5 EPL Players Who Will Shine in 2013/14 After Solid Debut Seasons
We've all heard of "second-season syndrome," the manufactured condition by which a player is sussed out following a solid debut campaign. Their second campaign, as a result, is not as fruitful.
The decline of Everton's Nikica Jelavic in the season just gone is perhaps the most recent pertinent example. But he is not the first and certainly won't be the last to fall foul to it. The Premier League has proved to be a difficult environment in which to maintain a consistently high standard.
But some players come in, start well and build on their initial showing.
Last season in particular, there was a host of players who adapted well in their maiden Premier League outings. And whilst some of these players may not have as significant an impact next time around, others will learn, develop and ultimately improve when they get their second bite of the cherry.
With this in mind, I've picked out five players who you would expect to build on their solid debut seasons and become stars in next season's campaign.
2012-13 EPL Key Stats: 26 Appearances, 56.8 Average Passes Per Game, 3.5 Average Interceptions Per Game, 3.5 Average Tackles Per Game
I think it would be fair to say that not many of us had heard of Chico Flores before the season just gone. With Swansea having lost arguably their two best players last summer in Scott Sinclair and Joe Allen, the signing of the unknown Spanish defender did not really set pulses racing.
But since then, the former Genoa man has established himself firmly at the heart of the Swans defence. All the talk has been of how Swansea’s other Spanish acquisition, Michu, represented the signing of last season at £2 million. But for the same outlay, Chico is just as much value for money.
In many respects, he is the perfect centre-half for Swansea. His style of defending is very much front-foot, as he is excellent at reading the game and sniffing out danger early. This provides the perfect foil for fellow centre-back Ashley Williams, who is a much more physical, enforcing defender.
In addition to all of this, the Spaniard complements Swansea’s all-encompassing passing style with his ability to bring to ball out from defence and play passes into midfield.
How can he get better?
There are very few obvious negatives when it comes to Chico. He is an accomplished all-round defender, and we can expect him to continue improving all facets of his game next season. But with Williams looking increasingly likely to depart the club this summer, Chico will be the main man at centre-half.
In keeping with this, he will need to take up a much more vocal, leading role. Do that, and he can become one of the Premier League's best defenders in 2013/14 .
2012-13 EPL Key Stats: 23 Appearances, 6 Goals, 3 Assists
Everton supporters aren’t really used to players in the mould of Kevin Mirallas. Direct, tricky attacking forwards have been a rare commodity at the Merseyside club down the years, so there was a sense of anticipation when they picked up a player who had been described in some quarters as the “Belgian Ronaldo.”
Whilst those comparisons are obviously premature, Mirallas has certainly proved to be value for money. And then some. He has quickly established himself as a key player for the Toffees.
Having often been accused of an over-reliance on the Leighton Baines/Steven Pienaar combination down the left flank, Everton now have Mirallas as another string to their offensive bow.
His link-up play with Seamus Coleman means that Everton now have twin attacking threats down each flank. Resultantly, the variety and balance in their forward play has been a joy to watch.
Mirallas just seemed to be getting up to speed as the season was coming to an end, netting six times in Everton’s last 13 games. New manager Roberto Martinez will hope he can carry that form into next season.
How can he get better?
The obvious issue for Mirallas is injuries. He missed almost three months of the campaign through hamstring woes, with David Moyes bemoaning his apparent lack of toughness, as reported by the Daily Mail. But, as already alluded too, Mirallas blossomed towards the end of the campaign, with his physicality, fitness and defensive work showing considerable improvements.
Martinez should be able to bring the best out him from an attacking perspective.
2012-13 EPL Key Stats: 12 Appearances, 3 Goals, 5 Assists
Having signed for Liverpool from Inter Milan back in January, there were some who wondered whether Philippe Coutinho could make an instantaneous impact on the Premier League.
His sleight somatotype and youthful appearance don’t really give the impression of someone who can mix it with some of the rugged Premier League types.
But Coutinho has certainly got people excited at Anfield. His heavenly touch and stellar vision has already earned him many admirers.
Coutinho helped himself to five assists in his opening 13 games at the club, with his delectable through balls already becoming trademark.
In the final four games of the season, in which Liverpool were without their talisman, Luis Suarez, the young Brazilian stepped up and filled the void. His seemingly telepathic understanding with Daniel Sturridge will offer Reds supporters some comfort should their star man go in search of pastures new now.
How can he get better?
In what you might call the “bigger” games, Coutinho struggled to make an impact on proceedings. In the run-in, he was withdrawn against Tottenham after an hour and Chelsea at half-time. In the Merseyside derby, too, he failed to impose himself against a robust Everton midfield.
However, these are somewhat expected concerns for a player who still has plenty of time to acclimatize to the English game.
2012-13 EPL Key Stats: 17 Appearances, 6 Goals, 3 Assists
The Japanese international rose to prominence after being plucked from the Japanese second division by Jurgen Klopp. His scintillating performances at Dortmund led to a move to Manchester United last summer, and there was much excitement about what skills Kagawa could bring to the side.
But Kagawa had a mixed bag of a first season in English football. It was clear that Sir Alex Ferguson was looking to accommodate the former Dortmund man, using a 4-2-3-1 formation at the beginning of the campaign. And he impressed initially as the most central of the three advanced midfielders.
Ferguson continued to tinker, however, and as a result Kagawa found himself in deeper positions, on either of the flanks or sat on the bench.
Glimpses of his talent were scattered across the season, though, with his stunning hat-trick against Norwich the obvious example. These glimpses of genius have led to the common assumption that Kagawa will be a much more fearsome proposition next season.
How can he get better?
A run of games in his favoured position would be of massive assistance to Kagawa. He looked much more comfortable when deployed in a central area, and he should be given the opportunity to flourish there instead of out wide.
New manager David Moyes has never really worked with a “classic” No. 10, though, and it will be interesting to see how he uses the Japanese. Especially with the future of one Wayne Rooney still very much up in the air.
2012-13 EPL Key Stats: 31 Appearances, 9 Goals, 11 Assists
The Premier League has played host to a number of emerging Belgian footballers in the past couple of years. But for all of the exciting players the country have produced as part of their footballing renaissance, Eden Hazard is the undoubted crown jewel of this current crop.
Hazard eventually chose to join Chelsea last summer despite a clamour for his signature from the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United.
It was immediately apparent what all the fuss is about, as the former Lille man showcased some dazzling early-season form. He forged a devastating telepathy with fellow midfielder Juan Mata, and Chelsea tore up the Premier League in the opening few weeks.
The tools are there for Hazard to go on and become the Premier League’s best player next season. He is a hybrid of a top-class winger and a classic No. 10. He is as comfortable with direct attacking bursts as he is with finding pockets of space and linking the play.
After an impressive debut season, you can’t help but think a player of his quality will have learned a lot from that initial experience and will use this to his advantage going forward.
One thing is for certain, new manager Jose Mourinho will be delighted to have one of Europe’s brightest young prospects at his disposal.
How can he get better?
A minor quip for an attacking player, but Hazard’s reluctancy to cover his full-back was regularly targeted by opposition sides last season. And under Mourinho, this apparent lack of work-ethic simply won’t do.
Hazard did begin to improve this area of his game towards the end of last season under Rafael Benitez, though, and the Portuguese chief will look to continue where his predecessor left off.
All stats courtesy of WhoScored.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball