One of the joys at the start of the season for any football fan, neutral or diehard, is the opportunity to run the rule over some of the less familiar faces setting out to make their mark on the division.
Even though there is still a fortnight left of the transfer window, the Premier League already has its fair share of new boys in the classroom to pique the interest for the opening weekend.
While much business has taken place between the clubs, arguably the most exciting sights will be those stars making their Premier League debuts. UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea captured one of the most coveted imports early on in transfer proceedings, snapping up Lille’s Eden Hazard back in June.
The tricky Belgian attacking midfielder reportedly set the Blues back a cool £32million, with the 21-year-old taking novel approach of announcing his move on Twitter, saying, after weeks of speculation: “I’m signing for the champion’s league winner.”
Marko Marin had already arrived at Stamford Bridge from Werder Bremen, and the pair have since been joined by Eden’s younger brother, Thorgan Hazard, and Internacional playmaker Oscar, leaving them with an enviable array of creative talent.
This is a theme that has permeated many sides in the upper echelons of last season’s table, with many looking to bolster their midfield ranks with an inventive streak. Tottenham Hotspur beat Swansea City and Liverpool to the punch to bring in Gylfi Sigurdsson of Hoffenheim while Manchester United brought in the impressive Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.
The latter has particularly excited Red Devils veteran Rio Ferdinand, saying of the 23-year-old: “He’s been fantastic. He’s quick, he’s sharp, he has great awareness, he plays off both feet. I’m excited about playing with him and getting the season started.”
Despite losing captain Robin van Persie to United, Arsenal have been uncharacteristically busy in the window. They followed the prevailing trend by bringing in two-footed attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla from Malaga, as well as Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud and versatile front-man Lukas Podolski from Montpellier and Cologne respectively.
Germany has provided a particularly high quantity of the new inductees to the Premier League. Following on from Marin, Sigurdsson, Kagawa and Podolski, Fulham have brought in Sascha Riether, also from Cologne, and Croatian international Mladen Petric from Hamburg.
The Cottagers had also hoped to bring in Pavel Pogrebnyak, following the expiration of his Stuttgart contract, but new-boys Reading swooped in to sign him up, with West Bromwich Albion getting former Bremen man Markus Rosenberg in similar circumstances.
However, the Netherlands aren’t far behind, providing a raft of imports, with many of them flying into Birmingham to sign at Villa Park. Aston Villa have snapped up three names from the Eredivisie, with Feyenoord pair Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi being joined by Brett Holman of AZ to hopefully allow new manager Paul Lambert the chance to avoid a relegation scrap.
Spurs tied up the signing of coveted Ajax captain Jan Vertonghen back in early July, while former team-mate Vernon Anita has joined Newcastle United just two days before the teams kick off against each other.
The latter has left manager Alan Pardew full of optimism, saying: “He is an exceptionally talented footballer with great technical ability, which is exactly what I’m looking at in a player. And, at 23 years old, we hope his best years are at Newcastle.”
A trio of former team-mates will all be among the squads on the opening weekend too, with the fall-out of Rangers' financial collapse north of the border seeing the three Stevens of Naismith, Whittaker and Davis joining Everton, Norwich City and Southampton.
While they will all meet twice a year, Brendan Rodgers looked for a more permanent reuniting by signing Fabio Borini from Roma for Liverpool, having spent time together at Swansea City. Rodgers cited his experience with the striker as a major influence in the move, saying: “He is arguably the best physical player I’ve worked with in terms of his pace, power and fitness. We’ve got a player who is on the up and I think Liverpool will benefit from.”
Familiarity is something the Northern Irishman’s replacement with the Swans seems to value too. Having taken the role, Michael Laudrup has brought in Chico – who he worked with briefly while at Real Mallorca – to bolster his defensive options, while also looking to Spain again for the loan of Jonathan de Guzman from Villarreal.
Wigan Athletic have also been digging around La Liga during the transfer window, signing another Mallorca man in Ivan Ramis. On top of that they have also acquired Levante’s Arouna Kone, to replace the departing Hugo Rodallega, who helped propel the unfashionable side into UEFA Europa League qualification.
After a top-half finish, West Brom have gone for some left-field choices from abroad to try to build on a successful year, signing former Racing Club captain Claudio Yacob on a free, with the season-long loan of promising Belgian winger Yassine El Ghanassy adding to Rosenberg.
Stoke City’s one foreign addition has a similarly unproven quality in Europe, as they sign seasoned Houston Dynamo midfielder Geoff Cameron, while West Ham United have brought in the striking talents of Modibo Maiga from Sochaux in a bid to retain their newly recovered Premier League status.
Have your say
Which of these foreign imports do you feel will have the greatest impact, has been the best piece of business, and will be the biggest surprise?