Richard Buxton: Kevin de Bruyne to remain top of the crop
As the EPL gears up for its new season this weekend, here are the players who are expected to flatter and deceive over the next eight months
LIKELY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: KEVIN DE BRUYNE (MAN CITY)
Belated recognition for de Bruyne from both the EPL and his fellow professionals in the Professional Footballers' Association is not a sign of his powers reaching, or even passing, his peak.
The Belgium international remains Manchester City's most impactful player and now occupies three of the 10 places for the most assists per season in the league's history - including tying with Thierry Henry at top spot.
His ability to alternate between a creative midfielder and deep-lying role is further proof of de Bruyne's growing influence in games for club and country.
That added responsibility clearly suits him and will only further enhance his reputation as one of, if not the best, playmakers around.
PLAYER WHO WILL UNDERPERFORM THE MOST: HARRY MAGUIRE (MAN UNITED)
Manchester United's captain has much to prove after a chastening period on the pitch as well as away from it.
A recent brush with the law sees him already under the spotlight but so, too, does an uncharacteristically poor run of form.
Maguire's displays after the Covid-19 lockdown were as ugly as his alleged misdemeanours in Mykonos.
Unless Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is able to pair him with an upwardly mobile centre-back partner before the transfer window closes next month, the world's most expensive defender will continue to find himself exposed - in spite of the 13-game unbeaten run that saw the Red Devils sneak into the Champions League qualification places last season.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER: MATEO KOVACIC (CHELSEA)
A growing legion of exciting young talents at Stamford Bridge have put the club's old guard largely in the shade.
Kovacic, however, is one of the few Chelsea players that should not be fearing for his future. The Croat was voted the club's Player of the Season last term yet remains largely unheralded among the EPL's plethora of elite midfielders.
Frank Lampard's preference of a 4-3-3 system allowed Kovacic to become a box-to-box player.
What the 26-year-old lacks in goals and assists, he more than makes up for with ball progression.
Others will take the glory in west London but Kovacic will continue to keep things ticking over nicely.
BEST SIGNING: JAMES RODRIGUEZ (EVERTON)
Everton catapulted themselves and the Colombian back into the game's spotlight earlier this week with a transfer seen across the world, from Bogota to Times Square.
Linking up with Carlo Ancelotti at a third different club could prove the catalyst to revive his career at the highest level.
Without the decorated Italian coach by his side, Rodriguez was left to burn in unforgiving cauldrons of impatience at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
At Goodison Park, the 29-year-old has the perfect conditions to rediscover his Midas touch under a manager whose faith in him has never wavered.
If all goes to plan, the Toffees will be gatecrashing the top-six party.
WORST SIGNING: FABIO SILVA (WOLVES)
Some uncomfortable questions may soon be asked of Wolves' links with Jorge Mendes.
A once mutually beneficial arrangement now risks working against Nuno Espirito Santo's side, with the departures of Helder Costa and Matt Doherty carrying a distinct whiff of the super agent's influence.
The cooperative's fate hinges on the £35 million (S$62.3m) record signing of the teenager.
Expectations will be sky-high for a player billed as one of Europe's most exciting forwards but had just three goals in 1,000 minutes of football.
Molineux's tight-knit squad cannot afford passengers and the 18-year-old's adjustment to the English top flight is likely to be a season-long affair.