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MVPs: Every Premier League club’s key man ahead of the season run-in

The Premier League season is approaching what is set to be a dramatic finale, with little appearing finalised as we approach the end of the campaign.

The title race, Champions League chase and relegation battle are all set to provide more twists and turns, as clubs look to hold their never in the closing stages and ensure a successful season.

Ahead of the run-in, we’ve looked at the key figures who could shape the season’s major narratives. Here is every Premier League club’s most valuable player ahead of the run-in.

Arsenal – Bukayo Saka

Bukayo Saka’s star just keeps on shining brightly for Arsenal, with the winger’s consistent end product having confirmed the 21-year-old as one of Europe’s most exciting talents. Saka became the first player in the Premier League to reach 10+ goals and 10+ assists before the international break, before enhancing his growing reputation with a stunning strike in England’s win over Ukraine.

Saka epitomises an Arsenal side who has played without fear and with freedom this season, a footballer who has delivered consistent quality in the big moments to lead the Gunners’ unexpected title challenge. Momentum is with Mikel Arteta’s side in the title race and Saka will be crucial to ensuring the north Londoners remain in charge.

Aston Villa – Ollie Watkins

Ollie Watkins can count himself unfortunate to have missed out on March’s England squad, following a fine run of form that saw the forward score six goals in his last eight league appearances. Watkins is a nuisance for Premier League backlines and has led Aston Villa’s improved run of form under Unai Emery, with the club entering the race for continental football after taking ten points from four games before the break.

Danny Ings’ exit has increased the responsibility on Watkins for goals and if he can maintain his recent form across the run-in then Villa could gatecrash the European places.

Bournemouth – Hamed Traore

The sample size might be small, but Hamed Traore already appears brilliant business for Bournemouth. Signed from Sassuolo on an initial loan deal with an obligation to buy in January, the midfielder has injected immediate quality into the Cherries’ midfield.

He leads Bournemouth for dribbles (2.6), key passes (2.6) and tackles (3) per 90 minutes this season, an indication of the box-to-box influence he has brought since arriving in the winter window. Bournemouth remain embroiled in the Premier League’s bottom three and relegation battle, but Traore could provide the spark needed to escape.

Brentford – Ivan Toney

Brentford have remained comfortably clear of the division’s dogfight down the bottom with the Bees retaining ambitions of a first-ever European venture next season. The success of Thomas Frank’s side has been built on the goals of Ivan Toney, who has scored 16 times this season to trail only Erling Haaland (28) and Harry Kane (21) in the Golden Boot rankings.

The 27-year-old has been exceptional this season for the Bees and was rewarded with an England debut against Ukraine on Sunday.

Brentford’s next highest goalscorers – Bryan Mbuemo, Mathias Jensen and Yoanne Wissa – have scored just five goals each this season, which demonstrates the club’s reliance on Toney for goals. The looming verdict on his FA charges for breaching gambling restrictions could be decisive in Brentford’s end to the season.

Brighton – Kaoru Mitoma

Kaoru Mitoma has been one of the breakout stars of the season at Brighton and will hope to continue enhancing his reputation across the run-in. The Japanese winger has scored six goals in just 13 league starts for the Seagulls, emerging as a crucial figure since Roberto De Zerbi’s arrival as manager.

Electric and explosive one-vs-one, he leads his Brighton teammates for dribbles per 90 and has averaged a goal or assist every 141 minutes in the Premier League. Wealthier clubs are keeping a keen eye on Mitoma ahead of the summer transfer window, an excitement machine who has lit up the Amex Stadium this season.

Chelsea – Enzo Fernandez

Chelsea’s record arrival has had an impressive introduction into English football, with the midfielder having handled the pressure of becoming the Premier League’s priciest player. Fernandez has added immediate quality into the Chelsea midfield, demonstrating a range of passing that has been lacking at Stamford Bridge for some time.

Classy assists against Leicester and West Ham have been highlights, while the underlying numbers show just how quickly the 22-year-old has become crucial to Graham Potter. Fernandez leads his teammates for average passes and tackles per game this season, with the World Cup winner’s task to both make and break the play.

In a Chelsea side lacking goals his ability to engineer chances could be crucial in the run-in, while the impending return of N’Golo Kante could further free Fernandez to dictate.

Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha

Asked to name Crystal Palace’s Most Valuable Player at any point in recent seasons and the answer would invariably have been Wilfried Zaha.

Zaha has been a talismanic presence for the Eagles for several campaigns and Palace are in need of one final push from the Ivorian to preserve their Premier League status. All indications are that Zaha will leave the club when his contract expires this summer, but the 30-year-old will want to do so with Palace a Premier League side.

Palace – who have brought former manager Roy Hodgson back to the club – are without a win in 12 league games and have scored just once in their last five. The Eagles need their leading scorer to find his form.

Everton – James Tarkowski

Sean Dyche looks set to lean on his principles of hard work and organisation to ensure Everton survives this season, with three clean sheets in four home games a strong start. James Tarkowski is well-versed in the demands of the new boss and could have a crucial role in the run-in.

The 30-year-old leads the Premier League for blocks and ranks third for clearances per game this season, an indication of the volume of defending that has been required but also the centre-back’s willingness to get body between the ball and goal.

His no-nonsense approach to the defensive side of the game will be welcomed in the heat of a relegation battle.

Fulham – Joao Palhinha

A revelation this season in the Fulham midfield, Joao Palhinha continues to stamp his mark on Premier League games. The Portugal international leads the league for tackles won and brings bite to the Fulham midfield.

With leading goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic facing a potentially lengthy ban, Palhinha will become even more important to Fulham as the Cottagers look to secure a top-half finish. His ability to regain possession in advanced areas – he leads Europe’s top five leagues for possession won in the final third – is crucial to the high press Marco Silva demands at Craven Cottage.

Leeds – Rodrigo

Where would Leeds be without Rodrigo’s goals this season?

Javi Gracia’s side are two points above the drop zone at present and looking to build on a win at Wolves before the international break. Rodrigo scored the fourth to seal the win at Molineux, his 11th in the Premier League this season.

The Spaniard has provided 31% of Leeds’ goals in the Premier League this season, while only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane can better his 123 minutes per goal among the division’s top 20 goalscorers.

With Patrick Bamford still finding his feet after fitness issues, Rodrigo will have a key role in Leeds’ battle to survive.

Liverpool – Luis Diaz

Luis Diaz’s absence this season has been a major blow to Liverpool’s hopes of a successful season, but the Colombian’s impending return could be the boost the club’s top four hopes need. Diaz’s mid-season arrival lifted Liverpool last season and his return to fitness could have a similar impact this time around.

The 26-year-old was involved in five goals in seven league starts before his injury issues and is a footballer who can bring much needed spark to games. His intensity and ability to make things happen could prove decisive at the business end of the campaign and bring the best from the likes of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo around him.

Manchester City – Erling Haaland

An obvious answer, here.

It’s fair to say a man who has plundered 42 goals in all competitions already this season will be important to his side’s aspirations, as Manchester City look to hunt down Arsenal in the title race and end the club’s elusive wait for a Champions League crown.

Haaland sent an ominous warning to the rest of Europe with a five-goal performance against RB Leipzig before the break and has scored NINE goals in his last three appearances for City. Those numbers are staggering and look set to continue swelling as we reach the run-in.

Manchester United – Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford has rivalled Haaland as the in-form footballer in the Premier League since returning from the World Cup.

Rashford has ten goals in his last 12 league appearances and 27 in all competitions this season – the best return of his career to date. The leading scorer in the Europa League, his performances will be central to Erik ten Hag’s team as the Red Devils continue to compete on all fronts.

After League Cup success was secured earlier in the campaign, United remain in contention for the FA Cup and Europa League, while a strong conclusion to the campaign is required to secure Champions League football.

Rashford’s return is more than Antony Martial, Antony, Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst and Alejandro Garnacho have scored combined this season, evidence of the Red Devils’ reliance on their leading scorer.

Newcastle – Alexander Isak

Alexander Isak has begun to find his feet at Newcastle after recovering from his fitness issues.

The Swedish striker marked his first start since his injury lay-off with a goal against Wolves, before a match-winning brace at Nottingham Forest secured consecutive wins and reignited Newcastle’s Champions League hopes.

Isak has now scored six goals in just seven starts for the Magpies this season and has been directly involved in 86% of the club’s goals when on the pitch this season. He has the quality to fire Eddie Howe’s side into the top four.

Nottingham Forest – Brennan Johnson

Brennan Johnson has scored five goals in his last nine appearances for Nottingham Forest as the forward begins to adjust to the demands of the Premier League.

Johnson’s encouraging understanding with Morgan Gibbs-White has provided Forest with a focal point as Steve Cooper’s side look to keep above the relegation places. The Wales international withdrew from March’s international fixtures with a groin issue and his club side will hope it is not a problem that prevents him from featuring when the Premier League returns this weekend.

Forest are without a win in six league games and will need Johnson at his best during the run-in. His pace and movement in the final third has provided Forest with threat in behind.

Southampton – James Ward-Prowse

Southampton are struggling at the bottom of the Premier League table and need to find a run of results to survive this season.

James Ward-Prowse remains integral to the club’s hopes, with the midfielder’s work-rate, dead-ball ability and intelligence to counter-press crucial to the Saints.

It is Ward-Prowse’s set-piece expertise that could be most decisive however, with just two teams having scored less than Southampton’s 12 goals from open play. In contrast, the Saints have scored nine goals from set-piece situations, a figure level with Manchester City and one which ranks them sixth in the Premier League.

Tottenham – Harry Kane

Harry Kane just keeps collecting goalscoring records, having added to his club-record total for Tottenham by becoming England’s all-time leading scorer last week.

Having passed greats in Jimmy Greaves and Wayne Rooney to take those records, Kane’s quest to become the Premier League’s record scorer will continue across the run-in. He has 21 goals in the Premier League this season and stated his belief last week that he is approaching the peak of his powers.

Spurs will need their record goalscorer to keep on firing as the club chase Champions League football, a scenario which will prove crucial to the club’s chances of persuading Kane to sign a new deal in north London.

West Ham – Declan Rice

Declan Rice is another name who continues to be linked with a summer exit, but the West Ham captain’s immediate focus will be on ensuring the Hammers survive this season. West Ham have struggled to match their league performance from recent campaigns, with results required to avoid what would be an ignominious relegation.

David Moyes’ side also remains in contention for the Europa Conference League, a realistic chance for long-awaited silverware and a path back into Europe next season. Rice’s box-to-box brilliance and determined drive will be the pillar on which their challenge is built upon.

Wolves – Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves remains the leader of the Wolves side under Julen Lopetegui, with the club captain often at the hub of their best performances.

Neves is Wolves’ joint-leading scorer on five league goals this season, while he leads his teammates for long balls, average passes, shots and interceptions per game, while ranking second for tackles per 90 minutes.

It is the sort of influence that is difficult to replace and Neves – linked with an exit this summer – will want to leave Molineux on good terms and with the club’s Premier League status intact.

Read –ย Iconic Performances: Prime R9 dismantles Valencia with a hat-trick for the ages

Read Also –ย Checking in on the impact of the Premier League’s most expensive January signings

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