x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Premier League: New players ready to take top flight

Richard Jolly picks out five players who could make a difference in their first season in the England's elite division.

Oliver Giroud, right, who joined Arsenal from Montpellier in the summer, was French Ligue 1's top scorer last season. Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images
Oliver Giroud, right, who joined Arsenal from Montpellier in the summer, was French Ligue 1's top scorer last season. Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images

Oscar (Chelsea)

Chelsea have won the trophies but not always the admirers they wanted. Now, finally, that may change.

By adding Eden Hazard and Oscar, Chelsea should have more fun and flair at Stamford Bridge.

English audiences have been given a sneak preview of the latter during Brazil's Olympic run. Technically gifted, inventive and part of a slick side, it has been enough to whet the appetites. Oscar is more of a creative midfielder than a scorer, though capable of doing both, and seems likely to line up on the right of talented trio in Roberto Di Matteo's 4-2-3-1 formation.

It all suggests that the side who defended their way to the Champions League title should be an attacking force this year and that Fernando Torres, with such a high-class supply line, should have few excuses if he does not score regularly.

Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)

When Manchester United bought their first ever Chinese and South Korean players, there was a certain amount of scepticism.

They were, the doubters insisted, signed to sell shirts in Asia. China's Dong Fangzhou only made two first-team appearances but Ji-sung Park went on to exert an influence in seven years at Old Trafford.

Now Shinji Kagawa has become United's first Japanese and the climate has changed. England finds it easier to accept he has been signed for his footballing qualities.

Indeed, they are very evident: a goal every three games for his country and a still better scoring ratio as he helped Borussia Dortmund win back-to-back Bundesliga titles. An attacking midfielder who can be used behind a striker or cutting in from the flank, Kagawa could add another dimension to United.

Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)

Normally when a manager changes, proposed signings are put on hold. Not Jan Vertonghen, however.

Both the dismissed Harry Redknapp and his replacement Andre Villas-Boas wanted the defender at White Hart Lane. It is not surprising. If Tottenham had not snapped him up, someone else – potentially Arsenal – would have done.

The Belgian is the reigning Footballer of the Year in Holland and a cultured, ball-playing defender with a crowd-pleasing habit of strolling into midfield on solo runs.

His arrival also marks a changing of the guard in the Spurs defence: no longer will the retired Ledley King be patched up and pressed into action.

Now the back four will be built around Vertonghen and, particularly if Villas-Boas continues with his controversial policy of a high defensive line, it should be well worth watching.

Michu (Swansea City)

Significant as goalscoring strikers are, there is a case for arguing that midfield marksmen are still more valuable. These are players that score at a rate that many forwards can only envy while contributing much else besides.

Normally, they could be expected to command huge fees. Not Michu. The Spaniard struck 15 times for Rayo Vallecano last season to make him the most prolific midfielder in the Primera Liga. He cost a mere £2 million (Dh11.4m). "When you see people commentating on how we can sign a player like that for such a small amount of money, then the Spanish economy must be really bad," said Michael Laudrup, the manager. "It is a bargain."

It makes the 26 year old a cut-price replacement for the departed Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is now at Tottenham.

Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

Arsenal fans could be forgiven for feeling apprehensive.

The last two strikers they signed from Ligue 1 are Marouane Chamakh and Chu-young Park, Robin van Persie's unappreciated understudies.

Now Olivier Giroud has to be the captain's replacement after the Dutchman decamped to Manchester United. But, as a champion of France and the top scorer in the division, the former Montpellier man has a rather greater pedigree than either of Van Persie's doomed deputies.

With Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla also signing, he has an improved supporting cast so there are reasons to tip Giroud, who looks well equipped to lead the line, to flourish – even if it would be unrealistic in the extreme to expect him to replicate Van Persie's 30-goal, Footballer-of-the-Year campaign last season.


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