As another season in the roller coaster of the Premier League is heading towards a captivating close, I thought it was time we looked back on the actual football that was played during its course and rate the top five individuals that made a telling impact on the green rather than off it, more often than the rest.
Here’s my version of this campaign’s top 5 – let me know what you feel and also drop yours in the comments box.
5. Santiago Cazorla – Arsenal
I don’t think many Arsenal fans would deny the fact that Cazorla has been their best player this season. The diminutive Spaniard has been central to Arsenal’s fluid movement in the final two thirds of the pitch epitomising the ‘Wengerball’ style where the Gunners simply play the opposition out of the park throughout the game. The 30-year old has been all about manipulating the ball like only he could and creating something out of absolutely nothing this season, proving to be the difference in many of the crunch games against tougher sides in the league. Having created an astounding 63 chances in 29 appearances with 8 assists, Cazorla has also scored 7 times from midfield with a respectable 56% shots on target. With a typically remarkable 88% pass accuracy, Santiago has been doing the dirty work as well, averaging 2 defensive actions per game that includes 29 interceptions and 24 clearances. Comfortable with either foot, Cazorla could well be that key player that could ensure Arsenal finish higher than they did last season.
Best individual performance – Manchester City v Arsenal (0-2)
4. Diego Costa – Chelsea
After an explosive start to the season, Diego Costa did taper off a bit in 2015 with injuries and a 3 match ban playing their role in the process. Known for his ability to overpower defenders with his sheer physicality and a natural aggression and of course his knack of getting into right positions at the right time and applying the right finish, Costa has adapted to this league like duck to water with 19 goals to his name in 23 appearances topping the goal-scorers charts alongside Harry Kane. He’s had a very good season by all accounts averaging an impressive 63% shot accuracy where 19 of his 36 shots on goal beating the goalkeeper. Diego Costa has also been the source of 38 key passes including 3 assists this campaign – only behind Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas in terms of the number of chances created at Chelsea. The 26-year old has turned out to be that final missing piece in Mourinho’s jigsaw and with his best years certainly ahead of him, the Brazilian born Spaniard will have a pivotal role to play for Chelsea both in domestic and European competitions in the years to come.
Best individual performance – Chelsea v Swansea City (4-2)
3. David De Gea – Manchester United
Another Spaniard in the list and this time it is someone you’d find standing his ground between the sticks, commanding his area and catching the ball with some unreal confidence. David De Gea has come a long way in the Premier League growing in stature both physically and technically, with Manchester United. He’s transformed into a great goalkeeper in the last 12 to 18 months and is arguably one of the best three goalies in the world at the moment which says something about his improvement. He’s played in every single game in the league this season and with 10 clean sheets to his name and an avalanche of saves – some match-saving while a few others match-winning. He’s made an average of 2.2 saves per game with a commendable 92% claim success while he’s limited his punching to 17% showing major signs of his development.
The 24-year old has been massive for Manchester United at the back considering their suspect and inconsistent back four for the second year in a row and deservedly finds a place in any top five in my opinion. If you’re not convinced yet, this statistic from Opta should assert his position in my top five – the average conversion rate of big chances in the Premier League this season stands at 42 per cent, against United it is just 28 per cent. With Real Madrid sniffing around at the stalled negotiations, it’s vitally important that Manchester United have him signed up for the long term if they are to genuinely challenge for the big prizes next season.
Best individual performance – Manchester United v Liverpool (3-0)
2. Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur
The striker who struggled to get a game on loan at Leicester in the second tier a couple of seasons ago is now the Premier League’s latest breakout star and someone that’s already opened his account for England’s senior team with a well taken header from close range. Harry Kane, a bundle of energy and verve, only started a top-flight game for the first time in November; 19 goals later and Tottenham’s Champions League hopes flicker still. The 21-year old has bagged an astonishing 29 goals in all competitions so far this season and is the Premier League’s joint top scorer – alongside Diego Costa – with 19 from 26 appearances. Put those goals into context and he’s earned Tottenham a staggering 22 points this season – a league-high haul. Oh, and he’s scored more goals in 2015 – 14 – than 13 clubs have managed. What else can be said?
Harry Kane has had as good a season as any young English forward would dream about having for his boyhood football club. Nailed on to win this year’s Young Player of the Year award, Harry Kane will have a key role to play in helping Tottenham realise its ambitions to qualify for the Champions League next season in these final eight games in the league. Besides all the crucial goals to his name, there’s an inherent work ethic and an infectious willingness to score about him that sets him apart from the rest but whether or not he could have a similar second season if not better remains to be seen.
Best individual performance – Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal (2-1)
1. Eden Hazard – Chelsea
Jose Mourinho might have questioned his work ethic last season but Eden Hazard – winner of last season’s Young Player prize, no matter his manager’s dressing-down – is a serious contender for this year’s main individual award. The Belgian has brought irresistible guile to Chelsea’s muscular game, scoring 11 goals and assisting six while leaving defenders in their wake with feints and dribbles time after time. Hazard is top of the table when it comes to creating chances, crafting 80 opportunities (assists included) for his team-mates to date. He’s attempted a swaggering 223 dribbles – streets ahead of second-placed Alexis Sanchez’s 181 – and also tops the charts for touches in the opposition box: a menacing 205 that shows the impact he has had on Chelsea’s attacking side of things.
Eden Hazard has truly evolved into one of the best players in the game today and on his day he is nothing short of unplayable. Added to his gifted skill on the ball, the tactical maturity he’s attained is testament to his place in world football where it looks he could improve any squad at the moment, arguably. When asked about Hazard and his consistency of high quality displays this season, Mourinho said,
“He was a kid always living on his amazing natural talent but from a certain moment he started to have some tactical education, some mental education. He is already a top player and his evolution has been fantastic. He is still very young and he can become the best player in the world.”
Still only 24, Eden Hazard has the time and platform to improve on his level and become an even better footballer which should not fail to excite Chelsea supporters and football fans in general, alike. Though as yet, he’s my player of the season, hands down.
Those that narrowly missed out on my top five would include the usual suspects in Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic. If you feel one of those should get a look in or if your top five has a different make up to it, then let me know in the comments section.