Why 2014-15 Will Be the Premier League Season of the Left-Back
In 2012-13 the No. 10s shone; in 2013-14 it was the wingers. We're used to seeing the attacking positions steal the limelight and glory away from the others, but 2014-15 will be a different story.
This season will be the one in which left-backs shine brightest.
It may still be pre-season, but one noticeable and obvious shift from last year to this is the impending quality of left-back play. Manchester United have changed their system, Tottenham Hotspur have a new man and Arsenal will change the role of theirs.
Chelsea have signed arguably the most complete one in the business, while Everton's is set to bounce back.
At this early stage projections are difficult, but it's not unreasonable to suggest the quality from this position could have a major say in the development of the Premier League season and their respective teams' fortunes.
Let's dig a little deeper into the five headline performers and explore why they can alter their side's chances of success.
Luke Shaw: Wing-Back
Luke Shaw is in line for a massive role at Manchester United this season, consuming the responsibilities of a wing-back under Louis van Gaal.
He's never played a professional game in that role although he's inherently attacking and incisive in his play, and the structural importance he brings to the side will eclipse even Patrice Evra's eight-year stint from left-back.
Without any wingers, Van Gaal is trusting Shaw to win the wide battle on his own. He'll often come up against two or three players stopping him from tearing forward, and if United can't find the Englishman in space, they'll struggle to gain ground and break forward—trapped in their own half.
With no help from a wideman further up, Van Gaal knows it's a big undertaking and has placed Shaw on a specific fitness regime to ready him for a gruelling season.
Ben Davies: Plug the Hole
Tottenham Hotspur's biggest positional issue last season was left-back, with Danny Rose returning from a loan spell at Sunderland but failing to impress in place of Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Ben Davies becomes very astute purchase, therefore, given his ability to balance the defensive line, as his skill-set partners up well with the marauding Kyle Walker opposite him.
The issue with Walker and Rose is they both wanted to do the same thing—attack—but Walker is far better at it than Rose. That left the latter with a defensive brief and he struggled with it, prompting Mauricio Pochettino into the market.
Davies is an all-rounder whose ripe for coaching and improvement. Pochettino got a lot from Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne, so expect swift progress here.
The solidifying of the line on that side, along with the returning injured players, makes Spurs a serious contender for the top four.
Filipe Luis: Complete
We're in an era of football where complete, all-round and multi-skilled players are wildly celebrated, so Filipe Luis should be a massive hit with the Chelsea fans.
His defensive talents are arguably the best in Europe—no left-sider tracks, marks, tackles and suffocates wingers like he does—and he's a very capable attacker too.
His success at Atletico Madrid was founded, primarily, upon two key principles: Work ethic and a strong connection with his wingers. If Eden Hazard combines half as well with Filipe as Arda Turan did, the Blues will be murderous down the left.
Leighton Baines: Resurgent
Last season, Leighton Baines was outshone by colleague Seamus Coleman from the opposite flank.
The Irish right-back broke out in epic fashion, netting six goals and grabbing two assists, per WhoScored.com, for Everton as they charged to fifth place in the Premier League.
But it was supposed to be Baines who stood out under Roberto Martinez, particularly in a FIFA World Cup year, and he'll be back with a vengeance this season.
We expect his crossing numbers to improve, falling back in line with his 2012-13 numbers, and his classic "Baines underlap" will return at full force.
Kieran Gibbs: Improve or Be Replaced
With Mathieu Debuchy likely to take over the attacking full-back duties at Arsenal this season, we could see a defensive onus placed on Kieran Gibbs.
Bacary Sagna was the stabiliser in last year's system with Gibbs the man flying forward, and as the season wore on we saw clear improvement in his attacking forays and final-third efficiency.
But Debuchy is a rampant attacker and Arsene Wenger will want to play to his strengths; he didn't spend close to £10 million on the Frenchman to stick him exclusively in defence, so Gibbs could spend the year learning the opposite side to his game.
A year of steady growth could see him enter the England reckoning; the opposite could see Nacho Monreal take his place.