We look at players to keep an eye on before the end of the 19/20 Premier League campaign
We look at players to keep an eye on before the end of the 19/20 Premier League campaign

Premier League Project Restart: Eleven players to consider backing, including Billy Gilmour and Bruno Fernandes


With the Premier League set to return later this month, it is always good to look at who could hit the ground running.

Using season stats and patterns in their performances, George Pitts picks out his 11 players to watch and how to get on the right side of them in the betting...


11. Billy Gilmour (Chelsea)

Chelsea starlet Billy Gilmour's incredible FA Cup display vs Liverpool

Although there was never going to be a good time for this break, one player who will have been particularly disappointed to stop playing is Chelsea youngster Billy Gilmour.

The Scottish midfielder had only just broken into Frank Lampard's team and already had begun to thrive within it.

His last appearance came as the Blues impressively beat Everton 4-0 at Stamford Bridge less than a week after the 18-year-old's star performance in the FA Cup win over Liverpool.

A fairly timid character off the pitch, Gilmour has been cool, composed and confident on it. Hopefully the break does not affect his form and he can continue where he left off. Who better to learn from in his development than Lampard?

The long wait for his next outing will surely have only made him hungrier.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

It might be worth just waiting a few games to see how he settles again. but the lack of a crowd will arguably make little difference to him having played a lot of youth and reserve games in recent years.

He sits a little deeper and kept Chelsea flowing against Everton, with 73 successful passes out of 80. But with confidence growing and the Blues on their way to victory, he did try his luck. It would be good to see his performances rewarded with a first goal for the senior team.

He is no stranger to contributing, after all, with seven goals and 10 assists in 37 appearances for the U23s, eight goals and three assists in 26 for the U18s and four goals and an assist in 13 UEFA U19 appearances, so a goal may come sooner than you think.


10. Pablo Mari (Arsenal)

EVERY TOUCH | New Signing Pablo Mari's Arsenal Debut | Defending & Passing | Emirates FA Cup 19/20

The season obviously has not gone to plan for anyone, and it's affected Pablo Mari as much as any player in the top flight given that he needs to impress Mikel Arteta.

The 26-year-old centre-back, who became the first Spaniard to win the Copa Libertadores in 2019, joined the Gunners on loan for an initial £4.2m from Brazilian giants Flamengo, with a view to making his switch permanent in the summer for £13.5m.

A left-footed defender who looks assured on the ball, Mari could be a decent addition going on his early displays, but clearly will need to waste no time in justifying the fee already forked out, in turn boosting his chances of being in the squad for next season.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

He has only made two appearances so it is difficult to say just yet, but he is definitely one to watch in terms of his performances and how he adapts to the English game.

Arsenal have a tricky run-in, with City, Wolves, Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool still to play as well as a couple of sides scrapping at the bottom, and Mari may have to show various aspects of his game.

He made 84 passes on his league debut and the passing market may be one to watch, with Arteta's style keen to build up play from the back. Small passes between Mari and the central midfielders could see his pass count rise.

But it will be tempting to look at him in the cards market against more superior opposition, as he is not particularly fast and has to rely on his reading of the game, which seems pretty good but will nevertheless be tested.

Arsenal can be error-prone and it's normal for their defenders to be exposed. As he gets to grips with the pace of the Premier League, Mari will do well to avoid picking up cautions along the way.

It will certainly be interesting to see how he does, having already stated his desire to make a permanent move to the English capital.


9. Dwight McNeil (Burnley)

Highlights from Dwight McNeil's standout display against Huddersfield in 2018/19

Dwight McNeil is a talent who seems to go under the radar a little in terms of crediting the division's young British stars.

Because he is playing for little old, unfashionable Burnley? Maybe. That may be unfair to say but that is the brush Sean Dyche's side often get tarred with.

But in McNeil they have a left midfielder whose crossing is pinpoint, in-play and from a dead ball, he can hold onto the ball well in tricky situations and is also willing to do the dirty work by tracking back. A good, traditional left-midfielder who is a solid and a consistent 7/10 every week and who also plays for England's U21s.

A side note, and nothing to do with his ability, but it was interesting to see he still lives at home with his parents, sharing a room with his teenage brother. Not your average Premier League footballer. Grounded, quiet and unassuming, but a menace on the pitch.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

As a box-to-box left midfielder, there are multiple options in which you could consider siding with McNeil.

The tackling market is always a tough one to unravel but Burnley often allow their opponents more possession. He averages nearly 1.5 tackles per game, but he has been pretty consistent, more so since the end of November, completing a total of 28 tackles in his last 16 appearances - five of them coming away at Man United and three at Chelsea, so he does not shirk a big-name opponent and that is one reason he is attracting interest from the top-six hopefuls.

Alternatively, there are the shots and goals markets. With two goals and five assists in 29 appearances, you could say he needs to contribute more himself - but that is one to hold off for now in the betting.

He does average just over a shot per game, though, but it's more an accuracy concern: of his 35 efforts in total this term, just 11 have been on target, albeit 24 have been from outside the area.

You could be best backing him to have 2+ shots, he has done that plenty this season - against Arsenal (home and away), Liverpool, Villa, Leicester, Chelsea (home and away), Palace, Man City, Bournemouth and Tottenham. Just don't rely on these shots going where he intends them to for the time being.


8. Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle)

Allan Saint-Maximin – top skills for Newcastle (as of November)

Newcastle are not quite out of the woods yet, despite an eight-point advantage over the bottom three going into the postponement.

As well as tough fixtures against Man City (a), Sheff United (h), Liverpool (h) and Spurs (h), they still have a big say in the relegation picture with games against bottom-half opposition Bournemouth (a), Brighton (a), Villa (h), West Ham (h) and Watford (a).

Newcastle's standout player this season who you know is capable of bringing some excitement to what can be, in truth, quite a bland team is Allan Saint-Maximin.

The summer signing initially cost a reported £16m from Nice and what a deal that could prove to be. Saint-Maximin is a tricky player with quick feet and at 23 he is still improving. The fact he averaged more dribbles than Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard last season shows how good and direct his play is.

As thrilling as he has been to watch in this campaign, in a team lacking in goals, the one criticism could be that he has not contributed enough himself. The Frenchman has three goals and four assists in 21 appearances in all competitions, all goals coming from December onwards, but the first half of his campaign was interrupted by two injuries which saw him miss a total of 10 games.

We are not his only admirers either, with Sporting Life columnist Laura Woods praising him earlier in the year - read that here.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

Allan Saint-Maximin got the only goal of the game as Newcastle beat Southampton
Allan Saint-Maximin got the only goal of the game as Newcastle beat Southampton

With more consistent match time in 2020, he has grown in confidence and shown to be even more capable of influencing the Magpies' matches. Before the game's disruption, he scored the winner in a shock away win at Southampton and he will return hungry and ready to continue where he left off.

It is interesting to look at his stats in the shots market. He has had at least one effort in all but one of his 18 Premier League appearances, two or more on eight occasions, and as many as five at home against Norwich.

You would imagine he reaps the rewards sooner or later and Newcastle could be relying on him for goals.

Most dangerous from the left, Saint-Maximin plays with confidence and swagger of a top player. He has a frame which enables him to shrug off defenders when mazing in and out of tricky situations and he is not afraid of trying his luck.

Of his 31 league efforts in total, though, he has hit the target just 14 times, hitting the post twice and, to be fair, 10 of them have been blocked.

But these stats show he needs to be more clinical and is by no means a guaranteed goalscorer, just one to consider keeping an eye on his price depending on what type of opposition he is coming up against.

If Steve Bruce's side play to his strengths and free him of defensive responsibilities, they could well have a gem in Saint-Maximin in the next season or two.


7. Willy Boly (Wolves)

Willy Boly (right) celebrates his late winner
Willy Boly (right) celebrates in the Europa League

Boly missed a fair chunk of the season, with an innocuous slip in training in October meaning he suffered a broken fibula and would not return to action until February.

Considering Wolves only lost once in 12 (an injury time winner by Tottenham) from the start of November, it would be harsh on the squad to say they missed him, but his comeback was most definitely a welcome return for Nuno Espirito Santo.

The French defender's contract expires next summer and clubs such as Arsenal and Tottenham have reportedly started circling already after his impressive performances since moving to Molineux from Porto in 2018.

The strong, 6ft 4in centre-back, 29, has seven clean sheets from 13 league appearances this term and often reads the game well with WhoScored stating his strengths in ball interception, aerial duels and tackling, as well as being a threat from set pieces at the other end.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

Boly's eagerness to jump into tackles can often see him committing more than a foul per game, but for his position his discipline is reasonably good with just three yellows and a red in 24 appearances in all competitions.

The more eye-catching market when it comes to Boly concerns the tackling stats. This market can be misleading as you expect top defenders to commit plenty of tackles each game, but it can often be the opposite. Virgil van Dijk, for example, averages less than a tackle per game in the Premier League this season due to his excellent reading of the game. Granted, Liverpool generally dominate possession but the Dutchman rarely has to commit to a challenge when opposition do attack.

And a lot of central defenders' stats read the same, with aerial duels and interceptions more regular than tackling.

So when you see Boly's stats, albeit with fewer league appearances, his rate of tackling for a defender is pretty high with 2.7 per game.

The tallies he has reached in some games are extraordinary, with four v Brighton, six v Watford, five v Palace, four v Burnley and another four v Man United. It looks like he reaches high totals against bottom half sides but away at Everton, Leicester, Tottenham and Man United he clocked another two in each of those.

Wolves still have West Ham (a), Bournemouth (h), Villa (a), Arsenal (h), Sheff United (a), Everton (h), Burnley (a) Palace (h) and Chelsea (a), Boly could well be worth considering in the tackles market.

With a large chunk of the season missed to injury and another couple of months' break due to the coronavirus crisis, he should be raring to go.


6. Tomas Soucek (West Ham)

Tomas Soucek: West Ham midfielder made his Premier League debut against Brighton
Tomas Soucek: West Ham midfielder made his Premier League debut against Brighton

A January signing we were really looking forward to seeing and that is no different when the season resumes.

Czech Republic midfielder Tomas Soucek joined the Hammers from Slavia Prague on loan, with an option to make his move permanent for £13m in the summer.

As is the case with Mari, Soucek will be keen to impress in east London in order to get his permanent move and he could play a key role in helping David Moyes' side retain their top-flight status.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

He was a player being watched closely with the Premier League tips in mind before the break in play.

An injury meant he missed a bit of action, so after his debut against Brighton his only other West Ham appearances have been against Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal. Tough going with a lot of chasing the ball.

But looking at Soucek, he is an exciting box-to-box midfielder who could fit in well alongside Declan Rice in the centre of the park.

Although he is a defensive midfielder by trade, the 25-year-old scored 10 goals in 19 appearances for Slavia in the first half of the campaign and his rate of shooting is impressive.

He averaged 2.3 per game in the Champions League (four shots and a goal against both Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund), 2.7 per game in the UEFA Nations League last year for his country and he had two shots on his debut against the Seagulls.

With this in mind, his anytime goalscorer price will be worth watching in the coming games. Soucek will offer West Ham much-needed steel in the middle but going forward he is not afraid of trying his luck.

He could be an inspired signing that helps them end the season more comfortably. But then again, we have been watching West Ham for far too long to know it is not that straight forward.


5. Ismaila Sarr (Watford)

Ismail Sarr's season highlights so far

The Hornets have nine games to retain their place in the top flight. Nigel Pearson's side currently sit 17th, outside the relegation zone on goal difference and they will be hoping Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr can return in good form.

The 22-year-old joined from Rennes last summer for a reported fee in the region of £40million. With that comes great expectation, but when he is on song the Hornets look arguably a better outfit. And without him, they struggle.

He played a key role in the surprise win over Liverpool in February, scoring twice, and he has a total of six goals and four assists in 21 appearances.

Regular listeners of our Premier League podcast will know how highly Dale Tempest rates him.

Of Sarr's 19 Premier League appearances, all eight of his goal contributions have come from starts, as opposed to his six substitute appearances, and mostly from a right attacking midfield position. He shows excellent ability on the ball, is direct running at players and has an impressive turn of pace.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

With Burnley (a), Newcastle (h), Norwich (h), Southampton (h) and West Ham (a) to face in all winnable fixtures, plus Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester and Man City if he wants to impress against the big boys again.

If he is named in the starting XIs, especially against their bottom-half rivals, it is worth looking at Sarr's stats in the scoring markets. He has started five of Watford's six league wins this term, so a score-and-win double could offer even more value.

Alternatively, the shots market are also worth looking at. He has had at least three efforts in six games this season (six and five in one game against Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively).

In total, he has had 37 shots in 19 Premier League games this season, eight outside the box and 27 in the area, so he is a player who likes to shoot on sight in the final third.

An exciting player to watch, that's for sure and if Watford are to retain their place in the division, he will no doubt play a key role. When he is on the field, you know something can happen from nothing.


4. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)

Aymeric Laporte suffered the leg injury during Manchester City's win over Brighton
Aymeric Laporte suffered a serious injury during Man City's late August win over Brighton

It is no coincidence that Man CIty's title defence has been pretty bleak when you think they have been without their key defender Aymeric Laporte since the end of August. The glaring hole in their team has been at the back, with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi unconvincing or unfit and midfielders Fernandinho or Rodri often having to cover.

City had drawn one and won two of their opening games before Laporte suffered a serious knee injury in the win over Brighton. In the following game they suffered a shock defeat at Norwich - that would probably not have happened on his watch.

He first returned in January and was being eased back to action before the game's enforced break - featuring in the Champions League win in Madrid - and the extra time off will have allowed Laporte some more rest and recovery while building fitness at home.

With Laporte back for the final run-in, Fernandinho will be able to return to his best position in midfield and all of a sudden City will look a lot more assured again.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

City could finish the season strongly with Laporte making a huge difference, so it could be worth considering looking at the price on them winning this 'mini tournament', or even backing them to win-to-nil in games where perhaps they would have conceded without him.

Pep Guardiola's style of play with City consists of plenty of building from the back and the passing stats make interesting reading.

In one game at the start of the season, Laporte notched an impressive 145 passes against Bournemouth versus Stones' season high of 103. It is no coincidence Otamendi's season high for passing came in the same game against the Cherries alongside Laporte, with 114.

In games where you can expect City to dominate against lesser sides - they still have Burnley, Norwich, Bournemouth and Newcastle to face at home - then Laporte could see a lot of the ball and it's worth looking at his passing total at 90-plus.

City's improvement should be noticeable if Laporte can get through all the games without any setbacks.


3. Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)

Abdoulaye Doucoure: Watford midfielder scores at Brighton in the Premier League
Abdoulaye Doucoure: Watford midfielder scores at Brighton in the Premier League

Doucoure is another Watford player who can have a big say in their bid for survival.

The French midfielder has stepped it up under Nigel Pearson, in part thanks to his manager's positional switch, from a deep-lying role to a more advanced position supporting Troy Deeney (or the relevant forwards) in attack.

The 27-year-old has scored four goals and set up another two - with five of those six involvements coming in his newer role.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

He averages just under two shots per game across the course of the campaign and a look at his stats show that figure being pretty consistent across the board - although he has reached four in a game against both Everton and Bournemouth and five against Arsenal.

He has four goals for the campaign, three of them coming since the turn of the year in his new, more advanced role.

But the market, going into the break at least, was still pricing him up like a holding midfielder and he was a very tempting price to be an anytime goalscorer, at 5/1 some weeks, against the lesser sides such as Burnley (a), Newcastle (h), Norwich (h), Southampton (h) and West Ham (a).


2. Andre Gomes (Everton)

ON THE BALL: ANDRÉ GOMES V ARSENAL | EVERY TOUCH OF HIS RETURN!

This is not a feature focusing on players returning from injury and raring to go - we've got a piece coming on that in the coming weeks - but Gomes' performances have been as impressive as his speedy return to fitness.

The Portuguese midfielder suffered a horrific ankle break against Tottenham in November and, upon seeing the collision, few thought they would see him for the rest of the campaign, let alone making a return in February.

You would not blame him for playing with a bit of fear, but he has done the opposite and has been a breath of fresh air to Carlo Ancelotti's midfield, a class above the rest.

His touch, awareness and ability on the ball makes him a joy to watch and you can see why he appealed to Barcelona.

What markets should I consider backing him in?

As pretty as his football is, he is not afraid of doing the dirty work. He has five bookings in total this season and two of them came in three appearances before the enforced break.

They did come in defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea, when the Toffees were chasing the ball a lot more, but Gomes' aggression is another likeable part of his game.

Everton's first game back is the Merseyside derby at home and they still have to play Leicester, Sheffield United, Tottenham and Wolves, as well as some relegation battlers, so do not be surprised to see Gomes go in the book a few more times, especially with the yellow card threshold extending to 15 after matchday 32.

As well as bookings and aggression, Gomes brings plenty of qualities with the more pleasing side of the game. He has not scored in 12 games this term and could do with improve with goal contributions. Although he sits a little deeper, he has the ability to try his luck from distance like compatriot Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United.

Gomes has scored just one goal in 41 games for the Toffees, and he's had just three shots all season.

It is most definitely one to hold back on, but if Everton are playing well and Gomes continues to impress and his confidence rises, goals could follow like London buses.


1. Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)

Season So Far | Bruno Fernandes | Manchester United 2019/20 HD

You know how good a player really is when he not only puts in good display, but the whole team's performance increases too. Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes has been a superb addition for the Red Devils and is already a top contender for the best signing of the post-Alex Ferguson era.

Since his debut against Wolves at the start of February, United have not lost, with six wins (including the derby against City) and three draws in all competitions - Fernandes featuring in all of them. No wonder Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likened him to a mix between Paul Scholes and Juan Sebastian Veron.

At 5ft 7in, he is not the biggest midfielder in the Premier League, but he plays with the confidence and swagger of a giant.

Of all the performances around him, Fred has stepped up his game to finally show why United shelled out around £52m for him in 2018. With those two linking up so well in the middle, it poses the question among United fans... Paul who?

What markets should I consider backing him in?

He has already scored three times in all competitions for the Red Devils and the prices may well start to reflect that, so other options to explore are his shots.

Fernandes averages 3.8 shots per game in the Premier League (4.8 in the Europa League for Sporting and United this term), which shows his confidence has been sky high since arriving in England. He is not afraid of taking on responsibility and that is exactly what this team needed after failing to impress under Solskjaer.

The fewest shots he has had in a league game so far has been two - in his five appearances he has notched five, two, three, six and three respectively.

That's a total of 19, with 14 of them coming from outside the box. He occupies dangerous positions in the final third and when he is given space, he is not afraid to shoot on sight, no matter how far. We mentioned this on the Sporting Life Premier League Weekly podcast prior to United's fixture with Everton (below) and he did just that.

He has shown he can rise to the occasion and a small stake on him scoring from outside the box may be worth a look here and there.

If he continues in this fashion, he promises to be a United and Premier League great.

Before he scored against Everton in February:

Laura Woods on Bruno Fernandes...


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