GK – Simon Mignolet
The Belgian breezed through a 2013/14 season where his Liverpool team conceded bags of goals, each one flying past his outstretched gloves. Amazingly, he dodged most if not all criticism as attention was focused on the blistering attacking exploits of the SAS; Suarez and Sturridge. As 2015 looms, the goals have disappeared from Anfield, at least from one end, leaving the ‘conceded’ column very conspicuous. All eyes turn to Mignolet. At the time of writing he has been dropped indefinitely in favour of Brad Jones – by all accounts an average ‘keeper. 2015 could be the year where, Joe Hart-style, he gallantly reclaims his rightful spot between the sticks, or where he quietly fades on the bench…
DEF – Luke Shaw
Branded unfit by incoming boss Louis van Gaal and then struck down with a long-term injury, the prodigal talent Luke Shaw has had a tumultuous baptism at Manchester United, after previously basking in rave reviews for both England and Southampton. 2015 needs to be the year he reinstates his reputation as England’s long-term replacement for Ashley Cole, and United’s long-term replacement for Patrice Evra.
DEF – Ryan Shawcross
It would be easy to suggest Shawcross’ career has remained static for years now, while in reality he has confidently grasped the captains role at Stoke City and won a cult fan-base of sorts among pundits, players and managers as an underrated English defensive talent. At 27, his time is running out to be recognised on an international stage. Maybe 2015 is the year he emerges from the shadow of Stoke’s league position.
DEF – Ashley Young
Completing our shaky looking defensive trio is an unlikely candidate on two counts. Firstly, this time last season it was crazy to even consider Young getting minutes on the field and secondly, to do so consistently in a wing-back role would have been the stuff of fantasy – maybe even nightmares. But the renegade Louis van Gaal has surprised us all by reinstating the drifting English attacker as exactly that. 2015 needs to be the year where he demands and nails down the position he wants, rather than competently fulfilling a duty for a wider scheme.
MID – Ramires
One of the heroes of Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League success, Ramires has since dropped down the pecking order at Chelsea to a point where he is a rarely-used sub. Utilised heavily by Di Matteo and Benitez, Jose Mourinho seems very willing to shirk Ramires and deploy the unspectacular John Obi Mikel when a vacancy arises in midfield. Ramires is never going to budge Matic or Fabregas – a formidable central-midfield pairing – or indeed any of the ‘number 10s’, but to be second fiddle to John Obi Mikel is not good news for the Brazilian. In 2015 he needs to claim a place, at least as second in line to Fabregas’ spot, or move to a club who can accommodate his talents.
MID – Jack Wilshere
Another year rolls around and we are still talking about Jack Wilshere’s potential. Why? Because quite simply, he is an English central-midfielder with immense talent, who at 22 is still in a golden period of development. All we want to see is the talent flourish. The pressure on Wilshere may be greater than necessary due his career booming at such a young age with so much promise. Maybe we all got too excited. 2015 doesn’t mean maturity for Wilshere, it should mean a raw, visceral year where he exercises the recklessness of youth, stretches his legs and shows us what he can do. He also needs to decide whether to settle for a deeper midfield role for club and country long-term, or demand a push up the field. And stop getting injured!
MID – Jordan Henderson
A similar case to Wilshere, however Henderson possesses far less flair in his game and thus is less of an interest to pundits or punters. Playing alongside Steven Gerrard week in, week out you would assume he will grow into a similar player, however Henderson seems to have a touch of the ‘apprentice’ about him; slightly coy over responsibility, or recognition as a ‘senior’ player. Maybe this will change when Gerrard retires… Either way, 2015 needs to be a year where Henderson increases consistency in his attacking game and not just focusing on his defensive, work-rate qualities. He needs to ensure he doesn’t become the next James Milner; hard worker, effective, solid, but would you really play him in the must-win games?
MID – Mesut Ozil
When Ozil returns from his long injury lay-off he will enter a quite different Arsenal dressing room. The German arrived from Real Madrid as the outstanding talisman – the undoubted world-class talent. An extended dip in form and a serious injury later and his stock has fallen dramatically, all the while the Gunners have fallen in love with a certain Alexis Sanchez. In 2015 Ozil needs to accept he is no longer top-dog, and use the competition to rediscover his best form.
MID – Theo Walcott
Okay – enough, Theo. Enough of this pattern of injury, return, good form, injury, nonsense. Walcott is the typical unfulfilled injury-prone talent. When fit, he seems to be the darling of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and whoever is in charge for England, but then he always goes and ruins it by taking a stint on the surgical table once more. It’s incredible to think Walcott is still only 25, but that also means the next year needs to be a strong, consistent, injury-free period for the winger/striker if he plans to fulfil his potential before its too late.
FW – Andy Carroll
A controversial figure in English football with his embodiment of all things British – direct and simple. The tall Geordie is certainly formidable in the air, but needs to develop his other skills to avoid becoming permanently one-dimensional.
FW – Mario Balotelli
Speaking of controversial figures, Balotelli in part represents the failures of Liverpool this season, and specifically Brendan Rodgers himself. Why bring in a character so potentially disruptive to such a settled squad? The questions would have subsided were Balotelli to have filled the Suarez-shaped hole and delivered goals consistently, but this has not happened. Without even a handful of goals since his arrival, 2015 needs to spell serious improvement for ‘Super’ Mario or see his value plummet as he becomes known as a purely turbulent presence with little repayment on the field.