5 Most Impressive English Premier League Stars in Preseason Tours
Gone are the days when club's preseason routines would consist of gruelling hill runs, dips in the North Sea or army-esque press-up drills (all, obviously, completed with players wearing bin liners under their shirts as to sweat out the remnants of the previous night's over-indulgement).
Now the only thing military about the summer months are the continent-hopping, money-spinning regimental schedules that clubs must stick to as to appease their overseas fanbases.
Whether it be Asia, Australasia, America or Africa, Premier League teams have them all covered. With the global reach of the modern game, these are seen as a prime opportunities to remind far-flung followers that they are just as appreciated as those who live within a stone's throw of the home stadium.
Straight after landing, players are whisked off to autograph signing sessions before participating in open training sessions, as well as the customary visit to local schools or hospitals. There are then photo opportunities in front of local sights and with dignitaries.
In amongst this frenetic hive of activity the occasional preseason game happens, allowing players the chance to blow off the cobwebs from that ephemeral summers holiday. Similarly, it also presents managers the chance to see who needs extra time before the new campaign commences, as well as identifying areas to bolster.
With the 2013/14 English Premier League season beginning in just over two weeks time—and, lest you forget, there's the small matter of a World Cup in 12 months time, so expect an extra high-octane affair— the majority of teams have showcased their talent, both new and old.
But which players have posted particularly positive performances? Let's take a look at five individuals who have caught the eye.
While new Manchester United boss David Moyes has spoke with the aplomb of a distinguished politician when talking to the media, he has been less assured in his transfer window dealings.
Now into August, United have brought in just one player, Uruguayan youngster Guillermo Varela (read more about the right-back here).
They have been frustrated in their pursuit of reinforcements. First came Thiago Alcantara's decision to reject United in favour of swapping Barcelona for Bayern Munich. And there is now the much-publicised chase of his former team mate Cesc Fabregas, which has not gone United's way thus far.
With the Manchester Evening News reporting that United are going back in with a third bid for the former Arsenal midfielder—which will purportedly supersede the £30 million they paid Tottenham Hotspur for Dimitar Berbatov in August 2008—we wait with baited breath to see how that one develops.
In the meantime though, United fans can be consoled by the fact that as his last signing, Sir Alex Ferguson ended his hegemony by purchasing a player who is already showing swathes of promise and potential.
Despite the deal being ratified in January, it is only now that Wilfried Zaha has joined up with his new teammates: Spending the latter half of the season at former club Crystal Palace, he successfully helped them achieve promotion to the English Premier League.
On United's tour of Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, Zaha started all but two of their five games. While he shares Moyes' record of making a losing United debut—as United went down 1-0 to a Singha All Star XI—the England international's maiden goal rescued an unlikely draw against Cerezo Osaka.
As rumours intensify of Nani's alleged departure to either of cash-rich French clubs Monaco or Paris Saint-Germain courtesy of The Sun (subscription required), as well as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young perennially struggling to find consistent form, the 20-year-old could find himself thrust into the starting lineup a lot quicker than anticipated.
Having conceded 43 goals last season—the same amount as eventual champions Manchester United— Liverpool's defence was one of the more assured departments in their team. So it was a surprise when they cited investing in a goalkeeper as their priority.
As a result, the position of long-time No. 1 Pepe Reina was suddenly at risk. This eventually resulted in the Anfield favourite leaving on a season-long loan to Napoli to join up with former boss Rafa Benitez—not before he had taken a swipe at the Liverpool hierarchy—whom he considers "the best manager" he has worked with.
If Liverpool fans were dubious at the arrival of Mignolet, his performances on Liverpool's tour of Indonesia, Australia and Thailand will have put their worries at ease.
Yet to concede a goal, he has played a major part in all of Liverpool's four preseason games (a pre-departure game away to Preston began proceedings). Starting in all of the games but one—when understudy Brad Jones played 72 minutes—the 25-year-old has commanded his penalty area, constantly keeping in communication with his back four.
In that heady season of 2008/09, when Liverpool pushed United all the way before eventually finishing second, the Anfield team conceded just 27 goals. Mignolet's arrival will instil confidence in the terraces that he is the man to rebuild such an austere defence.
Still aged only 20, Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku has already installed himself in a Belgium national team brimming with talent and has also established himself as a proven poacher in the Premier League, two achievements players a lot more experienced are still striving for.
Signed from Anderlecht two summers ago for a reported fee of £20 million, the striker endured a frustrating maiden season, not making his debut for the London club until the final League game of the 2011/12 season. And that only came about because then-manager Roberto Di Matteo had, unexpectedly, reached the Champions League final and needed to rest players.
However, it was a loan move to West Bromwich Albion last season which proved a masterstroke in the Belgian's development. Playing under former Chelsea coach Steve Clarke, he hit 17 league goals and helped the Baggies achieved eighth position.
Now back at Stamford Bridge, the youngster has spoken of his excitement to play under new boss Jose Mourinho, while the new supremo has been equally effusive in his praise of his striker, labelling him a "very, very good player," as reported by the London Evening Standard.
Lukaku also refuses to be deterred by the club's pursuit of Wayne Rooney, telling the Telegraph that if the Manchester United forward were to arrive—a scenario which may well dislodge the Belgian from the starting lineup—he "will welcome him with open arms."
If Rooney does arrive, Lukaku will not give up his berth in Mourinho's starting lineup without a fight. Playing a starring role of Chelsea's games in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he has earned plaudits having scored four goals in the three games.
As Chelsea now jet to America, Lukaku attributes this rich vein of form to a diet plan that the Chelsea staff handed to him last season. In an interview with Belgian TV (via the London Evening Standard), he talked of how he has lost five kilogrammes but has also turned a lot of excess fat into muscle.
With such a physical presence, Lukaku could well be a ready-made replacement for Didier Drogba, a player who departed Stamford Bridge a year ago and was very much a focal part of Mourinho's team in his first spell.
Having circled the relegation plug hole for much of last season, everyone connected with Aston Villa will hope that this season sees Paul Lambert's second season as boss yield less angst and more promise.
With a renowned policy of buying young players and then fervently keeping faith in them, this had mixed results during the most recent campaign. While Christian Benteke was a renowned success as he bagged 19 goals in his debut season, other players—such as Ashley Westwood—clearly needed more time to bed in.
Not wanting to repeat the last-gasp heroics which ultimately saw Villa avoid the drop by five points, Lambert and his superiors moved quickly to bring in reinforcements. In addition to Aleksandar Tonev, Leandro Bacuna, Jed Steer, Antonio Luna and Jores Okore—players all 23 or under—they have also brought in Danish forward Nicklas Helenius.
Arriving from Aalborg, he had previously scored 40 goals in 102 in the Danish top flight as well as setting up seven goals in 33 appearances this season, reputable stats which somehow defy the fact he was purchased for just £1.2 million.
Following the news that Benteke has performed a u-turn on his original desire to leave the Birmingham club—disappointing potential suitors Tottenham, who The Independent had reported as being interested in the 22-year-old striker—and has now committed his immediate future to Villa, fans will be salivating at the prospect of Helenius linking up with the Belgian.
Having scored two goals so far in preseason—one of which against former Bundesliga side VfL Bochum—he has displayed good credentials and given the Villa faithful a sign of what he can do.
At 6'5", Helenius will likely to be used as a target man, giving Villa an aerial presence and a great foil to the speed of winger Gabriel Agbonlahor.
New Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has experienced a mixed start to life at the Etihad. Similarly to his cross-city rival David Moyes at Manchester United, the Chilean made a losing start at his new club.
This was followed by a second defeat, meaning that City left their tour of South Africa having played two and lost two.
While their fellow Premier League teams suffer ignominy and frustration in the transfer window, there is no such hardship at City. Following the early captures of Fernandinho and Jesus Navas, Pellegrini completed a quartet of signings with the recent acquisitions of the highly sought Stevan Jovetic and the prolific Alvaro Negredo.
However, with their summer spending bonanza now exceeding €100 million, it is a player who was at Eastlands already who has experienced the strongest preseason of the City contingent.
Signed in January 2011, Edin Dzeko has not always shown the potency that was once promised. Despite scoring 14 goals in 31 appearances last season, the majority of those came from the bench.
But following his brace against AC Milan in their 5-3 demolition of the Italian club in Wednesday night's Audi Cup bout, the Bosnian striker took his preseason haul to four goals.
And this is before we include the three he scored in two games against Chelsea during City's end-of-season tour of America.
During his successful stint at Villarreal, Pellegrini is credited with turning around the career of beleaguered striker Diego Forlan. Having suffered a disastrous and humiliating stay at Manchester United, the Uruguayan went on to become one of the world's most feared strikers.
Forlan recently stated that his former boss will be a success at City, reported by The Express, and one wonders whether Dzeko can continue to thrive and transfer this run of form to the upcoming season.
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