Picking a 2014 XI with a Point to Prove

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2014

Picking a 2014 XI with a Point to Prove

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    Unlike Manchester City's home Premier League record, none of us are perfect, and so the desire to make New Year's resolutions is likely to be high on several to-do lists right about now.

    For several footballers in England's top flight things are no different, with players from a variety of clubs keen to make an impact in 2014.

    For several reasons―and sometimes through no fault of their own―things didn't quite sparkle for these players over 2013, but with many eyeing a place in their country's squad for the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil (which we can now, gulp, excitedly say is taking place this year) the changing of calendars might well need to bring a change of fortunes.

    Here we've made a team of players for whom 2014 could represent a key year in their careers:


Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

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    Having won his place back from Costel Pantilimon for Manchester City's festive programme of matches against Fulham, Liverpool and Crystal Palace, Joe Hart will be in no mood to lose it again.

    Ultimately though, the seven Premier League games that Hart was overlooked for in favour of the Romanian between November and December might well prove to be amongst the most important of what is still a hugely promising career, as they ensured that England's No. 1 was forced to pause and take stock of just what has made him such a top class performer.

    Key saves like the one made from Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho on Boxing Day and then several against Palace will help in his search for old form, and with his nation relying on him come the summer, the confidence picked up between now and then will be key for Hart, who has points to prove to himself as much as anybody.

Defender: Phil Jones

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    There's been nothing wrong with the performance levels of Phil Jones when he's been picked by Manchester United, but this would seem to be a pivotal year for a player who is still seemingly searching for a position.

    Used at right-back, in the centre of defence and in midfield by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Roy Hodgson in the past year, Jones is capable of doing an impressive job in all of those positions, but he now needs to find one to call his own.

    Many have suspected that centre-back is where he's most effective, and with both injuries and age catching up with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, this could be the year that Jones proves that.

Defender: Daniel Agger

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    An injury to Mamadou Sakho in the loss at Chelsea looks to have given Liverpool's Daniel Agger a route back into the first team in his favoured position, and now he needs to make sure he stays there.

    Often overlooked this season by Brendan Rodgers despite his status as the Reds' vice-captain and believed by many to be the best centre-back in the squad, Agger now has a chance to nail down a place in the side alongside Martin Skrtel, a player who has proven that your status within a squad can quickly change.

    The Slovakian has gone from being seemingly on the way out of Anfield to becoming the Reds' first-choice centre-back, and Agger can use him as an inspiration in 2014.

Defender: Thomas Vermaelen

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    Like Agger at Liverpool, Thomas Vermaelen is both simultaneously viewed as one of the leaders of the Arsenal squad and as a man who isn't sure of a place in the team.

    The Belgian has remained on the sidelines as Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have formed a formidable first-choice defensive pairing for the Gunners, with club captain Vermaelen left waiting on an injury or suspension before he can come in.

    How long he allows this situation to go on for remains to be seen, but should he leave the Emirates then there would doubtless be plenty of clubs who'd be willing to take him on.

Defender: Ashley Cole

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    With Jose Mourinho preferring to play Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back in recent months, the latter end of 2013 saw Ashley Cole's career being questioned in a way that it never really has before.

    Cole did return to the Chelsea team in the recent win over Swansea and then played an hour against Liverpool following Branislav Ivanovic's injury, but his omission from the starting XI would undoubtedly have hurt the pride of the left-back at a crucial time in his career.

    With mounting calls for Everton's Leighton Baines to be England's first-choice in the position at the World Cup in the summer, Cole knows that he needs to be playing football consistently to stand a chance of selection in Roy Hodgson's side.

    Whether that football comes at Chelsea or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Midfielder: Marouane Fellaini

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    Given the on-off nature of Marouane Fellaini's summer switch from Everton to Manchester United, there are plenty of United fans wondering just why their club bothered trying to sign the Belgian in the first place.

    A red card in a Champions League match at Real Sociedad remains the most notable thing that the 26-year-old has done in his 11 appearances for the club since that huge £27.5m transfer, with Everton hardly missing their one-time star man as they sit above United in the table.

    Just as he did at Goodison Park, David Moyes must work out a way to get the best out of the giant midfielder if he isn't to go down as one of the biggest flops in United's history. 

Midfielder: Christian Eriksen

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    Christian Eriksen's neat and tidy touches are capable of brightening up any game, but he needs to develop more of a ruthless streak if he is to be recognised as one of the Premier League's top performers.

    New Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood has played Eriksen for the full 90 minutes in each of his three league games in charge so far, and that must bode well for the Danish international who often flickered on the periphery of games under Andre Villas-Boas.

    The new manager could bring a new lease of life to Eriksen, and Spurs will be the beneficiaries.

Midfielder: Erik Lamela

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    For Eriksen, see Erik Lamela. And then multiply by a few million.

    The Argentinean was hailed as Tottenham's new Gareth Bale when he arrived for a club record fee of almost £30m from Roma in the summer, and although he had demonstrated his qualities in Serie A, he has hardly sparkled in the Premier League so far.

    The 21-year-old has completed the 90 minutes just once in the division, and given that that came in the 6-0 loss at Manchester City he's not going to be in any mood to remember it.

    Whether he stays at White Hart Lane and fights for his place or heads out on loan, this year seems vital for a talented player who seems to have lost his way.


Midfielder: Ashley Young

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    There is only one man in charge of this next phase of Ashley Young's career, and that is Young himself.

    From being an England regular at Euro 2012 it would now be a surprise if the Manchester United man made the squad for the World Cup, and whilst injuries have a vast amount to do with that, his own attitude and self-belief must come into it too.

    Frequently chastised for his diving antics, it is time that Young started to make headlines for what he can do with a ball at his feet, and in a United side who are crying out for some fantasy and creativity he would appear to have the perfect chance in front of him should he wish to seize it.

Forward: Andy Carroll

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    Andy Carroll hasn't kicked, or indeed headed a ball since completing his permanent switch from Liverpool to West Ham in the summer, and with the Hammers now mired in the relegation zone they could do with that changing sooner rather than later.

    Sam Allardyce's side have been toothless for much of the campaign without their centre-forward, and with so much of the manager's gameplan based around the availability of Carroll it is little wonder that the team have struggled.

    The trouble for Carroll now, however, is that he'll return with tremendous levels of expectation heaped upon him by supporters who will expect him to provide the Midas touch.

    Good luck with that, Andy.

Forward: Stevan Jovetic

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    Did you remember that Manchester City have signed Stevan Jovetic in the summer? You'd be forgiven if you hadn't.

    The Montenegrin has played just 88 minutes of Premier League action for City this season, and was last seen in the closing stages of the win over West Ham in mid-October.

    A comeback is mooted sooner rather than later, and with uncertainty over the future of Edin Dzeko at the Etihad Stadium perhaps Jovetic can emerge in 2014 as a star that City fans will love.

    That's if they can remember what he looks like, of course.


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    Petr Cech: Thibaut Courtois won't stay at Atletico Madrid forever, and this will be a year in which Chelsea's No. 1 might have to remind Jose Mourinho who's boss.

    Chris Smalling: Another in the same boat as Phil Jones, and a player who has to prove that he is much more than David Moyes' utility man.

    David Luiz: Everywhere the Brazilian looks at Chelsea there seems to be a player blocking his path to becoming a first-team regular, but he'll doubtless continue to work hard.

    Jack Wilshere: Having seen the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil hog the Gunners headlines, the England man will want to prove that he can be a player club and country can rely upon.

    Michu: Following last season's stellar form, time is now running out for the Spaniard to earn the big move that many thought was inevitable. Has been disappointing in 2013/14.

    Dani Osvaldo: The player signed to drag Southampton up to the next level has largely been forced to sit and watch them go there without him.

    Edin Dzeko: A permanent resident of this team, this is a crucial year for Dzeko as Bosnia's first World Cup looms.


Manager: Andre Villas-Boas

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    Will Andre Villas-Boas be back? And more importantly, where?

    Perhaps the Portuguese has had his fill of the Premier League now following two high-profile sackings, and it is surely wise for him not to jump immediately into a new job in the new year.

    He's a talented manager though, and one that will still be highly sought-after across the continent.

    After the Chelsea and Tottenham experiences, AVB's next job could well be his most important.