Ah yes, football in January. New year, new expectations, and for a couple teams getting antsy about their continued status as Premier League clubs, new managers. Let’s not forget the return of almost everyone’s favorite rumour mill, the transfer window. New faces for your beloved team perhaps? Every reasonable fan of any given club hopes to see a few new signings come through the stadium gates, whether it be as a hole-plugging loanee till season’s end, a pacey in-form fillip to share the goal load, or a tackle loving hard man looking to add a little steel to the spine of a midfield who needs it (blah blah something something Arsenal). That’s probably the biggest anticipation of January in the football world- new signings.
But what about new beginnings? Currently, the return of the FA Cup is in our midst. And not only is it the return of the FA Cup, it’s the FA Cup third round, AKA the round where the Premier League big boys enter the fray. A lot of pundits like to tout the third round as the chance for a lower league and even sometimes non-league David to slay their Goliath counterpart, but on the other side of the coin, it also represents the perfect chance for an out-of-form Premier League player to maybe get back to their fundamentals, pop a few goals in against lesser opposition, and take a big step toward regaining the confidence they need to compete in the Premier League.
While there are four games in the next two days, and Liverpool have a slew of players that are chomping at the bit to fill the stat sheet against Wimbledon, the first three days of FA action have seen a number of players whose names we haven’t mentioned a whole lot lately find the back of the net. I’ve highlighted a few of those players below. These guys are already looking forward to what 2015 has in store for them:
Christian Benteke, Aston Villa:
Not only will Benteke himself be happy to have scored the match’s only goal against Blackpool on Sunday, but so will pretty much everyone associated with the midlands outfit. I wrote an article earlier about players who shoulder their team’s goal burden, and Benteke barely missed the cut. Make no mistake about it though; the Villains go as far as the big Belgian’s goals will take them.
Despite their unlikely position of 12th, there are whispers of Aston Villa getting into a relegation fight in the last few months of the season, as there are still questions about the durability of their defense. In Benteke, Villa have a proven goalscorer, who in each of his two seasons in the Premier League has hit double figures. This year, between a lengthy injury early in the season and a red card that saw him suspended for multiple games as soon as he was healthy, Benteke just can’t get into a groove. Two goals in eleven fixtures justify the concerns. For Aston Villa’s sake, the goal against Blackpool will hopefully be the start of business as usual.
Nathan Dyer, Swansea:
This may come as an odd one but allow me to provide some context:
- Wilfried Bony is set to miss a month of action courtesy of the African Cup of Nations
- The name “Bafetimbi Gomis” is swirling around as January transfer target for a host of other clubs including Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and most importantly, Crystal Palace.
- Bony’s replacement, Portuguese striker Nelson Oliveira, is young and untested in the physical and fast Premier League game.
- Dyer is a veteran of the team, and although he’s a winger, his early season form suggested there would be a pleasantly surprising source of goals coming from the diminutive Swansea man. Three goals in the first three games of the season, and nothing since. Siggy is going to need his help in January. Maybe Dyer’s goal against Tranmere on Saturday gets him going again.
- Bafetimbi Gomis is going to Crystal Palace. Please.
Dwight Gayle, Crystal Palace:
Basically the reasons for Gayle’s inclusion on the list are exactly the same as Dyer’s, only just switch “Bony” and “African Cup of Nations” with “Jedinak” and “Asian Cup”. Goals are at a premium right now at Selhurst, and last season’s top scorer Gayle has seen his shots hit the back of the net just twice this year. New manager Alan Pardew will be looking to bring in some fresh faces up front for Palace, but that doesn’t mean the current squad is without the know-how to put points on the board. Gayle’s goal against Conference side Dover on Sunday may go some way in proving exactly that.
Ángel Di María, Manchester United:
He’s back. After a few weeks on the sideline after an early injury against Aston Villa in December, Ángel di María popped up to score a goal against League One Yeovil Town on Sunday.
Arguably the Premier League’s most technically gifted player, Di María is often more touted for his work as provider rather than goalscorer, but he’s found the back of the net three times so far in the 2014/2015 season. The “too much of a good thing” situation in the striker department has seen manager Louis Van Gaal tinker with a few changes to his attacking formation, most recently with Rooney dropping deeper into the midfield and usually one of either Van Persie or Falcao leading the line.
With Di María there is no guessing game. He’s a visceral creative talent that is a threat no matter where you play him across the front. If Louis Van Gaal can somehow figure out how to let these attacking options cohabitate, we may be looking at the most thrilling front line the Premier League has seen in years. You can bet Di María will be in the middle of it all.