Premier League’s Top 5 midfielders for 2014-15

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Ramping up for the start of the Barclays Premier League season, ProSoccerTalk has already brought you the top five goalkeepers and defenders to watch for the 2014-15 season. With the forward list scheduled to come out later today, here’s a look at the men in the middle – our top five midfielders for the coming season:

5. Mesut Özil, Arsenal

The German’s first year in North London began with elation, with Arsène Wenger finally landing the high-priced talent for which Gooners had pined. The early returns — performances that helped push the Gunners into title contention — faded as the season went on. Five goals and nine assists (in 26 games) were nice numbers, but Özil wasn’t brought in to be merely nice.

Expecting that production again flies in the face of Özil’s talent. In three seasons at Real Madrid, the new world champion had 47 Liga assists. If he can recapture that influence, Özil will be among the best midfielders in England.

source: Getty Images4. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal

Before suffering a thigh injury halfway through last season, Aaron Ramsey was the Premier League’s best player. The return, emergence, and dominance of Luis Suárez eventually overshadowed that rise, but as this year’s preseason has shown, Ramsey may be ready to repeat last season’s production. In 35 games (all competitions), the 23-year-old scored 16 times, giving Arsenal Lampard-esque production from the center of the park.

For last year’s Arsenal, a team without an elite goalscorer, that production was crucial. For this year’s team, it could mean title contention. If Alexis Sánchez can bring his Camp Nou form to the Emirates, Ramsey’s production will do more than make up for his team’s shortcomings up front. The Wales international can be Arsenal’s Yaya Touré.

source: AP3. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Hazard may be the most talented player in this group. He’s also its youngest, though given how much Chelsea paid Lille for the Belgian star ($50.6 million in June 2012), Hazard has been evaluated as if he’s in his prime. Only 22 last season, Hazard put up 14 goals and seven assists. There’s every reason to believe he can still improve.

Even before he’s come into his prime, Hazard has the ability to be a focal point for a title contender, and while Chelsea’s additions of Diego Costa and Cesc Fábregas strengthen the Blues’ case, the continued maturity of Hazard will be a key part of his team’s success. If Hazard goes from dangerous to dominant, Chelsea may have too many ways to win this year’s title.

source: Getty Images2. David Silva, Manchester City

Silva is such a specific type of player — small, not especially fast, almost entirely reliant on his skill, vision, and expertise — it’s easy to get caught up in his limitations, especially when you’re comparing him to the rest of the league’s best. But the thing Silva does best, serving as that play-making link between deep midfield and attack, he does better than anybody in the league. Though Mesut Özil is close, and the return of Cesc Fábregas may introduce another name in the conversation, no player has been more effective taking his team from transition to attack than David Silva.

He’s the reason why strikers like Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, and Carlos Tevez have seen so much success. As Yaya Touré’s busting forward to put up league-high goal totals for midfielders, it’s Silva that’s controlling the play in front of him.

While City’s won four major honors over the last four seasons, Silva’s been the man pulling the strings. He is the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League.

source: Getty Images1. Yaya Touré, Manchester City

If Silva is the engine, Touré’s the train itself – a central midfielder that proved his team’s leading scorer (20, in league). So impressive was his production that many felt he bested Suárez for player of the season, and while that view was in the minority, the fact Touré earned any consideration spoke to his production. For the second time in three seasons, the Ivorian international was the key player on a title-winning club.

The big concern is whether the 31-year-old, coming off a summer shortened by the World Cup, can come close to last year’s production. In his three previous seasons, Touré had 18 goals total. Regression is in the cards.

Unfortunately, with Chelsea’s improvement, City can’t afford any appearance of mortality from its biggest star. Touré was the best midfielder in England last season, but if he can’t retain that title, the Citizens may not defend theirs.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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De Rossi admits desire to beat young teammates with bat

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Daniele De Rossi doesn’t like the modern world.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Roma legend dropped a funny quote when discussing the differences between young players these days and those when he began his career.

A one-club man, the 33-year-old De Rossi has played in 556 matches for i Lupi and admits that he probably flummoxed veterans when he began his career because that’s the cyclical nature of adulthood.

From Italia Football:

“When we started out, it was all different, that was 20 years ago. Now a 20-year-old will get into the first team and have more Instagram followers than Messi. When I was young, the older players would say ‘it wasn’t like in my day’ – that’s life and it always will be.

“Mind you, some of them irritate me too. When I see them do live Instagram videos from inside the locker room before a game, I’d like to take a baseball bat to their teeth… But they’re 18 years old and in 20 years’ time they will find themselves complaining about the youth of today.”

Mmmm, tastes like ash and hickory.

It’s a safe bet that De Rossi isn’t wild about Stephan El Shaarawy’s hair, we imagine, but living legends generally get a little leeway with their comments in the media.

Plus, it sounds like he has the wisdom to understand the “why” and at least channel his angry into tackles.