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Football has a curious relationship with pace. Quick doesn’t always equal good, and yet there is no single attribute which makes fans swoon quite as much as raw, unadulterated, wind-whipping speed.
Those players who dazzle and bamboozle as they leave scorch marks in the turf, who play with speed cameras flashing behind them, they are the darlings of football supporters worldwide. Each nation has its predilections: English fans value grit and steel, Italians tactical discipline, Brazilians deceit and flair. Pace, however, is a universal and insatiable desire.
It’s said that the Premier League is the fastest of the fastest, with a rich tradition of speedsters, from Ryan Giggs to Michael Owen and beyond. Whenever a foreign player arrives on these shores, the issue that he might “struggle to adapt to the pace of the English game” is invariably raised. And while this might be something of a punditry platitude, it does highlight just how revered pace is in England.
In that spirit, let’s take a look at the ten fastest players currently playing the Premier League.
10. Virgil Van Dijk
Nominally, Liverpool line up in a 4-3-3. But in reality, it’s often closer to a 2-3-5, with the wing-backs playing as auxiliary wingers, allowing Mané and Salah to position themselves more narrowly. The reason they are able to play such a cavalier system is because of the security that Virgil Van Dijk’s thunderous recovery speed affords them. A monstrous presence at the back, his ACL injury will affect Liverpool deeply, both in attack and defence. While we might not see him running into space as much as an off-the-shoulder striker or touchline hugging winger, Van Dijk’s pace is perhaps even more valuable.
9. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Now 31, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might have lost a smidgeon of his scorching pace since arriving in the Premier League from Borussia Dortmund – the archetypal Roadrunner academy – in 2018. But while it might take him a few more yards to get going, when he’s in full flight there are few whose feet move as quickly as the Arsenal forward. Fifty-five goals in 90 Premier League appearances at the time of writing are a testament to his fleet-footedness as much as his finishing finesse.
8. Fikayo Tomori
After a magnificent start to his Chelsea career – which earned him an England call-up last year – things seemed to have fizzled somewhat for Fikayo Tomori. But while his career trajectory might have plateaued, his spine-tingling pace remains. His speed was the stuff of legend in Chelsea’s academy, with staff scarcely able to believe his performance in bleep tests. If he can recapture his early 2019-20 form, he could be a valuable, quicksilver asset for both club and country.
7. Tariq Lamptey
At 5′5″ Tariq Lamptey would look equally as suited to wearing Thunderbird pyjamas as he does the shirt of a Premier League team. But in just a handful of top-flight appearances, the Brighton full-back has established himself as one of the division’s most promising young gunslingers, impressing with his cowboy spirit and ability to swish past a man. Somehow, his diminutive stature makes him look even faster than he is; his small strides mean his feet flash twice as quick as anyone else on the pitch.
6. Raheem Sterling
As a rule, wide-men aren’t as quick as they used to be. The popularisation of inverted wingers has meant that pace is not necessarily the first attribute a manager looks for when filling the role – it’s a bonus rather than a prerequisite. But when you’re as quick as Raheem Sterling, you can play two roles at once. Sterling is just as capable of getting past his man and executing a razor-sharp cut-back as he is jinking inside and shooting or twisting a cross into the area. He wouldn’t be able to do this without his eye-popping speed.
5. Timo Werner
In Germany, Chelsea’s Timo Werner was known affectionately as “Turbo Timo.” Having been recorded travelling as fast as 21.70mph, he’s capable of breaking the speed limit in many town centres across England on foot. With RB Leipzig, one lacerating pass was all it took: once the back-line had been bypassed, a Werner goal was almost guaranteed. He is yet to find that form at Chelsea, but with such natural attributes, it’s surely only a matter of time.
4. Jamie Vardy
A coiled spring, a self-lighting fire, a wind-up toy turned by a jet engine. Jamie Vardy’s ballistic off-the-shoulder runs have become part of Premier League folklore since he made his first appearance in the division in 2014. True, he doesn’t make as many as he used to, choosing instead to conserve his energy for when he can best smell blood, but Vardy is still among the quickest off the mark, even at 33. The aggressive nature of his extraordinary movement makes the sight of him hurtling towards goal one of the most evocative images in modern Premier League history.
3. Kyle Walker
When the wheels are in motion, there aren’t many Premier League engines that can match Kyle Walker’s output. Many a time, an unwitting forward has been through on goal, about to pull the trigger, only for the buzz-killing Walker to lurch into frame and emerge with clean possession of the ball. Like Van Dijk at Liverpool, Walker is part of the reason Manchester City are able to play with such attacking abandon. His freakish recovery speed is a wonderful insurance policy.
2. Sadio Mané
Great players are recognisable by their silhouettes, and in recent years, Sadio Mané has come to fit that bill. Straight-backed and spidery-limbed, Mané’s gait is as distinctive as anyone’s. His blister-hot speed helped end a three-decade Liverpool drought and transform the Senegalese forward into a Premier League great. A weapons-grade winger with fire in his eyes, few in world football can match his juddering pace, nor his ability.
1. Adama Traoré
Adama Traoré is a bullet train made flesh. You might have seen the Wolves staff coating the propane-fueled winger with baby oil so as to stop opposition players grabbing at him – often their only recourse to stop this velociraptor-like footballer. A curious, hulking combination of brawn and fast-twitch muscles, for most of his Premier League career – which began with Aston Villa in 2015 – Traoré was seen as a one-trick pony, with pace and little else. But now, having added that crucial end product to his game, he has mutated into an elite player.
Honourable Mentions: Allan Saint-Maximin, Andy Robertson, Daniel James, Ryan Fredericks, Mohamed Salah, Çaglar Söyüncü, Marcus Rashford, Miguel Almirón, Patrick van Aanholt, Héctor Bellerín, Kurt Zouma, Daniel Podence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka