GK- Alphonse Areola, Fulham
Having won a world cup medal in 2018, the Frenchman has endured a tough couple of years since. The ‘keeper made himself known during the 15/16 season when he enjoyed a very successful loan spell at Spanish side Villareal, after which he earned a more regular place in the PSG side. However, due to a run of poor form early in the 16/17 season, Areola lost his first team role to Kevin Trapp, and has since struggled for regular football. Last season, the Frenchman was on loan at Real Madrid, but could not break through to the first team. Despite conceding four against Leeds on his Fulham debut, Areola made several impressive saves and looked convincing when called upon for the most part. He is one to watch out for this season as he will be more than determined to prove himself to French coach Didier Deschamps and cement his name into the 23-man list for EURO 2021.
RB- Matty Cash, Aston Villa
Since 2016 Matty Cash has gradually progressed into one of the championship’s most consistent and quality players. The full back enjoyed a very impressive season last year, winning Nottingham Forest’s Player of the Year award, after narrowly missing out on the Play Offs. On 3 September, it was announced he was joining Aston Villa for a reported £16 million. While this is a hefty fee which carries a lot of pressure for a championship player, Cash has proven himself as a modern-day full back, being part of a back four that kept 14 clean sheets last season, and being involved in eight goals, scoring three and assisting five. He could be one of Aston Villa’s bright sparks this year, along with the likes of Jack Grealish.
A special mention should go to 19-year old Tariq Lamptey, who broke in to the Brighton first team at the end of last season, having moved from Chelsea in January 2020. The pacey, no-nonsense, hard-working right wing-back will no doubt have an exciting breakthrough season and excel on the south coast, already impressing against his old club on the opening day of the season and enjoying a spectacular game in the 3-0 win at Newcastle most recently.
CBs- Adam Webster and Ben White, Brighton
While Brighton lost 3-1 to Chelsea in the opening game of their season, the ‘gulls looked encouraging and followed it up with a brilliant win in the north-east, suggesting the south coast club could be in for a splendid season especially with the impressive back line Graham Potter has fielded so far in the league. Throughout the season, these two central defenders will be playing either side of the man-mountain Lewis Dunk, who had previously been linked with a move to Chelsea. While we saw glimpses of what Adam Webster is capable of last season, the Portsmouth graduate will be much more acclimatised to premier league football by now and will be looking to play a fluid passing game while also maintaining a solid back line, and push on to put himself in the same bracket as the likes of Conor Coady of Wolves, who recently made his England debut.
Ben White returns to his parent club having had a remarkable season at Leeds, being one of two players to feature in all 46 league games and keeping 22 clean sheets for Bielsa’s side, who were crowned worthy champions of the second tier. It was a coup for Brighton to hold on to Ben White, who had attracted attention from some of the biggest clubs in the country. And now, having held on to him, the Seagulls can rely on a back three of Webster, Dunk, and White- all of whom will be driven by the fact that efficient and solid performances can lead to the possibility of sneaking into Southgate’s EURO 2021 squad.
LB- Jamal Lewis, Newcastle
Although featuring in Norwich’s lacklustre season last year, the left back earned himself a £15 million move to Newcastle. Although beaten by Brighton in their second game of the season, the Magpies impressed in their season opener, and the summer signings made a massive impact with two other new faces, Wilson and Hendrick, getting the goals in the 2-0 win at West Ham. One of their main threats was down the left-hand side, where Lewis linked up dangerously well with Alain Saint-Maximin, a partnership that could prove very lucrative for the north-east club. Newcastle look to have done good business this window, and 22-year old Lewis could be one of the signings of the summer, if the chemistry down the Toon’s left continues.
CM- Harrison Reed, Fulham
Failing to break into the Southampton first team, Reed has had loan spells at Norwich, Blackburn, and, last season, was loaned out to Fulham. While at Craven Cottage last year, the defensive midfielder displayed the perfect attributes of a modern holding midfielder, demonstrating the same type of play as the likes of N’golo Kante. The tenacious midfielder was key for Fulham last year in breaking up play in front of the back four, while allowing players like Tom Cairney and Josh Onomah to roam forward from central midfield and play with creative flair. He was a key element of a very impressive defensive record that saw the Cottagers rack up 19 clean sheets in the league, before gaining promotion via Wembley. While Fulham may be in for a tough season, the permanent signing of Reed could be one that gives them much needed security in midfield, and allows Scott Parker’s creative men to concentrate on scoring and creating goals. The former Southampton man will likely have a great impact on Fulham’s style of play this season, and could be in for a memorable individual year.
CM- Sander Berge, Sheffield United
The young Norwegian arrived at Sheffield United as their record signing in January 2020, and has impressed since, especially at the end of last season, post-lockdown. He will be looking to fully push his way into the starting XI this season, aiming to replace Oli Norwood in their midfield three, alongside John Fleck and John Lundstram. Berge has been highly regarded since his Genk debut in 2017 aged 18, and instantly became an integral part of the first XI that season, culminating in a Europa League quarter final appearance. The midfielder continued to start for Genk until his move to the Blades last winter. He made his international debut at only 19, and has featured a further 20 times for Norway, showing he can already keep his own at a high level. He will be motivated to secure his central midfield role at Sheffield United, and ensure he reproduces his consistency at Genk, and helps emulate the club’s phenomenal season last time out.
CM- James Rodriguez, Everton
Although a hugely documented transfer, and an obvious player to shortlist as one to have a good season, James Rodriguez gets a mention due to the true impact he will inevitably have on the squad, and the club as a whole. Carlo Ancelotti has shown how the pull of a truly world class manager can attract big stars. Since the departure of David Moyes in 2013, Everton have struggled for consistency, and have failed to push for European football. However, it seems as though Ancelotti has been able to lure big names and huge talents to the club, like Allan and especially Rodriguez. He has already impressed for the Toffees, putting in a commanding performance in a 1-0 win at Tottenham and a masterclass in the 5-2 thumping of West Brom. While he will bring class, quality and clinical brilliance to the pitch for Everton, he will also be an inspiration and great teacher to young players at the club, such as Tom Davies, Moise Kean and Anthony Gordon. While the Colombian has not had the best few years, he is guaranteed first team football on Merseyside, and can have a huge impact on the club, helping them push for European football once more, making him an outstanding addition for Everton.
RW- Ferran Torres, Manchester City
The highly regarded Spaniard had spent 70% of his lifetime at Valencia before making the move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this summer. The 20-year old has moved to Manchester for just £20 million, which is a steal for such a promising talent. While it will be a tall order to don the number 21 shirt of former City legend David Silva, Torres has already shown why he was so sought after by Guardiola, as he made his first two international appearances and scored his first goal for Spain, just after his transfer. Although he has a tough challenge to break into the first team, with Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva momentarily ahead of him, Torres has the ability to give his manager the “right sort of headache” in his selection. The Spaniard was described by Guillem Ballague as a “modern winger” due to both his technical and physical attributes, including providing an aerial threat, which could be a factor in Guardiola giving him game time ahead of his colleagues competing for the same position. It is likely that, similarly to Bernardo Silva in his first season at City, Guardiola will give Torres game time, and it is even more likely that the young talent will prove to be a fantastic signing for the sky blues.
LW- Eberechi Eze, Crystal Palace
Having had an exceptional season with QPR last year, Eze earned himself a transfer to Crystal Palace, worth a reported £17 million, which could potentially rise to £20 million. The 22-year old was the top league scorer, with an impressive 14 goals, for a QPR team that finished 13th in the Championship last year. The young talent dazzled at Loftus Road last year with his clinical, calm and collected, technical game, paired with his happy and relaxed style of play. He is a dangerous addition to an attacking force that already contains Wilf Zaha, Michy Batshuayi, Jordan Ayew and Andros Townsend for Palace. With his elegant and laid back, yet deadly approach to the game, this technically gifted player could have a debut Premier League season to remember.
Another player to look out for on the left is West Brom winger Grady Diangana, as Mark Noble would agree. The West Ham captain’s public dismay at the youngster’s transfer away from the Hammers proves how much of a prospect and asset Diangana is for any club. The 22-year-old enjoyed a fabulous season on loan at West Brom last year, helping them secure promotion back to the big time, and made his move permanent in September. He has already acclimatised to the Premier League, scoring an incredible solo effort against Everton, and will no doubt be a bright spark, in what could be a gloomy season for the Baggies.
CF- Fabio Silva, Wolves
It is not often that an 18-year old gets a transfer for a fee of £35 million. However, everything suggests that Fabio Silva is well worth the fee. The youngster earned himself a move to Wolves this summer, where he joins nine other Portuguese players, playing under fellow countryman Nuno Espirito Santo. The former Porto man holds several records for the club. He became the youngest ever player to feature for Porto in any competition after coming off the bench, within two months of his 17th birthday; and three months after he turned 17, he became their youngest ever starter. Along with these records, last season saw him become Porto’s youngest ever goal scorer with the concluding goal in a 5-0 win in the Taca de Portugal. There is no doubt he faces a challenge to get game time with Raul Jiminez at the club, but it is obvious he is a natural goal threat and another huge prospect in the footballing world. He joins a club with close links to Portuguese football, which play a fluid and attacking brand of football, all indicating a welcoming and suitable fit for 18-year old Silva. As the youngster gets more game time throughout the season, he could provide a real attacking impetus in the latter stages of matches for the team, playing as understudy to the fantastic Jiminez. He looks set to potentially have a very successful first season in English football.
The One to Watch
Although a team of very promising and exciting prospects and transfers, it must be said that one name stands out from the rest in this XI. Despite being not totally under the radar so to speak, the transfer of James Rodriguez is a true statement and brings more than solely the player’s quality to Everton. The ability he brings onto the pitch will be matched by the influence he has around the club, massively helping the whole team make their first proper push for Europe in years, which is where the Toffees should be aiming given their size. While there is some debate on the true figure attached to the deal, the transfer of the Colombian maestro, regardless of the fee, holds much more significance than just another player for Everton, making him my one to watch for this season.