Premier League 2023-24 review: players of the season

<span>Isak, Foden and Rice.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Picture Desk</span>
Isak, Foden and Rice.Composite: Guardian Picture Desk

Alexander Isak (Newcastle United)

He was hailed as a signing of the season this time last year, and such was the brightness of the future predicted for Isak that Newcastle fans will have been of a mind to wear shades. A key player in the team that secured fourth place last term, the Swedish striker has flourished as one of several standout players for Eddie Howe in an often difficult campaign this time around, when injuries to key personnel and the lengthy ban handed down to Sandro Tonali meant many Newcastle players were running on fumes. In his second season on Tyneside, Isak has 21 league goals, more than double the tally of 10 in the last campaign, while also chipping in with important contributions in the FA Cup and Champions League. As at home feinting to sit defenders on their backsides or sending them skidding into the car park as he is cutting in from the left or sprinting in behind, it’s no surprise the 24-year-old, who has been likened to Thierry Henry, is being linked with a move to Arsenal. His current employers may have to reluctantly sell him to stay on top of those pesky profit and sustainability rules.

Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

From fringe fledgling at Manchester City last season to standout star of a troubled Chelsea campaign that until recently threatened to end in almost total ignominy, Palmer’s performances have bordered on the supernatural. His stellar displays have transformed him into one of the senior dressing room figures on a roster of expensively assembled misfits. No wonder they look up to the 22-year-old, who goes about his business with the poise, confidence and grace of a far more experienced player. Not even in the England Euros conversation before he made the brave decision to leave City for more game time, Palmer is now a shoo-in to be in Gareth Southgate’s 26 this summer, and arguments are already being had about how best he might be shoehorned into the team. Time seems to slow down when this languid player is on the ball and his four-goal showing against Everton in April showcased all that is good about his game. With 22 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that were it not for the quality of his contributions, Chelsea might conceivably have flirted with relegation and Mauricio Pochettino would almost certainly be out of a job.

Declan Rice (Arsenal)

Brought in at enormous cost to firm up the famously soft underbelly for which Arsenal had long been derided by their critics, Rice has done exactly that in his maiden season following his £105m move from West Ham. A reassuring presence in front of the back four, he has continued to demonstrate all the qualities that convinced Arsenal’s bean-counters to part with such a large fee for a defensive midfielder. Rice has always been a good tackler and tenacious ball-winner who is good on the grass and in the air, but since moving to the Emirates he has delivered on his promise to add more goals to his game. His seven Premier League goals this season constitute a career best and in scoring the winner against Luton deep in added time at Kenilworth Road in December, Rice demonstrated exactly the kind of steely resilience he was expected to bring to Mikel Arteta’s squad. Almost ever-present for his side, Rice is also one of the better corner takers in the Premier League and has more assists than goals this season.

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)

When Watkins scored his 50th Premier goal in January he said it was “an honour” to reach the milestone, and announced his intention to complete his century as quickly as possible. The Aston Villa striker has scored another nine since to bring his top flight tally for the season to 19, a varied collection of headers and shots with both feet. His impressive strike-rate aside, the 28-year-old regularly turns provider and has contributed a league-high 13 assists, giving him more goal contributions than any other player this season. Watkins has explained that Unai Emery has urged him to avoid making needless runs into the channels and conserve his energy by focusing his game between the lines of the opposition penalty area. Deft of touch and venomous of shot, he is following the Spaniard’s instructions almost to the letter and has become an increasingly potent force in and outside the box. Thriving under his Spanish manager, Watkins will almost certainly go to the Euros with England as back-up to Harry Kane and, after scoring eight goals in Europe this season, can also look forward to mixing it up in the Champions League next season.

Martin Ødegaard (Arsenal)

While it may take a few more years and trophies for him to acquire the “legend” status John Terry enjoyed at Chelsea, Martin Ødegaard has proved himself a more than capable “captain” and “leader” since being handed the armband by Mikel Arteta two years ago. An inspirational captain exuding calm authority on the pitch, the Norwegian playmaker has had an outstanding season. Increased defensive duties this season mean Ødegaard’s numbers in front of goal are down, but his signature strike remains: a low, precise finish into the bottom corner from about 20 yards. He also remains excellent over a dead ball and has an eye for a short or long defence-splitting pass that is as keen as anyone in the top flight. With the reassuring presence of Rice alongside him, the pair have dovetailed seamlessly in Arsenal’s midfield. Elegant, graceful and a pleasure to watch, Ødegaard won’t be at the Euros this summer following Norway’s failure to qualify. That will almost certainly be Arsenal’s gain in the next campaign.

Phil Foden (Manchester City)

A scorer of nerve-settling, final-day screamers, medium- and long-range efforts, back-post tap-ins and the occasional header and free-kick, Foden’s versatility only begins with the goals he gets. A winner of five titles before the start of Manchester City’s latest league victory, the 23-year-old has comfortably shouldered the added responsibilities heaped upon him by Pep Guardiola as he continues to blossom into the “incredible player” his manager confidently predicted he would eventually become. Almost Messi-esque on or off the ball in tight spaces and blessed with an exceptional first touch and close control, Foden has been trusted to play in five different positions for City this season, invariably looking to the manor born in all of them. At home trying to unpick a low block or running in behind a high line, he also has a keen eye for a long pass and has contributed 19 goals and eight assists to City’s title-winning cause. Debate continues to simmer over where best he is suited in an England shirt, but the past nine months have shown he will almost certainly excel in whatever role he is handed this summer.