Formation: 3-5-2 (er, a very attacking one)
GK: Steve Mandanda (Crystal Palace)
Wayne Hennessey was inconsistent between the sticks for Crystal Palace last term, and the early signs suggest Mandanda is a significant upgrade. The former Marseille custodian, who spent nine years at the Stade Velodrome and was named Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year four times, is an excellent shot stopper who possesses lightning-quick reflexes, while his commanding presence has helped instill confidence in his new defenders. The fact he didn’t cost Palace a penny makes the deal even sweeter.
CB: Ashley Williams (Everton)
Everton’s defensive record let them down last season: Roberto Martinez’s side shipped 55 goals in their 38 Premier League encounters – more than anyone but the bottom five of Bournemouth, Sunderland, Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa. Ronald Koeman’s coaching has clearly paid a big part in the Toffees’ tightening this year, but the arrival of Williams has been significant too. The former Swansea stalwart has been solid since swapping Wales for Merseyside, forming a promising partnership with Phil Jagielka at the heart of the Everton backline.
CB: Eric Bailly (Manchester United)
Many opined that Manchester United had overpaid for Bailly when they splashed £30m on his signature in June, but the ex-Villarreal defender has exceeded expectations up to now. A terrific display in the Community Shield triumph over Leicester was a sign of things to come, with Bailly’s pace and athleticism helping him to recover from occasional lapses in concentration. He’s also been tidy in possession so far, completing 88.4 per cent of his passes on average.
CB: Joel Matip (Liverpool)
Captured on a free following the expiration of his Schalke contract at the end of June, Matip was something of a no-risk transfer for Liverpool. The potential rewards were always going to be high, and so it’s proved in the opening weeks of the 2016/17 campaign. The 25-year-old is strong in the air and quick across the ground, and seems to enjoy a physical battle with opposition centre-forwards.
RM: Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane introduced himself to Liverpool supporters in the best way possible, scoring a superb solo goal to help the Reds to an opening-weekend triumph at the Emirates Stadium. It wasn’t a false dawn either: the Senegalese has shone in each of his appearances since, making the net ripple twice more and setting up Roberto Firmino’s icing-on-the-cake effort against Leicester. The 24-year-old looks to be the perfect Jurgen Klopp player, possessing a blend of technical and physical gifts that could see him become a key player for Liverpool in years to come.
Mane scores against Arsenal
CM: Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
Gueye’s solid showings in 2015/16 were somewhat overshadowed by Aston Villa’s collective collapse, which is probably why Everton were able to pick him up unchallenged for just over £7m. Second only to N’Golo Kante in last year’s interceptions and tackles charts, Gueye has continued to prove effective at winning the ball back in the centre of the park, as well as demonstrating a hitherto-underappreciated assuredness in possession. Having formed a solid midfield partnership with the evergreen Gareth Barry, the all-action Senegalese is an early contender for signing of the season.
CM: Victor Wanyama (Tottenham)
Although it’s true that the absence of Moussa Dembele through suspension harmed Tottenham early on, Wanyama did an accomplished job of deputising in the engine room. He was particularly dominant in the defeat of Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane – he scored the only goal of the game that afternoon – and was exceptional in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow. Spurs lacked strength in depth in midfield last term, so swapping Ryan Mason for Wanyama with a £2m profit represents a superb piece of business.
CM: Steven Defour (Burnley)
It hasn’t taken Defour long to make the adjustment from life in Brussels to Burnley. The former Anderlecht man excelled on his debut against Liverpool, caught the eye in the Clarets’ second success of the season against Watford, and scored a stunning strike in the 1-1 draw with Hull. “We worked very hard on that deal,” manager Sean Dyche said of his new midfield maestro after the Watford win on Monday. “We felt he would add some quality, he has a great manner to him, he wants to develop with the team, and he definitely adds something to the performances.”
LM: Yannick Bolasie (Everton)
Eyebrows were raised when Everton forked out around £25m to bring Bolasie to Goodison Park, but the move’s been a success so far. While the DR Congo international remains inconsistent and erratic, he’s a terrifying prospect for full-backs on his day, and Everton have benefited from his pace and trickery on the flank in recent weeks. Bolasie’s crossing has improved in the last couple of years, too, with Romelu Lukaku the ideal target for his deliveries from out wide.
Bolasie sets up Lukaku's goal against Middlesbrough
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
The arrival of Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic brought a sprinkling of stardust back to Old Trafford in the summer, and the Swedish striker hasn’t disappointed with his on-field performances. Ibrahimovic has already bagged four times in the Premier League, with his sublime technical ability still very much intact despite his advancing years. “He gets the Reds excited,” as one of the cleaner lines in United fans’ chant goes.
ST: Islam Slimani (Leicester)
Leicester were always going to have to evolve this term, with opponents now wise to their counter-attacking ways after they sneaked in to win the Premier League title last time out. The addition of Slimani – more of a penalty-box presence than Jamie Vardy but just as prolific in front of goal – always looked astute in that regard, and the Algerian is likely to be particularly useful against teams who stand off and sit deep. He’s hit the ground running in the East Midlands, scoring twice on his debut against Burnley and once in Tuesday’s Champions League victory over Porto.
- FEATURE How Leicester's deadly double act became a willing love triangle with benefits
- FEATURE Islam Slimani and 20 other players who LOVE scoring against one club
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.