Bukayo Saka, Kevin De Bruyne and every Premier League team's most important player for the 2023-24 season

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The new campaign is almost upon us, but who will be each team's key man in the English top flight?

In the blink of an eye, pre-season is all-but over and another Premier League campaign is upon us. It could well be one of the most competitive seasons on record as champions Manchester City are pushed to their limits; Arsenal have recruited shrewdly, Manchester United are only getting better and Chelsea and Liverpool should be resurgent.

Meanwhile, Tottenham, Brighton, Aston Villa and Newcastle will all be battling for a top-six finish, too, and the fight for survival will be intense as ever at the other end of the table.

But who will be the difference-makers? The man that each team simply cannot do without? GOAL runs through each Premier League team's most important individual ahead of the 2023-24 season...

  1. Arsenal: Bukayo Saka
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    Arsenal: Bukayo Saka

    Bukayo Saka's meteoric rise continued in 2022-23, and while Martin Odegaard's creativity is invaluable to Arsenal, the England international is truly a world-class presence in the wide areas.

    Saka racked up 15 goals and 11 assists in all competitions last season, and he's only getting better. In a resurgent Gunners side that has been shrewdly strengthened this summer, who knows what heights he could hit this time around.

  2. Aston Villa: Ollie Watkins

    Aston Villa: Ollie Watkins

    Unai Emery has struck a nice balance in his Aston Villa squad this summer with the high-profile additions of Youri Tielemans, Moussa Diaby and Pau Torres.

    However, a top-six tilt will require goals, and in the absence of another prolific goalscorer, Villa will be relying on Ollie Watkins once again. He enjoyed his best Premier League season in front of goal last term and will be expected to continue on his upward trajectory.

  3. Bournemouth: Dominic Solanke

    Bournemouth: Dominic Solanke

    While his technical ability has never been in doubt, there have long been questions surrounding Dominic Solanke's output. However, he came good in 2022-23, making 14 goal contributions as the newly-promoted side miraculously saved themselves from relegation under Gary O'Neil, with an equal split between scoring and assists.

  4. Brentford: Kevin Schade
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    Brentford: Kevin Schade

    It's impossible to understate the significance of losing Ivan Toney to an eight-month ban for breaching the FA's betting rules. Brentford will have to do without their main marksman and talisman until January, and (as yet) they have not replaced him in the summer transfer window.

    That means there will likely be huge pressure on the shoulders of £21.5 million (€25m) January signing Kevin Schade. The German is yet to make much of an impression in west London, but he will need to hit the ground running in 2023-24 in Toney's absence.

  5. Brighton: Kaoru Mitoma

    Brighton: Kaoru Mitoma

    Brighton have already lost one key player this summer in Alexis Mac Allister, and another could well follow if Chelsea's pursuit of Moises Caicedo is ultimately successful.

    As Roberto De Zerbi's impressive Seagulls are picked apart by their rivals, one man who is going nowhere is Kaoru Mitoma. There will be huge expectation on the Japan international's shoulders following an exceptional debut season in English football, as he contributed 10 goals and eight assists. The flying winger has all the attributes to deliver again, though.

  6. Burnley: Josh Brownhill

    Burnley: Josh Brownhill

    After a couple of understated seasons at Burnley where he was a functioning cog in the machinery, Josh Brownhill came into his own back in the Championship last season and regularly took the armband under Vincent Kompany as the Clarets stormed to the league title and automatic promotion.

    He will be expected to translate his creative form to the Premier League after contributing a combined 15 goals and assists last term.

  7. Chelsea: Reece James

    Chelsea: Reece James

    Were it not for the news on Monday that Christopher Nkunku is facing around three months out after being forced to undergo knee surgery, then the summer signing from RB Leipzig would have been named Chelsea's most important player.

    However, with the France international unable to hit the ground running, we'll instead opt for Reece James, who has the potential to be both the Blues' most creative player from right-back while helping add solidity to a defence that has been in flux over the past couple of seasons.

  8. Crystal Palace: Eberechi Eze

    Crystal Palace: Eberechi Eze

    There's no getting away from the significance to Crystal Palace of losing club talisman Wilfried Zaha, who has joined Galatasaray on a free transfer. That means an even bigger share of the creative and goalscoring burden will fall on the shoulders of Eberechi Eze.

    The newly-capped England international's influence has grown season on season, and he looks ready to pick up the mantle from Zaha. Indeed, he topped the scoring charts and was the only Palace player to hit double figures last season in a goal-shy team.

  9. Everton: James Tarkowski

    Everton: James Tarkowski

    Everton have flirted with relegation in back-to-back seasons, and if they want to avoid the drop once again then James Tarkowski will be crucial. The 30-year-old was a rock at the back for Sean Dyche last term, making more blocks than any player in Europe's top seven leagues.

    He has also won almost 200 more aerial duels than any other defender in the Premier League since the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

  10. Fulham: Joao Palhinha

    Fulham: Joao Palhinha

    With Aleksandar Mitrovic pushing for an exit, Fulham will need a new talisman in 2023-24, and Joao Palhinha was intrinsic to their style of play as the Cottagers made an impressive return to the Premier League. The midfield destroyer's ball-winning launched countless attacks, and he ultimately completed the most tackles in the league by some margin with 148.

    It's little wonder Fulham have slapped a £60m ($78m) price tag on the Portugal international, just one year after buying him for a third of that figure.

  11. Liverpool: Virgil van Dijk

    Liverpool: Virgil van Dijk

    Liverpool should have enough firepower up front to ensure scoring goals isn't an issue, with the responsibility spread between the prolific Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz. However, there is a real need to shore up at the back, and Virgil van Dijk will be key to that.

    The Dutchman has assumed the captain's armband and will be expected to marshal a much-improved Reds backline following some high-profile lapses from both himself and his team-mates in a mightily underwhelming 2022-23 campaign.

  12. Luton: Carlton Morris

    Luton: Carlton Morris

    Luton have taken a frugal approach to the transfer market since sealing promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs, so they will likely lean on the same players who helped them achieve that feat.

    That means they will rely on striker Carlton Morris, in the hope that he can translate his 20-goal Championship campaign to the top flight.

  13. Manchester City: Kevin De Bruyne
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    Manchester City: Kevin De Bruyne

    Sure, Erling Haaland is the man who bangs the goals in for Manchester City, but his tally last season would have been 13 fewer without the assistance of creator-in-chief Kevin De Bruyne.

    The Belgian produced a, quite frankly, ridiculous 31 assists in all competitions as City secured a historic treble in 2022-23, and his unmatched influence will be no less important as they look to defend their various crowns this time around. He's likely to assume the captaincy, too, following Ilkay Gundogan's departure.

  14. Manchester United: Bruno Fernandes

    Manchester United: Bruno Fernandes

    Though Marcus Rashford plundered plenty of goals last season, Bruno Fernandes has been Manchester United's Mr. Consistent since his arrival in the Premier League and will continue to be crucial to the way they play in 2023-24.

    Bruno's cut and thrust approach is the embodiment of head coach Erik ten Hag's preferred style of play, and his creativity will be crucial in unlocking new signing Rasmus Hojlund. He's taken the captain's armband from Harry Maguire, too, demonstrating the importance of his leadership ability.

  15. Newcastle: Bruno Guimaraes

    Newcastle: Bruno Guimaraes

    There was a lovely balance to Eddie Howe's Newcastle side last season, with a equal spread of goals across the frontline and a rock-solid defensive unit behind them. In the middle of all that was the metronomic Bruno Guimaraes, who kept the Magpies ticking over expertly from central midfield.

    His ball-playing and tackling ability mean he is able to influence proceedings at both ends of the pitch, and there is no doubt that Newcastle were weaker without him given their limited midfield options. He could form a formidable partnership with new man Sandro Tonali this time around, though.

  16. Nottingham Forest: Morgan Gibbs-White

    Nottingham Forest: Morgan Gibbs-White

    It took Morgan Gibbs-White a little while to warm to life in a Nottingham Forest shirt, but he was ultimately the club's most consistent performer from attacking midfield as they put together a string of results to survive the drop.

    His end-of-season form was particularly eye-catching, and it's clear that his grit and determination will be vital if Forest are to avoid the dreaded second-season syndrome in 2023-24.

  17. Sheffield United: John Egan

    Sheffield United: John Egan

    Following star attacker Iliman Ndiaye's departure to Marseille, newly-promoted Sheffield United may well be relying on defensive solidity to see them through this season. Ireland international John Egan will be key to that as he returns to the Premier League with the Blades having taken on the captaincy.

    He enjoyed a strong promotion campaign in the Championship and will need to take his game to another level to keep his side up.

  18. Tottenham: James Maddison
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    Tottenham: James Maddison

    This all really depends on whether Harry Kane stays or goes amid intense interest from Bundesliga behemoths Bayern Munich. If - and it's a big IF - he does finally secure a transfer to the Allianz Arena, then it will be up to new signing James Maddison to fill the creative void, and indeed contribute some goals.

    The England international will have to develop a swift understanding with Son Heung-min, too, as Spurs will be desperate for the South Korean to avoid the kind of stuttering campaign he endured last term - especially if Kane leaves.

  19. West Ham: Lucas Paqueta
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    West Ham: Lucas Paqueta

    Declan Rice has so far proven to be irreplaceable in every sense for West Ham; they are unlikely to be able to attract another midfielder of his calibre, and they have been unable to spend the £105m ($134m) they earned for him because they have been priced out every which way they turn, with their rivals knowing full well they have plenty to spend.

    As things stand, it's Lucas Paqueta who will have to try to fill the void in midfield. The Brazilian proved himself to be an unlikely ball-winner last term, and his dribbling ability means he is adept at evading the press. His attacking numbers will need the real work, but he has the technical ability to produce.

  20. Wolves: Matheus Nunes

    Wolves: Matheus Nunes

    After flirting with a move to Barcelona for what feels like an eternity, talismanic midfielder Ruben Neves finally left Molineux this summer - strangely choosing to join Al-Hilal over one of Europe's top sides. However, Wolves will hope they have a ready-made replacement in Matheus Nunes.

    His debut season in the Premier League was unspectacular following a big-money switch from Sporting CP, as he scored and assisted just once, but he will be expected to kick on in 2023-24 and fill the boots of his compatriot Neves.