Who will be the most influential players in the 2019/20 Premier League season?
It has been a busy summer of football with the action barely pausing since the end of the Premier League as Manchester City retained their title. The Champions League and Europa League finals were followed by the Nations League finals, Copa America and African Cup of Nations, giving some of the big names in the English top flight a very short summer holiday indeed.
With the action on the pitch barely stopping, there appears to have been less movement in the transfer market, with most of the top clubs in the Premier League not completing a great number of deals.
Manchester City and Liverpool turned in near-perfect seasons last year so it is no great surprise that they have not done a huge amount of business. But the chasing pack have also been quiet. Chelsea cannot complete any moves due to their transfer ban, but Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United have all struggled to get contracts signed. Although that could all change as we get closer to the transfer window slamming shut.
With very few significant arrivals in the Premier League, we must look to experienced hands to see who will prove to be the most influential players in the coming season. Some have shown their influence already in their careers, others will be coming to the fore this campaign and proving their great worth.
Kevin De Bruyne
Manchester City were sensational last season, ruthlessly despatching the competition as they amassed 98 points and saw off the incredible challenge of Liverpool to retain the Premier League title.
What is all the more impressive about their title defence is that they largely did it all without one of their best players – Kevin De Bruyne. Due to a number of injuries, the Belgian made just 11 Premier League starts last season and eight more from the substitute’s bench. It was a tremendously frustrating time of his career for the midfielder, but the likes of Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan filled in admirably.
However, De Bruyne is back fit and raring to go for the new campaign, and he will be looking to make up for lost time. Now 28-years-old, the pass-master should be in the prime of his career, pulling the strings in the City midfield and taking the burden off the sensational David Silva, who is nearing the end of his peak at 33-years-old.
De Bruyne provided more assists than any other player in the 2016/17 and 17/18 seasons. He now has 46 Premier League assists to his name in 120 appearances and really is a machine when it comes to setting up goals. When De Bruyne is playing regularly and on form then he is as influential as any player in the league, and as long as City can keep him feet, then he will be absolutely key to taking them to the next level.
It seems strange to think this team can achieve a higher status, and they can’t in the Premier League, but they certainly need to improve their Champions League record to truly be considered Europe’s best. De Bruyne will be a huge part of doing that in the forthcoming season.
A key part of how De Bruyne will achieve this is the relationships he forges with Bernardo Silva and new signing Rodri. It appears that these three will form a high-quality triumvirate in the midfield for Pep Guardiola’s side in the coming years, however, they have not played together before. They are all sensational players and it should be no problem for them to click, and if they do so quickly, they will tear teams apart.
If KDB gets a full season, he will top the assists tally again, he will chip in with a few goals and he will keep City ticking over to a load more silverware.
Virgil Van Dijk
This one takes little explanation after the outrageously good 18 months the Dutchman has enjoyed since joining Liverpool from Southampton in January 2018.
What had been a ropy defence that Jurgen Klopp was managing, quickly improved after the arrival of the giant centre-back. When he was joined by Alisson Becker behind him between the sticks, it became the best defence in the Premier League.
Van Dijk will be flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson although it is not clear year who will partner him at centre-back. It could be a return for Joe Gomez after a long injury, or it could be Joel Matip after an impressive end to last season. However, such is the influence of Van Dijk, it may not actually make a great amount of difference.
Clearly both Gomez and Matip (and to a lesser extent Dejan Lovren) are good players in their own right, but the Dutchman makes them even better players. The likelihood is that Gomez will be paired with the Netherlands international as Klopp looks to forge a partnership for years to come. Van Dijk will make the young Englishman into a better defender for club and country and we can expect the Reds to be as miserly at the back as they were last season.
Van Dijk played all 38 Premier League games for Liverpool last season and kept 20 clean sheets. It was a phenomenal defensive campaign, led by the former Southampton man, while he chipped in with four league goals along the way.
Such is the defensive skill of the Dutchman that he picked up just one yellow card and no red cards in the Premier League. He is an absolute rock at the back for the Champions League winners, and if they can topple Manchester City this year, it will largely thanks to the centre-back’s influence.
He might not be fit for the start of the season, but this is finally going to be the campaign in which we see Ruben Loftus-Cheek break out as a superstar for Chelsea.
The England international suffered an Achilles tendon injury in a friendly played between the end of the Premier League season and the Europa League final. Incredibly frustrating for player and club as he missed the win over Arsenal in Baku and will miss, at least, the first month of the season as his recovery continues.
However, when Loftus-Cheek returns to fitness he will be a key part of Frank Lampard’s plans as he builds a new, young and exciting Chelsea team. Under a transfer ban, it is odd to think that the Blues are building a new side, but with a new focus on youth, the exit of Eden Hazard and the sole arrival of Christian Pulisic, will give Chelsea a new look, certainly in midfield and up front.
Loftus-Cheek had finally established himself as an integral figure in the Blues midfield by the end of last season, scoring goals, and proving a powerful influence in the middle of the park. He is good in the air, impressive in the tackle and covers a lot of ground. When he finally gets a whole season on the pitch, he also looks nailed on to hit double figures in terms of goals, managing 10 in all competitions last season.
It is not clear how Lampard is going to set up his midfield just yet, with Jorginho, Ngolo Kante, Ross Barkley, Matteo Kovacic and Mason Mount all competing for places in the middle of the park, but Loftus-Cheek will come into the team when he returns and will be given the opportunity to boss it.
There is some uncertainty surrounding Chelsea, with their inexperienced manager, but if they achieve anything this season, then the powerful midfielder will be a big part of it.
Arsenal are having a difficult pre-season, struggling to make signings with a limited transfer budget thanks to their failure to qualify for the Champions League. There will certainly not be many new arrivals at the Emirates this summer, meaning they need the current squad to step up and new leaders to emerge. In Arsenal’s time of need, Rob Holding must come to the fore.
Arsenal’s defence last season was something of a shambles and Unai Emery must sort it out if they are going to challenge for a Champions League place this season. They were not helped by a long-term injury to Hector Bellerin, nor were they aided by whatever has turned Shkodran Mustafi into a Sunday League player, but Holding’s absence may have been what cost them most dearly.
The 23-year-old looked to be maturing into an excellent defender for Arsenal in the first half of last season, as they built up an impressive unbeaten run. This was until he damaged his ACL in December and missed the rest of the season. Sokratis gamely tried to make up for the pratfalls of Mustafi for the rest of the campaign, but he could not do it alone.
Holding’s re-emergence from the physio’s room will be like a new signing for Emery, and if he can pick up where he left off, be a huge influence on the Gunners improving this campaign. The Arsenal boss has already talked up Holding as being one of his captain’s this season, so he clearly sees him as a leader in his defence, something they were severely lacking last season.
Whether Holding can go on to be a commanding force for Arsenal, and possibly England, over the next decade is yet to be seen, but even if he is just steady and reliable, then he will be a vast improvement on Mustafi. Holding will be tasked, alongside Sokratis, with steadying the ship at the Emirates, and if he can do so, then he will have proved to be a hugely influential figure in the Premier League this season.