Five breakout stars from the 2016/17 Premier League season
Last Updated: 19/05/17 8:51am
Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli were last year's breakout stars in the Premier League, but which young players made a name for themselves in 2016/17? Here are five who caught the eye.
It didn't take long for Gabriel Jesus to show what all the fuss is about. In the space of an eight-minute Manchester City debut against Tottenham in January, the Brazil international almost created a goal with his first touch, sent a header narrowly over the bar, and had an effort ruled out for offside.
Pep Guardiola was so impressed that the 20-year-old immediately replaced Sergio Aguero in City's line-up. He scored on his first start against West Ham and followed that up with two more goals against Swansea. His progress was cruelly stalled by a foot injury in February, but he picked up where he left off when he returned to the team in April.
Jesus has now been directly involved in nine goals in as many Premier League games, leaving City to wonder what might have been had he been available all season. "His impact has been huge," said Guardiola recently. "He wants to become a great player, a better player, and he is willing to take advice and work hard." It seems the best is still to come.
It's not easy to shine during a relegation battle, but Sunderland's season would have been far worse without goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. The 23-year-old's Premier League breakthrough has been a ray of light in an otherwise dismal campaign for the Black Cats.
There was a costly error on his debut against Southampton earlier in the campaign, but since then, Pickford has shown an impressive command of his penalty box and registered a save percentage of 74.6 per cent. It's the fourth highest in the Premier League after Tottenham's Hugo Lloris, Burnley's Tom Heaton and Arsenal's Petr Cech.
His good form was rewarded with an England call-up in October, and he was also named on the star-studded shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Year award alongside Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Michael Keane, Leroy Sane and Romelu Lukaku. Recent transfer speculation suggests a big move beckons, with Everton and Arsenal reportedly among his suitors.
Everton academy product Tom Davies made his senior debut under Roberto Martinez at the back-end of last season but it is under Ronald Koeman that he has really shone. The midfielder came into the team at the start of January, grabbing an assist in a 3-0 win over Southampton at Goodison Park.
Since then, he has started 17 Premier League games out of 18, combining tireless energy with composure and quality on the ball. In Everton's 4-0 thrashing of Manchester City, he capped his best performance yet with a fine individual goal. "If that was Ronaldo, people would have talked about it all night, all over the world," said Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry.
Having penned a new five-year contract at Goodison Park in March, Davies now looks set to be a mainstay in Everton's midfield for years to come. If the 18-year-old's progress continues, it might not be long until England manager Gareth Southgate comes calling.
N'Golo Kante's departure left a gaping hole in Leicester's midfield, but in Wilfred Ndidi they have unearthed a player capable of stepping into the void. The 20-year-old arrived from Genk as a relative unknown in January, but he soon started living up to his £15m price tag.
Ndidi was a key figure in the resurgence that lifted Leicester away from danger, offsetting Kante's absence with energetic and combative performances at the heart of the team. Only Everton's Idrissa Gueye has averaged more tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League, and Ndidi also made an impact at the other end.
He scored his first Premier League goal with a stunning long-range drive in a 2-0 win over Stoke in April, and he was on target again against West Brom earlier this month. Ndidi has already earned comparisons with Patrick Vieira. Leicester might face a fight to keep him at the club in the summer.
Rob Holding has impressed since forcing his way into Arsenal's starting line-up in April. The 21-year-old defender, a £2m recruit from Bolton last summer, has formed part of Arsene Wenger's new-look back three, showing impressive maturity and composure to help the Gunners build some much-needed momentum.
Holding shone in Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City and caught the eye again in their 4-1 victory at Stoke City. In fact, Wenger's side have won all of the last eight games the youngster has started. He was conspicuous by his absence in the 2-0 loss to Tottenham.
"I always feel that a common trait with all the great players I have met in my life is that if you ask them how they played, they tell you accurately what happened, with the mistakes they made too," said Wenger recently. "I would say there is a potential that he could be one of those gems. I will follow his career for the future because I think he will be an England international."