Leeds or Crystal Palace?
Promising loan spells at Charlton, Swansea and West Brom resulted in a number of suitors, but reports suggest Leeds and Crystal Palace were the two teams Conor Gallagher deliberated over when choosing his loan destination this offseason.
At the end of last term, Leeds would have been the obvious choice; an opportunity to play under Marcelo Bielsa in a style undoubtedly suited to the 21-year-old's own all-action game far more appealing than the upheaval required at Crystal Palace.
However, a much-needed summer of change at Palace was enough to turn Gallagher's attention in the direction of Selhurst Park, with one switch in particular making the difference.
Patrick Vieira may not have been Palace's first choice to replace Roy Hodgson as manager, but the youth revolution — including the acquisition of Gallagher — that swiftly followed, along with the promise of implementing an attacking outlook, precipitated a wave of optimism from Eagles fans.
Gallagher himself has outlined the influence the Frenchman's hiring had on his decision to join the club, noting the fact that Vieira knew he wanted to be a box-to-box midfielder that plays with freedom "definitely helped persuade" the youngster to pick Palace.
A lynchpin in the centre of the great Arsenal teams of the late 90s and early noughties, there is hardly a better guiding force than Vieira for Gallagher to reach his potential, a leader who knows more than most that freedom is more than viable if there is first structure.
Early signs suggest Vieira's structure at Palace is working, too, posting sound underlying numbers despite facing one of the more difficult opening schedules in the Premier League. After all, an expected goal difference (xGD) of -0.4 is relatively solid after playing Chelsea (a), Brentford (h), West Ham (a), Tottenham (h) and Liverpool (a).
Moreover, Gallagher is the clear standout in Vieira's structure.
After being unavailable, as per Premier League rules, to face parent club Chelsea for Palace's season opener at Stamford Bridge, he has delivered two Man of the Match performances in four appearances and was only outshone by Wilfried Zaha in another.
Although a small sample size, Gallagher's output from a data perspective is staggering, producing numbers good enough to disprove any inkling that a midfielder will find it hard to excel as a box-to-box in the modern game.
Gallagher has recorded 55 pressures in the middle third of the pitch, the sixth highest total of any player in the Premier League this season.
Couple that with a league-high four tackles in the attacking third and his appetite as a ball-winner is evident in the data.
Vieira isn't the only Premier League great that Gallagher wishes to emulate in some capacity. He idolised Frank Lampard when in the Chelsea academy, recalling that it was "incredible watching him" and seeing the number of goals and assists he got as a midfielder was "crazy".
It is, of course, a trait Gallagher wants to replicate, and he is already showing signs of doing so, scoring twice against West Ham and getting into good scoring positions in general.
Gallagher has recorded 2.34 xG in 381 minutes played this season, a total that ranks him eighth in the Premier League.
He isn't skimping on the creative side, either, assisting a goal against Tottenham and setting up opportunities equating to 1.16 expected assists (xA).
It's worth repeating that Gallagher was ineligible to play the first game of the new campaign, making it all the more impressive that the 21-year-old is mixing it with some of the very best in the metrics mentioned.
As is the case for any young player, consistency is key.
If Gallagher maintains the same level of performance we've seen thus far over the course of a season, it will be difficult to object against him being rated as one of the better midfielders in the league.
Vieira has said the same himself after a stunning start, reiterating that Gallagher has all the abilities but "he needs to perform well week in, week out with us" before reaching the next level.
It is thought that an England call-up is that next step for Gallagher, especially after another standout display for Lee Carsley's under-21 side during the last international break.
But, for now, Vieira's project with the Eagles needs to be Gallagher's focus — a Palace renovation that he personifies.