<
>

African's finest footballers assemble for a blockbuster Premier League season

play
Romelu Lukaku 'a great fit' for Chelsea (1:04)

Craig Burley says Chelsea adding Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan is a great move for Thomas Tuchel. (1:04)

Clubs up and down the Premier League will be leaning heavily on African talent once again as a new season kicks off in England's top flight.

Ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, ESPN's Ed Dove examines the big questions facing the continent's top talent in the Premier League.

Who are the title contenders?

Riyad Mahrez appears to be the African player who's best placed to end the 2021-22 season with a Premier League winner's medal, as Manchester City have been firmly established as the bookies' favourite for the coming campaign.

The Algeria winger has already won the title on three occasions, and after finally silencing any doubts about his contribution to Pep Guardiola's side last term, now has the opportunity to play a key role once again in another title triumph.

Another PFA Players' Player of the Year award to go with the one he won at Leicester City isn't beyond him, with the Algerian's pair of performances against Paris Saint-Germain in last year's Champions League semi-final among the best by any African player last season.

Behind him, Chelsea duo Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech will be hoping to build on their UCL triumph last season to mount a genuine title challenge under Thomas Tuchel.

Last term, Mendy overtook Ajax's Andre Onana to establish himself as the finest African keeper in the world today, although Ziyech -- who will miss the first part of the season with a serious shoulder injury -- has much to prove after a campaign overshadowed by fitness problems last term.

Liverpool quartet Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, and Joel Matip will be hoping to improve on their troubled seasons last time around, and re-establish Jurgen Klopp's Reds as a genuine domestic force.

Salah was the only one who largely maintained his high standards amidst the Merseysiders' malaise -- 22 league goals were influential as Liverpool qualified for the Champions League -- and he's only seven goals away from matching Didier Drogba's Premier League haul of 104 goals, an African record.

The same cannot be said for Mane, whose output dipped dramatically, while Keita will be charged with helping Liverpool overcome the loss of Georginio Wijnaldum to Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester United's form during the tail end of last season has got fans talking up their title prospects, although Eric Bailly and Amad Diallo may have to settle for limited roles during the coming campaign.

The duo -- recently returned from Olympic duty with the Ivory Coast -- managed just 12 league starts between them last term, and the arrivals of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho threaten to reduce their relevance even further.

Who are the best of the rest?

Leicester City's late slump cost them Champions League qualification again this term, but Brendan Rodgers has some of the finest African talent in the league at his disposal as he looks to challenge once again.

Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi consistently leads the league stats for defensive contributions, and international teammate Kelechi Iheanacho enjoyed a breakout season of sorts last term as he registered a career-high 12 league goals and inspired the Foxes to the FA Cup final.

The likes of Nampalys Mendy and Daniel Amartey also made contributions, while Wesley Fofana established himself as one of the league's finest centre-backs during his debut season in England.

Add to them new arrivals Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare, and Leicester have even more quality at their disposal than last term.

Arsenal will also lean heavily on African talent as they look to find a way back into the Champions League, or at least improve on a tricky campaign last time out.

Mikel Arteta surely needs much more from skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose 10-league goal return was the lowest of his career across a full campaign for a decade.

Thomas Partey's injury problems show no sign of abating, a devastating blow for a player of whom much was expected, and then there's Nicolas Pepe, who still must prove that he's anything close to a £72 million player.

Arsenal and Leicester -- like Liverpool -- may well struggle to absorb the loss of so many key players when the Africa Cup of Nations rolls around in early 2022, while one expects the Manchester clubs will be able to fare much more comfortably when their African players depart.

Who are the potential breakout stars?

Last year, the likes of Diallo and Fofana took their game to new heights in the Premier League, but who could be the league's breakout stars this time around?

Folarin Balogun of Arsenal could certainly be one to watch. The young striker of Nigerian parentage signed a new deal with the Gunners in April, and will hope to build on his two goals in five Europa League outings for Mikel Arteta's side last term.

Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette are both the wrong side of 30, and New York-born, UK-raised Balogun has a golden opportunity to prove that he can be the future of the Londoners' attack.

He averaged a goal every other game in the Premier League 2 [U23 league] in 2019-20, but can he follow in the footsteps of Bukayo Saka and translate his promise at youth level to Arsenal's senior side?

Marc Guehi has already been named in Premier League matchday squads -- and made his debut in the EFL Cup -- while at Chelsea, but signed for Crystal Palace during the offseason for approximately £18 million as he sought more regular playing time.

His composure on the ball and athletic attributes could help establish him as the rock upon which Patrick Vieira's new-look Palace is built.

Guehi's new Eagles teammate Michael Olise -- so captivating for Reading in the Championship last season -- is another one to watch, while it's remarkable that Soumare's £17 million move to Leicester City has gone so under the radar.

The Franco-Senegalese midfielder was a Ligue 1 champion with LOSC Lille last term, and has been tracked by some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Which new signings are set to star?

The most noteworthy African arrival to the Premier League during the offseason is Zambia's Daka, who was snared by Leicester City for £23 million.

The Chipolopolo wonderkid scored 61 goals for Red Bull Salzburg across the last two campaigns, and he walks a well-trodden path for African talent to the top flight.

He's been recruited as the long-term successor to Jamie Vardy, but it will be fascinating to see how he adapts to life in England, and how Rodgers can integrate the new kid, veteran Vardy, and last season's star man Iheanacho into his plans.

Daka's countryman Enock Mwepu has arrived at Brighton & Hove Albion on a four-year deal, while Ibrahima Konate at Liverpool and Arsenal's Albert Lokonga are also exciting additions to the top flight.

Who could still arrive?

Ajax stopper Onana was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal earlier in the window, only for the Gunners' interest to cool, although with only one year left on his deal, the Cameroon 'keeper may represent a tantalising option for English clubs.

West Ham United are understood to be interested in Stade Rennais defender Nayef Aguerd, while Burnley have been linked with Ademola Lookman of RasenBallsport Leipzig and Lyon wideman Maxwel Cornet.

Another transfer angle to keep tabs on over the coming weeks is Tottenham's reported interest in PSV Eindhoven youngster Noni Madueke, who scored a brace as his side defeated Ajax 4-0 to win the 2021 Johan Cruyff Shield recently.

Who could still leave?

Serge Aurier believes his time at Tottenham Hotspur has come to an end, although as yet, no buyers have been found for the wantaway right-back.

Paris Saint-Germain's decision to sign Achraf Hakimi from Internazionale certainly dented any hopes the Ivorian had of an emotional return to the Parc des Princes.

High-profile duo Ziyech and Wilfried Zaha look set to remain at Chelsea and Crystal Palace respectively despite murmurings of an exit, and Eddie Nketiah -- seemingly surplus to requirements at Arsenal -- is being linked with a move to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Local reports suggest that Manchester United starlet Diallo may be allowed to leave on loan during the coming weeks.