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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.