The Premier League 50

Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images   Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images   Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images   Photo by Jan Kruger - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Photo by Jan Kruger - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images /

Welcome to the Premier League 50, FanSided Soccer’s first annual ranking of the 50 best players in England’s top flight. The 2017-18 season kicks off Friday, Aug. 7, and what better way to celebrate than the publication of a list no one agrees with?

There are a lot of different ways to evaluate a player, and matters get even more complicated when you’re comparing different positions. These rankings focus on a combination of a player’s past achievements (particularly in the Premier League), his importance to his team, his expected performance this season and his raw talent.

That means if we think a player’s primed for a big season, he’s likely to get a bump, while some old-timers’ accomplishments are too significant not to keep them high up the rankings. It also means attacking players, more technically gifted as they tend to be, dominate the top of the list.

The powers that be refuse to close the transfer window before the season starts, which means there could soon be some additions to this list that don’t make the cut. In the same way, a few players, Diego Costa in particular, seem to be on the way out, and you can’t be good next season if you don’t play.

But there’s no amount of explanation that’s going to make you agree with this list, so why don’t you just go ahead and read it already?

50. Ilkay Gundogan

Manchester City, midfielder

Ilkay Gundogan played in only 15 games last season for Manchester City, but the quality of his performances, not to mention is history with Borussia Dortmund, was enough to earn him the benefit of the doubt his injury history has raised about his value. Gundogan is the closest thing City have to a Pep Guardiola surrogate on the pitch, and if he’s fit and on form, he raises the team’s level from Premier to Champions League contender. That’s a very, very big “if,” unfortunately.

49. Tiemoue Bakayoko

Chelsea, midfielder

Tiemoue Bakayoko was one of a handful of players form last season’s Monaco team to move to the Premier League this summer. The Frenchman appears to be the replacement for Nemanja Matic next to N’Golo Kante in Chelsea’s midfield, and should add a greater ability to drive forward with the ball at his feet as well as a strong, ball-winning presence out of possession. Bakayoko has the potential to be among the very best midfielders in the Premier League, but has only one full season as a starter behind him and is expected to miss the start of the season with an injury. He’ll need time to settle.

48. Christian Benteke

Crystal Palace, forward

Christian Benteke has had a strange few years since leaving Aston Villa for Liverpool in 2014. His season at Anfield was made difficult by the presence of two managers, neither of whom seemed particularly fond of him, and his season at Selhurst Park has been made equally difficult by the presence of two managers, both of whom wanted him but one of whom was awful and the other of whom spent six months cleaning up the first whoms mess. But Benteke scored 15 goals for a relegation-threatened side, and nothing about the way he played suggested he’s not the reliable 15-ish-goal-a-season striker he’s always been. The question for Benteke, who turns 27 this year, is whether he can become a 20-plus-goal-a-season striker. He’s hugely talented, and not just as a header of the ball, but he’s still strangely lethargic out of possession. If he remedies that, he could be a fearsome player.

47. Jamie Vardy

Leicester, forward

A year removed from Leicester’s very silly Premier League triumph, Jamie Vardy is not quite the in-demand finisher he was. But he did score 13 goals last season for a team that was, for long stretches of the year, awful. He came to life after Claudio Ranieri was sacked — eight of his goals, and three of his six assists, came in 13 games under Craig Shakespeare — and should be good for 15-20 goals if the Foxes show some more consistent effort this season. But he turns 32 in January, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever hit the heights of 2015-16 again.

46. Kyle Walker

Manchester City, defender

Kyle Walker is worth £50 million, which is going to make it a lot harder for him to make a good impression at City. The good news is the Citizens have enough other £50 million signings to attract people’s attention, he might be able to slip under the radar. But Walker’s a very good player, everything you could want in a modern full-back — fast, strong, full of energy. He’s no Dani Alves (though he is a lot more expensive), but he fills an obvious area of need for City, whose carousel of old-man full-backs struggled mightily last term, and should add value immediately. If Pep expects him to slip into to central midfield, however, he could struggle.

45. Thibaut Courtois

Chelsea, goalkeeper

Thibaut Courtois and Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris are the two keeper’s vying for the title of best keeper in the Premier League other than David de Gea, and after an injury-hit 2015-16, Courtois reestablished himself as the best of the rest last season. He benefited from a strong defense, but his shot-stopping is mostly excellent, and he may command his area better than any keeper in the league, including de Gea. 

44. Gabriel Jesus

Manchester City, forward

It’s easy to forget Gabriel Jesus has played only 11 games for Manchester City, such is the hype surrounding the 20-year-old Brazilian. Then again, he scored seven goals and assisted five in those matches, so maybe there’s good reason for that. Jesus was a revelation upon his arrival in Manchester in January, taking Sergio Aguero’s spot in the starting XI and only relinquishing it when a metatarsal injury forced him to. While Pep Guardiola clearly rates him highly, it’s far too soon to suggest he’s a better player than his Argentine teammate. With a full season of Premier League starts under his belt, it’s likely he’ll climb these standings rapidly, but for now we’re taking a cautiously optimistic approach.

43. Juan Mata

Manchester United, midfielder

Juan Mata can’t have been too excited to find out he would be reuniting with Jose Mourinho, the man who sold him at Chelsea, at Old Trafford last season. But the Spaniard forced his way into Mourinho’s plans anyway, contributing six goals and three assists in an injury-hit season. The Spaniard turns 30 in April, and his time at the top may be waning given United’s, let’s say, enthusiastic approach in the transfer market, but Mata remains one of the most technically gifted and intelligent playmakers in the Premier League. In a different time, under a different manager, his impact on the top flight could have been far greater.

42. Wilfried Zaha

Crystal Palace, midfielder/forward

Wilfried Zaha finally seemed to put his ill-fated move to Manchester United behind him last year, consistently playing a level above both his team and his teammates. Crystal Palace were terrible for most of the season, but Zaha was always a bright spot, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch in the league, and one of very few who can beat three or four players on the dribble. Frank de Boer’s arrival should help give Palace some of the structure they’ve been lacking in recent seasons, which should help Zaha improve further. He may soon be ready for a move back to the top six.

41. Nemanja Matic

Manchester United, midfielder

Nemanja Matic was the guy next to N’Golo Kante in Chelsea’s title run last season, which was great for him, but also maybe not great for his perception around the league. Still, Matic did an important job very tidily next to the PFA Player of the Year, and his work in possession was probably a little underrated. He didn’t hit the heights of his 2014-15 campaign, but he was exactly what he needed to be. This season, he’ll reunite with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, where he’ll be the team’s primary defensive midfielder behind Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. That’s going to be a very important position for a team that hopes to challenge for the title. Matic should be up for the task.

40. Mohamed Salah

Liverpool, midfielder/forward

Mohamed Salah returns to the Premier League with Liverpool in 2017-18 after a disappointing stint with Chelsea in 2013-14. Among the others who failed to make the grade with the Blues at that time were Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata, so don’t write off the Egyptian yet. More importantly, he’s spent the intervening years developing into a formidable wide forward at Roma, scoring 15 goals and assisting 11 in Serie A last season. Having just turned 25, Salah’s second go in the Premier League figures to be much more successful. He could climb up this list very quickly after his first season at Anfield.

39. Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal, forward

Arsenal fans have been crying out for a 20-goal-a-season striker since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012. Olivier Giroud has been good but not great, and while Alexis Sanchez showed he can play up front last season, his best position is attacking midfield. Enter Alexandre Lacazette, who has scored over 20 goals three seasons in a row for Lyon, and finished with 28 in the league in 2016-17. That total included 10 penalties, and it may also have been inflated by the quality of his opponents in Ligue 1, but Lacazette appears to be exactly what Arsenal need up top.

38. Eric Bailly

Manchester United, defender

Eric Bailly slipped under the radar somewhat last season, as Manchester United’s two marquee signings, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, attracted all the attention. But the 23-year-old Ivorian was excellent at the heart of the second stingiest defense in the Premier League. As evidenced by his work with Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, Jose Mourinho could probably make a sack of potatoes look good at center-back, but Bailly showed real class in an injury-shortened season. He’ll have a new partner this year in Victor Lindelof, but should be the key man in one of the league’s best defenses again.

37. Riyad Mahrez

Leicester, midfielder/forward

This time last year, Riyad Mahrez was one of the most coveted players in the country. After a poor season, interest among other Premier League clubs seems mostly to have evaporated. That is perhaps a little harsh on the Algerian, who showed enough flashes of his immense talent last season — most notably in a 4-2 win against Manchester City at the King Power in December — to make you think it was more of a temporary blip, understandable after the high of 2015-16’s title run, than a sign of a lack of quality. Nonetheless, questions remain about the 26-year-old. His track record of success isn’t long enough to say for sure whether he’s got the temperament to turn his obvious talent into consistent performances. We’ll be happy to find out he does. When he’s on his game, few players are better to watch.

36. Willian

Chelsea, midfielder/ forward

Willian was Chelsea’s best player in 2015-16, but he lost his starting spot to Pedro in 2016-17, and while he was an excellent option off the bench, he seemed to lose some of his edge. With Eden Hazard set to miss the start of the season, the Brazilian will be crucial in ensuring the Blues’ title defense gets off to a good start, especially as new signing Alvaro Morata adapts to life in the Premier League. Willian may not be a guaranteed starter all season, but he’s one of the best wingers in the division when he’s on the pitch. 

35. Bernardo Silva

Manchester City, midfielder

Manchester City have spent so much money this summer you’d be forgiven for forgetting about Bernardo Silva, who they bought all the way back in May for the paltry sum of £43 million. The 22-year-old appears to be the long-term replacement for David Silva, meaning he’s unlikely to start every match this season, but also that his ability to create chances for teammates and find space in congested final thirds meet Pep Guardiola’s very, very lofty standards in that department. The Portuguese international was excellent for Monaco last season, and should fit in seamlessly at City, especially with Silva still there to help him along.

34. Victor Wanyama

Tottenham, midfielder

Victor Wanyama was a perfect fit in Tottenham’s starting XI last season, playing destroyer in either a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3. It wasn’t the most eye-catching work, and Tottenham were pretty boring to watch for much of the first half of the season, but he did exceptionally well, and was nearly ever present for Mauricio Pochettino, playing in 37 of 38 league matches. Spurs’ squad is a little thin around the edges heading into 2017-18, which only makes Wanyama’s durability more valuable. 

33. Laurent Koscielny

Arsenal, defender

Evaluating Arsenal players at (what is presumably) the tail end of the Arsene Wenger era is a difficult task, since we all seem to have accepted the problems with Arsenal begin and end with Wenger. Laurent Koscielny, despite all the caveats that accompany every player who’s been at Arsenal more than a few seasons, has been one of the most consistent center-backs in the Premier League for several years. He played with multiple, often unconvincing, partners last season, but was a reliable presence for the Gunners at the back until he succumbed to an injury late in the season. In a team that always feels one bad result away from crisis, Koscielny has been a rock.

32. Ander Herrera

Manchester United, midfielder

Ander Herrera isn’t the most endearing player in the world, but he was superb in Manchester United’s midfield last season, doing bits and pieces of several more traditional roles. He’s probably his best further forward, and Nemanja Matic’s arrival should give him a little more freedom to dictate play, but don’t be surprised if Jose Mourinho calls on him to play deeper at times, or to man-mark, say, Eden Hazard, as he did so expertly last season. If you’re not a United fan, he’s sure to make you furious at some point. Which would be a lot easier to take if he weren’t so good.

31. Alvaro Morata

Chelsea, forward

Alvaro Morata wasn’t Chelsea’s first choice to replace Diego Costa, but the Blues nonetheless have an extremely talented player on their hands. The 24-year-old scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga appearances last season, 12 of which came off the bench, but perhaps the most tantalizing glimpse of his talent came during his time at Juventus, where he became a key player during their run to the Champions League final in 2014-15. Morata has all the tools to be an elite forward in both the Premier League and Europe, but this will be the first time in his career he’ll carry his team’s primary goalscoring burden. In terms of raw talent, he probably deserves to be higher on this list, but he still needs to prove himself as a first-choice striker.

30. Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Manchester United, midfielder

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s strange first season at Old Trafford, not unlike Eric Bailly’s impressive first season at Old Trafford, was mostly overshadowed by the performances of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not to mention Jose Mourinho. Had Pogba not arrived during the same window, the Armenian would likely have come in for a lot more criticism, but he was also the Red Devils’ best player in the Europa League, which ultimately salvaged their season, and showed regular enough glimpses of the immense playmaking talent he displayed for Borussia Dortmund. His early-season fitness struggles and minor rift with Mourinho set him back, but if he’s given a more consistent role in a more settled team, he could jump up these rankings quickly.

29. Heung-min Son

Tottenham, midfielder/forward

It seems a little crazy Heung-min Son wasn’t a nailed on starter for Mauricio Pochettino at the start of last season. But he wasn’t, and then an injury to Erik Lamela, followed by an injury to Harry Kane (and the poor form of Vincent Jansen), opened the door for the South Korean, who was superb as both a left winger and a center forward, particularly when Kane missed a month through injury late in the season. He finished with 14 goals and six assists in the Premier League. He’s also the member of Spurs’ front four most under threat if a big-money signing (like Ross Barkley or Gylfi Sigurdsson) comes in this summer. But at only 25 years old, he should feature heavily again.

28. Adam Lallana

Liverpool, midfielder

The days when Adam Lallana seemed overpriced at £25 million have long since passed, partly because we now live in a world where Kyle Walker costs twice as much and partly because Lallana has improved dramatically since Jurgen Klopp took over at Anfield in 2015. No player has benefited more from the German’s arrival. Lallana managed eight goals and seven assists in 31 league games in 2016-17, and was often the catalyst for the Reds’ pressing game. He faded after the turn of the year, like the rest of Liverpool’s team, but he’s really come into his own as a player. The Reds’ strengthened in midfield over the summer, which might limit his playing time a little, but that should help him stay fresh, especially given the added European fixtures.

27. Pedro

Chelsea, forward

Pedro started last season on the bench, before an injury to Willian gave him an opportunity in the starting XI, on the right of Diego Costa in Chelsea’s front three. He was, almost immediately, the player Chelsea presumably thought they were buying in the middle of Jose Mourinho’s final, doomed season at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard contributed nine goals and nine assists in the league, and despite suffering a fractured cheekbone in preseason, will need to approach that level again if the Blues are to defend their title.

26. Virgil van Dijk

Southampton, defender

What with the non-stop transfer rumors and tapping up and withdrawals of formal interest and move-forcing, it’s easy to forget Virgil van Dijk played only 21 games for Southampton last season. He was excellent in those games — dominant in the air, strong in the tackle and exceptional in possession — but by the time the season kicks off he won’t have played a competitive match for eight months. He has all the tools to become the best defender in the league, and only turned 26 in July, but there are questions surrounding the Dutchman heading into 2017-18, like who he’ll playing for, or whether he’ll be sitting on Southampton’s bench as penance for his behavior this summer. If he does make a move, and adjusts well, he’s another who could jump up this list very quickly next season.

25. David Luiz

Chelsea, defender

David Luiz’s return to Chelsea last season was hardly a popular signing at the time, but the much-derided Brazilian thrived in the middle of Antonio Conte’s back three. The consensus seemed to be Luiz is too much of a knuckle-head to play in a back four, and the extra protection provided by Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta allowed him to do what he does best while limiting the amount of decisions he makes. That seems like a reasonable analysis, but every player’s better when a team plays to his strengths, and Luiz didn’t suddenly become a good player last season. He’ll have a big role to play in Chelsea’s title defense.

24. Raheem Sterling

Manchester City, midfielder/forward

Raheem Sterling scored 10 goals and added 14 assists in all competitions last season. That’s worth emphasizing, because a lot of people have decided they hate Sterling, and so his obvious quality has often felt somewhat secondary to whatever discussion is concurrently raging about his perceived greediness and/or overrated-ness. Well, Sterling is a starter for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and he’s really good, and he doesn’t care what you think. City should improve next season after a year getting to grips with the demands of Guardiola’s system, and Sterling projects to be a key player once more.

23. Leroy Sane

Manchester City, midfielder/forward

If the PFA Young Player of the Year award fixed its entry requirements to exclude former winners, Leroy Sane would’ve walked away with it last season. After a slow start to life at Manchester City, the German winger found his stride after the turn of the year. He’s a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s team, his pace in behind deadly in combination with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. And he’s still only 21. Entering what should be his first full season in the starting XI, 24th could seem very low in a year’s time.

22. Mousa Dembele

Tottenham, midfielder

Mousa Dembele, as a player, shouldn’t really exist. He’s too big to do half the things he does, isn’t he? And what doesn’t he do? He’s somehow both an excellent defensive midfielder, and attacking midfielder, and box-to-box midfielder, and probably several other kinds of midfielders as well. His ability to emerge out of a crowd of defenders with the ball still at his feet would be miraculous if not for the fact it’s become so predictable. The one criticism of his game is a lack of goals, but given he plays with four players who scored in double-digits last season, it’s not exactly a problem. Based on his performances last season, Dembele wouldn’t be out of place on the fringes of the top 10, but he’s 30, injury prone and coming off foot surgery, which hurts his ranking.

21. Jan Vertonghen

Tottenham, defender

Before there was Toby Alderweireld, there was Jan Vertonghen, and he was good. He’s still good, in fact, very good — one half of the best center-back partnership in the Premier League. And though it can be difficult to evaluate Tottenham defenders outside the context of an excellently drilled defense that involves all 11 players (almost) at all times, Vertonghen has excelled in possession and out of it the past few seasons. At age 30, there are question about how much longer he can sustain his current level, but for now he’s comfortably among the top five center-backs in the Premier League.

20. David de Gea

Manchester United, goalkeeper

David de Gea’s the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, and it’s not really that close. But he’s a goalkeeper, and so there’s a limit to how high he can climb on this list, and it’s number 20. What is to there to say about De Gea that hasn’t already been said? He’s a wonderful shot stopper, and the best goalkeeper in the division with the ball at his feet. Hugo Lloris maybe, occasionally, sometimes makes more spectacular saves, Thibaut Courtois is perhaps a more dominant presence in the box, but in terms of all-around quality and composure, neither compares to the Spaniard. It’s a huge coup for United to keep him at Old Trafford after another summer of rumors linking him to Real Madrid.

19. Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea, midfielder

It seems fair to say Cesc Fabregas was the best impact sub in the league last season. He was so good he may well have jumped up several spots in these rankings if he were allowed to show that quality from the start. He had five goals and 12 assists in 29 appearances, 16 of which came off the bench. However, with Tiemoue Bakoyoko arriving this summer, Fabregas is likely going to have to settle for a similar role. He may see more time as an attacking midfielder, where he was used to good effect during the run-in, but Antonio Conte’s not a naturally adventurous manager, so this is as high as the Spanish playmaker will climb until he works his way back into a starting XI, at Chelsea or somewhere else.

18. Gylfi Sigurdsson

Swansea, midfielder/forward

For the past two seasons, Gylfi Sigurdsson has held the dubious honor of being the best player outside the Premier League’s top seven. That could change if a rumored move to Everton pans out before the end of the month, where it will be interesting to see how he’s deployed in a team that will be less willing to play the ball into a target man like Fernando Llorrente. Sigurdsson’s value over a dead ball is unquestionable, and his goalscoring numbers are impressive for an attacking midfielder, but he can’t quite dominate a game like many of the players ahead of him on this list.

17. Toby Alderweireld

Tottenham, defender

Tottenham’s transformation under Pochettino the past two seasons owes much to an improved defense, which in turn owes much to Toby Alderweireld, who’s been the key player at the heart the league’s best defense in each of the past two seasons. Alderweireld is in every aspect the complete modern defender, smart off the ball, strong in the tackle and, above all, good in possession. Spurs like to keep the ball on the floor, but Alderweireld’s ability to hit his attackers directly and with pin-point accuracy adds an extra dimension to their attack. He’s surrounded by other good defenders and playing in a very well-drilled team, but even in that context the Belgian’s class shines through.

16. Cesar Azpilicueta

Chelsea, defender

David Luiz received most of the plaudits among Chelsea’s title-winning back three last season, though that seemed to have a lot to do with the fact he wasn’t the unmitigated disaster many predicted when the Blues decided to buy him as a last resort in August. The real star, though, was Cesar Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta is about as unremarkable a player as you can imagine — tidy, efficient, smart. Not exactly highlight-reel qualities, but perfect for a defender, especially one playing alongside Luiz and Gary Cahill, and behind Victor Moses. As Jose Mourinho once said: ” … a team with 11 Azpilicueta’s probably could win the Champions League.” He’s not wrong. Come to think of it, he probably his, but don’t let his complete non-descript-ness fool you: Azpilicueta’s the best defender in the Premier League.

15. Romelu Lukaku

Manchester United, forward

Romelu Lukaku was surprisingly divisive among Everton fans given he scored 68 league goals in four seasons at Goodison Park. That may have had something to do with the fact he was never shy about expressing his desire to move to a bigger club, but it was also a consequence of the legitimate concern that his ability to put the ball in the net isn’t matched in the other areas of his game. His touch his often sloppy, his link-up play is so-so and he’s not great in the air for someone of his size. Those criticisms aren’t completely unfair, but also: he scores goals, and there’s little doubt he’ll score goals at Manchester United, just as he did at Everton and West Brom before that. The rest is noise.

14. Roberto Firmino

Liverpool, forward

Roberto Firmino, the starting number 9 on the league’s fourth most prolific attack, scored only 11 goals last season, fewer than Jermain Defoe and Josh King, among others. He was also more or less undroppable, starting 34 of the 35 games for which he was fit. The Brazilian’s an excellent player technically, as evidenced by goals against Stoke and Swansea, to name only the two most obvious examples, but his true value lies in the work he gets through off the ball. He’s not only remarkably intelligent — the first line of defense in a team that is often only as good as its ability to effectively defend from the front — but he’s one of the best tacklers in the game. He could start at left-back, and you’d hardly notice the difference, except for all of a sudden there’d be a gaping hole up front you didn’t even realize he used to occupy. Liverpool aren’t the same team when Firmino’s not playing through the middle, no matter how many goals he scores.

13. Mesut Ozil

Arsenal, midfielder/forward

Mesut Ozil is as divisive as any player in the Premier League. In terms of sheer talent, he probably deserves to be in the top five in the league. But there’s a lack of ruthlessness to his game that seems to hold him back — not dissimilar to Arsenal’s problems overall. There are games in which Ozil is the best player on the pitch by so wide a margin you wonder why he’s playing for the Gunners at all, and others when you barely notice him. He makes other players better, but needs to be surrounded by good players to show his true worth. He’s wonderful and infuriating and he could be anywhere on this list, or not on it at all, depending on the day of the week. Such a player is terribly suited to a ranking like this, so let’s just say there aren’t many players in the Premier League who didn’t wish they could do half of what Ozil is capable of.

12. Sadio Mane

Liverpool, midfielder/forward

The most obvious sign of the size of Sadio Mane’s influence at Liverpool is how much they struggled without him last season. The Reds were in the thick of a title race until Mane left for the African Cup of Nations in January, and ended up clinging on to fourth place with a win against Middlesbrough on the final day of the season. Jurgen Klopp recognized the importance of Mane’s speed and auxiliary forward play just like the rest of us, and brought in Mohamed Salah this summer to ensure the Reds aren’t left without that type of player in the event of an injury in 2017-18. That could potentially limit Mane’s output this season — he had 13 goals and six assists in 2016-17 — but he’ll still be a crucial cog in one of the league’s best attacks.

11. Dele Alli

Tottenham, midfielder/forward

Dele Alli has made becoming a key player for one of the Premier League’s best teams look so easy it’s worth highlighting how remarkable it is for a player to score 18 goals and add seven assists in his age-20 season (he turned 21 in April). He still has a tendency to let the action come to him, as he continues to figure out what his best position is, but he’s an amazing combination of languid and deadly in possession. The important point is he’s got it, and seems well-positioned to improve under the tutelage of Pochettino. The best 21-year-old in the Premier League since Wayne Rooney. By far.

10. Christian Eriksen

Tottenham, midfielder/forward

Harry Kane and Dele Alli understandably get most of the plaudits at Tottenham — partly because they’re good, but also because they’re English — but it’s Eriksen who makes Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham machine tick. The Dane’s intelligence and passing ability are a perfect foil for his mostly bigger, stronger and faster teammates. His passing in the final third is exquisite, and he seems to have overcome his tendency to drift out of games. When Tottenham are struggling, he’s becoming the man they turn to to turn things around. The responsibility seems to have made him even better. 

9. Paul Pogba

Manchester United, midfielder

Paul Pogba was always going to be a controversial figure after Manchester United bought him last summer (after selling him four seasons before) for £89 million, most of which may or may not have gone to superagent/evil genius Mino Raiola. So there were a lot of reasons for opposition fans to want him to fail. But the fact is there’s a very simply reason the Frenchman cost so much money (besides the agent thing, obviously): he’s really, really good. While Pogba’s raw goals and assists numbers were nothing special, the sheer breadth of his contribution — from creator to destroyer to tempo-setter to occasional humiliator of defenders — was impressive. But the quickest way to understand Pogba’s quality is simply to watch him on the ball. The combination of technical brilliance, strength, speed and vision that persuaded United to pay so much for him is on full display almost every time he touches it. In a more coherently assembled side, he should flourish.

8. David Silva

Manchester City, midfielder

David Silva’s getting old. The Spanish midfielder will turn 32 next season, and his influence at City is beginning to wane with the rise of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, et al, but there’s not a player in the country who can control the tempo of a match like he does at his best. Silva’s always flown under the radar a little, his contributions to City’s emergence as one of the Premier League elite often overshadowed by the bigger personalities of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, but he’s been a dream to watch these past seven seasons. His intelligence and technique will age well, but his checkered injury history should raise doubts about how long he can maintain the level he showed last season. Enjoy him while you still can.

7. Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool, midfielder/forward

The word on Philippe Coutinho had been the same more or less since he arrived on Merseyside in 2013: incredible talent, but doesn’t show it consistently enough. He put those doubts to rest last season, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists in 31 games, as Liverpool finished in the top four for only the second time in eight seasons. The Brazilian’s form dipped in the middle of the season — which slump coincided with the Reds’ loss of form and, more importantly, an injury — but he came back strong to inspire Liverpool to a fourth-place finish with seven goals in the final nine games. With Jurgen Klopp expected to employ Coutinho in midfield more often in 2017-18, his influence should grow. Doubters remain, but the Brazilian’s creativity and technical brilliance set him apart from all but a very select handful of players.

6. Sergio Aguero

Manchester City, forward

There’s a good argument Sergio Aguero remains the best center-forward in the Premier League. Last season was his fourth in six in England with 20 or more league goals, a record that’s even more impressive when you consider his injury history. However, for the first time since he moved to Manchester City in 2011, Aguero’s place in the team is under threat. His relationship with Pep Guardiola came under scrutiny last season when he was briefly dropped in favor of the 20-year-old Gabriel Jesus, and he was the subject of much transfer speculation throughout the summer, which hurts his ranking here. In terms of talent, however, he remains the best number 9 in the division. If Aguero plays, Aguero scores.

5. Harry Kane

Tottenham, forward

The One Season Wonder, fresh off his third consecutive 20-goal season, is still only 23, but has firmly established himself as one of the league’s most lethal number 9s. He managed 29 goals in only 30 appearances in 2016-17, as Tottenham were the only team to seriously challenge the title-winners for the second season running. With Romelu Lukaku joining a new team, Sergio Aguero’s position under threat and Diego Costa soon to be out of the country, Kane is the surest thing among the league’s pre-eminent forwards. Will this be the season he cracks 30 league goals for the first time? Don’t bet against him.

4. Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester City, midfielder

Pep Guardiola’s attempts to get to grips with English soccer, not to mention Claudio Bravo’s attempts to get to grips with the ball, dominated the Manchester City news cycle last season, so it’s worth pointing out that Kevin De Bruyne, who turned 26 this summer, was stunning. His 18 assists comfortably led the league, and while it’s hard to know how much that number was inflated by good and/or lucky finishing, the Belgian is unquestionably one of the best final-third passers in the world, and the key to unlocking City’s electric front three. With Guardiola strengthening well in the summer, and the Citizens likely to challenge for the title in 2017-18, expect De Bruyne to be in the thick of the Player of the Year race.

3. N’Golo Kante

Chelsea, midfielder

The reigning PFA Player of the Year doesn’t play in the most glamorous position on the pitch, but that hasn’t prevented him from becoming arguably the most beloved elite player in the top flight. Last season, he became the first man ever to win back-to-back titles with different teams, and he was arguably the key cog in both. Kante is exemplary in the tackle, and tidy in possession, but above all it is his sheer relentlessness that sets him apart. A human cheat code, his ability to cover ground is the primary reason both Chelsea and Leicester were able to play with two-man central midfields and get away with it. It’s been a long time since one player had such an outsize impact on the overall tactical trends of the Premier League.

2. Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal, midfielder/forward

Arsenal finished outside the top four for the first time in 20 years in 2016-17, despite the best efforts of Alexis Sanchez, who scored 24 goals and assisted 10. The Chilean was superb in the first half of the season, his center forward play the driving force behind the Gunners’ short-lived title challenge. While his team fell out of the top four after the turn of the year, Sanchez scored five goals in his last four matches as Arsenal made one final push for the Champions League places. After a long year of speculation surrounding his future, the Chilean enters 2017-18 an Arsenal player, and if Alexandre Lacazette is the goalscorer Gunners fans have been crying out for, Sanchez projects to be even more effective.

1. Eden Hazard

Chelsea, midfielder/forward

Eden Hazard lost out to teammate N’Golo Kante for last season’s major individual awards, but he was no less important to Chelsea’s title win. His 21 combined goals and assists trailed behind the likes of Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Dele Alli, but to look only at those raw numbers is to do a disservice to the Belgian, whose holdup play on the left wing and dribbling ability were the platform on which the Blues built their attack all season. After an awful 2015-16, Hazard is back. A fractured ankle sustained in Belgium training in June means he’ll miss the start of the season, but he’ll be the most feared player in the division the moment returns. Another season like his last, and that long-rumored move to Real Madrid can’t be too far off.