EPL Preview: Key players to look out for in the 2017-18 season

Chelsea's players gather on the pitch with the English Premier League trophy, on May 21, 2017.
Chelsea's players gather on the pitch with the English Premier League trophy, on May 21, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

The new English Premier League (EPL) season, which kicks off today, looks set to be the most competitive yet as sides vie for supremacy, with clubs spending big money on new signings, buoyed by record TV deals.

The Straits Times takes a look at the players set to play a big role for each of the 20 sides:

Bournemouth - Jermain Defoe, 34, striker


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Although age is catching up, England international Jermain Defoe has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite a 15-goal haul last season, Defoe's efforts still fell short as Sunderland were relegated last season. He will be hoping for better at his new club as they seek to improve on their ninth-placed finish last season.

The Cherries have bagged themselves a bargain, snapping up the proven goalscorer on a free transfer.

Arsenal - Alexis Sanchez, 28, forward

Without the Chilean international, Arsenal would have fared much worse and probably would have missed out on the Europa League too. He was the club's standout performer last season, emerging as both their top scorer and assist maker .


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Sanchez possesses the special ability to turn any game on its head with his willingness to run at defenders and sharpshooting ability. That spark of brilliance will be required if the Gunners want to reclaim a top-four spot.

Brighton - Lewis Dunk, 25, defender


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The 2016 English Championship runners-up will make their top-flight bow this season and so will defensive linchpin Lewis Dunk.

The academy product was a colossus at the heart of the defence last season with Brighton boasting the best defensive record in the English football's second-tier league. A steady defence will be key if the Premier League newcomers intend to stay for another season.

Burnley FC - Sam Vokes, 27, striker


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Barring any new signings, Vokes will be tasked to lead The Clarets front line this season. Andre Gray's departure to Watford means that goalscoring responsibilities will lie on the Welsh international's shoulders.

A force in the air and deadly in the penalty box, Vokes exploits in front of goal will be crucial if Burnley are to cement their place as a genuine Premier League side.

Chelsea - N'Golo Kante, 26, midfielder


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Nemanja Matic's recent transfer to rivals Manchester United speaks volumes about the faith the club and manager Antonio Conte have in the Premier League's Player of the Season.

The engine of the Blues midfield, Kante topped the club's defensive charts in interceptions and tackles. The Frenchman has grown from strength to strength since his transfer from Leicester City last year and will play an even more vital role in anchoring the midfield this season.

Crystal Palace - Wilfried Zaha , 24, winger


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Zaha's pace and trickery will be needed down the flank to break down defences from out wide for the Eagles.

Aerial threat Christian Benteke will also require quality balls into the middle to put away chances. Zaha finished with nine assists last term and his services will be needed again as part of new manager Frank de Boer's Crystal Palace revolution.

Everton - Sandro Ramirez, 22, striker


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With Romelu Lukaku moving to Manchester United, they need someone to fill the void of the Belgian's 25-goal haul of last season.

The re-signing of Wayne Rooney will bring leadership and veteran experience to the team, but his ageing legs will not do much to help replicate what Lukaku did last season. The pressure will be on new face Ramirez's shoulders to deliver in front of goal for the Toffees.

Huddersfield Town - Aaron Mooy, 26, midfielder


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The combative midfielder is the heart of the Huddersfield team, with winning back possession and playing passes to his attacking team-mates from deep-lying areas among his key strengths.

Signed permanently from Manchester City, the Australian international's contributions in the middle of the park will be vital to Huddersfield's survival in the Premier League.

Leicester City - Jamie Vardy, 30, striker


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After the disappointment of last season, Leicester will require more of their main man up front for goals throughout the season. They failed to replicate their title-winning form in the 2016-17 season and the Foxes slid down the Premier League table, looking like a shadow of their previous self.

If they want to reach the heights of 2015-16 again, Vardy must improve on his 13-goal return last season and go back to his predatory self that helped Leicester shock the footballing world.

Liverpool - Philippe Coutinho, 25, midfielder


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The little magician will be key to Liverpool's attack, with his eye for goal and his ability to thread the right pass to speed merchants, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. The Merseyside club distinctively had a drop in form after he went down injured in December last season, effectively ending all title hopes before at the turn of the year.

However, he still finished with 13 goals and seven assists last season, and the Reds simply need to keep their in-demand Brazilian out of the clutches of Barcelona.

Manchester City - Vincent Kompany, 31, defender


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Despite spending upwards of £200 million (S$354 million) on defenders, 31-year-old Kompany remains a crucial figure as the Citizens look to better their fourth-placed finish from last season.

The experienced Belgium stalwart will have a big part to play to help a new-look City backline, something which will not be easy, with last season's big-money buy John Stones' struggling to impose himself.

Manager Pep Guardiola will surely be hoping the City captain would have finally put his injury troubles behind him - he played in just 11 of 38 Premier League fixtures last season - as they look to compete on both domestic and European fronts yet again.

Manchester United - Romelu Lukaku, 24, striker


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Scoring goals was the biggest thorn in Jose Mourinho's United side last season, with just 54 goals throughout the whole season, more than 30 shy of champions Chelsea. With last season's top-scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic's United future up in the air while he recovers from knee surgery, 24-year-old Lukaku has big boots to fill.

Signed from Everton this season for a hefty £75 million, goalscoring seemingly comes naturally to the big Belgian striker, one of only four players to pass the 80-goal mark before turning 24 alongside Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

However, it remains to be seen if last season's golden boot runner-up will be able to deliver on the big stage, in front of the Old Trafford faithful.

Newcastle - Jonjo Shelvey, 25, midfielder


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Shelvey, signed from Swansea City in January 2016, played a big part in the Magpies' promotion back into the Premier League. He bagged five goals and nine assists as Newcastle won the Championship title to bounce back at the first attempt.

The former Liverpool player, once tipped for big things, clearly outshone his peers in English football's second-tier league with a passing range which was second to none. With the World Cup coming up, the Englishman will surely be hoping to force himself back into England boss Gareth Southgate's thoughts, after being named man-of-the-match in his last national game in 2015.

Southampton - Manolo Gabbiadini, 25, striker


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Gabbiadini was Southampton's record signing, a title which now belongs to Mario Lemina, when he left Italian Serie A side Napoli for the Saints in a reported £14m deal in January and he has endeared himself to the Saints supporters, scoring a brace in the 2-3 English Football League Cup final loss to Manchester United.

New Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino, who took over from the sacked Claude Puel at the end of last season, will look to the Italian international forward to replicate his early form which saw him score five goals in his first three games.

Stoke City - Darren Fletcher, 33, midfielder


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Former United midfielder Darren Fletcher surprised many when he made the move to leave West Brom and join up with Mark Hughes' Potters on a free transfer. The 33-year-old had enjoyed something of a career renaissance with Tony Pulis' Baggies, after being sidelined by ulcerative colitis toward the end of his Manchester United career, and was captain as West Brom finished in an impressive tenth place.

The Scot signed a two-year deal with an option for a third, for what he termed a "new challenge" with perennial mid-table Stoke. Fletcher brings title-winning experience and industry to a Stoke side that have lost crowd favourite Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan, and will look to link up with Saido Berahino, who has yet to score a goal since making the same move from West Brom.

Swansea City - Gylfi Sigurdsson, 27, midfielder


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Seemingly on the brink of a £50 million move to Everton, the Icelandic playmaker has been linked to several Premier League sides in the transfer window. Known for his set-piece superiority, Sigurdsson also has a penchant for scoring crucial goals with nine league goals and 13 assists last term.

Should the Swans manage to retain him, their player of the year last season will be instrumental to their survival hopes.

Tottenham - Harry Kane, 24, striker


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Once called a "one-season wonder", Harry Kane has proved his detractors wrong not once, but twice. In the 2015-16 season, the English striker ended the season with 25 goals, finishing one goal ahead of the likes of Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy.

Last season, Kane once again clinched the Golden Boot with 29 goals, becoming only the fifth player in history to claim the award twice in a row.

While Spurs have signed attacking options such as Vincent Janssen and Son Heung Min in the past transfer windows, Tottenham have benefited greatly from the striking prowess of Kane - their captain - and will their title hopes will depend on him and Dele Alli for the upcoming season.

Watford - Roberto Pereyra, 26, Midfielder


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Roberto Pereyra's transfer from Juventus to Vicarage Road generated much buzz amongst Watford fans. However, the midfielder's debut season was hit by injuries, and the Argentinian was limited to the sidelines with few chances to perform.

The Hornets are counting on the 26-year-old for his creativity with the Hornets lacking penetration in the opposition's half when Pereyra was out last season. Coupled with the need to prove his worth, the new season will provide him with a chance to run the show for Watford.

West Brom - Jonny Evans, 29, defender


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In a surprise move, former United defender Jonny Evans joined West Bromwich Albion in August 2015. However, the 29-year-old Northern Ireland international has come a long way, making 61 appearances for West Brom since.

To ward off interest from Premier League opponents Leicester, manager Tony Pulis appointed Evans as the captain for this season. Described by Pulis as "the perfect defender", Evans will be taking over as skipper from former United team-mate Darren Fletcher, who left the Baggies for Stoke City.

West Ham - Javier Hernandez, 29, striker


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With Andy Carroll struggling with fitness issues, the experienced Javier Hernandez could potentially be the main man for the Hammers. The former United player was signed from German Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen for a reported £16 million.

A big positive that West Ham fans can look forward to is that the goal poacher will likely take little time to settle down in England, having spent four seasons with the Red Devils.