Another weekend in world football is fast approaching, with several big games of interest set to take place around the globe—and plenty of players attracting attention within those matches.
As well as the Premier League, European winter breaks already ended in Spain, France and Italy, and now, we welcome back the Dutch Eredivisie, too. It’s not all about the clubs, though, as with two international tournaments on the go at present, we’ve got a mixed look at the early stages of 2015.
Here are our top 10 players to watch this weekend.
Arkadiusz Milik, Ajax
We start on Friday night and in the Netherlands, where reigning champions Ajax will be hoping to close the gap on leaders PSV when they host Groningen.
Striker Arkadiusz Milik will be key to Ajax’s hopes if he can maintain his pre-winter break scoring record; the 20-year-old Polish forward scored eight goals in his final 11 games for club and country in 2014 and is Ajax’s top scorer this term, with eight in the Eredivisie.
Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon
Forward Alexandre Lacazette has really established himself as one of Europe’s top young forwards this term, scoring 19 so far, seven more than his nearest rival in the top-scorer department. His consistency as much as his talent has impressed this term, and he looks determined to take his side as close to glory as possible.
Samir Nasri, Manchester City
Samir Nasri has been in superb form for City over the past six weeks or so and is capable of being one of the key difference makers in this fixture—perhaps even more so considering his past with the Gunners.
A win for City re-establishes their title credentials, while Arsenal would be left perhaps four points off of the top four.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
Liverpool welcomed back two forwards into their squad at training this week: Daniel Sturridge returned from America where he has been in rehabilitation for a longstanding muscle injury, while Raheem Sterling’s midseason break to recharge has also ended.
It might be another week or two before Sturridge returns to action, but Sterling should be fit and raring to go, thrust straight back into the starting XI for Liverpool at Aston Villa this weekend.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Inter Milan
To Serie A and Italy now, where Inter Milan gave a full debut to Lukas Podolski last weekend. Xherdan Shaqiri had to make do with watching his new team from the sideline.
The Swiss international star should be ready to play this time around, though, with Inter away to Empoli, struggling just outside the relegation zone and winless in six Serie A matches.
Gerard Pique, Barcelona
The Spanish international has no shortage of talent, but consistency and concentration have long been his biggest enemies.
In and out of the team at the start of the campaign, he now simply has to use his last performance as a springboard to much better things. He must become the dominant defensive leader he should be and show he can remain at the club and be a key figure for years more. Barcelona play Deportivo La Coruna this weekend, a side who struggle to create and score goals.
Denis Cheryshev, Villarreal
Villarreal play Athletic Bilbao in another terrific-looking match in Spain’s top flight. It’s a matchup pitting a fast-paced, technically sound side chasing the top four against the team who took fourth place last term—but have struggled badly this year.
The Basque team have been especially vulnerable down the flanks…which is just where Villarreal’s big strengths lie.
Robbie Kruse, Australia
To the international scene now and, firstly, the Asian Cup, which is already well underway. The final round of group games takes place over the weekend, with Saturday’s Australia vs. Korea Republic match being the all-important clash.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to suggest this could have even been the final itself.
Australia may start as favourites, being more free-flowing and offensive in their games so far, so Robbie Kruse will be key to continuing that run.
Asamoah Gyan, Ghana
Saturday also marks the start of another tournament, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
On Monday, we witness the first hugely competitive group clash, as Ghana play Senegal in Group C. The group also contains Algeria and South Africa, making it the most group of death-looking collection of the tournament.
National team captain and top goalscorer Asamoah Gyan will be counted on to lead his side to glory, and it all starts in this game. There is not any margin for error, as Nigeria found out; the reigning holders didn’t even make it to the finals.
Romelu Lukaku, Everton
Our final selection reverts to club football and a Monday night game, as Everton face West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League.
It’s a game that sees two sides struggling for form come together, with the home manager Roberto Martinez under some pressure to improve results and Baggies boss Tony Pulis being newly installed. The group at the bottom end of the table are closely bunched—five points separate Everton, 12th, from the bottom—and wins and consistency are imperative at this stage to avoid a season-long struggle against the drop.