JOE looks at the key men for the remaining Barclays Premier League teams 5 years ago

JOE looks at the key men for the remaining Barclays Premier League teams

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After one of the most unpredictable title races in its 22-year history last season, the Barclays Premier League makes a welcome return to action this month.

There are so many questions to be answered; are Manchester City still the team to beat, how will Liverpool cope without Suarez, can Arsenal challenge until the end, will Manchester United return under Van Gaal and how will Ireland's players fare?

We already brought you a look at the key men for the teams in the top half, but what about the teams that will most likely be battling the drop.

Crystal Palace

Key Man: Mile Jedinak

It seems a long time ago now that Crystal Palace were looking like a Premier League sinking ship captained by the lovable but struggling Ian Holloway.

The job that Tony Pulis did - they were six points from safety when he was appointed - was nothing short of amazing and his captain Mile Jedinak was key to the club's reversal of fortunes. How they cope now after the Welsh man's shock departure is anyone's guess but another sterling year from the Aussie midfielder is essential.

The Palace skipper came close to playing every single minute of the 2013-14 Premier League season and he strikes us as a throwback to the archetypical no frills battler of yesteryear.

He throws his body on the line, loves an aerial duel and is strong in the tackle.

Swansea

Key Man: Wilfried Bony

If it wasn't for the Ivorian then Gary Monk's first season in the dugout could have been a disaster. The striker has that impressive knack of finding a yard of space in the box and finishing with ease.

He was scintillating in his first season, scoring 25 times in all competitions, and we expected one of the larger clubs to be testing Swansea's resolve this summer with a decent bid.

Swans fans will be hoping that his goals don't dry up like his former teammate Michu.

bony

 

West Ham

Key Man: Mark Noble

JOE is expecting a very uncomfortable season for Sam Allardyce, especially since he was already given a strict ultimatum by the club's owners at the back end of last season.

Andy Carroll's history of injury means the burning question is whether Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate can provide enough goals to ensure safety.

One thing that isn't in doubt though is the consistent performance and commitment of Mark Noble.

The midfielder has been West Ham's player of the year for the past two seasons and his tireless work ethic has made him a fan favourite at the Bolyen Grounds.

Noble featured in every league game last season making 107 tackles, 70 interceptions and chipping in with three goals also.

NobleMark

Sunderland

Key Man: John O'Shea

The Waterford man endured a frustrating spell when Paolo Di Canio was in charge, then again so did all of Sunderland's fans, but his leadership and experience was key as Sunderland enjoyed an amazing end to the season with wins over Man Utd and Chelsea.

Having looked at the Black Cats forwards, it wouldn't inspire too much confidence so O'Shea and Brown will need to be at their best once again.

FBL-ENG-PR-SUNDERLAND-CHELSEA

Aston Villa

Key Man: Christian Benteke

Will this be the season where Villa's flirtation with the dreaded drop becomes a reality? Paul Lambert's men have been in decline for some time now but Roy Keane's arrival should inject some much needed impetus and energy.

Much like Bony at Swansea, the value of a regular goalscorer for the smaller clubs can't be underestimated and Benteke is vital for Villa's hopes of survival.

The Belgian was blighted with injuries and a loss of form last season but he still managed to score 11 times in 29 appearances.

When the striker is on form there are very few defenders that can match his strength, power and aggression. No striker in the bottom half can do this.

Clip via - Dominic Smith

Hull City

Key Man: Curtis Davies

Hull were something of an oddity last season. They started the season well but their form dropped during the Christmas period.

The January arrivals of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic injected them with some much needed goals and points, however, they trailed off again as the season finished mainly because they had reached the FA Cup final with league safety practically secured.

Steve Bruce's men only scored 38 league goals last season and they relied on their back-four that was expertly marshalled by Curtis Davies to ensure survival.

The club captain has been floating between teams for some time now but he has found his home and best form at the KC Stadium.

Davies is very impressive aerially but he is also a very clean and decisive tackler whose ability to read the game has improved dramatically.

Arsenal v Hull City - FA Cup Final

WBA

Key Man: Joleon Lescott

It's fitting that the defender is the only new signing that we have listed as the key-man for their club. That's how highly we rate the former Everton and Man City defender.

West Brom have taken a gamble in appointing new coach Alan Irvine and like Aston Villa, they have been on a slippery slope since they removed Steve Clarke.

Their squad has more quality than some of the teams around them as it boasts the likes of  Sessègnon, Morrison, Brunt and Berahino but Lescott is still only 31 and his title winning experience could be vital in helping to shore up a leaky defence.

FC Barcelona v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Leicester City

Key Man: Danny Drinkwater

The ex Man United youth team player was the key man in the Foxes' midfield as they strolled to promotion.

The 24-year old was nominated for the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year and enjoyed his most impressive season yet, scoring eight times.

Ball retention is key in the Premier League and the playmaker will be the man that makes the Foxes tick, he topped the passing statistic for the Championship.

Middlesbrough v Leicester City - Sky Bet Championship

Burnley

Key Man: Sam Vokes

If the Clarets are to have any chance of surviving then they will need their Welsh striker to replicate his goal scoring form from the Championship.

He scored 20 goals in 39 games last year and was the main reason why Burnley returned to the top flight but as we all know there is a huge gulf in class between the two leagues.

Vokes is injured right now but on his return Burnley will need him to slip right back into his goalscoring ways.

Sam Vokes

QPR

Key Man: Richard Dunne

We've previewed the 19 other teams without resorting to sentiment but we just can't help ourselves when it comes to Ireland's former colossus.

Yes, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker will probably be the first choice pairing but if QPR find themselves in a relegation six-pointer away from home on a rainy night in Stoke then there is only one man that we would want in our back four.

Don't forget that he was also named Man of the Match in the play-off final and we think that the Honey Monster still has plenty to offer.

Clip via - Eoin O'Donnell

You can watch all the drama unfold on Sky Sports as they bring you more of the games that matter.