With the January transfer window now firmly shut, it is time for teams to take stock and make a final push over the next dozen or so games to finish as high in the table as possible. The table is beginning to loosely take shape, but it is all still to play for as the title race is still open, the battle for European football looks set to be more dramatic than ever and there is nothing in it at the scrap at the bottom, with a few teams recently changing their fortunes and crawling out the drop zone. It has been another unforgettable season full of stunning football, high scoring affairs, shocking results and a few players that have emerged as stars whilst a few that are not shining as brightly as many expected.
Prior to this final all important push, it is worth taking a look back at who has been the standout performer at each team up until this point. They may have been bagging goals, unselfishly setting up team-mates and running the show, putting in solid defensive efforts or keeping their team in it with some fine goalkeeping performances. The stand out performers are clear for some teams, whilst others it is harder to pick just one player as they have worked well as a team. One thing is for sure, all of these players will need to be at their best for the rest of the season, and their play could make all the difference come judgement day on Sunday, May 24th.
In alphabetical order, here are the standout players for each team so far this season.
20 Arsenal – Alexis Sanchez
No points for guessing this one, Alexis Sanchez has been sensational this season and the key player in Arsenal’s attack. After Mezut Ozil’s disappointing play after joining from Madrid, Arsenal fans will be delighted that Sanchez has hit the ground running.
The Chilean’s production has been excellent so far this season, with 12 goals and 7 assists to his name in the league. Unfortunately for the Gunners, Sanchez came off injured in their win over Leicester with no news on the severity of the knee problem coming out of the Arsenal camp at the time of writing. This could be crucial with the fight for European football tighter than ever, with a number of in form teams vying for the all important spots.
19 Aston Villa – Andres Weimann
It has been a woeful season so far for Villa, who desperately need to pick up points and score some goals if they are to survive the drop at the end of the season. They went a full 10 hours and 59 minutes without finding the back of the net before scoring against Chelsea, and they have a league worst -22 goal difference which makes it difficult to select a stand out performer.
Andres Weimann has been key to the rare bright moments for Villa, and has chipped in a team high 4 goals so far in all competitions. With Villa now in the bottom 3, they are going to need Weimann at his best as well as the likes of Agbonglahor, Delph and out of sorts striker Benteke to up their game.
18 Burnley – Danny Ings
It was always going to be a tough season for newly promoted side Burnley, but on occasion they have shown that they can play with the big boys and they have pulled out a couple of excellent results. They function well as a team but it is the play of Danny Ings that has been making the headlines, as the young English striker has 8 goals and 4 assists so far this season.
It has been a great season for young English strikers, and the 22-year-old has certainly made his case for an England call up. Burnley did well to keep hold of Ings during the transfer window, but they will also need to do well to avoid relegation this season. If Burnley can play their remaining games with the spirit they have shown at times, and Ings continues his fine form, they could live to see another year in the Premier League.
17 Chelsea – Eden Hazard
Chelsea have had a number of standout performers this year, and they also have the Premier Leagues top goalscorer in Diego Costa who leads the pack with 17 goals. Despite this, Costa is not my standout performer for Chelsea this season as his disciplinary problems (7 yellow cards) have held back the team and tarnished his reputation. He is currently serving a 3-game suspension for stamping on Liverpool’s Enre Can and has now missed a number of games this season, and this could have proven very costly for Chelsea as City looked to close the gap.
Eden Hazard has once again proven why he is one of the best midfielders in the world, causing havoc for opponents and contributing an impressive 9 goals and 6 assists having played in every league game so far and commanding the midfield. Chelsea have been fantastic throughout most of the season with players including Fabregas, Terry and Courtois all excelling around the sublime play of Hazard.
16 Crystal Palace - Dwight Gayle
Crystal Palace have flourished under Alan Pardew, with an impressive five wins out of six performances to give their Premier League survival hopes a massive boost. At the time of writing Palace sit in 13th place with 27 points. The play of Dwight Gayle has been huge this season, and particularly in recent weeks as the young striker has scored in three of their last four fixtures, including two huge goals in a comeback win against Burnley. He now has 10 to his name this season, and with the bit between his teeth you can see Gayle pushing on to help Palace survive the drop.
15 Everton – Kevin Mirallas
At this point last season Everton were gunning for European football, but now they sit 12th in the table and only five points off the drop zone. It has been hugely disappointing to see as Everton were one of the more exciting teams to watch last year, but nothing seems to be clicking and it is difficult to select a standout performer.
He may not be a fan favourite at the moment, and his penalty miss has done him no favours, but Everton would be a lot worse off without the play of Kevin Mirallas this season. When he is on the pitch you always feel that Everton could score, and he has chipped in 8 goals so far, and his pace will always cause problems for teams and particularly on the counter attack. This may well be the Belgian's last season at Goodison as he seeks Champions League football, unless Everton can win the Europa League which is where they have played their best football so far.
14 Hull City – Ahmed Elmohamady
Hull’s survival hopes were given a boost after a much needed win over Aston Villa, which saw them climb out the bottom 3 and into 16th place. They also earned a point against title chasing Man City, in what has been a turbulent season where Hull have had their fair share of injuries and only picked up five wins. One player that has been reliable each time he steps onto the pitch is Ahmed Elmohamady, who has been able to play in various positions this season and shown what a versatile player he is. With a few good results and players coming back at just the right time, the reliability of Elmohamady could prove key as Hull look to steady the ship and stay clear of the bottom-3.
13 Leicester City - Leonardo Ulloa
Propping up the table with just 17 points and a goal difference of -18, it looks like Leicester will be one of the teams facing relegation this season. They have struggled to adjust to Premier League life, conceding 40 goals and only picking up four wins so far, with frustration clearly showing with Nigel Pearson’s recent touchline behaviour. It has not all been doom and gloom for the Foxes however, and they have been unlucky on a number of occasions not to get more from games and have shown a few spirited performances, particularly at the beginning of the season.
In these spirited performances it has been Leonardo Ulloa that has stood out, bagging two goals in their stunning 5-3 victory over United, as well as playing a key role in sinking Spurs in the F.A Cup. Ulloa has nine for the season, but the goals have dried up and the performances have not been as good for the entire team. If Leicester are to survive he will need to recapture this form, but all in all it has proven to be too much for Pearson and his team so far.
12 Liverpool – Jordan Henderson
Liverpool struggled massively in the first half of the season, but have since gotten their act together and they are in the best form in the league. With a hard fought victory over Spurs, they are now closing in on the top 4 and will be boosted by the return of Daniel Sturridge. Although Sterling has impressed and has been the one making the headlines, the play of Jordan Henderson has stood out and he has developed a maturity which looks to make him Gerrard’s successor as captain next season. He also has as many assists as Eden Hazard and Angel Di Maria (6), making him a valuable asset for Liverpool and one they will need performing till the end of the season.
With Liverpool the focus will always be on the big names such as Gerrard, Sterling, Sturridge and even Balotelli, but the importance of Jordan Henderson should not be overlooked.
11 Manchester City – Yaya Toure
Although they are not out of the title race, it has been a somewhat disappointing season for City so far who have not played the dizzying football we saw that made them champions last year. Aguero may have 16 league goals and 21 in all competitions, but the Argentine missed five weeks.
It is Yaya Toure that is the key to Manchester City’s success, and his absence has been felt hugely since he has been at the Africa Cup of Nations. They didn't win without him, as he usually commands the midfield and dictates the flow of the game. He returns to the squad in a much worse condition than he left it, as they now have a lot of ground to make up (they were level with Chelsea) and are out of the F.A Cup. Toure was not having his best season (9 goals so far), but you realize how badly he is needed when you saw City play without him. Honourable mentions: Frank Lampard who has scored key goals, and James Milner who has had a stellar season.
10 Manchester United – David De Gea
It may come as somewhat of a surprise when you consider the attacking talent, but the main man for United has been the Spaniard between the posts. David De Gea has saved United’s blushes on multiple occasions this season, as they have not looked convincing but it seems likely that they will nail down the 3rd spot.
United have only scored 43 goals this season, but crucially they have only let in 24. This is even more impressive when you consider United’s defence and the make shift backline they have fielded at times, which has been atrocious in some games. De Gea has proven himself to be one of the top keepers in the world each night, pulling off all kinds of great stops with a stunning performance against Everton earlier in the season being a highlight. If it were not for De Gea, there would be plenty of questions surrounding Van Gaal and United this season.
9 Newcastle United – Moussa Sissoko
It has been another turbulent season for Newcastle, who ended their relationship with long standing manager Alan Pardew and currently sit relatively safely in 11th with 32 points from 25 games. The big story for the Magpies, aside from Pardew’s exit, is French midfielder Moussa Sissoko, who has enjoyed a stellar season but there has been much speculation about his future with PSG and Arsenal considering swooping in. They managed to keep hold of the midfielder in January, and this could be crucial for the last push as he has been a powerhouse in midfield. His dominant dribbling and passing ability has been key in everything positive for Newcastle, which is what has attracted so much attention to the Frenchman.
If Sissoko does leave this summer he is valued at around £20 million by Newcastle, which is not bad seeing as they picked him up for just £1.7 from Toulouse two years ago.
8 Queens Park Rangers – Charlie Austin
All the talk this season has been about young English strikers, and Charlie Austin is one of four which has set the league alight and given England fans something to be positive about. Austin has been prolific for a QPR team that has struggled this season, and his goalscoring ability has given Rangers a confidence which will be key as they are locked in a fierce fight to avoid relegation. QPR are currently only safe on goal difference.
Austin has bagged 13 league goals this season, including a stunning hat-trick against West Brom in December. QPR will be buoyed by picking up their first points away from home, despite losing manager Harry Redknapp, and if they can improve their fortunes on the road and keep feeding Austin then they could stay up which would be a huge accomplishment. Chris Ramsey will want to ensure Austin is fed the ball as often as possible.
7 Southampton – Nathaniel Clyne
The credit should really go to Ronald Koeman, who has done an incredible job to turn Southampton into one of the best teams in the league despite losing so many players and staff in the summer. It is a fantastic story and Southampton show no signs of slowing down just yet, putting them in a great position to qualify for European football next year.
They have played fantastically well as a team, with several players shining in Koeman’s system, including new signings Tadic and Pelle. They have conceded the least goals so far this season (17), and this should be celebrated. The back 4 and keeper have all worked brilliantly together, and Nathaniel Clyne has been one of the best full-backs in the league right up there with Ivanovic and Zabaleta. In addition to his stellar defensive work, Clyne adds an attacking threat and has contributed two goals this season too.
6 Stoke City – Jonathan Walters
Mark Hughes has got Stoke playing with a certain flair and swagger which has not been seen at the Britannia before, and this is thanks to a number of contributions from different players. They are also on a good run of form, losing just three of their last 11 games and winning five of them. There have been a number of solid players and they have defended well, but it is their attack which has impressed the most and Jonathan Walters has been key to this. Walters is the man in form with 10 goals this season and a recent perfect hat-trick against QPR. It looks set to be a mid table finish once again for Stoke, but they will be happy with the performances and their new attacking threat.
5 Sunderland – Costel Pantilimon
Following an 8-0 obliteration and a poor performance against Arsenal, Sunderland’s keeper Vito Mannone and player of the year was dropped in favour of ex Man City backup Costel Pantilimon. Pantilimon has thrived since coming out of the shadows, keeping 6 clean sheets in 16 appearances and pulling off a number of top saves. He looks firmly established as Sunderland’s number 1, and he will need to keep up this form if Sunderland are to avoid relegation.
Goals have eluded Sunderland much of the season, which is why proven goalscorer Jermaine Defoe was brought in, so it is a good job that they have had Costel Pantilimon between the sticks to give Sunderland the chance of picking up points.
4 Swansea City – Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Swans were flying high for much of this season, largely thanks to the return of Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was often used out of position during his time at Spurs. Back in his natural position and starting every game, Sigurdsson reminded the world what he was capable of by tearing defences to shreds with his excellent vision and passing ability. He has also been a goalscoring threat, with 4 goals to go along with 8 assists (only Fabregas has more) in 21 appearances.
Swansea now find themselves in a tough spot, with the sale of Bony having a huge impact and making Sigurdsson’s job much harder with no one to finish off his intelligent link up play. Sigurdsson is also serving a suspension following his sending off in their F.A Cup defeat to Blackburn, and Swansea will fear that they may slip out the top half of the table despite their strong start to the season.
3 Tottenham Hotspur – Harry Kane
A few weeks ago it would have been tough to call between Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris, who have all been superb, but Kane’s dominant performances in recent weeks makes him arguably the best player in the league this season. It has been a stunning story, as Kane has gone from an academy player only getting a run out in cup games to Tottenham’s go to player and the best striker in the league. He dismantled the best back 4 in the country and scored a pair in a shocking 5-3 win over Chelsea, before dominating again and scoring another brace in an impressive North London Derby win over Arsenal.
After finding the back of the net again against Liverpool, Kane has 23 goals in all competitions, more than any other Premier League striker this season and 11 goals in his last 10. In addition to his prolific scoring, he also has demonstrated excellent hold up play, passing ability, aerial threat and defensive work. Spurs are putting up a real fight for European football, and Kane has been leading the charge.
2 West Ham United – Stewart Downing
It has been a terrific season for Big Sam and West Ham, who have spent the majority of the campaign rubbing shoulders with all the big teams including United, Arsenal, Southampton and Spurs. They now sit 8th with 38 points from 25 games, and although European football is unlikely they will be pleased with their season and the attractive football they have played. Allardyce faced criticism from the board as they wanted better looking football, and he has certainly delivered thanks to a host of players that have performed well.
Most notable has been Stewart Downing, who has been one of the leagues top midfielders with 7 assists (joint 4th alongside Oscar, Sanchez and Cazorla) as well as four well taken goals. It has been a great team effort however, with other players such as Adrian, Winston Reid, Alex Song, Andy Carroll and Sakho all performing well throughout the season.
1 West Bromwich Albion – Chris Brunt
With the arrival of Tony Pulis, West Brom will be focused purely on the games ahead as they hope he can work his magic and keep another straggling team from relegation. They have already improved massively, losing only to Spurs since Pulis took the reigns at the start of the New Year.
Saido Berahino has been the one making the headlines with an impressive start to the season and has 14 in all competitions, but he has also made the headlines for the wrong reasons and has yet to win over Pulis. Chris Brunt has been his usual solid self and contributed 5 assists for the Baggies, and was captain until Darren Fletcher was brought in. This clearly has not had an impact on Brunt, who scored an important goal in a draw at Turf Moor. Pulis is the Premier League survival master, and his job will be made a lot easier if Brunt keeps up his stellar play.