They’ll make differences in their teams for very different reasons.
If the following five players have big seasons, they are talented enough to push their teams multiple spots up the table.
Some could be focal points, while others valuable substitutes but one thing is for sure: their signings slid under the radar given their respective abilities (or in one Fulham man’s case, the lateness of the hour).
5. Max Meyer, Crystal Palace — The 22-year-old’s progression has been infuriating at Schalke, and Palace getting him on a free transfer is a fine risk. Is he the player who scored six Bundesliga goals in 1800 minutes as a teenager, and posted 5G-6A in 2015-16, or the one whose most starts in a single season is 27?
4. Ben Gibson, Burnley — Gibson was very impressive for Middlesbrough in their relegation campaign, and he only shined his stock under defensive wizard Tony Pulis in the Championship. If Burnley makes the Europa League group stage, Gibson will be huge for Dyche.
3. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Fulham — Buying Jean Michael Seri was a coup for the midfield, but bringing in a fellow Frenchman to balance out the center of the park? Wow. The 22-year-old is a hard tackling, opportunistic machine who will disrupt the opposition and connect the defense to the forwards. Huge.
2. Xherdan Shaqiri, Liverpool — The ability to sub out a winger or midfielder with a player who, on his day, is as lethal as any shooter in the world? Not too bad, Mr. Klopp.
Jack Wilshere, West Ham United — There’s no debating how important Wilshere was to Arsenal when heathy, and his cross-London move could make all the difference in the world as West Ham tries to get the ball to its finishers.
Burnley had been slow to add players as it seemingly waited to see if it would progress in the Europa League.
Now assured of more matches in Europe and a congested schedule, the Clarets have added another experienced, composed player who won’t be questioned over his ability to handle the top flight. And at 25, he’s a player who can either be a long-term hero or sold if his value continues to grow.
“I’m absolutely delighted. It’s a big step for me. I’ve played for Middlesbrough for 15 years since I was a boy so it’s a huge step and one I’m really, really excited about,” Gibson told Clarets Player HD.
“I’ve been to the training ground and met a few of the boys and the place seems like it’s certainly a club that’s on the up and certainly a club to be excited about playing for.”
The champions are closing in on a deal for Leicester City winger Mahrez, with director of football Txiki Begiristain edging closer to agreeing terms. The structure of the fee to be paid to Leicester is still being negotiated.
Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.
Let’s get to it.
Final position: 6th (Europa League group stage) Star man: Paul Pogba — It’s clear that he’ll never justify his price tag to some critics, but once he found his footing in late Fall there was no turning back for one of the most complete players in the world. Only David De Gea played more minutes for the Red Devils. The Gaffer: Jose Mourinho — There were typical odd Mourinho moments, and his fixture congestion talk was tiresome, but all-in-all he navigated the Europa League all the way to the final despite an absurd rash of injuries to defenders and long absences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba amongst others. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Sixth is no prize for Manchester United, but a win on Wednesday against Ajax may bump this mark up to 7 (perhaps 8 given the injuries). Season summed up in a word: Patience.
Final position: 19th (Relegated) Star man: Ben Gibson — The 24-year-old defender played all 3420 Premier League minutes for Boro, and was the most consistent performer on a team that defended like a top half side. The Gaffer: Aitor Karanka / Steve Agnew — Karanka has a right to feel a bit hard done-by after leading Boro to the Premier League, but he couldn’t orchestrate goals and that is what doomed the Smoggies down to the Championship. Mark out of 10: 4/10 – Even with relegation, Boro didn’t embarrass itself like their Northeast neighbors Sunderland. Season summed up in a word: Inoffensive.
Final position: 8th Star man: Oriol Romeu — The hard-nosed tackler with an eye for the smart pass showed us what Barcelona and Chelsea saw in the center midfielder. The Gaffer: Claude Puel — Not back in Europe, and that’s a disappointment, and seems destined to start next season somewhere else. Is that fair for a League Cup final campaign, one that probably deserved better than a loss? Mark out of 10: 6/10 – An injury to stellar center back Virgil Van Dijk is likely what kept them from contending with Everton for seventh place. Their Europa League return was decent, and Puel (or whoever) will need to boost the club back into the Top Seven discussion early if he wants to stick around St. Mary’s. Season summed up in a word: Acceptable.
Final position: 13th Star man: Bruno Martins Indi — The Dutchman was a beast in the back for Stoke, but heads back to Porto this summer unless Mark Hughes can work a sale. The Gaffer: Mark Hughes — An injury to Geoff Cameron hampered their season, but the Potters stumbled too much given their talent. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – There’s a difference between leveling off and dropping off, and Stoke massively underachieved when it comes to taking any sort of step forward. Season summed up in a word: Underwhelming
Final position: 20th (Relegated) Star man: Jordan Pickford — The young backstop won’t be long for the Stadium of Light. The Gaffer: David Moyes — From word one the Scottish boss said his club wasn’t good enough for the league, which sure didn’t help them en route to relegation. Oddly enough, he could’ve been the right man to lead an undermanned rebound to the Championship. Instead, he’s resigned. Mark out of 10: 1/10 – There was nothing to like from the Northeast, but Jermain Defoe, Didier N’Dong, and Pickford were bright spots. Season summed up in a word: Moribund.
Final position: 15th Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson — The Icelandic star is simply the reason Swans stayed alive long enough to see their season rescued by Clement and Co. The Gaffer: Francesco Guidolin / Bob Bradley / Paul Clement — Not one of these men were given enough talent to keep the team in the Premier League, so credit to Clement for getting it done. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – Selling Ashley Williams and not adequately replacing him as a leader or center back could go down as the worst move in a long time. Season summed up in a word: Fortunate.
Final position: 2nd (Champions League group stage) Star man: Harry Kane — Two Golden Boots before he’s turned 24, and the latest Englishman to have a deserved comparison to Alan Shearer. The Gaffer: Mauricio Pochettino — He’s one of the best managers in the world, and Spurs are fortunate to have him. Mark out of 10: 10/10 – From the development of Dele Alli to the steadiness of their back line, Spurs could be the next dynastic club in the Premier League. Season summed up in a word: Precipice.
Final position: 17th Star man: Etienne Capoue — Impressed in possession and finishing touch. In some ways he may be like Gylfi Sigurdsson as a player best suited to stand out on a lesser squad than contribute on a well-oiled machine. The Gaffer: Walter Mazzarri — Like Quique Flores, another Watford manager sent packing by an impatient brand. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Avoided the other end of the yo-yo worry. Season summed up in a word: Alive.
West Bromwich Albion
Final position: 10th Star man: Ben Foster — Saved points for the Baggies on so many occasions. The Gaffer: Tony Pulis — Yes he was in the running to be Premier League Manager of the Year, but that feels a bit hollow, like honoring a domestic mainstay for talking down his club’s chances and then keeping them from the drop. At some point, like with Stoke, stagnation makes staying alive less impressive. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Foster helped defend to the death, but the club dropped off a cliff. Season summed up in a word: Sated.
West Ham United
Final position: 11th Star man: Winston Reid — The New Zealand captain was a steady presence in a tumultuous season. The Gaffer: Slaven Bilic — Given the club’s massive aims, this season will be combed through in a fine manner. But the Dimitri Payet saga clobbered the team after the Frenchman welched on his commitment to the club. Bilic deserves another chance. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – The chairman will want more than this, and he has to get it early this Fall. Season summed up in a word: Wobbly.
Middlesbrough joins Sunderland as two of the three sides confirmed for relegation this season, and while it may not be surprising to see the Boro head back down to the second-tire of English soccer, it is still heartbreaking for both the players and the staff.
Over the course of the 2016/17 season, the Boro have racked up just five PL wins, none of which have come against sides currently in the top half of the table.
Much of the club’s lack of success can likely be attributed to the team’s former manager, Aitor Karanka, who was sacked by Middlesbrough back in mid-March.
Caretaker manager Steve Agnew has guided his side to four positive results (1W, 3D) since taking over, including a 2-2 draw in their previous match against Manchester City, however, the Boro simply haven’t been able to display the quality necessary to stay up another season.
“We’re absolutely devastated,” Agnew said. “We worked so hard to get back in the Premier League last season. To lose tonight and lose our Premier League status is a massive and bitter disappointment.
“Now we have to finish off strongly before a summer of reflection. It’s about Middlesbrough Football Club and how we can turn it around next season to get this club back where it belongs.”
Agnew isn’t the only one reflecting on the disappointment though.
Defender Ben Gibson, who is the only Boro player to play every minute of the PL season up until this point, expressed his hurt after the loss.
“It’s not just tonight, it’s a full season,” Gibson told Sky Sports. “From top to bottom we haven’t been good enough. Players, staff, myself.
“They [Chelsea] were much better in every department. It could have been 4,5,6-0. It was the lowest point of my career. We’ve got to put it right.
“In fact it’s the lowest point of my life, not just my career. It means that much.
“The fans didn’t stop singing, wherever we’ve been this season they’ve been the same. The fans deserve Premier League football and we have to find a team to do that