We’re approaching the business end of the Premier League season with plenty to play for at both ends of the table as we reach the conclusion of the 2021/22 campaign.
There’s much still to be settled in terms of the title race, European qualification and relegation, as the Premier League’s competing clubs jostle for position in the season’s final standings.
As we reach the run-in and crucial final chapter in the campaign, we look at the names who could make the difference for their sides in the latter stages of the season.
Here is each Premier League side’s key man as we enter the business end of the season.
Arsenal – Aaron Ramsdale
Aaron Ramsdale has won over his doubters this season to emerge as a key figure at Arsenal, with the goalkeeper leading the Premier League rankings for expected goals denied in 2021/22.
Ramsdale has kept 14 clean sheets in just 24 appearances for the Gunners and his form this season has led to an increased defensive solidity at the Emirates.
That improved defensive form could prove crucial to the club’s Champions League hopes with the North Londoners lacking a centre-forward capable of firing their charge towards Europe.
Aston Villa – Philippe Coutinho
Aston Villa’s capture of Philippe Coutinho was viewed as a huge coup on January, securing the loan signing of the Brazilian from Barcelona.
Steven Gerrard had hoped to coax the world-class best from his former Liverpool teammate and the early signs have been positive, with Coutinho having scored two goals and provided two assists in four appearances for Villa.
…and there’s a buy option available for €40m in June. pic.twitter.com/wXYIjRbtdl
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) February 9, 2022
The 29-year-old remains the third most expensive footballer of all time and if Villa can get somewhere close to his Liverpool best on a consistent basis, the club will have a top talent among their ranks.
Brentford – Christian Norgaard
Christian Norgaard has posted some superb statistical numbers during his debut season in the Premier League, leading the division for tackles and tackles won by a considerable distance.
The Denmark international has been a crucial component in the Bees’ side and his defensive work will be important to their bid to keep clear of danger.
With the likes of the returning Josh Dasilva and winter window arrival Christian Eriksen to integrate into the club’s midfield, the security provided by Norgaard’s intelligent positioning and ball-winning will be essential to retaining balance.
Brighton – Neil Maupay
Brighton have often been undone by a wastefulness around goal, with the performances of Neil Maupay set to have a major influence on whether the Seagulls can secure a top-half finish.
The 25-year-old has eight league goals this season – already equalling his haul from last season – and his prolificacy around goal will be essential to Graham Potter’s side during the run in.
2⃣6⃣ – NEAL MAUPAY
2⃣6⃣ – Glenn Murray
1⃣5⃣ – Pascal Gross
1⃣4⃣ – Leandro Trossard pic.twitter.com/sj9G17Cbd5
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 12, 2022
Brighton lack reliable goalscorers and Maupay’s form could be the difference for a Seagulls side just six points outside the top six at present.
Burnley – Wout Weghorst
Chris Wood’s departure in January was a blow to Burnley’s hopes of survival, with the New Zealand international joining relegation rivals Newcastle.
Wood had reached double figures for Premier League goals in each of the past four full seasons, a reliable return that the Clarets will hope winter window arrival Weghorst can replace.
The towering Dutchman has been outscored by only Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga across the past three-and-a-half seasons, including a haul of 20 league goals for Wolfsburg last season.
Burnley will need the 29-year-old to hit the ground running with the division’s bottom side seven points from safety at present, albeit with games in hand on the sides above.
Chelsea – Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea has not worked out as hoped at present, with injuries, mixed form and that controversial interview having contributed to an indifferent campaign.
Lukaku was signed to lead Chelsea’s assault on major trophies, however, and remains their leading goal threat. The Belgium international has scored 10 goals in all competitions without hitting top gear and after netting in the west London side’s Club World Cup campaign, can return to the Premier League with renewed intent.
Romelu Lukaku has now scored more goals (10) than any other Chelsea player across all competitions this season.
Into double figures. 💪 pic.twitter.com/jdyDU2wPvb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2022
The title looks out of reach for Chelsea, but with a Carabao Cup final and involvement in the Champions League and FA Cup to come, Lukaku’s level of performance will be important.
Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha
Patrick Vieira believes Wilfried Zaha has the ‘potential to do more’ for Crystal Palace and has called for greater consistency from the Eagles’ leading light.
Zaha has been Palace’s talisman for some time and remains their brightest talent, even if some shrewd signings from Vieira have alleviated some of the pressure from his shoulders.
The Ivorian attracts significant attention from opposition sides and his ability to beat a man creates space and openings for those around him.
Everton – Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Everton have been unable to call on the services of Dominic Calvert-Lewin too often this season, with the forward having made just seven league appearances in an injury interrupted campaign.
His recent return is a huge boost to Frank Lampard as he gets to grips with the job at Goodison Park, his side set to be centred around the qualities of Calvert-Lewin at centre-forward.
The 24-year-old scored 21 goals in all competitions last season and is one of the best winners of aerial balls in the Premier League, an asset which could help Everton at both ends of the pitch given the club’s lack of goals and vulnerability from set-pieces.
Leeds – Raphinha
Raphinha’s eight goals this season make up 30% of Leeds’ entire haul, with the Brazilian having been the creative spark of Marcelo Bielsa’s side since his arrival at Elland Road.
The 25-year-old leads his teammates for goals and assists (joint), alongside totals for shots, dribbles and key passes per 90 minutes.
In the continued absence of Patrick Bamford, the winger is often looked to for goalscoring inspiration and will hope to lead Leeds away from the Premier League’s relegation dogfight.
Leicester – Jamie Vardy
Brendan Rodgers discussed Jamie Vardy’s absence from the side last week, as the forward continues his recovery from a hamstring injury that has left Leicester without the services of their leading scorer.
“Jamie, because of his reputation, and because of sheer exhilaration and speed, he always threatens the back-line,” Rodgers said after the defeat to Liverpool.
“With Jamie, what you get, he’s got this incredible finishing repertoire where he can finish all sorts of goals. There are good finishes and headed goals. It’s the fear factor he brings.”
Neither Patson Daka or Kelechi Iheanacho have quite matched the unease Vardy’s movement causes and his return will be key to the Foxes’ hopes of salvaging their season.
Liverpool – Mohamed Salah
Even given Liverpool’s new-found strength in depth in attacking areas, Mohamed Salah remains the key to the club’s hopes of catching Manchester City,
The Egyptian is the league’s leading scorer with 16 goals and ranks second for assists on nine, Salah having managed better than a goal involvement per game during the 2021/22 season so far.
Salah has been the Premier League’s finest footballer during the opening months of the campaign and the Reds will hope he can maintain those extraordinary standards following his return from AFCON duty.
Manchester City – Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne might not have quite reached the levels of the past two seasons, but he remains crucial to Manchester City and arguably the Premier League’s best footballer.
De Bruyne has shown glimpses of his best in recent weeks and that will offer huge encouragement to Pep Guardiola and his side, as City look to retain the Premier League and end the club’s wait for Champions League success this season.
Even given his stop-start season, De Bruyne has scored seven goals and provided two assists in just 13 league starts for the champions, whilst he ranks second for expected assists per 90 behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Manchester United – Raphael Varane
Where to start with Manchester United?
David de Gea has been the Red Devils’ most consistent performer this season, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo remains the club’s best talent even given the question marks over his form and influence on the side.
Perhaps the most important name in the club’s run-in will be Raphael Varane, however, who has endured a frustrating first season since his arrival from Real Madrid.
United have demonstrated an unhappy habit of surrendering leads in recent weeks and the torrid form of Harry Maguire has only made Varane’s performances more important.
The France international is a proven winner and one of the world’s best centre-backs, a billing he will need to live up to if Ralf Rangnick’s side are to salvage their season.
Newcastle – Allan Saint-Maximin
There’s a feel-good factor sweeping around Newcastle after a raft of new signings and three successive wins, the Eddie Howe – and Saudi-led – era beginning to take shape at St James’ Park.
Newcastle are playing with an increasing confidence and cohesion, though the ace in the pack remains the maverick talents of Allan Saint-Maximin.
🤤 Allan Saint-Maximin completed 10 of his 13 attempted dribbles in Newcastle's 3-1 win over Everton last night, one shy of the record in a Premier League game this season pic.twitter.com/Bw6Zo5mxOA
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 9, 2022
The Frenchman’s direct dribbling, speed and movement terrifies defences and creates openings, spaces that a higher quality supporting cast can now exploit as Newcastle look to continue their rise up the division.
Norwich – Teemu Pukki
Norwich remain mired in the bottom three despite an upturn in results and performances, with the league’s lowest scorers still four points from safety.
Teemu Pukki has carried the goalscoring burden for the Canaries and the Finland international will need to find further goals in their survival bid, given the lack of alternatives in the squad.
Just one other player – Josh Sargent, who scored both his goals in the recent win over Watford – has scored more than once in the Premier League this season, an indication of Norwich’s reliance on their six-goal leading scorer.
Southampton – James Ward-Prowse
James Ward-Prowse has enjoyed a superb season for Southampton, with the midfielder establishing himself as one of the most influential footballers outside the Premier League’s ‘top six’.
The England international six goals and four assists for the Saints in 2021/22, leading his teammates for goal contributions this season.
An angle of 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 James Ward-Prowse free-kick which is one of the most satisfying things you will ever see.pic.twitter.com/bpSvATbCLB
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) January 23, 2022
Ward-Prowse mixes hard-running with a quality in possession, whilst his deliveries into the both – both from set-pieces and open-play – are a major weapon in the Saints’ attacking armoury.
Tottenham – Harry Kane
It’s been a miserable week for Tottenham after back-to-back defeats dented their top-four hopes, though the North Londoners remain in with a fighting chance of securing Champions League football.
Harry Kane will be central to their hopes of finishing inside the Premier League’s top four, with Spurs in need of the England captain at his goalscoring best.
The 28-year-old has scored just five league goals in 2021/22, but has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks with seven in his past 12 across all competitions.
Getting the best from Kane during the season’s run-in could prove the difference for Spurs and Antonio Conte this season.
Watford – Emmanuel Dennis
Emmanuel Dennis has been one of the signings of the season for Watford, with the Nigeria international having scored eight goals and provided five assists in just 20 league starts.
Dennis’ goals account for 35% of the Hornets’ entire haul this season, the largest single contribution from a Premier League player in 2021/22.
Watford are without a win since late November and time is running out to climb away from danger, with Dennis set to be a key figure in the survival plans of new manager Roy Hodgson.
There will be a queue of clubs hoping to prise him from Vicarage Road should Watford drop back into the Championship.
West Ham – Declan Rice
West Ham’s most valuable asset just keeps on getting better and better, with Rice among the most influential talents in the entire division at present.
The 23-year-old has become increasingly complete this season, combining the defensive tenacity that defined his early emergence with marauding runs forward and a desire to impact games further forward.
Is Declan Rice now one of the world’s best midfielders?
— The Football Faithful (@FootyFaithfuI) February 15, 2022
Jarrod Bowen deserves an honourable mention for his productivity around goal in recent months, the winger having helped shoulder the goalscoring responsibility for a West Ham side lacking alternatives to Michail Antonio at centre-forward.
Wolves – Jose Sa
Wolves’ defensive strength has kept the club within reach of European football for next season, with only Manchester City having conceded less goals than Bruno Lage’s team.
Jose Sa has been a fine signing since his arrival from Olympiacos and has kept nine clean sheets, a return that leaves Wolves four points outside the top four, with two games in hand on fourth-placed West Ham.
🔥 José Sá this season…
🧤 76 Saves
✅ 8 Clean sheets
🧹 23 Sweeper clearances
🏔 23 High claims
👊 13 Punches
🅰️ 1 Assist
✍️ A reminder he only cost @Wolves £6.5 Million…
👏 One of the 𝘀𝗶𝗴𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗼𝗻! pic.twitter.com/562iR5zuQC
— SPORF (@Sporf) February 13, 2022
Wolves lack the individual talent of their Champions League rivals, but the togetherness and resilience of the side could lead to the club upsetting the odds this season. Sa’s shot-stopping and their defensive unity will be crucial to their chances.