Some individual seasons are simply the best and are etched in the history of the competition. But when they happen in a player’s debut season with a club, a league or even his career, it deserves nothing but to stand back and applaud the brilliance witnessed.
These are some players who delivered a breathtaking debut season in the Premier League.
Erling Haaland, Manchester City
Haaland had put up eyewatering goal numbers at each of his previous clubs, yet there were still some reservations about his ability to maintain his scoring figures in the greatest league in the world, especially after a rusty debut against Liverpool in the Community Shield. He silenced those critics by scoring twice on his league debut against West Ham, though.
He grew hungrier with each game, netting consecutive hat-tricks against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, while more trebles followed against Manchester United and Wolves. He has shattered Salah’s record of 32 goals in a 38-game season and then coming for Shearer and Cole’s record of 34 goals in any campaign, breaking that as well.
Fernando Torres, Liverpool
Fernando Torres was been much maligned after his big-money move from Liverpool to Chelsea, but it was his debut season at Merseyside that showed just how dominant he could be, and justified his move from Spanish club Atletico Madrid.
Torres’ debut season in the Premier League saw him score an incredible 24 goals in 29 starting appearances—chalking up four assists to go with that also.
He netted a hat-trick in the League Cup for Liverpool and contributed six goals in the Reds’ Champions League campaign—which they would go on to very nearly make the final of, losing in extra time to Chelsea in the second leg of their thrilling semifinal.
It was a debut season to remember for Torres, who never posted similar numbers since.
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Diego Costa, Chelsea
Diego Costa’s first season at Chelsea after leaving newly-crowned Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in 2014 was hugely successful. Desperate for a striker in order to give his ‘little horse’ of a Chelsea side some much-needed power, the Spanish international proved every inch a Jose Mourinho centre-forward.
Twenty goals and three assists on his way to the Premier League title gave Chelsea fans a new hero in the mould of Didier Drogba and, by scoring seven before mid-September, set a record for the highest tally ever plundered after four games.
A force to be reckoned with during his first couple of years in England, it never truly got better for him after.
Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea
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.
The diminutive genius 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 their 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. As the inimitable Claudio Ranieri once put it: “Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard, and a wizard must try.”
Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool
Kenny Dalglish is a Liverpool legend, and was from the moment he set walked out at Anfield.
In his first season at the Merseyside club, Dalglish would not only score more than 30 league goals, but also net the game-winning goal at the European Cup final.
After filling in the boots of Kevin Keegan, Dalglish gave the Reds a new name to cheer, and established himself as a Reds icon forever—an image that still remains today for the King of the Kop.
Michu, Swansea City
Michu came to the Premier League as a relative unknown, enjoyed an unbelievable debut season for Swansea and then faded back into obscurity.
Having signed from La Liga strugglers Rayo Vallecano for only £2 million in 2012, the Spanish forward had a dream debut, scoring twice in a thumping 5-0 win at Queens Park Rangers, celebrating by cupping his ear.
By Christmas, he had posted a remarkable 13 goals, including a brace in a shock win at Arsenal, and in February he helped Swansea win the League Cup, netting in the 5-0 rout of Bradford City in the final at Wembley.
He ended the campaign with 18 goals, putting him in the top five Premier League scorers that season. But that was as good as got for him, with ankle injuries disrupting his career and leading him to eventually retire from football in 2017, aged only 31.
Ruud van Nistelrooy, Manchester United
Arguably the only striker who could have held a candle to Thierry Henry in the early-2000s, the fact Ruud van Nistelrooy made an instant impact at Manchester United is nothing short of remarkable. Indeed, prior to his move, the Dutchman suffered a major injury with PSV which meant his switch was initially delayed a year.
By the summer of 2001, a fully recovered van Nistelrooy was ready to wreak havoc in the Premier League. Brought in as club legends Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were beginning to be phased out, one of the most clinical finishers this country has ever seen scored 23 goals and laid on an assist in what has to go down as one of the best-ever debut seasons.
Jens Lehmann, Arsenal
Lehmann arrived at Highbury in the summer of 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.
Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
Sergio Aguero’s most famous moment in a Manchester City shirt may have come at the very end of his debut season in the Premier League but, even early on, there were signs of a world-class striker arriving to these isles.
One of the best debuts of all-time saw the Argentine score twice and set-up another against Swansea with a hat-trick against Wigan following not long after. Impressively, he was actually on the bench from the start and his second goal was the kind of 30-yard stunner we’ve since become accustomed to.
A constant thorn in Manchester United’s side over the course of his career in England, Aguero scored in his first Manchester derby and proved prolific against pretty much everyone in the league.
N’Golo Kante, Leicester
He picked up a host of personal plaudits along the way, including a place in the PFA Team of the Year. Former Foxes scout Steve Walsh 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. In 2018, he won the World Cup with France.
Kante arrived at Leicester as a relative unknown from Ligue 1 side Caen in the summer of 2015, and his fee of around £5.5m proved an astonishing bargain. Everything about his season was remarkable, as the brilliant Frenchman set about destroying one and all in Leicester’s jaw-dropping Premier League title win. How on earth had nobody spotted him before?