We passed the quarter mark of the Premier League a few weeks ago and the table is finally taking shape, the pundits usually like to say that the log means nothing until at least Christmas – but we’ve seen enough football to get a reasonably good feeling for how each team is doing. The usual suspects are staking their claims as legitimate contenders – City, Arsenal, United, but a few dark horses like Leicester and West Ham are giving the established names a run for their money. Transfers have played a massive role in some of the clubs showing improved performances over last season, as well as seeing some long time servants helping pull their respective clubs up the grueling Premier League ladder. In this article we’re going to be counting down the top performers for each team in the top 5, and having a closer look at what they’re contributing.
Manchester City – Kevin de Bruyne
The young Belgian first made a name for himself as a hot prospect with Chelsea a couple of seasons ago, but failed to lock down a place in the starting lineup. After a frustrating spell in London he decided to ply his trade in the Bundesliga with VFL Wolfsburg where he hit the ground running and became a mainstay of their effective attack. The German side was immediately repaid for their faith in de Bruyne as he logged some astounding stats for a player of his age, ending the 14/15 season with 17 goals and a staggering 29 assists in all competitions. A calm head and keen eye for goal resulted in the top clubs taking notice, with City landing his signature this season for the hefty price of £50m. So far he hasn’t disappointed and has justified the financial gamble, getting 3 goals and 4 assists in the league, making up for the absence of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero. Kevin de Bruyne’s versatility in the front line gives the team a lot of options, as he’s able to play in multiple attacking positions and even lead the line if he has to – which may become necessary as Wilfried Bony has sustained a thigh injury that sees the Citizens without a fit senior striker.
Arsenal – Mesut Özil
The German attacking midfielder had a season to forget last time out, but he’s announced a return to form by breaking the league record for most consecutive games with an assist, ten games in a row. With Arsenal’s slick, mesmeric style of play there’s a lot of emphasis on creating good chances, and the strikers have been benefitting from Özil’s uncanny ability to set them up. The league record for assist’s in a season is 20, and Özil is halfway there with not even a third of the games played. At the rate he’s going he’ll make a strong case for player of the season, especially if Arsenal snag some silverware due to his efforts. He’s been accused of flitting in and out of form too frequently, but if what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, Arsenal fans are about to see the best from the skilled attacker. Although he suffers from patchy form from time to time, when he’s playing well there are few attacking
midfielders that are better. Every generation has a small number of players that are incredibly unique and execute their game in a way that can’t really be emulated – Mesut Özil is one of those players.
Leicester City – Jamie Vardy
Who? Some random who was playing for Fleetwood Town barely three years ago? No, rather, currently the Premier League’s top scorer. It’s difficult not to get a little sentimental when discussing Leicester’s meteoric rise to the Premier League, especially after they were a modest Championship team not too long ago. Jamie Vardy personifies the grit and determination that has characterized Leicester’s recent success in the Premier League where they’ve bloodied the noses of a few massive clubs. Usually a wide man, because of his ridiculous acceleration, Vardy has been leading the line for the Foxes this season, and sits at the top of the scoring charts with an astounding 12 goals in 12 games, an uncommon statistic for any player, but particularly one that doesn’t play for any of the European super powers. With his work ethic and fantastic ability in front of goal it’s likely another club may look to poach him in January, but odds are Vardy’s going to try and repay the faith that manager Claudio Ranieri has shown in him by sticking around in Leicester, but don’t be surprised if an enterprising team with full pockets tries to test their resolve in January.
Manchester United – Chris Smalling
A lot of United fans might be ready to riot, since they’re probably thinking Anthony Martial’s name should be up there – but I beg to differ. It’s a close call, and Martial’s attacking drive has admittedly been crucial for the club this season, but as of the most recent set of fixtures United have the best defense in the league, conceding only 9 goals, and the reason for that is primarily the significant improvement of Chris Smalling in central defense. He was a peripheral figure during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time, kept from regular starts by the formidable pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but showed at the end of last season and the beginning of the current one that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those stalwarts. No defender has won more aerial duels in the league than Smalling, while his interceptions and tackles per game are also rising as the weeks roll by. A fair few United fans had insinuated Smalling was not United quality after a difficult start to the previous season, but his current performances easily make him the first name on the team sheet for Louis van Gaal.
Tottenham Hotspur – Mauricio Pochettino
It’s difficult to choose an individual player from Spurs that stands head and shoulders above his teammates, as their good form is mostly attributable to the fact that they’re a well-drilled unit rather than a team with a few standouts carrying an average squad. The youth and energy of their squad has stood them in good stead, with players like Dele Alli, Keiran Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane all playing their part in a string of good results for the London side. It would do a disservice to the team effort to elevate one player above the others, as they’ve been noticeably improving in every aspect of their game as the season progresses, and for that the credit must go to Mauricio Pochettino. He’s managed to navigate an incredibly modest transfer window and yet he has still created a structured and compact side, where many young players are punching far above their weight and contributing like experienced professionals. Supporters of England’s national team should watch this space carefully as Pochettino is grooming a number of future Three Lions stars to make some waves at next year’s Euros.
Those are the stand out performers I’ve selected for the current top five in the league, but there are good shouts for alternatives from all the other teams. Which player would you select as the most important individual for his team? In the next article we’ll be looking at the clubs that fill out the rest of the top 10!