Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Potential casualty Rosicky ended last season well in the No10 role, but might become a back-up
Ozil has recorded more assists than any other footballer in Europe’s major five leagues over the past five campaigns but the German is also arguably the world’s greatest off-the-ball player. His appreciation of space, movement and unusual but effective runs proved crucial in Cristiano Ronaldo‘s amazing goalscoring run at Real Madrid. Ozil prefers to start centrally but from there he drifts to either flank, creating overloads and allowing the wide players to dart inside. It is likely he and Santi Cazorla will dovetail to the left and provide through-balls for Theo Walcott making runs from the opposite wing. Walcott’s tendency to play high means Ozil will also drift to the right, ensuring Arsenal retain balance.
Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
Potential casualty Tom Cleverley will have fewer chances despite playing all 360 minutes of David Moyes’ reign so far
Fellaini is a very different player from Moyes’s other central midfield targets – Luka Modric, Cesc Fábregas, Ander Herrera and Thiago Alcântara are neat, technical passers while the Belgian is more noted for his physique. Moyes used him in four entirely different roles at Everton – as a makeshift lone striker, a second striker, a box-to-box midfielder and a deeper, more defensive player – and his role at United is likely to be a combination of the latter two. Michael Carrick remains United’s first-choice central midfielder, and his positioning and passing over the past two years has been exceptional. Moyes will be reluctant to disturb his role, so Fellaini is likely to play in Cleverley’s position – battling in deep positions before shuttling forward into attack. It also gives United more licence to play with a midfield trio against strong opponents – with Fellaini at the head of the triangle, pressing high up.
Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Everton
Potential casualty Darron Gibson is a strong force and keeps his passing simple but Roberto Martínez may prefer technical players
Martínez became fond of 3-4-3 at Wigan and, though Everton have stuck to 4-2-3-1 this campaign, Martínez’s experiments with Johnny Heitinga pre-season – he dropped into defence from a central midfield position, allowing Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines to charge forward – demonstrate the possibility of a hybrid of the two formations. Barry is recognised as a central midfielder but started life as a centre-back and could be perfect in that role. McCarthy, meanwhile, should be given more freedom to drift forward, in the role Leon Osman has been playing, although Osman could also play as the No10, to give Ross Barkley a rest in his first season as a regular. Gibson, yet to make an appearance this season due to injury, is another option.
Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Spurs
Potential casualty Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend offer pace and trickery, but André Villas-Boas prefers a goal threat
It is easy to see where Erik Lamela will fit into the Spurs team – on the right, from where he will run directly with the ball and score with his favoured left foot. In that respect he is an obvious Gareth Bale replacement – while the Welshman rarely started from the right, at the end of last season he scored his best goals from that flank. Eriksen’s position is less certain. Villas-Boas said after the defeat by Arsenal that Spurs’ 4-3-3 system was “more or less the way we want to go forward this season”, yet then said Eriksen was “a good solution for our No10 position”, a role that has no obvious place in a 4-3-3. Spurs will probably shift between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 – in the former Eriksen will be at the head of the midfield trio, in the latter play from the left or in a deeper central position.
Potential casualty Kevin De Bruyne has started two of Chelsea’s three league games but is the most junior attacker
Although clearly Willian is a talented attacker, it is difficult to see where he fits in. At Shakhtar Donetsk he specialised in starting on the left before cutting in to score with his favoured right foot – but Chelsea already have two excellent options in that mould, Eden Hazard and André Schürrle. Neither is as prolific on the right but Willian is primarily a creator rather than scorer and a shift to the right would affect his game less, even if Mourinho prefers left-footers there. Willian offers an option in the centre, too – he counter-attacks better than either Oscar or Juan Mata at No10 but lacks their raw quality when trying to penetrate deep defences. The Brazilian has certainly improved Chelsea’s squad but perhaps not their first XI.
Mamadou Sakho, Liverpool
Potential casualty Martin Skrtel seems increasingly likely to rejoin Rafael Benítez at Napoli
Skrtel was Liverpool’s Player of the Season the campaign before Brendan Rodgers took charge at Anfield but the Slovakian has never been favoured under the new regime, having made two poor errors during Rodgers’ first two games. Even a man-of-the-match display in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United was not enough to prevent Rodgers turning elsewhere on deadline day. Sakho is a more complete centre-back, commanding in the air but much quicker across the floor, and happy to bring the ball forward from the back. However, both he and Daniel Agger are left-footed. While in theory this is no more problematic than playing two right-footed centre-backs, a common occurrence, left-sided ones are less accustomed to being fielded as the right side. If Sakho copes with that, adjustment he should help Liverpool defend higher and pass faster.
© Guardian News & Media Limited 2013