Every Premier League Squad's Best Ongoing Positional Battle
The arrival of Radamel Falcao at Manchester United has got many wondering just how Louis van Gaal will fit the Colombian into his team given the other striking options he has available.
Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney will not expect to be dropped from their prominent roles in the United side, and although the scope is there for Van Gaal to play all three of his headline-making forwards, he’s likely to revert to just using two of them for the majority of matches.
A positional battle isn’t just confined to United, though, as every single club in the Premier League has an ongoing scrap for a shirt and a place in the starting line-up.
Plenty have more than one, of course, but here are the key battles at every club:
Arsenal, the Extra Midfielder: Wilshere vs. Cazorla vs. Oxlade-Chamberlain
One of Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini would always have to play in the Arsenal midfield as they are the players who offer the most defensive protection, while Aaron Ramsey’s form over the past year ensures that he is now one of the leading midfielders in the division.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and new signing Danny Welbeck could fill the front three positions, leaving an extra spot behind them up for grabs.
Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will all be used by Arsene Wenger depending on the circumstances and the opposition, but you can guarantee that all three will feel as though they should start every game.
Aston Villa, Youth vs. Experience: Grealish vs. Richardson
Republic of Ireland under-21 international Jack Grealish has featured from the bench in two of Aston Villa’s three games as Paul Lambert’s side have made an impressive start to the season.
The teenager offers flair and creativity to the Villa side, while also crucially adding a dash of youth, which is vital given that some of the club’s summer additions are a little long in the tooth.
At 29, Kieran Richardson still has plenty to give, but he’ll feel the challenge of Grealish is one that he’ll have to stand up to, just as the senior player felt when Richardson was breaking through at Manchester United a decade ago.
Burnley, the Need for Goals: Jutkiewicz vs. Barnes vs. Sordell
What has been easily apparent from Burnley’s opening matches on their return to the Premier League is that they might struggle to score enough goals to survive.
Danny Ings had a great season in the Championship, but he’s now missing regular partner and ACL injury victim Sam Vokes, meaning that the battle to partner him has become one of the key elements of the Clarets’ season.
Lukas Jutkiewicz, Ashley Barnes and Marvin Sordell have all been seen in the opening weeks, but whether any of them has the quality to regularly score goals at this level remains to be seen.
Chelsea, Work Rate vs. Goals: Willian vs. Schurrle
Any spot in Chelsea’s winning machine of a team has to be fought for, but with the positions behind the prolific Diego Costa seemingly taking up more importance this season, this battle between Willian and Andre Schurrle looks fascinating.
It could be something as simple as Jose Mourinho preferring the energy of the Brazilian in away games and the goalscoring threat of the German at home, but with plenty of fixtures on the horizon and a place alongside Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas to fight for, you can be certain that both men will be seen fairly regularly.
Crystal Palace, Big Name vs. Tried and Tested: Hangeland vs. Dann vs. Delaney
One of the first acts of new Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock when he re-entered the job was to drop experienced defender and summer signing Brede Hangeland, restoring last season’s central-defensive partnership of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney as he did so.
The fact that Palace shipped three goals in a 3-3 draw at Newcastle suggests that Warnock could soon be due a rethink, but Hangeland would hardly have welcomed such treatment given that he was one of the club’s headline arrivals this summer.
Whether or not the Norwegian wins his place back remains to be seen, but the new/old Palace boss certainly has a tough decision on his hands.
Everton, Youth vs. Experience: Stones vs. Distin
Perhaps it is time for Everton to accept that time is catching up to 36-year-old defender Sylvain Distin, who was horribly exposed during the recent 6-3 defeat at home to Chelsea.
Young defender John Stones broke into the side at the tail end of last season largely due to an injury to Phil Jagielka, but his impressive displays have earned him a call-up to the England national team.
He might be being used as a right-back there, but with Roberto Martinez already well covered there with the excellent Seamus Coleman, maybe Stones' longer-term future lies in the centre, where Distin could find himself fazed out before too long.
Hull, Fitting in the New Boys: Ben Arfa vs. Ramirez vs. Ince
Steve Bruce was one of the busier managers at the closure of the transfer window, bringing in Hatem Ben Arfa, Gaston Ramirez, Abel Hernandez and Mohamed Diame to strengthen his Hull City squad.
Of the new additions, it is perhaps Ben Arfa and Ramirez who will raise the most questions, as Bruce looks to fit them into a team which also features another attack-minded summer signing in the form of Thomas Ince.
Perhaps all three could play behind Hernandez or Nikica Jelavic from time to time, but it would be a surprise to see Bruce do that often, as his main priority will again be to solidify things and stay in the division.
Leicester, Who’ll Partner Ulloa? Nugent vs. Wood vs. Vardy
As will all of the promoted sides this season, the key issue is whether or not Leicester City will score enough goals to survive in the Premier League.
Leonardo Ulloa, their new signing from Brighton, has started well with goals in the draws against Everton and Arsenal, but just who should partner him up front for Nigel Pearson’s Foxes?
David Nugent has experience of the top division but has never really impressed in it, Chris Wood holds plenty of promise and Jamie Vardy has scored goals at all levels he’s played at. It’s a good problem for the manager to have.
Liverpool, Plugging the Holes at the Back: Skrtel vs. Sakho
Liverpool’s summer signing of Dejan Lovren from Southampton was seen as the key addition as the Reds sought to add more authority at the back.
Daniel Agger has departed this summer, and Kolo Toure is really only around to provide cover, meaning that the battle to partner Lovren in the centre has come down to a fascinating tussle between two of the division’s musclemen with the same initials, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.
Skrtel started the season in the team after impressing in the last campaign, but an injury against Manchester City allowed Sakho to come in against Tottenham, when the Reds kept a clean sheet. This one looks set to run and run.
Manchester City, Two Top Class Right-Backs: Zabaleta vs. Sagna
Pablo Zabaleta has become part of the furniture at Manchester City, so much so that there was widespread surprise when Manuel Pellegrini made a move for the out-of-contract Bacary Sagna this summer.
Both men have long established themselves as two of the premier full-backs in the Premier League, but can they successfully share duties at the Etihad Stadium?
Zabaleta scored an own goal in the recent win over Liverpool and was then left out against Stoke, when Sagna made his City debut in a shock 1-0 defeat for the champions. Will the Frenchman start again against former club Arsenal on Saturday?
Manchester United, the Three Big Names: Rooney vs. Van Persie vs. Falcao
Manchester United supporters have dared to start believing that their club’s slump is over following the signing of Radamel Falcao, but does the Colombian’s arrival herald the beginning of the end for the 31-year-old Robin van Persie?
The Dutchman hasn’t been in top form for United for a while now, and while it is true to say that he and Falcao could play in advanced roles ahead of United captain Wayne Rooney, that is unlikely seeing as Louis van Gaal will also be required to fit Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata into a side that has already been struggling at the back.
Only two of his stellar front three look like being picked at any one time, then, and none of the trio will welcome being left out.
Newcastle, Steady vs. Speedy: Gouffran vs. Aarons
Teenager Rolando Aarons has caught the attentions of Newcastle United fans this season, so much so that plenty are now calling for the England youth international to be given a start in Alan Pardew’s plans.
Should the 18-year-old come into the side then it might well be in place of the Frenchman Yoan Gouffran, the player he replaced in both of the Magpies’ home matches this season and the one who is perhaps the most under threat from the several new faces around the Geordies’ squad.
An injury that will keep Siem de Jong out for a number of months has lessened competition for places somewhat, but the quicksilver Aarons certainly has the qualities to make a lasting impression this season.
QPR, Joey Barton vs. the World: Barton vs. Sandro vs. Fer vs. Mutch
Joey Barton loves a battle, and that is just as well given that Queens Park Rangers boss Harry Redknapp has spent the summer bringing in players who play in his central midfield position.
Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer and Sandro can all operate in an area of the pitch Barton will feel as though he owns when it comes to QPR, but the outspoken former Manchester City and Newcastle man will need to let his feet do the talking if he is to stay in the team.
Fer and Sandro have both shown that they have the battling qualities required of a team who are trying to stay up, while Mutch impressed fleetingly for Cardiff last season despite their eventual relegation.
Southampton, Power vs. Poise: Wanyama vs. Cork
Jack Cork is a favourite with the Southampton fans due to the unsung elegance he often brings to their midfield, and while his wasn’t a name that was linked with one of the many moves away from the club this summer, he is still highly regarded.
However, the Englishman faces a tough fight to get into the Saints team ahead of the former Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama, a powerful presence in the heart of midfield and a player who seems to have found favour with new boss Ronald Koeman.
Cork replaced Wanyama at half-time of the recent Capital One Cup win over Millwall, noticeably speeding up Southampton’s play and scoring the opening goal in the process, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can force his way to the front of Koeman’s plans.
Stoke, Pace vs. Strength: Moses vs. Arnautovic
After failing to make much of an impression during Liverpool’s unlikely title challenge last season, Victor Moses was unsurprisingly unable to earn a permanent move to the Reds from Chelsea when his loan spell ended.
Now a temporary part of the squad at Stoke, the Nigerian winger would appear to be at a club where he can both feature and impress more frequently, but to do so he’ll need to keep out the Austrian Marko Arnautovic, who has impressed in dispatches for the Potters.
Arnautovic brings potency from dead balls and something of a ruthless streak to the Stoke side, but Mark Hughes might just be tempted to turn to the Premier League experience of Moses as his Stoke side bid for another season in which they try to crack the top 10.
Sunderland, New vs. Old: Coates vs. Brown vs. O’Shea
Wes Brown and John O’Shea’s partnership goes back to their days at Manchester United together, and it is that familiarity that has got Sunderland out of several holes at times.
However, boss Gus Poyet has shaken up his defence by bringing in Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates, a fellow Uruguayan, on loan for the rest of the season, and whilst it is true to say that Poyet could play all three together at the back as he seeks a change of approach, that would leave Sunderland short on pace in an area of the pitch where they were frequently punished last season.
Coates, once highly rated before injuries struck, has moved to the Stadium of Light in order to play football, so he’s not going to accept a place on the bench.
Swansea, Familiarity vs. Flair: Routledge vs. Montero
Wayne Routledge has started the season in fine form, as indeed have Swansea City as they proudly boast one of only two 100 percent records in the division.
Perhaps key to Routledge’s performances has been the threat provided by new signing and Ecuador World Cup star Jefferson Montero, who was tipped by many to take the Premier League by storm when he arrived in South Wales this summer following his move from Mexican club Morelia.
As Routledge continues to score goals and impress onlookers there is only one winner of this battle at the moment, but Montero won’t go away without a fight.
Tottenham, the Left-Back Issue: Rose vs. Davies
Tottenham’s signing of Welsh international Ben Davies in the summer was seen as the beginning of the end for the club’s existing left-back, Danny Rose; however, Rose has managed to hold on to his place in the team under Mauricio Pochettino.
Davies had to wait until the last 18 minutes of the recent 3-0 defeat to Liverpool to make his Premier League debut for Spurs, while Rose has further been boosted by his selection in Roy Hodgson’s England squad as the back-up option to Leighton Baines.
The smart money would be on Davies—three years Rose’s junior—to eventually make the left-back slot his own, although the Welshman will have to be patient.
West Bromwich Albion, Getting Goals: Anichebe vs. Ideye
Goalscoring would appear to be the biggest issue and concern facing a new-look West Bromwich Albion side under manager Alan Irvine, who sanctioned the club-record £10 million signing of Nigerian Brown Ideye this summer.
Ideye’s compatriot Victor Anichebe was already at the club having arrived from Everton last year, and given that Irvine will also want to accommodate the likes of Saido Berahino, Stephane Sessegnon and new signing Silvestre Varela, there would appear to be only one place available for the two Nigerians to fight over.
Whoever gets it is likely to be determined by who scores the most goals.
West Ham, Replacing Carroll: Valencia vs. Zarate vs. Sakho vs. Cole
Another injury to Andy Carroll has led West Ham boss Sam Allardyce back into the transfer market, with three new forwards arriving this summer to accompany the re-signed Carlton Cole.
Enner Valencia, Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho all appear to be players who will enjoy various runs in the Hammers team as Allardyce seeks to find his best striking solutions, and the winner of the battle is likely to be the player who can convince his manager that he is better suited to the division than the others.
A spell at Birmingham City and an impressive goal at Crystal Palace indicate that Zarate is currently winning the battle, but this looks to be a challenge that will feature throughout the season, and one that will frequently produce different winners.