A new season brings with it a renewed sense of optimism and excitement. By the end of the 2017/18 season, most football fans were beleaguered, disillusioned and generally sick of club football, looking forward instead to a summer with the joyous escapism of the World Cup.
But just four weeks after the showpiece’s denouement, we’re back to the Premier League grind.
Of course, we’re intrigued to see if Mohamed Salah can come close to matching his astonishing haul of 32 league goals last season, but the new season offers the next generation a chance to grab their share of the spotlight.
For those young pretenders who have wrestled their way into first-team contention, the 2018/19 season holds great promise. Here are eight players primed for a Premier League breakthrough over the next nine months.
Chelsea fans were offered glimpses of Hudson-Odoi during the second half of last season but, having shown flashes of real promise in pre-season, the gifted 17-year-old is expected to feature more prominently under Maurizio Sarri.
Hudson-Odoi was one of several Young Lions to sparkle during England’s triumphant campaign in the FIFA U17 World Cup last summer and the electric wide man is hoping to make a similar impression at club level.
It says a lot that, with Chelsea’s tendency to loan their young players out, Hudson-Odoi’s services were retained ahead of the forthcoming season. He may have to bide his time for first-team opportunities but, based on the evidence presented so far in his fledgeling senior career, don’t be surprised if he seizes them and generates Phil Foden-level buzz.
Speaking of, the midfielder’s meteoric rise through the Manchester City ranks has been impossible to miss. Foden earned the Golden Ball award for his part in England’s U17 World Cup campaign and has attracted praise from Pep Guardiola, who saw fit to start him in last week’s Community Shield victory over Chelsea.
An intelligent playmaker with an impressive level of maturity, the 18-year-old will benefit immensely from Guardiola’s teaching, which should bode well for his future England career.
There is, of course, a remarkable amount of talent ahead of him in the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium, but Foden’s progress is worth keeping a close eye on this season.
Believe the hype; Foden is that good.
Whether Manchester United’s striking Messi/Fellaini hybrid delivers on his extraordinary promise remains to be seen, but we can at least big him up on the little evidence we’ve reviewed thus far.
Since arriving from Feyenoord two years ago, Chong has been a standout performer in United’s under-age set-up, doing enough to win the Young Player of the Year Award.
Having dazzled in United’s under-23 side and in the UEFA Youth League, the Dutch winger may have the chance to prove his worth to José Mourinho in the months ahead. A talented dribbler who is supremely confident on the ball, Chong has the assets required to become an established Premier League winger.
He’ll need hard work and perhaps a slice of luck to go with his natural abilities, perhaps, but United fans are hoping he can deliver on his promise and avoiding fading into mediocrity like Adnan Januzaj or Federico Macheda.
Arsenal’s exciting 19-year-old recruit from Lorient made an instant impact in pre-season, so much so that the club’s fans have called for Unai Emery to start him in Sunday’s season opener against Manchester City.
Throwing an untested midfielder into a heavyweight clash against the best team in the division would be a bold move from a new coach keen to avoid defeat at the first time of asking, but the clamour for Guendouzi’s involvement is still a positive reflection on the youngster’s early displays.
A physical, combative midfielder who reads the game well and makes smart, incisive passes, Guendouzi promises a great deal and could represent the club’s midfield future alongside the equally exciting Lucas Torreira.
Having made his debut for Porto in 2014, those who have dipped in and out of Neves’ progress since would be excused for thinking he was in his mid-20s.
In fact, he only turned 21 in March, at which point he had already firmly cemented his place as one of the Championship’s outstanding midfielders.
Neves’ move from Porto to Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer made a lot of noise. At £15.8million, it was a club- and league-record transfer, but the Portugal international did not disappoint.
Neves scored six times for Nuno Espírito Santo’s men and generally produced a standard of performance that screamed future Premier League star. His average of 0.79 open-play key passes per 90 minutes could not be bettered last season, while he averaged more scoring attempts than any other midfielder, too, with 2.31 per 90.
An astute passer with a wonder goal or two in his locker, Santo hopes that Neves can gel in midfield alongside new signing Leander Dendoncker as the Championship winners look to take the top flight by storm.
Of all the players on this list, Sessegnon is perhaps already the most rounded, despite having only turned 18 in May.
The dynamic left-sided talent made his debut not long after his 16th birthday in August 2016 and has progressed steadily in the proceeding two years. A return of seven goals in 30 appearances for Fulham in the 2016/17 season was an excellent haul made to look distinctly ordinary by last season’s tally of 16.
In April, Sessegnon shocked nobody in scooping an unprecedented five awards; Championship Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season, Apprentice of the Year, as well as being named in the Team of the Season and EFL Club Developed XI.
But anyone who knows Sessegnon will tell you that being showered with accolades won’t adversely affect his humility; by all accounts, he is an exceptionally grounded individual, one who listens and works hards to achieve his goals. The sky really is the limit.
Last season, Trent Alexander-Arnold was the Liverpool academy graduate who not only broke into Jürgen Klopp’s first team, but stayed there long enough to earn a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup squad.
This year, Jones may well be the leading candidate to follow suit. Still only 17, Jones was Liverpool under-18’s outstanding player last season under Steven Gerrard. Along with Rhian Brewster, Jones was regarded as the most promising youth player on Liverpool’s books last season.
Brewster has since gone on to agree a new five-year contract with the club and if he continues in the same vein, Curtis may join Brewster in signing on the dotted line.
Reports that Jones did not one bit out of place among his senior colleagues on tour in the United States this summer bode well for the teenager’s future.
As confident as he is talented, Bissouma was arguably the most impressive of Brighton’s nine summer signings.
A powerful, quick-footed presence in the middle, Bissouma topped the successful take-ons charts for midfielders in Ligue 1 last season with an average of 3.14 and supplemented his more dynamic attributes with combative ones, making on average 3.89 tackles per game.
An explosive – if still raw – talent, at 21 Bissouma can become a real star at Brighton & Hove Albion if he keeps his head down and listens to Chris Hughton.
Others to look out for: Ademola Lookman (Everton), Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea), Andreas Pereira (Manchester United), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal).