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The 12 greatest debut seasons in Premier League history – where does Mo Salah rank?

A dozen players who made dazzling instant impacts with Premier League clubs after joining from abroad – or, in one famous case, from below following promotion. By Paul Sarahs

Mohamed Salah is tearing up the Premier League this season, with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne the only other player in with a chance of scooping the PFA Player of the Year prize. Salah has scored 29 goals and assisted nine others in his 31 Premier League outings for Liverpool, and his return to English football has been a resounding success – making a mockery of Chelsea’s decision to sell him to Roma in 2016.

Having scored the goal that secured Egypt’s spot at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, Salah is delivering in a massive way for both club and country. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best Premier League debut seasons, from Treble-winning defensive behemoths to invincible goalkeepers…


12. Diego Costa (Chelsea, 2014/15)


Brazil-born Spain international Costa made few friends in his time at Chelsea but enjoyed an incredible start to his career in England, scoring seven goals in his first four Premier League matches. He went on to net 20 times in his first season in the Premier League, and also scored against Tottenham in the League Cup final to ensure that the Blues won both the league title and a domestic cup in his debut term.

Costa’s combative nature landed him in trouble with the FA on a number of occasions, but there’s no doubt that his arrival at Stamford Bridge rejuvenated a Chelsea side that had struggled domestically since winning the title last in 2010. He scored 52 goals in 89 league appearances before moving back to Atletico Madrid in January 2018.


11. Fernando Torres (Liverpool, 2007/08)

With his more recent career history in mind, it’s easy to forget what an impact El Nino had upon signing for Liverpool in the summer of 2007. Twenty-four Premier League goals in 29 starts set a record for the most prolific debut season for a foreign player in the league’s history, beating Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal return for Manchester United in 2001/02.

The Spanish forward scored in eight consecutive home league games, matching Roger Hunt’s Liverpool record, and also becoming the first Reds player to score 20 league goals in a season since Robbie Fowler over a decade before. On top of that, Torres became the first player in 60 years to score consecutive home hat-tricks in the league.

For the form shown in his sensational debut season at Liverpool, and for helping Spain win Euro 2008, Torres finished third in the Ballon d’Or voting behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

10. Benni McCarthy (Blackburn, 2006/07)

South African striker McCarthy arrived at Ewood Park in the summer of 2006 having enjoyed a trophy-laden career at Ajax, Celta Vigo and Porto. He’d been part of Jose Mourinho’s 2004 Champions League-winning team at the Portuguese giants, but McCarthy’s form had dropped off in the two seasons since and not much was expected of him when replacing the Liverpool-bound Craig Bellamy.

Blackburn started the season with a 3-0 defeat at Fratton Park against Portsmouth, but McCarthy found his feet quickly and had scored against Wigan, Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool by the end of September. He ended up with 18 Premier League goals as his all-African strike partnership with Shabani Nonda fired Rovers to 10th place under Mark Hughes.

Three more goals in the FA Cup took Blackburn to the semi-finals, and another three in the UEFA Cup meant McCarthy finished with 24 goals in all competitions.


9. Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham, 1994/95)

1990 World Cup winner Klinsmann arrived at White Hart Lane in the summer of 1994 from French club Monaco. He started with a goal on his debut away at Sheffield Wednesday in a 4-3 win for Spurs, and notched seven times in his first six league matches en route to 21 league goals (30 in all competitions).

Despite Klinsmann’s impact earning him the FWA Footballer of the Year award, Tottenham ended up seventh in the Premier League and the German was bought by Bayern Munich. His goalscoring exploits continued there – 31 goals in 45 appearances the following year helped the Bavarian giants win the UEFA Cup.

Klinsmann eventually returned to Tottenham for the second half of the 1997/98 season. His belated second season didn’t go too bad either, producing nine goals in 15 league games to help save Spurs from relegation.


8. Jens Lehmann (Arsenal, 2003/04)

Lehmann arrived at Highbury in summer 2003 with the seemingly impossible job of trying to replace David Seaman, who had left having won three league titles, four FA Cups and a host of other trophies at Arsenal.

Gunners fans needn’t have worried about finding a keeper up to the departing Seaman’s standards, however, with former Borussia Dortmund No.1 Lehmann playing a whopping 54 matches in his debut season. Most notably, the German helped Arsenal to an unprecedented unbeaten Premier League campaign, conceding just 26 goals in 38 league games in the process.

Lehmann spent five seasons at Arsenal, adding an FA Cup to that Premier League title before getting himself sent off in the Champions League final defeat against Barcelona in 2006.


7. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United, 2001/02)

Dutchman Van Nistelrooy joined United a year later than scheduled following a serious knee injury in the summer of 2000. A ruptured ACL did little to blunt his goalscoring prowess, however, as the former PSV man netted twice on his league debut against Fulham en route to 23 league goals and a whopping 36 in all competitions – only Thierry Henry scored more in the Premier League.

His 10 Champions League goals propelled United to the semi-finals, and he was twice named Premier League Player of the Month. His goals helped United score more than any other side, despite finishing the season 10 points behind eventual winners Arsenal.

If anything, Van Nistelrooy got better the following season, with 25 league goals helping United to win their eighth Premier League title in 11 seasons. It was to be his only one at Old Trafford, however. ?


6. Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea, 1996/97)

Zola joined Chelsea for a paltry £4.5m in 1996 and proved an instant success. The Italian won the FWA Footballer of the Year award – despite not signing from Parma until November – as Chelsea won their first trophy since 1970, beating Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup Final.

Zola scored four of his 12 goals in that FA Cup run, including strikes against Portsmouth in the quarter-finals and Wimbledon in the semis. His arrival is seen as an important factor in Chelsea’s renaissance, with the 1997 FA Cup win heralding the beginning of a trophy-laden spell that eventually led to Roman Abramovich buying the club in 2003.

He shone in the Cup Winners’ Cup the following season, scoring goals against Tromso, Real Betis and Vicenza, and in the final against Stuttgart as Chelsea lifted the trophy (they’d already won the League Cup earlier in the season too). As the inimitable Claudio Ranieri once put it: “Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and a wizard must try.”


5. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City, 2011/12)

Manchester City’s renaissance was in full swing when Argentine goal machine Aguero joined the Blues in 2011. His £35m signing came just two months after the club had won their first trophy in over 30 years with the FA Cup.

Aguero took less than nine minutes to score his first Premier League goal after coming on as a second-half substitute against Swansea. By the time the final whistle had blown, he’d scored twice and provided David Silva with a brilliant assist as City battered the Swans 4-0.

The striker’s 23 goals and eight assists in the Premier League helped the Citizens to their first top division title since 1968, with that injury-time winner against QPR on the final day instantly ensuring his status as a City legend.


4. Kevin Phillips (Sunderland, 1999/00)

Super Kev signed for Sunderland upon their relegation from the Premier League in 1997, and scored 60 goals over the next two seasons as the Black Cats won promotion back to the top flight at the second time of asking.

Black Cats fans expected Phillips to succeed, but nobody foresaw the impact he would make in his first season in the top division. Phillips formed an outstanding little-and-large partnership with Irishman Niall Quinn, becoming the only Englishman ever to win the European Golden Shoe. His 30 league goals helped Sunderland to a seventh-place finish.

Unsurprisingly, it proved to be the most prolific season of his career – yet only Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez have scored more in a single Premier League season since.


3. Jaap Stam (Manchester United, 1998/99)

The big Dutch central defender joined United in 1998 from PSV Eindhoven and went on to win three Premier League titles in his three seasons in Manchester. His first season was spectacular as Manchester United won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, culminating in that incredible Champions League final comeback against Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou.

He was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for 1999, was awarded the UEFA Club Best Defender of the Year prize, and the only competition United didn’t win that season – the League Cup – was the only one in which Stam didn’t kick a ball. He was sold to Lazio in 2001 by Alex Ferguson, who took exception to the defender’s autobiography – a decision Fergie later admitted was a mistake.


2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, 2017/18)

It’s been quite the season for Salah, who has enjoyed a sensational campaign for club and country. His 29 league goals (and counting) put him in pole position for the European Golden Shoe; level with Lionel Messi, and with Ciro Immobile, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani in his wake.

With a couple of months still left to play this season, Salah has already surpassed Fernando Torres, whose 24-goal debut season at Anfield has been dwarfed by the Egyptian’s efforts. His 39 goals in all competitions put him just eight behind the greatest ever goalscoring season for a Liverpool player, with Ian Rush’s 47 in the 1983/84 season in sight.

1. N’Golo Kante (Leicester, 2015/16)

Kante arrived at Leicester as a relative unknown from Ligue 1 side Caen in the summer of 2015. His fee of around £5m proved an absolute bargain – the Frenchman was nothing short of sensational in Leicester’s jaw-dropping Premier League title win.

He picked up a host of personal plaudits along the way, including being named in the Premier League Team of the Season. Former Foxes boss Ranieri summed up Kante’s contribution perfectly when he said that Leicester played “three in midfield; Drinkwater in the middle and Kante either side”.

Kante became the second outfield player to win the Premier League with two different clubs in successive seasons after his £32m switch to Chelsea in the summer of 2016. This time, he was named PFA Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season and the FWA Footballer of the Year.


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