The Premier League season is upon us and as fans eagerly wait for the resumption of footballing action, what does the most competitive football league in the world have to offer young and aspiring players? Inspiration of course!
The English league (EPL for short) is the most watched sports league in the world, with a viewership that exceeds 4 billion; what's more impressive however is that competition has seen 7 different clubs lift the trophy this century - a indicator of the evenly spread talent in the league, distributed across the twenty teams that compete every season. The high level of competition (not to mention the varying playing styles employed) not only makes the league delightful to watch, but offers young players a chance to shadow professionals with different styles & capabilities, to understand the beautiful game better!
With development in mind, clubs scout talent or invest in talent of their own - and we have put together a list of players that young athletes should watch to help improve their game.
Eddie Nketiah - Arsenal FC
At 21 years of age, the Arsenal Academy graduate has started in 7 of Arsenal's 13 games (post lockdown) under new manager Mikel Arteta. The young striker has shown promise in England's U21 team - scoring a hatrick in a 6-0 win against Kosovo. With his blistering pace, young Nketiah has shown hunger to be a part of Arsenal's lethal counter-attacking style of play; a perfect model for budding strikers.
Danny Ings - Southampton FC
The Southampton centre forward has scored 22 goals last season - being the mid table club's top scorer. What stands out is his away record for the club, scoring 12 away from home. These goals have come from 39 shots inside the penalty box and 23 of those shots being on the target - cementing the Englishman as a threat to any defence (9 of his goals have come against the league's top 10 teams).
Mohammed Salah - Liverpool FC
Once touted as a 'one season wonder' the Egyptian forward has maintained his reputation as one of the deadliest strikers in the world. Salah's hunger to score is reflected not just in his goals, but shots taken - a whopping 132 against 19 scored. Playing on the right wing, he brings manic pace and eagle vision to complement his goal scoring capabilities- from fast counters and long range rockets to laser sharp tap-ins. Extending his attacking contribution, Mo has 10 assists to his name - the highest for a striker last season.
Honourable mentions: Timo Werner, Mason Greenwood, Sadio Mane, Christian Pulisic, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Bruno Fernandes - Manchester United
The Portuguese talisman seems to have breathed life into Manchester United; with 8 goals (including 4 penalties) and 7 assists - in just 14 league appearances. Having played for less than half a season the playmaker has already broken multiple records - it would be eventful to see how Fernandes influences Manchester United's position in the upcoming season. Want to make an instant impact in a new team? Bruno is your man.
Kevin De Bruyne - Manchester City
The Belgian midfielder and winner of the PFA Player of the Year Award, contributed to 33 out of Man City's 102 goals with a league leading 20 assists. Kevin's creative flare is the icing on the cake that is Manchester City's incredible attack. Watching him play is pure satisfaction - any athlete can learn from his accurate passes that just land on his team-mates' feet in the box!
James Milner - Liverpool FC
At 34 years of age, James Milner is the epitome of a monster mentality. James started his career aged 17 at Leeds United and has gone on to win 2 Premier leagues, the FA Cup & League Cup (and the Champions League of course). The oldest outfield player in Liverpool's squad - his work-rate is only bested by his sense of leadership. In January this year, James broke the record for most distance covered in a premier league game - 13.3 kms. Good luck keeping up.
Honourable mentions: Hakim Ziyech, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, N'Golo Kanté, Jack Grealish
Trent Alexander Arnold - Liverpool FC
The winner of the PFA's Young Player of the Season Award, this 21 year old broke his own record for the most number of assists by a defender in a season with 13 assists to his name. His pairing with Andy Robertson makes the duo the most deadly fullback combo in the league with a combined total of 25 assists. Trent is also a regular behind most dead-balls whipping in crosses from free-kicks and corners; a must watch if you want to improve your crossing game!
Matt Doherty - Tottenham Hotspur FC
The modern defender doesn't just score, but defends as well. That's right - defenders have now increased their role in attacking play. Matt is a perfect example of the modern defender - 4 goals, 8 assists and 12 clean sheets. His play will be tested in new club Tottenham Hotspur, and will be a study on how to continue making all-round contributions to a team's performance.
Thiago Silva - Chelsea FC
Fresh off a Champions League final, Thiago Silva has joined Chelsea from PSG. The legendary Brazilian centre-back is a shining example of discipline, consistency and leadership. He has captained AC Milan, PSG and Brazil - all with a hefty trophy cabinet to back his legend. As he enters the Premier League for his latest challenge - the defender's presence on the pitch will be worth observing.
Honourable Mentions: Virgil Van Djyk, Andrew Robertson
Nick Pope - Burnley FC
The young Burnley keeper made a name for himself last season keeping 15 clean sheets. Pope made a 112 saves out of the 159 shots faced - an inhuman figure! Fighting the relegation battle, this goalkeeper is the reason Burnley continues to play in the Premier League this year. His performances are inspiration fuel for any goalkeeper - the most demanding position in the game!
Ederson Moraes - Manchester City
Ederson is the only keeper to best Nick Pope's clean sheet tally with 16 under his belt. The reason he should be followed however, is his role as a sweeper keeper - a position that allows his team to play attack-intensive football. The Brazilian shot stopper is skilled with the ball at his feet - a real confidence booster for budding keepers, who are generally shy of the ball and hesitate in being a part of active build-up play.
Honourable Mentions: Alisson Becker, Dean Henderson, Emiliano Martínez
Football has come a long way since the start of this century. The Premier League is the colosseum of modern football - where clubs and managers are pushing the limits of human athletic capabilities. The league provides young athletes the opportunity to shadow the best players by position and pick up valuable traits that they can emulate in training. A young athlete can observe a player's off the ball movement, track their recovery and learn from their display of mental toughness in challenging situations. As the season resumes this week, pick a player (or a team) based on a style of play that would contribute to your development and follow their game. In the words of Dutch & Barcelona legend Johan Cryuff, "You play football with your head, and your legs are only there to help you." If you want to be one among the greats, why not learn from some of them?