The marquee match of the week, and maybe the Premier League’s opening month, sees Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).
Every season, a handful of previously unknown — or even unexpected — players turn in performances of the highest quality and find themselves being talked about as the Premier League’s latest “breakout player.”
This will undoubtedly be the case again in 2019-20, but will it be? Here are 10 players primed to reach new heights over the next 10 months…
Miguel Almiron, Newcastle United — Here’s the thing about the former Atlanta United star: he can really play. It didn’t take long for the Paraguayan to flash his skill and promise after moving to Newcastle last January. Now, try to imagine what he can do with a full offseason and preseason under his belt… if only the departure of Rafa Benitez doesn’t derail this freight train.
Mason Mount, Chelsea — With the Blues suffering through a two-window transfer ban, new manager Frank Lampard will have no choice but to rely upon a handful of academy players, beginning with the 20-year-old midfielder with whom he worked at Derby County last season. Eight goals and five assists in a solid haul for a teenager, and Mount has made the most of his every chance this preseason.
Reiss Nelson, Arsenal — After a season on loan at Hoffenheim (seven goals), Nelson faces an uphill battle for playing time in a thoroughly stacked Arsenal attack, but he’s got the complete package, plus the versatility, required to force his way into regular minutes.
Lloyd Kelly, Bournemouth — Smart clubs in the PL’s bottom half will have done extensive scouting on EFL Championship players ready to make the jump to England’s top flight, only to be held back by employment at a smaller club. Lloyd Kelly can play left back and center back, and he was outstanding for Bristol City last season. He’s one of a few potential answers to the question “who’ll be the next $60-million British defender?”
Max Aarons, Norwich City — How does a PFA Championship Team of the Year, EFL Team of the Season and EFL Player of the Year campaign sound for a potential breakout star? Norwich City’s Max Aarons achieved all of the above last season, at the age of 18 and 19, in his first season as a professional.
Morgan Gibbs-White, Wolverhampton Wanderers — The same age as Aarons, Gibbs-White is already a seasoned professional with three seasons under his belt. Now that Wolves are on the path to the Europa League group stage, Nuno Espirito Santo will be forced to rotate his team far more than last season, and he undoubtedly find that Gibbs-White is a handy option in midfield.
Moise Kean, Everton — Kean is fairly well known among those who follow the rest of Europe somewhat closely, but PL-only fans are in for a real treat when the 19-year-old Italian attacker gets his feet under him at Goodison Park.
Youri Tielemans, Leicester City — How Tielemans tumbled this far down the transfer pyramid (all due respect to Leicester, of course) is truly a mystery. It’s not as though he was unknown in any way, or that he’s untested in the PL (he spent the second half of last season on loan to the Foxes), or that any number of PL club could have used a midfielder of his caliber.
Declan Rice, West Ham United — Sure, Rice announced himself onto the PL stage last season, but 2019-20 feels like the time when he’ll go from “good young player” to “how much will Man City or Liverpool or Man United have to pay for him next summer?” West Ham being more consistent as a team and pushing for top-seven wouldn’t hurt Rice’s stock one bit.
Phil Foden, Manchester City — Is this the year Foden finally pushes his way into Pep Guardiola‘s regular rotation? We’ve been waiting for him to do so for two seasons now, yet he won’t turn 20 years old until after the 2019-20 season ends. Central midfield is still relatively thin at Man City, though that hasn’t stopped Guardiola from refusing to rotate and give Foden chances in the past.
Last season finished tight. City’s incredible follow-up to an unprecedented season was again enough for first place. That was just one point more than the flashy Reds of Anfield, who threw away a big time Christmas lead about as quick as a kid tosses away the wrapping paper.
Here’s the thing, though: City is potentially the deepest, best team since their manager’s first 3-peater at Barcelona (He’s since done the trick at Bayern Munich, too).
City has questions at left back between Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Angelino. Oddly enough, Angelino may be the answer for City. The 22-year-old was bought back from PSV Eindhoven last season after a 1-goal, 9-assist league season and impressive-enough job in the club’s UCL run.
But it also addressed its thin defensive midfielder corp by adding a potential decade-long component in Rodri. There will be growing pains, but he’s going to be quite good.
City also has a healthy, rested Kevin De Bruyne and another year under the belt of Phil Foden. The season is David Silva‘s victory lap, which is fine because that other Silva, Bernardo, might’ve been their top performer last season.
Here’s the good news for City fans who believe Liverpool is right on its tail: They aren’t. The expected goals table says City should’ve finished with 90 points last season, not 98, but that Liverpool’s 97 were an even bigger over performance. The Reds expected finish was 83 points.
City has the ball more than everyone else, passes more and better than everyone else, shoots more than everyone else, and scores more than everyone else. Incredibly, those totals are the same home and away. That was true in Guardiola’s first PL title campaign, too, with the exception of finishing fourth in shots per game while away from home. Oooooo-verrated.
That doesn’t mean that Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester United won’t flip the script this season, that red cards or own goals won’t befuddle Guardiola’s quest. But you won’t find us betting against them.
Rodri: 5 – Caught on the ball so many times. Has to get use to the pace of the game in England. Fast.
David Silva: 7 – Proper magician. Glides around the pitch with ease and set up Sterling’s goal.
Kevin De Bruyne: 8 – Constant threat, even though his final pass or shot was a little off.
Leroy Sane: 4 – Injured early on, which is a big shame. Last minutes in a Man City shirt?
Raheem Sterling: 8 – Scored one, but should have scored a few more. Superb pace, but poor finishing.
Bernando Silva: 7 – Another classy and tireless display. Criminally underrated.
Subs Gabriel Jesus on for Leroy Sane (14′): 6 – Scored the winning penalty kick and put himself about. Ilkay Gundogan on for David Silva (61′): 3 – One of the worst sub displays ever. Gave the ball away countless times. Scored his penalty kick though. Phil Foden on for Kevin de Bruyne (89′): N/A
Phil Foden may be just 19 years old, but not only has he forced his way into the Manchester City first-team squad, he’s also drawn spectacular praise from one of the world’s most renowned managers.
Speaking from Japan ahead of Manchester City’s friendly against J-League side Yokohama FM, Pep Guardiola called Foden “the most talented player I have ever seen,” quite high praise from a manager who has the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Robert Lewandowski, Gerard Pique, and Manuel Neuer among others on his managerial resume over the course of his career.
In fact, Guardiola said the only person standing in Foden’s way at the moment is himself.
“He is the most talented player I have ever seen,” Guardiola said during his pre-match press conference. “His problem is sometimes his manager doesn’t put him in starting XI. He deserves all the minutes. He works incredibly. He knows I’m here to help him.”
Guardiola’s position is understandable given the talent in the squad at the attacking midfield position. Manchester City boasts Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and the departing David Silva all in a similar position, yet Foden saw 13 Premier League appearances last season and scored in his first start of the year, a massive goal in the 1-0 win over Spurs down the stretch of the title run.
“I am lucky to be part of it,” the 19-year-old said of the Man City squad while sitting alongside Guardiola in the pre-match press conference. “It is a special team. The success comes from the depth of the squad. Anyone who plays will put a shift in and play well.”
City’s match against Yokohama is their final preseason game, after which they will return to England to prepare for the Community Shield on August 4 against Liverpool followed by their first Premier League match against West Ham six days later.