Africans in the Premier League: Golden Era continues

Sadio Mane may have missed out on the PFA Player of the Year award on Tuesday, when he was beaten to the award by Kevin De Bruyne, but be under no illusion; we are still in the midst of a golden era for African players at the pinnacle of English football as the 2020-21 Premier League season kicks off.

Africans in the title hunt

More so than at any other time in the history of the top flight, the Premier League's biggest sides are leaning on players from the continent, and a case can be made that no English title winners have relied more heavily on African players than Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

Mane and Mohamed Salah have been key protagonists as the Merseysiders have enjoyed record-breaking success over the past three years, but can it continue this term?

Their period of dominance began with Salah's 32-league goal season in 2017-18, a campaign that concluded with that UEFA Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid.

Then there was their 97-point season in the Premier League in 2018-19, when they again reached -- and this time won -- the UCL final.

Mane's outstanding display away at Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals was one of the unforgettable moments of a superb season, and the duo shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having each scored 22 goals.

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Then there was last term, when the championship was secured in history book-shaping fashion with Salah and Mane again playing their part in a resoundingly successful campaign.

Liverpool's lack of notable reinforcements -- in contrast with the other teams at the top of the table -- remains a concern, as is the acknowledgement that the Reds may not enjoy the same fortune avoiding injuries as they did last term.

The rescheduling of the summer's football during the coronavirus pandemic also means that Salah nor Mane did not get the much-needed summer off, as was the case in 2018 or 2019 due to the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations respectively.

Burnout is a very real prospect for both, with Salah -- in particular -- having been accused of not maintaining his high standards last term.

Also at Liverpool, Klopp will be hoping for more from Naby Keita, still yet to truly recreate his RB Leipzig form, and limited to just nine league starts last term, while Joel Matip will hope to build on his nine outings during the title-winning campaign.

Liverpool's nearest challengers, Manchester City, are under pressure to improve on last term's showing, and Riyad Mahrez will be desperate to address his own underwhelming end to the season.

The 2016 PFA Player of the Year was anonymous as City were eliminated from the FA Cup by Arsenal in the semifinals, where creativity was in short supply for the cup holders, and he was duly dropped from the starting XI for the Champions League elimination by Lyon.

In the positives column, Mahrez did feature more regularly last term than he had in his maiden campaign at the Etihad Stadium -- 1942 minutes compared with 1338 in 2018-19 -- but can he inspire City back to the title?

Will Ziyech bring Eredivisie quality to Premier League?

Of the chasing pack, there's reason for optimism at each of the other Premier League giants.

Hakim Ziyech began a series of ambitious arrivals at Chelsea, and he's set to become the latest African superstar to grace the top flight.

Attacking players haven't always been able to transfer eye-watering stats from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, but there's expectation that Ziyech, who has already proven himself at the business end of the Champions League, can bring his creativity to England.

The Morocco international registered 40 league assists across the past three seasons in the Netherlands, and, at 27, he is primed to enjoy some of his peak years in West London.

Chelsea continue to pursue another African -- Stade Rennes' Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy -- but it's hard to see how Victor Moses and Abdul Baba Rahman fit into Frank Lampard's plans having returned to the club after loan spells.

Auba set to spearhead Arsenal's new dawn?

Aubameyang appears set to remain at Arsenal, with speculation that he will depart dying down even though he's yet to put pen to paper on a new deal.

Despite the troubles of Unai Emery's tenure, he still managed to net 22 goals in each of the past two seasons, and now, with Mikel Arteta at the helm, a sense of optimism and momentum around the Emirates Stadium, and an encouraging supporting cast, he could feasibly surpass that figure.

A lot may depend on how Nicolas Pepe fares in his second season in English football, having struggled to live up to the billing during his first year after arriving from Lille for £72 million.

Five goals and six assists for Arsenal was an underwhelming return, after having a hand in 33 goals during his final season in France, although there were some performances -- notably his showings against Newcastle United and Everton in February -- that suggested he could be a key figure in Arteta's rebuild.

It will also be fascinating to see how Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka continue their progress this term, with the latter -- still uncapped by England -- registering the third-most assists of any Premier League player in all competitions since the start of the 2019-20 season.

When you're rubbing shoulders in the assists charts with the likes of De Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold -- the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year -- you know you're destined for great things, and Saka's versatility gives Arteta plenty of options.

The future of Egypt's Mohamed Elneny, who started the Community Shield final after a season in the wilderness on loan at Besiktas, is another intriguing African subplot for Gunners fans.

Still a part to play?

At Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Odion Ighalo and Serge Aurier may expect to play more often and less often than last term respectively.

Ighalo's early goal-scoring form in cup competitions after his loan move from Shanghai Shenhua ultimately came to naught; he was largely overlooked by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when it mattered most in the FA Cup and Europa League, and he ended the campaign without a league goal.

Optimists may argue that United's Thursday-Sunday routine this season will afford him ample opportunity to contribute, although the return to fitness of Marcus Rashford and the continuing emergence of Mason Greenwood may ensure his fairytale arrival at Old Trafford ultimately ends in disappointment.

Aurier's weaknesses remain, and the summer arrival of Matt Doherty from Wolverhampton Wanderers at least suggests Jose Mourinho is keen to sharpen the mind of his right-back even though the Portuguese coach appeared to tolerate the Ivorian's rashness and panicked defensive work last term. Will the competition that accompanies Doherty's arrival see Aurier move to refine his game, or does it spell a more peripheral role for a player oft considered a liability by Spurs fans.

Best of the rest

There are plenty of other fascinating storylines, new arrivals and hot topics ahead of the new campaign.

Can Alex Iwobi, signed by Everton for an initial £28 million last summer, make a success of himself at Goodison Park after a campaign in which he scored once and failed to contribute a single assist.

The Nigeria international finds himself at a crossroads in this new-look Toffees team, and must prove that he has a part to play under Carlo Ancelotti.

So, too, his compatriot Kelechi Iheanacho at Leicester City; five goals last season was his best return since signing for the Foxes in 2017, but can he prove that could one day be Jamie Vardy's successor?

Grady Diangana and Eberechi Eze got fans off their feet in the English League Championship last term, but can they prove they belong at the top table with West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace respectively?

Speaking of Palace, Wilfried Zaha is no longer linked with the Premier League's heavyweights, after registering just seven goal involvements last term; can he remind a few potential suitors of his enduring qualities during the coming months?

Jordan Ayew, Wilfred Ndidi, Romain Saiss and Adama Traore will hope to build on their excellent performances last term, while Mbwana Samatta and Christian Atsu will be hoping to silence the doubters after underwhelming campaigns in 2019-20.