As we pretend to enjoy a week of international football, it’s time to salute the early heroes of this Premier League season. If you’re expecting to see Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne (or any Liverpool or Manchester City players, for that matter) then you’re about to be disappointed. Everyone else, welcome to the definitive list of the best players in 2020-21…
Paul Merson, this section's not for you. But he wasn’t the only one to doubt Kane. Who actually thought he would succeed under Jose Mourinho? (No, you didn’t.)
But not only is Kane carrying the hopes of fantasy football fans across the world, he’s again shaken off the tag of being an, er, six-season wonder. Kane will shatter the Premier League assist record, shared by Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne (20), after bagging eight in as many games. And he’s scoring quite a few too.
We should also doff our caps to Son Heung-min, the joint-top scorer in the division, but to be honest, without Kane, he and Spurs would be nowhere.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Honestly, we could put the entire Aston Villa squad in this article. Dean Smith's side are almost halfway to survival after just seven games and after adding Arsenal to their list of scalps, will return to the top of the Premier League if they win their remaining game in hand.
Key to their success has been the form of Grealish, who finally has a decent striker in front of him in Ollie Watkins (more on him later) to feast on his creativity. His decision to stay put looks a smart one, even if we all know Villa will finish the season in the bottom half and he'll do a Fabian Delph next summer.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
We went big on him after his starring role in England’s Under-20 World Cup triumph in 2017*, so it’s nice to see Calvert-Lewin repaying the faith. Good in the air, lightning quick, sharp movement, terrible fashion. The lad has it all.
Eleven months on from the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and the 23-year-old has not stopped showing off. It’s eight goals in the league already and, although Everton’s title party was cancelled after six games, the Toffees can at least count of Calvert-Lewin scoring in 2-1 defeats for the rest of the season.
(*We also went big on Dominic Solanke and Rhian Brewster that summer. Can’t win them all.)
Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal with teammate Richarlison during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Manchester United at Goodison Park on March 01, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom
Image credit: Getty Images
Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
It seems ridiculous that we're writing Kurt Zouma instead of Thiago Silva, but it's 2020 so just roll with it. Silva's arrival has prompted a surge in form for Zouma, who has nailed down the auxiliary role in Chelsea's defence.
The Blues have conceded just one goal when deploying the Zouma-Silva wall, scoring 14 at the other end. Just when we thought Frank Lampard couldn't coach a defence and would be gone by Christmas...
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
Everyone needs to calm down with the Beckham comparisons, even if he does take a delicious free-kick. It’s Ward-Prowse's all-round game that deserves the plaudits – defensively sound, a workhorse in the middle and a proper captain at last.
Southampton’s latest win carried them to the Premier League summit for two glorious days, with the club poaching the message of gracious loser Donald Trump to mark their achievement:
Karl Darlow (Newcastle)
We can’t go a whole list without a nod to a goalkeeper. And Darlow has been arguably the pick of the bunch, keeping Newcastle in their match with Tottenham before VAR scored to earn them a point, and making perhaps the save of the season (scroll to 1:06). against Southampton.
Given he’s got Newcastle players in front of him, it’s been a remarkable start.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham)
Bargain of the season? The Dane, who arrived in north London for about £20m, has added some Mourinho magic (Dark Arts) to this Tottenham side. Finally, they have an unflappable presence in a midfield that used to wilt at the first sign of success.
He's not bad on the ball either, proving to be the metronome in a Spurs side that usurped his old side Southampton at the top of the Premier League (for three hours). We can't wait for the DVD.
Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)
It’s a lazy comparison, but if Harry Maguire was in an Aston Villa shirt and Mings was in a Manchester United shirt, there would be no question over who England’s top centre-back is currently.
Mings has been supreme this season, overseeing the joint-stingiest defence in the league alongside Ezri Konsa and grabbing a couple of goals too.
Jack Grealish (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal with Aston Villa's English defender Tyrone Mings during the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Aston Villa at Craven Cottage in London on September 28, 2020
Image credit: Getty Images
James Rodriguez (Everton)
The Colombian would be further up this list had we published this article in October, with his enchanted left foot failing to sparkle since the Merseyside derby. Injury is partly to blame, as is the fact he’s swapped Galacticos for Goodison, but let’s not forget his explosive five-game run that saw Everton emerge as serious title contenders for about four days.
Ben Chilwell (Chelsea)
‘Ben Chilwell for £45m? Behave.’
Don’t pretend you didn’t think it too. But the left-back has adjusted superbly to the step up, merging the attacking returns of previous incumbent Marcos Alonso with the ability to actually defend. At just 23, he could be Chelsea’s left-back for a decade and form a formidable partnership with Timo Werner on the left flank.
Ben Chilwell of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Tammy Abraham after scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on October 03, 2020 in London, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
Patrick Bamford (Leeds)
Posh kids can play. We presumed Pampered Bamford would score three goals all season, including a couple of deflections, but he's already surpassed those expectations with seven goals for Leeds United. And he actually looks like a Premier League player. Sorry, Patrick, we take it all back.
Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)
You can’t score a hat-trick against Liverpool and not get a mention, even if Watkins should have had even more on that crazy evening in early October.
The Englishman has made the step up from the Championship look seamless, firing six goals in seven matches. It does make you realise how important strikers are – just how on earth did Villa survive last season when Wesley was the only one to score more than once?!
Che Adams (Southampton)
Shane Long 2.0.
Adams has always had the workrate, eagerly ruffling up defences alongside Danny Ings, but now he has the goals and assists too. OK, it's only three goals and two assists, but he's a crucial part of a Southampton machine that has recovered from the 5-2 bulldozing at home to Tottenham. With Ings facing a spell on the sidelines, Adams will be tasked with leading their unlikely (and probably futile) European charge.