With six teams legitimately considered to be in title contention – barring a Leicester City-type miracle – heading into the new campaign, isolating the five most decisive players in this season’s title race is no easy task.
What each player brings, however, is something unique to his team.
We have seen what happens at Chelsea when their best player is is off his game.
Likewise, we know how Manchester City perform when they don’t have a steady goalkeeper in the ranks.
Would Tottenham really be a genuine title competitor if their top scorer slipped?
Conversely, who needs to fire at Arsenal to lift them from nearly-men to the genuine article?
With these questions in mind, it’s time to consider the key men in the race for this season's Premier League title.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Last season: 36 games, 16 goals
The brilliant Belgian took on all before him last season, re-establishing himself as one of the world's best players after a disastrous 2015-16. Hazard's ability to dribble with the ball is extraordinary - he's without peer in England and probably up there with Leo Messi as one of the best in the world. His relationship with Antonio Conte is a testament to the manager's ability to get the best from his players and it should bear more fruit this season. While Diego Costa is on his way out of Stamford Bridge, Hazard will look forward to linking up with Alvaro Morata, a clever player who should get on the end of Hazard's best work. A similarly productive season and Chelsea will be hard to stop.
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Last season: 37 games, 25 goals (Everton)
Scorer of 85 Premier League goals in his past five seasons, Lukaku will look to break the 100-goal barrier at the tender age of just 24 this year. His much-talked about £75 million transfer is probably a good bit of business for the buying club and the seller, Everton, given he was out of contract next June. As good as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in his only season at United, Lukaku’s arrival offers a kind of long-term stability United haven’t had in attack for many years. If he gets off to a flying start, and quickly combines with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, United are in the title race.
Ederson (Manchester City)
Last Portuguese Primeira Liga season: 27 games, 18 clean sheets (Benfica)
Would you pay £35 million for a Brazilian goalkeeper? Stereotypes aside, the purchase of Ederson – who hasn’t even played for the national team yet – is an incredible gamble by City manager Pep Guardiola. He’d barely established himself at Benfica before this massive offer arrived. Despite suffering a howler against Lukaku on his pre-season debut, Ederson’s next hitout against Real Madrid was described as “stunning”. He looks athletic, energetic and could be the man who finally solves City’s goalkeeping woes after all the dramas with Joe Hart, Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero. If he does, there doesn’t seem many chinks in their armour.
Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Last season: 30 games, 29 goals
Roared home to win last season’s Golden Boot and proved himself without peer as the best English striker and one of the best in the world. Kane’s goals have put Spurs in the mix for two seasons running and they’ll be there again if he bangs in 25 or more this coming year. What makes Kane so good is not only his finishing but how much he occupies defenders. That opens up room for the likes of Dele Alli (18 league goals), Son Heung-min (14) and Christian Eriksen (eight) to burst through and score chances of their own. Spurs aren’t far away from being title-winning material – they don’t need any massive transfers, it’s more about tweaking what they already have. First-season flop Vincent Janssen could really help Kane out by doing the business in the Cup competitions, too.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Last season: 31 games, 8 goals
Forever young Özil may seem, but he’s turning 29 in October. Perhaps part of the reason Özil seems so young is because he burst through with such style and we’ve been waiting ever since for the German to fulfil his potential at Arsenal. He’s come close on a number of occasions but has never developed himself into the complete, all-round player they thought they were buying for £42.5m in 2013. Perhaps the biggest indictment on him is that while you know what you’ll get from Alexis Sanchez – goals, assists and consistent brilliance – the same can’t be said for Özil. However, last season was his best at the Emirates and his game may be maturing at the right time. If he’s fit and in form, he can make all the difference in breaking Arsene Wenger’s championship drought.