Cahill, Cleverley and Oxlade-Chamberlain set to shine in 2012

Chris McHugh picks out a team of Premier League players set to make a big impact during the remainder of the year

By Chris McHugh
tom cleverley
Manchester United's Tom Cleverley is expected to return from injury in February Photo: Eschipul

tom cleverley

Goalkeeper: John Ruddy (Norwich City)

Norwich is Ruddy’s 11th club after making a career out of short-term loans. The imposing goalkeeper has impressed in his debut season in the Premier League, keeping his first clean sheet against Chelsea in January and donating £200 to Help The Heroes for the achievement. With West Bromich Albion’s Ben Foster virtually retired from international duty and Fulham’s David Stockdale likely to lose his place as Mark Schwarzer returns – Ruddy has been tipped for an England call-up with Euro 2012 on the horizon.

Defender: Gary Cahill (Chelsea)

Cahill, 26, averaged one goal every 10 games during his 130 league appearances for Bolton Wanderers. The prolific defender interested Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur but signed for Chelsea in a £7m deal to replace Alex, who moved to Paris Saint-Germain. Strong, composed and deceptively quick, Cahill could be a potential Chelsea captain in the future when André Villas-Boas begins to phase out the older squad members. The move is great for England’s national team, uniting Cahill with ever-present defenders John Terry and Ashley Cole.

Defender: David Wheater (Bolton Wanderers)

After brief appearances in the first-team, Wheater tied down a regular starting place during the 2007–08 season which triggered Jonathan Woodgate’s departure. Despite signing for Bolton a year ago, five consecutive 90-minute games is the most Wheater has strung together, seeing two red cards already this season. Replacing Cahill will test the defender but the 24-year-old’s ability to make the step up will be vital to Bolton’s hopes of survival and chipping in with a few headed goals for the goal-shy club will be expected.

Defender: Nedum Onuoha (Queens Park Rangers)

Not all footballers are known for their intelligence but Onuoha achieved five ‘A’ grades at A-level. However, the 25-year-old decided to chose football over a medical career. His reported £3m move reunites him with former Manchester City manager Mark Hughes after previously hinting at his poor relationship with Roberto Mancini. Hughes will hope the powerful defender can form a consistent centre-half partnership with Anton Ferdinand as Fitz Hall and Danny Gabbidon have been in and out of the team.

Midfielder: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)

The Icelandic midfielder on loan from 1899 Hoffenheim wowed Reading fans from 2008 to 2010, scoring 23 goals in 51 games. A dead-ball specialist with long-range shooting prowess, the 22-year-old was voted player of the season for Reading and Hoffenheim in consecutive years. Sigurdsson came on at half-time to set up the winning goal for The Swans on his debut in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal in January. Expect him to boost Swansea’s options from set-pieces.

Midfielder: Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)

Cleverley, 22, impressed on loan at Watford in the 2009–10 season, scoring 11 goals in 33 Championship games and was voted their player of the season. He started United’s first four games this season before suffering an ankle injury but his return is imminent. Sir Alex Ferguson sees Cleverley as a homegrown replacement for Paul Scholes and he will be motivated to impress Fabio Capello with a potential spot in the England squad for this summer’s Euro 2012 up for grabs.

Midfielder: James McClean (Sunderland)

McClean made his Sunderland debut in December as Martin O’Neill took charge for the first time – and the 22-year-old was credited for overturning a 1-0 deficit to beat Blackburn Rovers. McClean, like Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, has the confidence to take on full-backs from the left flank and whip in a first-time cross for Sunderland’s strikers. Moving from Northern Ireland to Wearside for £350,000 in August last year, he has started eight games for the Black Cats and chalked up two goals and two assists.

Midfielder: Kerim Frei (Fulham)

Perhaps the least recognisable name in this team, the Swiss winger has only played seven games for Fulham since signing from Grasshoppers in 2010. The 18-year-old’s electric pace has excited fans in recent substitute appearances, especially against Chelsea on Boxing Day. Frei’s emergence is important as Fulham’s average age at the start of the season was 31 years and three months – the oldest in the Premier League.

Midfielder: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United)

Ben Arfa introduced himself to The Toon in September 2010, scoring with a rocket on his full debut. He broke his leg soon after and only recently regained full fitness to complete his first 90 minutes this season against Fulham. Only his reputation for conflict could prevent a bright 2012 after spats with Abou Diaby at Clairefontaine, Karim Benzema at Lyon and Djibril Cisse at Marseille.

Striker: Junior Hoilett (Blackburn Rovers)

The Canadian-born striker has been at Blackburn since 2007 but didn’t leave an impression until last season. He has scored three goals this term, and has a great ability to jink past defenders down the left flank, cutting inside to test opposition goalkeepers. The presence of Yakubu means Hoilett has played more of a creative role for Rovers this season but as with all good strikers, he will want to score more goals.

Striker: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)

After signing from Southampton last August for £12m, Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice in his first three games to become the youngest English goalscorer in Champions League history. With a background in rugby and even turning down a trial at London Irish, he has the pace of Theo Walcott but is stronger and more direct in attack. He was Arsenal’s best player against Manchester United earlier in January and could be the closest thing to resemble an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney.

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