The comparisons between Lukaku’s goalscoring record and that of other footballing greats at the same age might have grown a little tiresome, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the Belgian.He scored 25 Premier League goals last
season, beaten to the Golden Boot only by a late Harry Kane surge. His critics suggests he relies too much on athleticism to become a top all-round striker, but there is a cool head on his shoulders. The 24-year-old’s pace allows him to get in behind, but against deeper defences he times his runs cleverly to find small pockets of space on the edge of the box, in which he often fires home. Manchester United have plenty of creativity, with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan likely to benefit from a quiet summer, so Lukaku’s goalscoring instinct could be just the job.
Lukaku’s compatriot is a safe bet to be in the running, having made the PFA Team of the Year in four of his five campaigns in England. Handling expectations is the major challenge for Hazard. He had a majestic 14/15 season, in which he was the title-winning side’s main creative outlet, but standards soon dropped. 15/16 saw him fail to register a single goal until April, his only iconic moment that year being the strike at the start of May which denied Spurs a chance of top honours. In both games that Diego Costa missed over Winter last season, against Bournemouth and Leicester, Chelsea won 3-0 with Willian and Pedro just wide of Hazard in a false nine role. With Costa set to leave, Michy Batshuayi untrusted and an advanced goalscorer yet to sign, Antonio Conte may be tempted to experiment with that same attacking trio. If he does, Hazard could have another great season and justify his status as7/1 favourites with bookies.
Kevin De Bruyne
Another Belgian in the running, De Bruyne registered a remarkable 18 assists last year, his second season at Manchester City after signing from Wolfsberg. With quick wide forwards like Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, he is the ideal player to spot gaps and play inch-perfect through balls to set up attacks.
The law of averages suggests that the standard footballer will win the Man of the Match award once or twice in 33 Premier League starts. How many times did our midfield maestro do it in the same number of starts? Nine. The players with similar returns on that score tend to play either wide or centrally in a front three, whereas De Bruyne plays in a midfield three with a little more defensive work, in which he willingly partakes. If the 26-year-old can keep his discipline where needed but also add goals to his game, we could be talking about Kevin a lot this year.
Arsenal tended to hang their hat on the Chilean last season. Sanchez scored a hat-trick at West Ham in December as part of a great team performance, but just as tellingly, he single-handedly dragged the Gunners to a 1-0 home victory against West Brom in the same month. Whether out wide or down the middle, he was often their only spark and threat.
He is odds-on to remain in North London come September, despite interest from Manchester City. There, he would be playing alongside a greater range of alternative attacking quality, including the aforementioned De Bruyne, a player of the quality that Arsenal do not have. However, Sanchez’s capacity to make something out of nothing means, whoever his teammates are, he should remain one of the stand-out performers in England.
While Sanchez’s every word has seemingly been analyzed every day to the nth degree this summer, comparatively little speculation has surrounded Harry Kane. In fact, if you type his name into the news section of a search engine, the main recurring story is that Ross Barkley would want a bigger wage than the 23-year-old should he join Spurs. Surely, this says something about the way Kane conducts himself.
Most players that have just scored 99 goals in the last three years would see this summer as a good opportunity to stir up transfer talk, leading to either a big move or a higher wage. The fact there has been no rumours of departure at all is a credit to both him, his agent and the way Tottenham have managed their star man.
If we look at previous Players of the Year, very few had been part of a transfer saga in the preceding summer. N’Golo Kante’s transfer to Chelsea was smooth while Riyad Mahrez, Hazard, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale had been at their respective clubs for well over a year. Kane is proven to be an exceptional footballer and could benefit from keeping his head down to focus on what he does best.