Last season’s English Premier League featured arguably one of the biggest upset in sports history, so how could this season possibly top that? Well, this season’s league is already loaded with storylines without even having a ball kicked yet. This season will feature some of the world’s best managers (Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Jurgen Klopp to name a few), as many as 7 teams that could be title contenders, and the addition of two of the world’s biggest stars/personalities (Zlatan Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba to Manchester United). To preview the season I wanted to something a little different than trying to make predictions (last season showed how futile that is) and breaking down all of the teams.
Thus brings the birth of The Watchables, a starting lineup of the most entertaining and dynamic players the Premier League has to offer. This is not necessarily a starting XI of the best players at each position, rather it’s a lineup of the players that make you regret missing a single second of their matches because of their potential for brilliance at every moment. As a note, each team can only have one player in The Watchables lineup and not every team will be represented. Also, I tried to avoid using the well-established EPL stars such as, Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard, and Alexis Sanchez, and instead focused on the newcomers, underrated players, and stars on the rise.The Watchables are the players to focus on this upcoming season, but more importantly they are the players that are “ONLY MAKING THE HIIIIIIGHLIGHTS!!!” *extreme Kanye voice*, who will make this season as fun to watch as possible.
Goalkeeper: Jack Butland, #1, Stoke City
Jack Butland, the 23 year old England international and Stoke goalkeeper, is the best candidate to save England fans from more years of Joe Hart’s blunders in goal. Butland was one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers last season and Stoke’s player of the season, displaying a great combination of incredible reflexes and reach to make both reactive and acrobatic saves while facing a large number of difficult shots. The stats back up his acclaimed performance last season, as he made the 3rd highest number of total saves (103) and highest number of penalty area saves (66) amongst all goalkeepers last season.
Left Back: Charlie Daniels, #11, AFC Bournemouth
From the left back position, Charlie Daniels was one of Bournemouth’s most important passers last season, as he was 2nd and 3rd in assists (5) and key passes (37) respectively. Daniels is also a competent defender with no clear weaknesses and he just happens to be Bournemouth’s designated penalty kick taker (very rare for a fullback). One of the more underrated players in the league, Daniel’s ability to contribute a great amount offensively without compromising his defensive responsibilities made him vital to Bournemouth’s success in avoiding relegation last season.
Left Centre Back: Virgil Van Dijk, #17, Southampton
One of the best transfers last season, Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk transitioned from the Scottish League to the EPL seamlessly to become one of the league’s most imposing and competent defenders. Van Dijk was WhoScored’s top rated central defender last season, ranking towards the top of the league’s defenders in interceptions, tackles, and aerial duels. At 6’4”, Van Dijk is the epitome of the towering central defender that commands the penalty box, making him one of the most influential set piece defenders in the league ranking first in aerial duels won with 163 (40 more than his closest competitor).
Right Centre Back: Ashley Williams, #5, Everton
Ashley Williams was one of the few players not at a top-half team that would improve literally any team in the Premier League, and somehow Everton got the Welsh captain for just £11 million. Williams, a well-respected leader and a master at the art of last ditch defending, will be the perfect signing for Ronald Koeman’s Everton, who were sorely in need of an upgrade after last season’s dismal defensive performance. He is the exact type of defender you want for a team facing an onslaught of shots, as he was 1st and 2nd in clearances and blocked shots respectively last season. This makes Williams a highlight reel defender as his heroic efforts to deny goals combined with his undeniable swagger make him thrilling to watch.
Right Back: Héctor Bellerín, #24, Arsenal
In the age of wingbacks that can only either defend and contribute nothing go forward or be an attacking threat while being a defensive liability, Héctor Bellerín is the exception, excelling at both areas of play. Only 21, Bellerin is well on his way to becoming one of the best wingbacks in the world, and he also happens to be one of the fastest players in the Premier League. Bellerín’s blow-by speed, incredible dribbling ability (he led all wingbacks in successful dribbles with 63), and ability to lock down some of the league’s best attackers with a combination of concentration and recovery speed makes him the perfect wingback for the Premier League.
Left Centre Midfielder: Eric Dier, #15, Tottenham Hotspur
Eric Dier, a young English defensive midfielder on the rise, is the technically proficient midfield destroyer that has become invaluable in modern soccer. The 22-year old could become the next Sergio Busquets, as he can act as shield to the defense, break up play in the middle of the pitch, and serve as a deep-lying playmaker (led Tottenham in passes last season) to help control the midfield. Dier converted from a centre back to a defensive midfielder, making him an even more useful player, as he has strong defensive instincts in the box and is an aerial threat. Oh, and he can also smash in a free kick every once in awhile.
Right Centre Midfielder: Paul Pogba, #6, Manchester United
Paul Pogba is not only the most expensive player in the world, he is also the most compelling centre midfielder in the world. Pogba is the definition of a gamebreaker as his overpowering physicality, creativity on the ball, and unlimited range of passing give him the power to spark an attack in an instant. The French international can really do it all: dribble past 2, 3, or even 4 defenders, whip in a perfectly placed through ball, score golazos from outside the penalty box, and sprint back into defense for a perfectly timed tackle. Just 23, Pogba is already a world star, and he has the talent and unabashed self-belief necessary to challenge for the title of best player in the world.
Left Winger: Dimitri Payet, #27, West Ham United
Dimitri Payet has a lot of the desirable traits for an attacking midfielder, but it’s his ability to score spectacular, unstoppable free kicks that makes him a lock to be on this list. When you are as talented at taking free kicks as Payet is, a free kick anywhere from 30 yards in feels like a real goal scoring opportunity for his team. Payet also led the league in long key passes (pass of 25 yards or more) last season with 42, making him a threat to score or create chances farther away from the box where it is less common to do so. There are few players in league that hit ball as well Payet, and how easy he makes it look is something special in itself.
Center Attacking Midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne, #17, Manchester City
Kevin De Bruyne (also known as KDB) is a true talent in the attacking midfield position who will flourish to new heights under Pep Guardiola, one of the world’s best managers at maximizing player performance. KDB is a true visionary on the ball, who can create chances for his teammates both in open play and set pieces through pinpoint crosses and well-timed through balls. KDB is the type of player who can take out several defenders with a pass just as easily as he can on the dribble. De Bruyne built on his record setting 2015 Bundesliga season (21 assists for Wolfsburg) with 16 goal contributions (goals + assists) in 22 appearances last season for Manchester City, and one would expect that number to climb even higher as he becomes the focal point of Guardiola’s attack this season.
Right Winger: Riyad Mahrez, #26, Leicester City
Mahrez was the best player in the Premier League last season (he won the PFA player of the year award) and was one of the main reasons Leicester was able to pull off one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Mahrez is a winger in the mold of Arjen Robben with his pace, desire to cut inside from the right wing to take advantage of his lethal left foot, and his ability to slalom through entire defenses. Statistically, Mahrez was the top rated player on WhoScored, ranking 2nd in the league in goal contributions with 28 and 1st in successful dribbles with 131. Riyad Mahrez and was the perfect offensive player for Leicester’s counterattacking style and came out of nowhere to become the most entertaining player in the EPL.
Striker: Odion Ighalo, #24, Watford
Ighalo partnered with Troy Deeney last season to form one of the most potent strike duos (Deeney to Ighalo was tied for the highest assist to goal connection with 7) in an age when two striker formations are becoming more of a rarity. Ighalo is a clinical penalty box striker, who’s intelligent movement and ability to hold off defenders while on the ball makes him difficult contain. The Watford striker scored 11 of his 15 goals last season in the penalty box and ranked 5th in shot accuracy (56%) amongst all EPL strikers. On top of his exceptional instincts in the box, Ighalo is also a pretty proficient dribbler (he ranked 3rd on successful dribbles amongst strikers last season), who can embarrass defenders with quick cuts and fake outs to create space for himself and his teammates.
Note: All stats were taken from WhoScored.com