As one of the most unpredictable seasons in Premier League history moves towards the halfway point, it seems a good point to assess which players have shone most at this stage of the campaign.
The collapse of champions Chelsea and the sight of Leicester City bucking all trends to top the table illustrates the unpredictability that has been the Premier League’s hallmark this season.
Goalkeeper – Jack Butland
The ever-present Butland has been one of the standout stars of the Premier League season. Butland has the best save percentage of any regular goalkeeper in the Premier League this season, with only Sunderland’s Costel Pantilimon making more saves.
With Hart in his prime and a two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City, it’s a tough challenge for Butland for the England number 1 spot but he has firmly established himself as the main competition to the City goalkeeper for a place in Roy Hodgson’s team. Maturity is the word that keeps coming up in regard to Butland. Confident and articulate in interviews, it’s apparent that his attitude is right. Even more impressive, given his young age, and constant scrutiny from the media.
Defender – Kyle Walker
Notable improvements have been made to Walker’s defensive qualities this season, which was one of the aspects of his game that was denying him from realising his full potential.
The English defender is one who is keen to press forward and help support the attack, aided by Pochettino’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system with inverted wingers, crucially allowing the full-backs to provide width to the attack to help stretch the opposition.
Defender – Toby Alderwiereld
Part of a defence that has only lost twice this season and has let in the second fewest goals in the league at 14, the signing of Alderweireld is just what Tottenham needed.
Their defence was shaky and erratic last season but the Belgian duo of Alderweireld and Vertonghen is paying off for spurs this season – with just over 200 interceptions between the two (130 for Alderweireld)
Defender – Chris Smalling
At the beginning of the season the biggest question for United’s squad was if their defence could compete and, ironically, a defender is their only notable player this year.
The former Maidstone man is officially the hardest man to score against this season, boasting more clean sheets than any other Premier League player, and he’s also been the only consistent performer in his side’s miserable defence.
Defender – Nacho Monreal
The ultra-consistent left-back has played every minute of every league match so far and that regularity has brought stability leading to the Gunners conceding just 14 goals with him in the team, the joint-lowest amount of any club in the Premier League.
Monreal’s positional discipline and sense of when to make forays forward ensures there’s an appropriate balance between defense and attack, and it also gives Sanchez the license to attack with full throttle without needing to constantly concern himself with defensive duties.
The most telling statistic shows that Monreal concedes less then one foul per game, a testament to the Spaniard’s concentration levels, especially with the amount of high class wingers he has to contend with in the frantically paced life of the Premier League
Midfield – N’Golo Kanté
Ranieri has worked wonders with the Foxes, and box-to-box midfielder Kante has been at the heart of their solidity on the pitch.
One of Leicester’s unheralded heroes, the midfielder has pulled the strings so well behind the Foxes two stand-out stars. The 24-year-old has won the ball back more than any other player in the Premier League this season and has kept the Foxes’ marquee signing Gokhan Inler firmly in the shade.
Midfield – Mesut Ozil
Five assists away from Thierry Henry’s record twenty in a single season, after two criticism-filled campaigns, the former Real Madrid playmaker is performing to the standard expected of a £42million man.
Now able to fend off opponents looking to knock him off the ball he has regained the poise and precision that was on display during his time in Madrid. Arsene Wenger clearly saw it coming. It was as long ago as April 2014 when he promised: “He is a fantastic football player, and I would put him on the list to be player of the season next season.” It took a little longer than that for Wenger’s prophecy to come true but Ozil is certainly on course this time.
Midfield – Riyadh Mahrez
The Algeria international’s brilliantly-taken goal in the 2-0 win over Chelsea epitomized his talent, and yet he has offered so much more in the Foxes’ charge to the top of the table with 11 goals in 15 appearances
As well as being a scoring sensation himself, Mahrez has succeeded in providing a number of goals for his team-mates. Vardy has been the recipient of four assists courtesy of the winger, who in total, has seven assists this season. That’s second only to the acclaimed assist king himself, Mesut Ozil. Mahrez has nearly matched reigning player of the year Eden Hazard’s output from last season already and is now one of the most effective players in the whole of Europe.
Forward – Jamie Vardy
Fifteen goals in 16 appearances, including a new Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive matches, mean he is the deadliest striker in the country.
Jamie Vardy`s rise from non-league anonymity to Premier League record-breaker could herald an era where top-flight managers scour England`s lower leagues in the hope of discovering the next “hidden gem”.
Forward – Odion Ighalo
Another surprise package, no-one expected Watford to do so well this season let alone see the Nigerian reach double-figures before Christmas.
More than simply an expert finisher, however, it’s the Nigerian international’s pace, power and trickery that the rest of the Premier League has failed to deal with this year. He’s been awarded six Man of the Match awards by stat enthusiasts Whoscored.com – only Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil has more throughout the Premier League.
Forward – Romelu Lukaku
After a slow start, the Belgium international has exploded into a run of form that has lead to scoring 8 goals in 7 consecutive games.
Lukaku has become more than just a target man striker this, expanding his abilities to both feet as well as his head – scoring 3 on his weak foot and 4 off the dome.
Manager – Caudio Ranieri
Claudio Ranieri is the outstanding Premier League manager of the season so far leading Leicester, who finished 14th in the table last season, to a remarkable turnaround now leading the Premier League table by two points at Christmas. The ‘tinkerman’ who was a surprise appointment at the King Power Stadium last summer after being sacked by Greece in November 2014 following a Euro 2016 qualifying defeat at home to the Faroe Islands, has embraced life in his second stint in the Premier League enjoying every moment of it and making history along the way.
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