Every Premier League club’s most improved player features six England hopefuls and Ben White

Will Ford
Ben White, Leon Bailey and Dominic Solanke among biggest improvers.
Ben White, Leon Bailey and Dominic Solanke among biggest improvers.

Six players hoping to be on the plane for England ahead of the Euros feature among the Premier League’s most improved players in 2023/24, but we start with one who would rather not be.

We’ve already looked at the biggest slumps of the season, if that’s more your bag.


Arsenal: Ben White
Despite doing an admirable job last season, it was hard to shake the feeling that White was still a centre-back operating out of position. That’s no longer the case. In fact he’s been so good at right-back that we would worry about him switching back. He’s got a very good chance of being in the Premier League team of the season, and may even have become Gareth Southgate’s first choice for England had Steve Holland resisted the urge to mock him in front of his teammates.


Aston Villa: Leon Bailey
Unai Emery says the turning point for the Jamaican was him being subbed as a substitute against Liverpool in September. He said: “I explained it to him: ‘No Leon, I want more. We need more of you. You have to be consistent and focus more than you are doing because it is not enough’.” He’s been brilliant since, racking up 27 goal contributions, including the winners home and away against Arsenal and the assist in the 1-0 win over Manchester City.


Bournemouth: Dominic Solanke
He’s doing this season what he threatened to do last having scored 29 goals in the Championship. But he only managed six on his return to the Premier League, continuing to look like a striker with plenty going for him, but not quite enough for the highest level. He now looks like the striker Chelsea thought he would become as he emerged through their academy, and Liverpool thought he would become having signed him in 2017. Ollie Watkins is understandably ahead of him in the pecking order as Harry Kane’s England understudy, but is Solanke not a better option than Ivan Toney?


Brentford: Yoane Wissa
Ten goals in 30 appearances after seven in the whole of last season, the Congo international has stepped up in the absence of Toney and showed a penchant for scoring against top teams. Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa have all been Wissa’d this season.


Brighton: Billy Gilmour
In what must have been a frustrating and painful quirk of fate for Gilmour last season, Graham Potter – who had played a huge hand in luring him to the south coast – p*ssed off to the club the midfielder had just left, and Roberto De Zerbi initially didn’t fancy him; certainly not in favour of Alexis MacAllister or Moises Caicedo. That duo’s departure paved the way for more game time, and particularly in the early months of the campaign, Gilmour grasped the opportunity with both hands, with his zenith coming in an extraordinary all-action display against Marseille in mid-December.


Chelsea: Conor Gallagher
Definitely not Chelsea’s best player this season, who may end up being the Premier League’s best player, but also almost certainly the second best, because the majority of the others have been pants. The thought of selling Gallagher to Tottenham in the name of pure profit is sickening.


Crystal Palace: Jean-Philippe Mateta
Reportedly came close to leaving Palace in January having spent the first few months of the season as second choice behind Odsonne Edouard, but didn’t and has since proven himself – with nine goals in his last 12 Premier League games – to be a hell of a lot better than Odsonne Edouard. Clearly loving life under Oliver Glasner.


Everton: Vitaliy Mykolenko
Hard to imagine how difficult it was arriving in England a month before his homeland was invaded by Russia, and as is the case with any young footballer – let alone one with the safety of his family and friends constantly on his mind – it took Mykolenko time to adapt to Premier League football. There was steady improvement last season and he’s been brilliant this term. Bigger teams than Everton could do a lot worse.


Fulham: Antonee Robinson
An assist and fine display against them in December nearly saw Liverpool panic into a January bid for Robinson following injuries to Andrew Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas. That ship has probably sailed now but the 26-year-old has continued to impress, claiming six Premier League assists from left-back and an incredible 76 interceptions, 19 more than the Premier League’s second best Lewis Cook.


Liverpool: Virgil van Dijk
He looked ready to put out to pasture at times last season as opposition strikers suddenly realised he was getatable, often even targeting him as the weak point in the Liverpool rearguard when they previously wouldn’t have bothered. While not quite back to his indomitable best, Van Dijk’s certainly got his aura back this season, and we’re once again wondering how on earth Liverpool will replace him when the time comes.


Manchester City: Phil Foden
Only Erling Haaland (37) has more than his 32 goal contributions in all competitions for Manchester City, and Pep Guardiola’s side have done without Kevin De Bruyne for the majority of this season largely because of Foden, who’s matured to a point where he’s producing in near enough every game he plays.


Manchester United: Harry Maguire
The club pariah last season having been stripped of the captaincy and his starting spot, we were all a bit confused when he snubbed offers from elsewhere to play under a manager who clearly didn’t value him. It’s turned out to be a good call for Maguire though, with United injuries forcing Ten Hag into giving the centre-back opportunities to impress and nail down his England starting spot for Euro 2024.


Newcastle: Anthony Gordon
We were baffled by Newcastle spending £40m on him in January 2023 and remained in that state by the summer after Gordon scored one goal in 16 largely brief appearances in his first half-season at St James’ Park. He’s been oustanding this season though, probably already worth twice what they paid for him after ten goals and eight assists in the Premier League. He’ll be very unlucky not to be in the England squad this summer.


Nottingham Forest: Chris Wood
Forest may well have wished they had put an option rather than the obligation to buy Chris Wood in their loan deal in January 2023, which was triggered after he made just three starts in his first three games for Steve Cooper’s side last season. He went on to play just a further four games, scoring one goal, before a hamstring ruled him out for the last 12 games.

Taiwo Awoniyi came to the fore in his absence, scoring six goals in Forest’s last four games to keep them up, and understandably started this season as the main man. But injury problems for the Nigerian have opened the door for Wood, who’s scored nine goals in 12 starts under Nuno Espirito Santo.


Tottenham: Yves Bissouma
There were a few options here: Son Heung-Min, Pedro Porro, Pape Sarr. And they’ve probably been more consistently brilliant under Ange Postecoglou this season having been pants last term. Bissouma has struggled a bit more of late, with a suspension and the Africa Cup of Nations rather breaking his rhythm, but the difference in his displays at the start of this season and last, when he was a shadow of the machine we saw at Brighton, could not have been more stark.


West Ham: Jarrod Bowen
Like the rest of his teammates and the club in general, Bowen focused his energy on the Europa Conference League last season, claiming two assists and five goals, including that memorable last-minute winner in the final. He only managed 12 Premier League goal contributions, with that dip in form ending his hopes of going to the World Cup in Qatar, but he can feel very hard done by if he doesn’t go to Germany with England this summer, with 15 Premier League goals and five assists to his name in a season in which he’s illustrated not only his quality but his versatility.


Wolves: Hwang Hee-Chan
Tough to pick as they’ve pretty much all got better. Matheus Cunha, Mario Lemina and Pablo Sarabia are among those to have significantly improved, but we’ve gone with Hwang because of the surprise factor. The Asia Cup and recent injuries have resulted in his season petering out somewhat, but no one would have predicted that he would have scored 10 Premier League goals before the turn of the year.