“I’m led to believe he was looking for it, but why not? If players feel there is an opportunity to be gained then brilliant, I don’t hold it against him,” Hill said. “I don’t blame him and I don’t have a problem with it. Whether it’s him, Harry Kane or [Rochdale’s opening scorer] Ian Henderson, it doesn’t matter who does it. If he does that for England in the World Cup this summer then I will definitely be supporting him.”

Comments like this, although deemed to be supportive by Hill, are the reason why Alli is being branded a cheat.

If someone praises him for initiating contact and going down, he’s hammered. If he’s criticized for going down too easily, he’s hammered. He’s in a lose-lose situation. But why is Alli being singled out for special treatment?

Quite simply, it’s because he’s a special talent and because he is the next great hope for England, even if this season he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of being crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year in each of his first two Premier League campaigns.

Purists within the English game have long lambasted and singled out foreign imports (rightly or wrongly) for taking tumbles in the box, going down too easily and trying to con referees into giving them an advantage.

Many foreign imports to the PL who have since admitted they were taught at a young age to go down if they felt contact in the box which further enraged the debate. Now, with the heavy international influence at each PL club, we have seen simulation become a bigger part of the English game over the past decade and more anger emerge from pundits, coaches and fans alike.

A special rule introduced this season to retrospectively ban any players found guilty of diving (if the incident wasn’t spotted at the time by the officials) has seen Oumar Niasse and Wilfried Zaha banned, although Zaha won his appeal against the decision, and it seems to be having some impact, but it’s still not doing enough to stamp out simulation in the English game.

Is Alli the only player who goes down often? No. Yet the way Alli plays the game, we will more often than not see him clattered into in the box. He flicks and pokes balls past defenders and his relatively slight frame means he will likely go down under contact from a bruising center back or midfielder. That’s just science.

Alli’s reputation as a hothead supersedes these simulation allegations and previous bans for punching opponents in the stomach, lunging into tackles to be sent off and off the ball incidents certainly do him no favors in proclaiming his innocence.

But the vendetta building against him as a serial cheat needs to end before this vicious cycle gets out of hand and his talent erodes amid the jeers from opposition fans.

It’s unlikely that Alli, like many players, will stop going down in the box anytime soon if he feels contact from an opposition defender. The sooner everyone starts to accept it, the sooner everyone can move on and focus on trying to eradicate serial simulation in the game once and for all. That’s the bigger issue here. Not just Dele Alli.

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his nine outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.

VIDEO: 10 red cards in abandoned Brazilian game

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This is utterly bonkers.

There are plenty of derbies around the globe which put fans and players on edge, but this was different.

Vitoria and Bahia squared off in the Bahia State derby in Salvador, Brazil and the match was abandoned amid violent scenes on the pitch which saw 10 players sent off.

The first half saw eight yellows dished out, but it all kicked off in the 50th minute after Vinicius scored a penalty kick for Bahia and shall we say danced before appearing to hump mid-air in front of the Vitoria fans. Predictably, that didn’t go down well.

Chaos ensued (see the video clip below) as punches flew in and the referee ended up sending off eight players, which included substitutes nearby, as all hell broke loose behind the Vitoria goal.

After a lengthy break, eventually three Vitoria players were sent off and five from Bahia, but there was to be more drama as two more Vitoria players were sent off in the 79th minute to take their tally of players on the pitch to seven.

That meant the game was abandoned and Bahia will likely be awarded a 3-0 victory.

The next time someone tells you a derby game is particularly “feisty” just show them the video below…


Arsenal sign record-breaking deal with Emirates

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Arsenal have announced a new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines which will run until 2024 and is said to be worth over $56 million per season.

In a statement released on the club website, they call the five-year extension to the current deal “largest sponsorship deal ever signed by the club” as Emirates will continue to appear on the shirts and training gear of all of the teams.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis revealed the reason behind extending the relationship with Emirates.

“Our shirt partnership is the longest running in the Premier League and one of the longest relationships in world sport. This mutual commitment is testimony to the strength and depth of our unique relationship. Emirates are again demonstrating their great belief in our approach and ambition and their significantly increased investment will help us continue to compete for trophies and bring more success to the club and our fans around the world.”

The Gunners also confirmed that their home stadium will be known as the Emirates Stadium until at least 2028, as per the agreement reached in 2012.

Where do Arsenal rank in terms of shirt sponsorship deals?

Manchester United lead the way with their deal with Chevrolet said to be worth over $74.2 million per year, while Chelsea sit in second with a $56 million per year partnership with Yokohama but the Gunners are now alongside their London rivals.

Manchester City and Tottenham are just behind them when it comes to sponsorship deals, while Liverpool’s relationship with Standard Chartered runs until the end of next season.