Lists

8 Premier League players who've made surprisingly good starts to the season

Teemu Pukki

Squad filler, backup signings and promotion heroes – there was plenty of reason to think these lot wouldn’t have started half as well as they have done

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

8. Bjorn Engels (Aston Villa)

When Aston Villa paid £12 million to sign Ezri Konsa from Dean Smith’s former club Brentford, it all seemed obvious: he would partner Tyrone Mings at the heart of the defence. Instead, Engels, a cheaper addition from Reims, got the nod.

If his name suggests that he was forged at the intersection of Abba and Marxism, the Belgian has looked a fine defender. He impressed in the opener against Tottenham and helped keep a clean sheet in the win against Everton. Take out the first few minutes against Bournemouth and Villa have defended admirably well.

7. Todd Cantwell (Norwich)

Wingers were an essential part of Norwich’s promotion but Emi Buendia and Onel Hernandez were the pivotal figures, not Cantwell. There has been a role reversal in the higher division. 

Cantwell has been influential and excellent, becoming the first Norfolk-born player since 2005 to score for Norwich in the Premier League when he found the net against Chelsea. He set up two of Teemu Pukki’s hat-trick goals against Newcastle and has combined well with the striker.

6. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester)

soyuncu

Lewis Dunk? James Tarkowski? When it became apparent that Leicester were losing Harry Maguire to Manchester United, it seemed as though there would be an expensive English replacement. Instead, no centre-back joined and a 2018 signing stepped seamlessly into the breach. 

Soyuncu only began four league games in his debut campaign in England. The Turkey international has equalled that tally already. He has excelled, and was arguably man of the match as Leicester picked up a point (which really should have been three) against Chelsea.

5. Erik Pieters (Burnley)

Part of Stoke's ‘bomb squad’ – the players Nathan Jones would not even consider picking for a team that finished 16th in the Championship last season – Pieters was one of the lowest-profile summer signings when he joined Burnley. If the assumption was that he would be Charlie Taylor’s understudy, the Englishman’s injury afforded him an opportunity.

A week into the season, Pieters had the joint-most assists in the division, and if one was from a hoof forward, the other was the product of a pinpoint cross against Southampton. He has defended well, too, and with Sean Dyche’s fondness for unchanged teams, could be set for a run in the side.

4. John Lundstram (Sheffield United)

lundstram

There were plenty of heroes in Sheffield United’s promotion season, but it's hard to argue that Lundstram was one of them. He only started five Championship games; now he has begun four in the Premier League already. If the logical assumption was that the 25-year-old would be ushered to the exit as they looked for upgrades, manager Chris Wilder told the midfielder he could have a part to play. 

A shift from 3-4-1-2 to 3-5-2 helped, and Lundstram earned the Blades their first top-flight win since 2007 with his goal against Crystal Palace.

3. Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace)

The loan system offers an advantage to potential purchasers: they needn't buy signings who scarcely set the world alight. Jordan Ayew only scored one goal in 20 games on loan at Crystal Palace last season, so it felt perplexing when they bought him.

That decision seems more sensible now. Ayew was outstanding against Manchester United, scoring the opening goal in Palace’s first victory at Old Trafford since 1989. Factor in a winner against Aston Villa and he may already have repaid his £2.5 million fee.

2. Teemu Pukki (Norwich)

Anyone who watched last season’s Championship could have deduced that Pukki was a terrific finisher with excellent movement. But that didn't amount to a guarantee of goals in the Premier League.

And yet the Finn became only the second player to score five times in his first three Premier League games – inauspiciously, the first was Pavel Pogrebnyak – while adding an assist for good measure. It explains why he was voted the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month for August.

QUIZ! Can you name every Premier League Player of the Month winner since August 2014?

1. Daniel James (Manchester United)

When James started this season on the bench, it felt unsurprising. A £15 million fee rarely buys a Manchester United starter these days, and he had only one season of Championship football behind him. His impact since then, however, is the remarkable part: from the debut goal against Chelsea to classy strikes against Crystal Palace and Southampton, he has allied raw pace with quality.

James has already got as many league goals for United as Alexis Sanchez did.

COLUMN Andy Mitten: How close are Solskjaer’s youthful Manchester United to getting it all right?

While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant subscribers' offer? Get 5 issues of the world's greatest football magazine for £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than a pint in London. Cheers!

NOW READ…

QUIZ Can you name the 71 English players who've appeared in every Premier League game this season?

LIST 9 sets of team-mates who absolutely hated each other

GUIDE Premier League live stream 2019/20: how to watch every game from anywhere in the world

New features you’ll love on FourFourTwo.com