The 2021/22 Premier League campaign may still be in its infancy, yet it’s already shaping up to be a hugely competitive season, the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham and Spurs the early pace setters at the summit.
The opening weeks of the season have already seen plenty of shocks, goals and stunning individual displays, with the usual suspects, as well as a few new faces, already hitting the headlines.
As we approach the final gameweek before the dreaded first international break of the campaign, let’s take a look at who the favourites are to be crowned as the top-flight’s player of the year come May.
Jack Grealish 10/1
It’s no surprise that with a £100m, British-record price tag comes greater expectancy, with Jack Grealish perhaps unsurprisingly tipped to be one of the division’s leading lights this season following his high profile switch to Manchester City earlier this summer.
While there may be a few teething problems in the coming months as the 25-year-old adjusts to life under Pep Guardiola, the early evidence is that he will be a key man for the champions this season, having already netted his first goal for the club on his home debut in the 5-0 thrashing of Norwich City at the weekend.
The playmaker’s stock is certainly on the rise having developed into the nation’s sweetheart over the summer, despite a less than starring role as part of England’s surge to the final at Euro 2020.
Now at one of the top sides in the country, the former Aston Villa skipper will be hoping he can stake his claim for a more regular starting berth at international level under Gareth Southgate, with the prospect of Champions League football a chance for him to truly prove himself on the big stage.
If last season is anything to go by, he should well enjoy a fruitful campaign this time around, having registered six goals and ten assists in the top-flight last term, despite missing a fair chunk of the latter stages through injury, featuring in just 26 league games in total.
One potential obstacle in his pursuit of this individual gong is the sheer number of star talent in the City squad, notably Kevin De Bruyne, with Grealish likely to have to put up some crazy numbers and help City to the title in order to swoop the award
Harry Kane 10/1
Despite a summer of speculation, one man who won’t be joining the former Villa man at the Etihad is Harry Kane, the England captain recently announcing that he will be staying put for the forthcoming season, despite seemingly wanting out.
Having hinted of his desire to leave towards the back end of last season in pursuit of major honours, the 28-year-old then risked the wrath of his current club by reporting back late for pre-season training, albeit with the forward pleading innocence in a social media statement.
He has since featured off the bench against Wolves and doesn’t appear to have burned too many bridges with the Tottenham support, while he can fully focus on the season ahead knowing his future, for 12 months at least, will lie in north London.
Even amid all the rumours and speculation, however, he still managed to perform to a top level over the summer, shaking off a poor group stage to net four times in the knockout stages to help steer the Three Lions to just a second major tournament showpiece.
As those of you who follow the latest Premier League odds will be aware, Kane’s international exploits came off the back of a stunning season on an individual note. The talismanic attacker finishing atop the league charts for both goals (23) and assists (14), despite what was a poor campaign overall for the club.
That didn’t prove to be enough to clinch the player of the year award, however, and unless something miraculous happens this time around, it’s not anticipated that he will be playing a starring role in a Spurs title triumph – a factor that may deny him the individual accolade.
Romelu Lukaku 8/1
With Kane’s transfer saga now seemingly over, the major centre-forward signing of the summer remains that of Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian ace returning to Chelsea a decade after initially making the move to Stamford Bridge as a teenager.
That first stint with the Blues didn’t quite go to plan as he failed to net a league goal and spent much of his time out on loan, although it will likely be a different prospect this time around, with the 28-year-old having the chance to be the main man for Thomas Tuchel’s side.
A £97.5m arrival, the pressure is on the powerful striker to perform, although the early indications are that he could well be the final piece of the jigsaw for the London club, following his stunning second debut display away at Arsenal.
Having underwhelmed at Manchester United in his last Premier League stint, there had been doubters prior to his return to England, yet those naysayers have already been quietened by a dominant striking display against the Gunners, the forward netting early on and running the hosts’ backline ragged.
Now seemingly at his peak, Lukaku looks all the better for his spell in Italy with Inter Milan and has returned to these shores as a leaner and meaner centre-forward who looks set to bag a hatful of goals this season.
With City now resigned to a season without Kane, the signing of Lukaku for Chelsea could well be the difference in the title race. Should he prove to be that difference, a player of the year award is a real probability.
Kevin De Bruyne 8/1
A mainstay on this list in recent years, Kevin De Bruyne remains a vital cog in the Manchester City machine and looks set to be their driving force once again this season.
While impacted by injury last term – and in the early weeks of this campaign – he still managed to play a pivotal role in City’s surge to a third league title in four seasons, going on to register six goals and 12 assists in just 25 league appearances.
That leaves his tally at a remarkable 78 assists in his top-flight career, with 32 of those coming in the last two seasons alone, with this season likely to see him once again act as the creator-in-chief for Pep Guardiola’s side.
He no doubt has a stellar supporting cast – bolstered by the arrival of Jack Grealish – but the Belgian remains the main man for the champions and a much needed presence, as demonstrated by the club’s opening day defeat to Spurs in his absence.
As he nears a return to full fitness, the 30-year-old will likely be eased back into action, yet should well be raring to go after the international break, having endured a frustrating summer with his country at Euro 2020.
With each passing game, season and trophy the playmaker continues to make Chelsea’s decision to let him go all those years ago look rather silly and he could well prove to be the difference this season by edging out his former club in the title race.
Bruno Fernandes 6/1
While Manchester United may not be the favourites for the title, their talisman Bruno Fernandes is currently the favourite to end the season as the player of the year, having already started the campaign in fine fettle.
The midfielder had endured a difficult time of it with Portugal over the summer at Euro 2020, coming under fire for his underwhelming displays, yet he’s quickly settled back into life at Old Trafford by netting a hat-trick on the opening day.
That haul – in the 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United – saw the former Sporting man at his very very best, notably firing in a stunning effort on the half-volley to put the hosts 4-1 up against their bitter rivals.
Although he followed up with a quieter afternoon in the disappointing draw with Southampton, it remains the case that if Fernandes plays well, United normally do also, the 26-year-old having quickly developed into the club’s leading light, despite only making the switch just over 18 months ago.
Since sealing the move in late January 2020, he has recorded a staggering tally of 29 goals and 19 assists in just 53 league appearances, finishing as the club’s top scorer last time out with 28 goals in all competitions, including 18 in the league.
The expectation is that he will continue to reach similar heights this season, although he will be fully aware that his status as one of the division’s top talents will be defined by whether or not he can guide Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to titles and silverware.