Arsenal: Rob Holding
Holding showed great promise in the first half of 2018/19, before an ACL injury ruined his campaign in December. Arsenal just fell short of a top-four finish in the end, but their defensive deficiencies were laid bare and proved decisive. Might things have been different had Holding been available all the way through?
The defender was a £2m bargain buy from Bolton in 2016; composed with the ball and intelligent without it. He's not the most powerful of centre-backs, but his anticipation and positioning more than make up for that.
Aston Villa: Conor Hourihane
Now a full Ireland international, Hourihane has made his way through the Football League to find himself in the Premier League for the first time aged 28.
John McGinn and Jack Grealish are always more likely to get the plaudits in Villa’s midfield, but without Hourihane to stay resolute at the base of the trio, their attacking instincts would leave Dean Smith’s side unbalanced. Sitting deep, screening the back four, sniffing out danger and orchestrating moves with a fine range of passing, Hourihane is unlikely to make headlines – but could be key to his team’s survival.
Bournemouth: Steve Cook
Now into his ninth season with the Cherries, Cook is a true Bournemouth stalwart. The stopper made his debut in League One and has since helped Eddie Howe to solidify his team's place in the top flight – a magnificent achievement often forgotten.
Cook will eventually get squeezed out by newer models, but he still has plenty to offer aged 28. The former Brighton man is strong in the air and decent in possession, while he also has a handy knack of getting them in at the other end, too: he's scored in every season since 2011/12.
Brighton: Shane Duffy
While he may not get the plaudits of team-mate Lewis Dunk, the Republic of Ireland international is rarely caught out of position, and will be integral to maintaining the Seagulls’ defensive record as they experiment with a more expansive playing style under new manager Graham Potter.
Burnley: Jack Cork
Perennially underrated, Cork continues to fly under the radar despite delivering consistently good performances every year. He played every minute of every game as Burnley qualified for the Europa League in 2017/18, and missed only one match when Sean Dyche's men avoided relegation last term.
Dyche loves Cork's energy and hard running, but he's a tidy distributor of the ball too. It's surprising that the Chelsea youth product still doesn't get the credit he deserves.
Jorginho’s role as Maurizio Sarri’s representative on the football pitch didn’t endear him to the Chelsea faithful last year, who perceived his £50m fee as epitomising the worst excesses of the unpopular ‘Sarriball’ style.
The likelihood is that the Brazil-born Italy international will be given a more liberated role under Frank Lampard, who has publicly praised the midfielder during pre-season, and we could well see more of why Jorginho was so coveted by Pep Guardiola before his move to the Bridge.
Crystal Palace: James Tomkins
Palace struggled for goals last season, but only five clubs kept more clean sheets. Their relative solidity at the back was in part due to Roy Hodgson's organisational nous, but a centre-back partnership of Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho was also integral.
Sakho carries a bigger reputation but Tomkis is well considered at Selhurst Park and still underrated by those outside the club. A fine reader of the game, tough in the tackle and an aerial threat in both boxes, he'll be crucial to the Eagles' fortunes this term – and they'll need him.
Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Getting Moise Kean from Juventus was one of the best signings a Premier League club made this summer. The Italian teenager scored eight goals in 12 appearances for the Bianconeri in 2018/19 and will surely make an impression in England once he has had some time to acclimatise.
But in Calvert-Lewin, Everton have another promising young attacker who performs admiraby in difficult circumstances up front. The 22-year-old makes clever runs off the ball and links play well, but now needs to start scoring more goals to take his game to the next level.
Leicester: Jonny Evans
Evans’ departure from Manchester United in 2015 might not go down as one of the club’s biggest mistakes of the past few years, but then the Northern Irishman has generally been overlooked and underrated during his career.
Arsenal, United and Manchester rivals City were linked with Evans when he left West Brom last year, but Leicester got him for the paltry sum of £3.5m after exercising a no-brainer release clause in his contract. Their decision not to splash out on a new centre-back to replace Harry Maguire this summer shows how much faith Brendan Rodgers has in his fellow countryman.
Liverpool: Jordan Henderson
He may not boast the glamour or technical skill of some of his midfield colleagues, but his impact on the team is clear. The England man can play as both a box-to-box runner or the deepest of a midfield three, and Klopp values his his versatility, passing abilities and influence on those around him. Quietly excellent.
Manchester City: Oleksandr Zinchenko
Most Manchester City players have received ample credit for their part in two seasons of unadulterated dominance. Zinchenko, however, hasn't been held aloft quite as highly as his colleagues.
Not only is the Ukrainian just 22, he's actually a No.10 by trade and was his country's most creative player in defeat to Poland at Euro 2016. He hasn't looked out of place as City's starting left-back since taking responsibility in the absence of perma-crock Benjamin Mendy, and that's a huge testament to his ability.
Manchester United: Victor Lindelof
Harry Maguire was deservedly named man of the match after United’s 4-0 trouncing of Chelsea on the opening weekend, and Lindelof might well get accustomed to his expensive partner hogging the limelight this season. But he won't mind.
The Swede proved himself as a dependable defender last season: he was probably the team's standout performer under Jose Mourinho, and definitely their strongest centre-back throughout 2018/19. Expect him to receive more credit as this season progresses – just not as much as the £80m man beside him.
Newcastle: Fabian Schar
Newcastle conceded fewer goals than Arsenal and Manchester United last season, with Schar – rather than the more heralded Jamaal Lascelles – standing out as their their star man in defence. He was snared for just £3m from Hoffenheim in summer 2018, and the Switzerland international is worth far more 12 months on.
Schar is excellent in possession. He can sometimes be a little rash in the tackle – as evidenced by 15 yellow cards for club and country in 2018/19 – but the 28-year-old is arguably one of the best centre-backs outside the top six.
Norwich: Jamal Lewis
Daniel Farke likes his full-backs - Lewis on the left, Max Aarons on the right - to push forward at every opportunity, and there's every chance that speedy Northern Ireland international Lewis won't be underrated come the end of the campaign.
He impressed on the opening weekend despite Norwich's heavy defeat at Anfield, and bounced back along with his team-mates as the Canaries thrashed Newcastle at Carrow Road.
Sheffield United: John Fleck
Chris Wilder's innovative approach of encouraging his centre-backs to overlap and put crosses into the box is sure to capture plenty of attention following Sheffield United's return to the Premier League. Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham – the outside defenders in Wilder's back three – have already received attention, but ex-Rangers man Fleck is integral to the system too.
The midfielder contributes both defensively and in an attacking sense, and he also takes a mean set-piece. Fleck played 45 of 46 league games last term and should be ever-present whenever fit this season.
Southampton: Jan Bednarek
Yan Valery was a strong contender for this crown, but Bednarek gets the nod. The Pole fell out of favour under Mark Hughes but was restored to Saints' side when Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge, and it wasn't a coincidence that their form soon improved.
Bednarek is an excellent penalty-box defender who always gets his body in the right place to block shots and make clearances. He's strong in the air too, and has a useful knack for raising his game in the biggest matches.
Tottenham: Harry Winks
Tottenham's midfield is changed in 2019/20: Mousa Dembele left in January, Eric Dier is likely to be back-up and Victor Wanyama is now well down the pecking order. Spurs spent big on Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso this summer, and both young players will expect to become regular starters soon enough.
In Winks, though, there should be one constant between this term and last. He's understated but controls Tottenham's passing tempo and start attacks, which make him a valuable asset for Mauricio Pochettino.
Watford: Craig Cathcart
Watford are famed for a wide-ranging scouting network which regularly results in them picking up players from all four corners of the globe. Yet despite such an approach, Cathcart started 40 games in all competitions last season as Javi Gracia's side managed their best finish of the Premier League era and reached the FA Cup final.
The Northern Ireland international reads the game well and can be relied upon to be in the right positions, while he rarely lets his performance levels dip. He'll be crucial for Watford's chances of a top-half finish this campaign.
West Ham: Fabian Balbuena
A 5-0 thumping by Manchester City wasn't the best start for West Ham, but getting obliterated by Pep Guardiola's men in east London is nothing new. The defeat did, however, raise further questions about the Hammers' defensive capabilities, which could be their main weakness this term.
Yet despite those legitimate doubts, a centre-back partnership of Issa Diop and Balbuena is a good one. The Paraguayan adapted well to his first season in England and looks well placed to build on that promise this term.
Wolves: Diogo Jota
When Wolves went through a sticky patch last season, Nuno Espirito Santo was quick to make changes. The former Porto boss shifted from a 3-4-3 formation to a 3-5-2, adding an extra midfielder into his team and moving Jota from out wide to the centre of attack alongside Raul Jimenez.
The Portuguese excelled, ending the season with nine goals and five assists, but didn't receive the same widespread recognition as his strike partner. That will surely change if Jota reaches double figures this season.
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