Today is the start of the Premier League and not only is this a time of high hopes and foolish dreams, but it is the time to make wild predictions and then brag when any of them remotely come to pass. In that spirit, I present to you Five Players to Watch. This is not a list for the Wayne Rooneys and Gareth Bales of the world but it is also not a collection of no names who might not make their team. This is for the players that haven't quite made big names for themselves yet and are on the cusp of playing a major role for a contender, or having one of said contenders overpay for their signature next season. In no particular order, here are your players to watch:
Tom Cleverley - Manchester United
Cleverley looked set to play a key part in Manchester United's run at a Premier League title last season, providing the organization and link-up play that the Red Devils needed. He impressed early in the year, but we did not have much time to pass judgment as his season came to an abrupt end against Bolton in September. United's midfield was in such disarray for the next few months that they were forced to turn to recently retired Paul Scholes to fill the void that Cleverley left. Back again and looking to complete his first full season in the Premier League, Cleverley has to make a name for himself all over again. If he can play the 2012-2013 campaign as he started his last, United will be there at the end yet again.
Ryo Miyaichi - Wigan Athletic
It feels a bit strange including a Wigan player on a list like this, but Miyaichi should bring a lot to the table during his season long loan away from Arsenal. The 19 year-old Japanese international impressed in his half year loan at Bolton last year, tallying a goal and two assists in limited playing time. With the impending Robin Van Persie trade there were those who thought the Gunners would keep Miyaichi for depth at striker, but instead he was sent out to a team where he has a true chance to blossom. Wigan were the surprise of the 2012 portion of last season and Roberto Martinez has shown a knack for developing players over his years of managing. With or without Victor Moses to provide some of the offense, Miyaichi may prove to be essential to Wigan's survival.
Joe Allen - Liverpool
Am I one of the only non-Liverpool fans that thinks the team will be much, much better this year? Their defense is solid with Daniel Agger and Martin Sketel providing cover in front of Pepe "Why Did I Have to Play While Iker Casillas Exists" Reina while Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique bomb down the sides. The attacking options are interesting at the very least with the ever dangerous Luis Suarez being the focal point for Fabio Borini and toy pony (real life pony?) Andy Carroll. The midfield has talent with captain Steven Gerrard and returning defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva, so it would appear that all that is missing is getting used to Brendan Rodgers' system. Enter Joe Allen who was the fulcrum for Rodgers at Swansea and is now in a perfect position to make his mark at Anfield. If Liverpool make a real run at Champions League places, expect Allen to play a large role.
Nikica Jelavic - Everton
If you paid any attention at all to Everton last year, then you must have seen Jelavic emerge as one of the smartest signings during the January transfer window. The Croatian (smartly) traded Rangers for Everton and promptly scored nine goals in ten Premier League matches, pairing a killer instinct in front of goal with a deft touch for redirections. Much like Allen will play an important role for Liverpool, Jelavic must provide for the "other" Liverpool team as one of the main issues with David Moyes' team looks to be goal scoring. If the striker can keep up even half of last year's pace during this season, the battle for Merseyside bragging rights will be hotly contested once again.
John Ruddy - Norwich City
It's tough to call a man now seeing time as an England international an up-and-comer but not that many people are talking about Ruddy. Perhaps because he plays for Norwich, the same Norwich who let more goals in last year than any other team that wasn't relegated. But buried within that seemingly damning stat was excellent play that saved the Canaries time and time again. Though he only recorded three clean sheets through the year, Ruddy confounded teams continually, keeping his offensive minded team in games where they otherwise would have been run off the field. This year will be an even tougher test as the sophomore slumps kicks in, highlighted by manager Paul Lambert's move to Aston Villa, and if Norwich are to stay in the Premier League for a third year then Ruddy will need to play as big as he has been.
There you have it, five players that could prove essential for their clubs in this season and perhaps beyond. Regardless of whether I get to hold this over people's heads at the end of the year, the 2012-2013 Premier League season is upon us. Enjoy it one and all.