PREMIER LEAGUE 21-22: Toney, Gilmour can be breakout stars
A look at five potential breakout players in the upcoming English Premier League season, which begins on Friday:
EMILE SMITH ROWE (ARSENAL)
Getting handed the No. 10 jersey for this season suggests plenty is expected of Smith Rowe at Arsenal. High expectations are something the 21-year-old midfielder is learning to live with, however, having seen the nickname the “Croydon De Bruyne” — after the town outside London where he was born and Manchester City’s brilliant playmaker — already thrust upon him. After spells out on loan, at Leipzig in Germany and Huddersfield in England, Smith Rowe got his first real taste of first-team action with Arsenal last season and breathed new life into the team as one of a number of youngsters selected by manager Mikel Arteta. Two-footed, and with great vision and technique in tight spaces, Smith Rowe will provide creativity in central areas for Arteta if Arsenal chooses not to sign a more experienced playmaker late in the transfer window. Who knows? He could yet force his way into the England squad.
BILLY GILMOUR (NORWICH)
Gilmour’s stunning start to his international career with Scotland, when he was UEFA’s man of the match in a 0-0 draw against England at Wembley Stadium in the European Championship’s group stage, showed just how mature the diminutive midfielder is at the age of just 20. He had already shown an assured nature on the ball and self-belief in rare starts for Chelsea over the last two seasons and this year should see him make another step up. Chelsea has decided to loan Gilmour to Norwich for the whole season so expect him to play every game if fit, a real test in a grueling league for a youngster standing at 5-foot-7 (1.70m). What Gilmour lacks in height, he makes up for in ability and technique. With Norwich having a style of play based on keeping possession, it looks to be an ideal temporary move for Gilmour, who could easily be a regular starter for Chelsea next season.
IVAN TONEY (BRENTFORD)
Toney is something of a late developer, having played in the lower leagues all his career — save for a short spell at Newcastle when he made two appearances in the Premier League in 2015, both as a substitute. A tall, heavily tattooed striker, he really rose to prominence last season by finishing as the top scorer in the second-tier Championship with 31 regular-season goals, leading Brentford to the top flight for the first time since 1947. Ten of them were penalties, converted in the nonchalant manner famously adopted by Bruno Fernandes and Jorginho. That he did the same in the Championship playoff win over Swansea — for an 11th successful spot kick of the season — in such a pressure-filled match gives an indication about the kind of character Toney is. The club from west London will be relying on Toney’s goals to stay up, and he is a very different player to the starry-eyed teenager who failed to cut it at Newcastle when he moved there six years ago and ended up being loaned out repeatedly.
EMI BUENDIA (ASTON VILLA)
Like Toney, Buendia is coming into the Premier League after a great season in the Championship — but he’ll be with a different club this time. The Argentine playmaker has been rewarded for scoring 15 goals and making 16 assists, earning him the Player of the Season award, in Norwich’s title-winning campaign by getting a move to Aston Villa for an initial club-record fee of $41.5 million, essentially as the replacement for captain Jack Grealish following his move to Manchester City. They are huge boots to fill and Buendia will be replacing the irreplaceable in many ways. There are legitimate concerns that he might not be able to cope in England’s top division. After all, he struggled for game time with Norwich in the Premier League two seasons ago, with his work rate not deemed good enough for manager Daniel Farke. So has Buendia changed? Taking up the No. 10 role, as opposed to a place on the wing, might give him license to roam and produce his best. In Ollie Watkins and new signing Danny Ings, Buendia has two solid, hard-working strikers to serve.
PATSON DAKA (LEICESTER)
There will come a day, maybe some time soon, when Leicester can no longer rely on Jamie Vardy to lead the forward line. In new signing Patson Daka, the team might just have a long-term replacement. The 22-year-old Zambia striker moved to Leicester from Salzburg for $32 million, having scored 27 goals in 28 appearances in the Austrian league to become the country’s player of the season. He might have to bide his time in the east Midlands, with Vardy still the star player at Leicester as he approaches a decade of service there. But he is 34 now and cannot go on forever. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers knows that. He has Kelechi Iheanacho as another striker alternative — and the Nigerian was the in-form forward in the league at the end of last season — but the prolific Daka is more of a like-for-like replacement for Vardy and offers Rodgers the chance to pick and choose Vardy’s games. “He is very similar to Jamie in his traits,” Rodgers said. “He wants to run off the back line, he’s a great finisher and all of those players — Patson, Jamie and Kels — we’re going to need all of them.”
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