1. Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Xhaka’s debut season at the Emirates was a little underwhelming, but it’s far too early to write the 24-year-old off. His midfield partnership with Aaron Ramsey towards the end of 2016/17 showed signs of promise, and the former Borussia Monchengladbach man could shine this season if he improves his temperament and disciplinary record.
Still, Xhaka is undoubtedly under pressure to deliver. A transfer fee of £30m isn’t exorbitant in the current climate, but a failure to kick on could be costly to his chances of becoming a mainstay at Arsenal.
2. Solomon Rondon (West Brom)
Strong, powerful and willing to run the channels, Rondon is the archetypal Tony Pulis centre-forward. Despite that, he was dropped by the West Brom manager for a period last term, with Hal Robson-Kanu preferred up front on a handful of occasions. For all his other qualities, finding the net in just six Premier League games – including a barren stretch from December 17 to May 6 – did the Venezuelan no favours whatsoever.
Jay Rodriguez has since been added to the Baggies' forward ranks, so there will be even less margin for error in 2017/18. Rondon needs to up his scoring rate as quickly as possible.
3. Erik Lamela (Tottenham)
Tottenham are still yet to make a signing this summer, but that’s not necessarily a problem – especially when you consider how last year's acquisitions worked out (Victor Wanyama aside). In fact, a settled squad looks like being the best thing possible for Spurs as they head into a potentially tumultuous season which will be spent at Wembley following the demolition of White Hart Lane.
What's more, they've got Lamela on the way back - and he'll be like a new signing. Yet after missing the majority of 2016/17 with a hip problem, the Argentina international currently finds himself on the outside looking in. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen thrived as Tottenham's front three last time out, so Lamela will have to work hard to force his way back into contention even after he's regained full fitness.
4. Jose Fonte (West Ham)
Splashing £8m on a 33-year-old in the January window was never going to be a long-term solution to West Ham’s defensive problems, but Fonte wasn’t even able to provide an initial boost after moving to the London Stadium midway through last term. A model of consistency during his seven years at Southampton, he soon looked his age in claret and blue.
With the 2018 World Cup on the horizon and his place in the Portugal squad far from guaranteed, Fonte will need to up his game considerably in the coming months.
5. Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
"It's the best condition since I'm here," Jurgen Klopp proclaimed of Sturridge recently. "OK, I came in October 2015 and Daniel, I think, was probably injured. Last pre-season was after a tournament and a short break. This year he's had a proper break and is in good physical shape, absolutely.”
Such comments bode well for the 27-year-old, who seemed destined for the exit at Anfield towards the end of last season. There's still plenty of work to do, though: the arrival of Mohamed Salah has added greater competition at the sharp end, while any fresh injury problems will severely test Klopp's patience. This campaign could be the last chance for Sturridge to prove his worth at Liverpool.
6. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke)
No deal emphasised the newfound pulling power of the Premier League quite like Stoke's £12m capture of Shaqiri in 2015. The arrival of the ex-Inter and Bayern Munich winger was supposed to mark the dawning of a pretty new era in the Potteries, while simultaneously providing the Switzerland international with a stepping stone from which he could reach bigger and better things. Two years on, we're still waiting on both counts.
Shaqiri has been far from a disaster at the bet365 Stadium, but he's not set pulses racing regularly either. A glance at his highlights reel will reveal a few spectacular strikes, but dig a little deeper and you'll discover many more indifferent performances – it's telling, for instance, that he's only managed seven top-flight goals in 48 appearances. Now 25, Shaqiri needs to find consistency if he's to secure a move to a third European heavyweight anytime soon.
7. John Stones (Manchester City)
“John Stones has more personality than all of us here together in this room,” Pep Guardiola told a room of journalists after Manchester City’s helter-skelter 1-1 draw with Liverpool in March. “More balls than everyone here.” (FFT wasn’t present).
There’s no doubt that Stones has the technical skills to play out from the back in the manner his boss demands. There are, however, still considerable question marks over his basic defensive capabilities, namely his positional sense and anticipation of danger. Given Stones' price tag, it's inevitable that scrutiny levels will remain high this season.
8. Joe Hart (West Ham)
Another season brings another employer for Hart, who before 2016/17 had spent six consecutive years as Manchester City's No.1. Pep Guardiola clearly doesn't fancy the 30-year-old, though, so another loan move - this time at West Ham - beckons before his probable permanent departure from the Etihad Stadium next summer.
In many ways, it was a shame that Hart's spell at Torino - a rare example of an English footballer choosing to ply his trade overseas - didn't work out. A series of costly errors undermined some otherwise solid showings in Serie A, which means he can’t afford anything less than an excellent campaign if he's to retain his spot as England's first-choice goalkeeper at Russia 2018.
9. Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
Martial was hardly the only Manchester United player criticised by Jose Mourinho last term, but his was perhaps the most curious case. Admonished on more than one occasion, the forward nevertheless featured in 41 of the Red Devils' fixtures in all competitions (the Community Shield really doesn’t count, Jose).
Reports in the last couple of weeks have suggested Martial could be used as a makeweight in the proposed deal to bring Ivan Perisic to Old Trafford. Even though it's unlikely that such an arrangement will come to pass – mainly because United don't want it to – their mere targeting of the Croatian would appear to put Martial's position under threat. He'll therefore need to make the most of the opportunities that come his way in 2017/18.
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