EPL Talent Scout: Mario Balotelli And the Hottest Prospects Of Matchday 6
What a weekend of English Premier League action.
Arsenal finally put in their first commanding performance of the season, Manchester United dropped their first league points of the season, Fernando Torres scored and got sent off, and Mario Balotelli came off the bench to score the opener for Manchester City.
Basically, just another weekend of Premier League football.
In the middle of all the action and crazy headlines, an incredible amount of young stars showed their talents off this weekend. This week's top five was by far the hardest top five to pick since I started Premier League Talent Scout back on Matchday 1, or August 19th.
Just a couple of changes and reminders to make you aware of before we dive in: First of all, as always, last week's edition of PLTS can be found here.
If you haven't been keeping up with PLTS, its always useful to check up on the old editions to get caught up on the rules for selection. It's also useful just to see how the young guys in the Premier League have been doing!
Second of all, although this column will continue to be referred to as PLTS by me, I've change the title from "Premier League Talent Scout" to "EPL Talent Scout" to shorten the titles of these articles. So just be aware of this change moving forward.
Now that all those housekeeping issues are out of the way...let's get to the good stuff.
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To give you an idea of just how difficult selecting this week's top five was, I had to decide which players were most fit to even make the honorable mentions list.
After much consideration, players like Gabriel Obertan, Pajtim Kasami, Junior Hoillet, Stefan Savic and Patrick van Aanholt all miss out in favor of:
Jack Rodwell (20)—Everton, Defensive Midfielder
It's crazy to think that Jack Rodwell is only 20 years old, considering he's been making 25+ appearances for Everton since 2008-09, but he is.
Though plagued with injury problems and loss of form in recent months, Rodwell put in an excellent defensive performance on David Silva in Everton's loss to Manchester City this week, marking the Spanish playmaker out of the game for the majority of the 90 minutes.
Martin Kelly (21)—Liverpool, Right Back
Kelly's return was a welcome change for Liverpool fans from the sluggish and poor performances of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel at right back. The young Englishman was well-positioned and calm in possession throughout the game.
Phil Jones (19)—Manchester United, Center Back
As usual, Phil Jones put in a solid performance in the back alongside Rio Ferdinand, and made his usual once-a-game defense-splitting run. His mistake in losing Peter Crouch for Stoke City's equalizer sees him relegated to an honorable mention this week however.
Sandro (22)—Tottenham Hotspur, Defensive Midfielder
The Brazilian midfielder made his first appearance in the Premier League since recovering from the knee surgery he underwent this summer. He partnered Scott Parker excellently in midfield, breaking up play regularly and allowing Scott Parker to distribute the ball at will.
Fabian Delph (21)—Aston Villa, Central Midfielder
Delph has begun to strike up a solid central midfield partnership with captain Stilian Petrov. He managed to keep his cool and control play in a game in which his team picked up six yellow cards and QPR had a man sent off.
Now onto the real stars of this weekend's action...
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Elliott Bennett is one of the over-21 players who are eligible to make this list. For more information on the exact nature of the criteria for selection, read the italicized portion of the introduction slide here.
In Norwich's game against Sunderland this weekend, Elliott Bennett was easily the man of the match. His good movement and passing created the first goal for Norwich, and he regularly ran circles around Kieran Richardson, who played at left back against Norwich.
Elliott Bennett, so far, has yet to establish himself as a regular starter at Norwich, but is on his way there, having made four starts and one substitute appearance in Norwich's first six games.
On the back of this performance, it'll be very hard for Paul Lambert to keep him out of the side.
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After six games, Aaron Ramsey has finally decided to turn up to play for Arsenal, and for that he is included at the fourth spot in the PLTS top five.
Against Bolton, Ramsey didn't dominate the game or orchestrate play at an incredibly high level. He did, however, do his job well, which is definitely a start for the Wales captain.
It was Ramsey's run onto the ball after Gervinho was fouled and subsequent pass that created the opportunity for Robin Van Persie to score the first goal of the game for Arsenal, and throughout the game Ramsey demonstrated a decent amount of understanding between him and Mikel Arteta.
With Jack Wilshere out until at least December, Arsenal fans will need Ramsey to continue to perform at the highest level. Ramsey could very easily become the X-factor for Arsenal this season, the player whose performances go far in determining how successful his team is.
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One of the brightest talents in recent weeks, Barry Bannan kept up his good form against QPR this past weekend.
Not only did he scored the penalty to put his team in the lead, but he also gave Armand Traore a torrid time down the right flank, which led to him picking up a yellow card and later being sent off for a challenge on Barry Bannan's replacement, Marc Albrighton.
It is a testament to how highly Alex McLeish rates Bannan that Albrighton has found himself firmly rooted to the bench, while Bannan has started a number of matches for Aston Villa now.
His team continues to struggle to win, but when they finally do, I have little doubt that Barry Bannan will play a big role in their success.
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Every so often, Mario Balotelli likes to give us a glimpse of the "Super Mario" that he can become when happy and given regular game time.
This weekend was one of those occasions.
With the score still tied with only about 30 minutes to go, Mario Balotelli came on in place of Edin Dzeko, and within 10 minutes, had the ball in the back of the net. Off a good run and lay-off from Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli was able to curl in the opener for Manchester City and finally break the deadlock.
But he wasn't done there. Immediately on Manchester City's next possession, Balotelli was once again at the center of the action, crossing the ball to David Silva who should've scored but was only able to hit the post.
(As a side note, I've lost count of the number of times David Silva has hit the post in his career. Honestly, he may be the best hitter-of-the-post I've ever seen in the modern game.)
Balotelli would stay involved until the end of the game, taking another shot and crossing another ball to David Silva which he converted but was ruled offside.
With Carlos Tevez now suspended, it is expected that Mario Balotelli will get much more game time as Manchester City's third choice striker. If Manchester City are to challenge in all competitions, they will need Mario Balotelli to step up and stay committed to the cause.
David De Gea
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At first, I intended to give the top spot of this week's PLTS to Mario Balotelli.
Upon watching the highlights of Manchester United—Stoke however, I didn't think it'd be fair to give this spot to anyone but de Gea.
De Gea made at least three world-class, goal-stopping saves to keep Manchester United from falling behind to Stoke City, and made a number of other solid, confident saves as well.
He was practically an impenetrable wall, conceding only to a Peter Crouch goal which came from poor communication between Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones.
Unfortunately for de Gea, he was unable to build upon his good Premier League performance with a confident Champions League performance, but signs are still positive that de Gea will be able to enjoy a positive transition to Premier League life and earn the confidence and support of Manchester United fans in goal.
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What do you think of this week's selections? Are there any players you think should've made the top-five cut that didn't? How about the players on the list, do you believe any of them should've been excluded?
I think this may have been the first week that Phil Jones did not make the cut for the top five. Additionally, it was nice to finally be able to include some of the players I've been expecting waiting on to turn up in the league (i.e Ramsey and Balotelli).
Make your opinion known in the comment box below. I look forward to reading your comments and discussing them with you.
(Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has looked great in the Champions League and League Cup so far for Arsenal this season. Could he break into the Premier League squad as well if he keeps up his good form, and if so, could we see him on PLTS later this season?)