Simple one, this. Ten players who will play in the Premier League this season who have never played in the Premier League before (although one of them has been on the bench) and that we are looking forward to watching. Nearly time, now. We’ve nearly made it.
10) James Trafford (Burnley)
Manchester City are the masters of getting cash for players who’ve never even made a first-team appearance, and selling England’s Euro Under-21 hero Trafford for £17m is going to end up being either the best or worst such sale. It’s a lot of money for someone with no first-team football, but Trafford is not a normal case. For one thing, brilliant 20-year-old goalkeepers with little first-team experience are more common than brilliant 20-year-old outfielders still waiting for any kind of chance. But 20-year-old goalkeepers who’ve just won England a major tournament by keeping six clean sheets out of six and saving an injury-time penalty in the final are very rare indeed.
When and if Trafford can dislodge Arijanet Muric as Burnley’s number one is going to be one to keep an eye on. The summer raised Trafford’s profile exponentially, and the big-money move means he’s not just providing competition for the Clarets’ existing number one but exerting real pressure. If Muric does start the season with the gloves, it won’t take much for a Trafford clamour to develop after his exploits in Georgia.
9) Justin Kluivert (Bournemouth)
Justin ‘son of Patrick’ Kluivert’s career is already a nomadic one; he’s spent the last four seasons at four different clubs in four different countries trying to find a place to call home. It hasn’t quite worked out for him at Roma, Leipzig, Nice or Valencia but the fact the fifth roll of the dice is Bournemouth is something you’d have to have a heart of pure stone for it not to at least pique your interest a little bit. A Kluivert at Bournemouth, come on. That’s fun, isn’t it? Even if it doesn’t work out? Which it probably won’t?
At 24, Kluivert may be the youngest player to have suffered Transfermarkt’s most brutal body blow of being described as “Former international” on their profile page. Maybe Bournemouth and Our League is what he needs to add to those two caps from 2018 after La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga all felt not quite right.
8) Pau Torres (Aston Villa)
We’re excited about this one because it feels like excellent news for those who would quite like the talent in the Premier League distributed across more teams. Aston Villa were a revelation under Unai Emery last season, finishing above two of the Big Six to qualify for Europe, make Steven Gerrard look a bit silly and enable themselves to make this sort of signing.
Torres has long been linked with a move to the Premier League, but it’s always been the Big Six sniffing about and there’s at least a couple of those sides who could have really done with him. Villa’s re-emergence as a credible Premier League force and Torres’ previous experience working under Emery have shifted things in their favour. Torres is a fine centre-back who improves Villa significantly. And improving Villa does more to improve the Premier League than improving Liverpool or Chelsea or Spurs does.
7) Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton)
Non-league to Premier League in 10 years with the same club. Just a nice thing, isn’t it? Doesn’t really happen, does it? Will be the second most mentioned thing about Luton in the early stages of the season some way behind the away fan entrance to Kenilworth Road.
6) Christopher Nkunku (Chelsea)
One of the most eye-catching early summer arrivals was Nkunku, who is tasked with doing something to fill the aching void in Chelsea’s attack. It’s a tall order, and we are sadly going to have to wait to find out how the former Leipzig forward goes about it after he suffered a knee injury against Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino (still sounds wrong) said after the game that he hoped it wasn’t a big issue, but online reports are already circling full of worrying words like “meniscus” and “damage” and “months”.
5) Josko Gvardiol (Manchester City)
Probably the best centre-back in the world who wasn’t already in Our League so good to put that right. Ridiculously good and ridiculously young, dazzled at the World Cup before being thoroughly Messi-d in the semi-final, a fate which he was neither the first nor the last to suffer. Nearer to the last, though.
The £77m price tag is inevitably going to be a persistent eyebrow-raiser in the early days of the season, but he’s a left-sided centre-back with immense physical presence who is comfortable in possession and only 21 years old. That all costs money, and if he’s as good as we – and arguably more importantly Pep Guardiola – think he is then in a decade’s time it will be considered a bargain.
4) Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham)
Spurs in general are pretty much top of our early season watchlist because everything about them is tantalising. It is almost impossible to predict whether they will be any good, but – partly because of that – almost certain that they are going to be wildly entertaining and always worth watching.
Even if the football isn’t great, you’re still guaranteed to get Ange Postecoglou passively-aggressively calling journalists “mate” in press conferences, which is good, and also the football is probably going to be great. Maybe not particularly effective or successful, but great. They’re going to score 80 goals and concede 65. If Harry Kane stays, ramp up that first prediction by another 15 or 20. They’re going to give out a couple of frightful beatings to some poor sods, and also have at least two absurdly silly 4-3 defeats. They might be second in November or 16th. They are a wildly unpredictable variable – we still don’t actually know whether their best player will be involved or not.
The novel unpredictability, with high ceiling and crashingly low floor, and allure of the unknown (in Our League terms, which is all that matters) is perhaps best represented by the manager himself. But a close second is the Vicario. He’s Tottenham’s first new No. 1 goalkeeper in more than a decade and it’s fair to say they have not taken the safe option here. That would have been David Raya from Brentford. Instead they’ve gone for Vicario, who if nothing else will be well used to playing behind a wild and deeply porous defence after his last couple of years at Empoli. He made more saves than any other keeper in Serie A in 2021/22, a stat that is simultaneously good for the keeper but more generally worrying for the team as a whole. He probably won’t be quite that busy at Spurs, but it probably won’t be far off.
He’s an enormously gifted shot-stopper and a far more commanding penalty-area presence than late-career Hugo Lloris had become. No “Big Seven” (or whatever) club has a defence as iffy as Spurs, and entrusting the role of minimising the damage that causes to a brilliant but largely unknown Italian is going to be either genius or stupid with absolutely no middle-ground. Can’t wait.
3) Jurrien Timber (Arsenal)
Potentially the biggest difference-maker of any Premier League newbie because he’s very good indeed and the Community Shield has already provided some pretty decent evidence that Our League isn’t going to faze him unduly. For a team whose title challenge collapsed horribly when they had to play Rob Holding for an extended period of time, it feels very significant.
The downside, of course, is the inevitable Pitbull wordplay that his name has already generated. But that’s not really his fault, we suppose. Just like it’s not really his fault that Worst Intro of the Season is already tied up by early August thanks to Mirror japester Mike Walters coming up with this which we’ve seen and therefore you have to as well.
“With his arboreal surname, Jurrien Timber will always remember his Arsenal debut as an unlikely tale of copse and robbers.”
Will he, Mike? Will the Dutch adult human remember his Arsenal debut through piss-weak wordplay in a second language? Will he? Will he, Mike? Will he always remember it as that? Copse and robbers, yeah? WILL HE, MIKE? WILL HE REMEMBER IT AS THAT? ANSWER THE QUESTION, MIKE.
Anyway, good player.
2) Rasmus Hojlund (Manchester United)
One trope to look out for in those early weeks of the campaign when Hojlund doesn’t manage to start the season on 30-goal pace will be people saying United should have “just paid the extra £20m” and signed Harry Kane like they’ve never heard of Daniel Levy.
Obviously nowhere near that simple for myriad other reasons (age, wages etc.) but the comparison is inevitable and Hojlund will start the season with a high profile and a target on his back. The Kane comparisons are inevitable if unwelcome because the player they’ve signed and the player they didn’t are at such opposite ends of the striker signing spectrum. Potential v Guarantee, 20 years old v 30 years old, Danish v English. Okay, maybe not that last one.
Hojlund very obviously has Something About Him at that young age, but at the moment it’s all potential rather than actual. The other comparison he will inevitably be saddled with is Erling Haaland, who scored literally millions of goals in Germany before coming to England.
Hojlund has nine goals in 18 Bundesliga games, and another nine in 32 Serie A games. That’s very decent indeed for a 20-year-old, who also has six goals for Denmark in just six games. But this 20-year-old now has to come and solve Manchester United’s long-standing striker problem while being – inevitably if grossly unfairly – being saddled with comparisons to the best two strikers in the world on last season’s evidence.
Good luck, mate, is what we’re saying here.
1) Dominik Szoboszlai (Liverpool)
It’s all a bit revolution not evolution in the Liverpool midfield this season, with a good couple of seasons’ worth of transition hurried through in a few quick Saudi-influenced months.
Change was needed in that misfiring engine room, though, even if the pace of change was dizzying and Szoboszlai was the most important change when he arrived back in early July. He will not get the luxury of a gentle bedding-in period and there is a high chance he will be branded a flop and a fraud early doors, snap judgements to which large numbers of people will determinedly stick when the evidence starts rolling in to the contrary. Has already passed the most important Klopp Test: playing well against Liverpool, for RB Salzburg in his case before his move to Leipzig.
Based on pre-season (yes, yes, we know) he’s going to operate on the left of midfield and be great fun. Look at this, for instance.
Dominik Szoboszlai was inches away from scoring the cheekiest goal of 2023.
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) July 30, 2023
That’s a pretty good idea of what Szoboszlai is about. Quick of foot and mind, not afraid to take the piss and stronger than you might initially think. Also he’s Hungarian and that’s nice, isn’t it? Real heritage.
He’s definitely going to do something brilliant in about his 10th game that gets enormously widespread coverage across all media for days on end yet provokes thousands of Liverpool fans to note that had De Bruyne done it we’d have heard about it for weeks.