Neil Humphreys: EPL new boys can outshine old stars
TNP continues the countdown to the EPL season by focusing on five newcomers with big shoes to fill
1) RODRI - THE NEW FERNANDINHO
How much is Fernandinho loved at Manchester City?
Let me count the ways. Two. That's the magic number.
That's how many English Premier League games City lost across the 29 that featured Fernandindo last season. How many times did City lose in the nine EPL games without Fernandinho? Also two.
Last season, the midfield general was indispensable. This season, there was a concern that he might be irreplaceable.
He casts the longest shadow across the centre circle.
But Rodri is poised to step into the Etihad sunshine.
In pre-season interviews, he has expressed his ambition to lead the treble winners by example.
He's still only 23, 11 years younger than Fernandinho, but carries himself like a veteran.
He owned Atletico Madrid's midfield last season, making a move to City almost a formality.
He's Spanish. He's bullish. He's feisty and finessed. He was practically stamped the property of Pep Guardiola.
Rodri's 103 attempted tackles were the highest in La Liga. No one else made 100, not even Sergio Busquets.
His 280 ball recoveries were also unsurpassed.
But he was also second highest in touches and passes, savouring every chance to both fetch and carry, the archetypal Guardiola midfielder.
When he broke through at Villarreal, his mental strength seemed to outpace his physicality. He was tough, but slight.
Now, he's 1.91m and a commanding presence.
Four dependable performances in pre-season left Kevin de Bruyne purring in admiration, anointing Rodri as Fernandinho's successor.
Teammates are expected to stay on message when it comes to new signings, but the £62 million (S$103.5m) new boy undoubtedly impressed.
If Rodri steals the ball like Fernandinho, he'll end up being an absolute steal for City.
2) SEBASTIEN HALLER - THE NEW ANDY CARROLL
All right, Haller wouldn't have to do much to surpass Carroll's achievements at West Ham United. Staying upright would suffice.
But the Hammers' record £45 million signing does represent the kind of definitive No. 9 that Carroll once promised to be at Newcastle United and Liverpool, before his bones started snapping like chicken wings at a hawker centre.
In a literal sense, the 25-year-old replaces the departed Marko Arnautovic.
But in the long term, Haller will be expected to succeed where Carroll failed and that's to lead the line with his muscular, 1.9m frame.
He's the No. 9 that West Ham always coveted. The Hammers are so often the comic relief in the transfer market, signing more dummies than a window dresser, but they've pulled off a genuine coup.
Haller was prolific for Eintracht Frankfurt last season. The Frenchman scored 15 league goals from 23 starts and chalked up nine assists.
He's as dominant in the air as he is unselfish on the ground, winning aerial duels and providing flick-ons for overlapping teammates.
Haller won't just score goals.
He'll make them, too. He's fitter and stronger than Carroll ever was. He's the kind of committed team player that Arnautovic never was.
They'll soon be blowing bubbles for the Frenchman at London Stadium.
3) CHRISTIAN PULISIC - THE NEW EDEN HAZARD
Like a benevolent Jedi, Hazard has already selected his young replacement as the Chosen One.
Speaking to the media this week, Hazard said of Pulisic: "He can be one of the best in the future for sure. He can be a star."
Yes, it's all a little too neat and contrived, a symbolic passing of the Chelsea baton from Hazard to Pulisic, but the American's signing wasn't intended that way.
When he was bought from Borussia Dortmund in January and loaned back to the club for the rest of the season, the £58m winger had no idea what kind of Chelsea he'd be joining.
Hazard's future was undecided back then. The Blues' spending plans were also uncertain.
Today, Hazard finds himself in Real Madrid's fractured dressing room and Pulisic sits in a static Chelsea dressing room.
Blues manager Frank Lampard can't sign anyone, paying the price for Fifa slapping a two-window transfer ban on the club.
Pulisic isn't just filling the void on the wing. He's got to throw a Band-Aid across the squad.
But the 20-year-old, who was schooled under Juergen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, isn't concerned.
Not only does he relish the challenge, he also fancies himself as a No. 10, cutting inside from the wing and potentially staying there.
His rapid rise and 90 Bundesliga appearances at such a young age labelled him a wunderkind.
Now he's primed to mastermind Chelsea's rebirth.
4) TANGUY NDOMBELE - THE NEW MOUSA DEMBELE
At Tottenham Hotspur, manager Mauricio Pochettino and Mousa Demebele expressed their love for each other more times than a couple of actors on a Chinese soap opera.
Pochettino called his beloved Belgian midfielder a genius, a one-man, ball-winning industry and almost impossible to replace.
But even the impossible has a price these days, and the going rate seems to be £55m, the fee handed over to Lyon to secure the services of Tanguy Ndombele.
Spurs are not renowned for such splashy statements in the transfer market, which only underlined Pochettino's yearning for another Dembele.
In Ndombele, Pochettino believes he has his man. At Lyon, Ndombele was compared to everyone from Michael Essien to N'Golo Kante, but Spurs will only see the next Dembele.
The 22-year-old Frenchman has a similar, languid style that appears ungainly until he drags the ball back, pirouettes and spins away from his marker.
He whips passes out of midfield and is equally adept at shielding the ball, buying time for teammates.
Like so many French midfielders raised on Patrick Vieira, he surges forward and loves a dribble.
Pochettino has promised to love him even more, to stretch his prodigious talent and turn him into a world-class midfielder.
Spurs' special manager-midfielder relationship has the makings of another fine romance.
5) AARON WAN-BISSAKA - THE NEXT GARY NEVILLE (OR DENIS IRWIN)
Older Manchester United supporters will prefer the Irwin comparison. Younger readers may remember Neville's tenacity.
Both might chuckle at the attempts to shoehorn a link between the dazzling 21-year-old right-back who tore up the National Stadium recently and the two old Devils.
But in the International Champions Cup friendly at Kallang, Wan-Bissaka teased with decent impressions of both.
He had Neville's boundless aggression - knocking over a couple of Inter Milan wingers, much to the crowd's delight - and Irwin's fondness for a gallop to the byeline.
Neville also favoured a stroll into opposition territory, but Irwin was a pioneer in that regard.
And Wan-Bissaka promises the best of both, a tough, tackling defender and a fast, athletic wing-back with a decent cross.
In truth, United have struggled at right-back since Neville's retirement.
As Liverpool and City excelled in their fullback positions, United stagnated.
Wan-Bissaka is intended to be the £45m remedy.
His speed and versatility alone could make his new team look a lot like the old United.
TOMORROW: TEAMS WHO COULD SURPRISE