With matchday 19 of the Premier League season ticked off on Boxing Day for most clubs, we have now arrived at the halfway point of the season. Having said that, due to Covid-related fixture postponements, only four of the 20 clubs will have played 19 fixtures once Newcastle United’s home fixture against Manchester United is completed on Monday 27th December. This post looks at each club’s player of the season so far at the halfway point, with a number of clubs having clear standout performers going into the decisive period of the season. With so much festive football, it should be noted that all statistics are correct as of 27th December.
Eyebrows were raised when Arsenal spent £30 million, including add-ons, to sign Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United in the summer. The fact that Ramsdale had suffered consecutive Premier League relegations, firstly with Bournemouth and then Sheffield United, would have put many clubs off the 23-year-old. However, Arsenal were not deterred and placed their faith in the young goalkeeper, making him their first choice in goal ahead of Bernd Leno.
Ramsdale has more than repaid that faith so far, with a string of heroic displays meaning that Arsenal fans can hope for a reliable number one in what has been a problem position for the club for a number of years. Ramsdale has kept nine clean sheets in 16 league games and is a key reason behind Arsenal’s recent resurgence in the league and there are now strong calls for him to be England’s first choice goalkeeper. He has endeared himself to Arsenal fans through his interaction with fans, both supporters and rivals, during games as well as his outstanding performances. If he keeps up this level of performance he could be a fan favourite for years to come.
Much was expected from Aston Villa following the reinvestment of the £100 million received for Jack Grealish in the summer. However, they have been below par for much of the season and failure to get the best out of new signings ultimately cost Dean Smith his job. Since Steven Gerrard was appointed manager, Villa have won four of their seven league games; losing only to Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City.
Despite all of the incomings in the summer, Villa’s standout player this season has, ironically, been a product of their own academy. 20-year-old midfielder, Jacob Ramsey, broke into the first team picture last season, but this season he has cemented a starting position. The fleet-footed, box-to-box midfielder, whose 19-year-old brother Aaron has also featured for Villa in the Carabao Cup this season, has featured in 16 of Villa’s 18 league games this season. He has scored twice in that time, firstly in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal and the second being a fine solo goal against Norwich City which spelled defeat for Dean Smith; the manager who gave him his breakthrough at Villa Park.
Brentford have been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League with their all action performances, especially when playing at home. The bulk of their side are players that earned promotion from the Championship last season and the majority have shown they are capable of making the step up.
Ivan Toney scored a remarkable 31 goals in the Championship last season, and all eyes have been on him to see if he can replicate his goalscoring heroics in the top flight. Of course, no one expects him to score 31 goals in his maiden Premier League campaign but Toney has shown he can more than mix it with the big boys. He has four goals and two assists, but he is far more than goals. His physicality terrifies defenders and he is a willing runner who will chase lost causes all day.
He has won the most aerial duels in the opposition half of any player in the league this season so far, an indicator of his aerial prowess. If Brentford have a penalty it is almost a guaranteed goal with Toney involved, which is a blessing for any team.
Brighton are a team whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They are a team that benefits from a very good coach in Graham Potter and have a lot of good players who have turned last season’s performances into results this season. Their early season form has dropped off but the Seagulls still find themselves in an impressive 9th place.
Robert Sanchez in goal has shown that he could be a top level goalkeeper, while new signing Marc Cucurella has been impressive at left back. Shane Duffy has revived a Brighton career that was seemingly over after a poor season on loan at Celtic. However, Brighton’s player of the season so far is also arguably their most technically gifted individual, Leandro Trossard.
Trossard is a master of finding space, a strong dribbler and a very creative player who has an eye for goal. The 27-year-old has established himself as a squad member for the Belgium national side and has four goals this season; his latest a fine, first-time, lob over the onrushing Brentford goalkeeper in a 2-0 Boxing Day win.
It came as something of a surprise when Burnley signed Maxwell Cornet from Lyon in the summer as he is not the sort of player that you usually associate with Burnley’s recruitment. However, the Ivory Coast international has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, scoring five goals in nine league games. This means that he has already surpassed his goal tally in the league at his last two seasons in France.
Cornet was signed as a left-sided player, who has played at both left back and left midfield for the majority of his career, but due to his impressive form in front of goal Sean Dyche had paired the 25-year-old upfront with Chris Wood more recently. The pair have struck up a good understanding and are a throwback to the typical ‘little and large’ centre forward pairings of years gone by. If Burnley are to stay in the Premier League for a seventh consecutive season then Cornet’s attacking talents will be vital in the second half of the season.
Edouard Mendy has been superb for Chelsea this season and could easily have been selected as their player of the season so far. Reece James, though, appears to have been one of the players who has elevated his game to dizzier heights than we’ve witnessed in his short, but impressive, career to date. He has become the undeniable starting right wing-back in Thomas Tuchel’s side, and has even performed to a very high level when asked to play in the back three.
While Tuchel’s system allows James freedom to maraud down the right hand side at will when attacking, he is ultimately still a defender. Therefore, the fact that the 22-year-old has registered four goals and five assists in the league already this season is some return. Last season, James managed just one goal and two assists in the league. He is a versatile player who is defensively sound, and has tremendous crossing ability, with a venomous strike to match. He is also very capable of playing in midfield, something he showed over the course of a season while on loan at Wigan Athletic before getting in the first team picture at Chelsea.
Conor Gallagher has shown enormous potential over his last two loan spells, first at Swansea City in the Championship and then last season in the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion. This season he has taken his game to another level while on loan at Crystal Palace and it is rumoured that Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel does not intend to loan out the 21-year-old again next season and will allow him the opportunity to fight for his place at the Stamford Bridge club.
Gallagher has shown that he is not just a luxury player who comes alive in the final third, but an all action midfielder in a Palace midfield three this season. He has played a box-to-box midfield role and his late entries into the box will be familiar to Chelsea fans who watched years of Frank Lampard. Gallagher has six goals and three assists in the league already this season and is adored by all at Selhurst Park for his effort as well as his goal contributions. It is already the youngsters best season in terms of goals and assists and the aim must surely be to hit double figures for goals this season. He is also on Gareth Southgate’s radar and earned his first cap against San Marino in November.
When Andros Townsend signed for Everton as a free agent in the summer it felt like something of an underwhelming signing for the Toffees fanbase. The winger is 30 and was coming off the back of a poor last campaign at Crystal Palace. The move has seemingly been just what Townsend needed to find his form, however.
The 13-cap England international has played in his favoured wide role for the most part since moving to Everton but has also played well as a central midfielder and a number ten. He still has pace to burn and a cultured left foot and has been a real live-wire in an Everton team that is well below where they should be in the table. He has three goals and two assists in the league this season but the number of assists would likely be far higher if Dominic Calvert-Lewin had been fit to benefit from Townsend’s crossing ability.
A honourable mention must go to Demarai Gray here too, who has rebuilt his career in England with five goals and two assists so far.
James Maddison is a player whose career had seemed to lose momentum last season. He is clearly a very talented player and on his day he is a creative force to be reckoned with. The problem has been that, in part due to injuries, he has struggled to regularly have his day.
This season Maddison seems to have put those issues to bed and he has been a star performer in a Leicester City side that has been unable to put a positive run together. The injury woes that have ravaged Brendon Rogers’ side cannot be ignored but, even so, to be knocked out of the Europa League at the group stage and sat tenth in the Premier League is a disappointing first half of the season for the Foxes.
Maddison is 25 now and moving into the prime of his career. He has stayed injury free this season and shown his qualities on a regular basis. His five goals and three assists are a decent return but it is his influence in getting on the ball and creating in the final third which has been most noticeable. His performance in the Boxing Day 6-3 defeat to Manchester City was of the sort that makes people stand up and take notice. He was a constant thorn in the City side and refused to admit defeat, despite City leading 4-0 at one point. If Maddison can maintain his performance levels he could force his way into an England squad packed with attacking talent.
It has been a season of real struggle for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United side. Their squad has been ravaged by injuries and it has been incredibly rare for them to have been able to name their strongest eleven. Patrick Bamford has only managed six league appearances and key man and England mainstay, Kalvin Phillips, has struggled with injury.
In the absence of many of his fellow players, Raphinha has been the one man who has looked as though he can make Leeds fans forget about their club’s long injury list. The tricky Brazilian winger has averaged a goal every other game, scoring eight in 16, and also registered one assist. He is the one player in the Leeds side that other clubs really fear when he has the ball at his feet driving towards the box. It comes as no surprise that he is reportedly the subject of interest from top clubs, with Bayern Munich the latest team to be rumoured to enquire about acquiring his services.
Mohamed Salad may seem the obvious choice, but he is the obvious choice for a reason. The Egyptian is the top scorer in the Premier League so far, with 15 goals, but also has nine assists to his name. All this in just 18 league appearances. This means that he is five goals clear of club-mate Diogo Jota in the goalscoring charts and also top of the assists chart in the league. For a player that has often been labelled as selfish in the past, these statistics go some way to dispelling that myth.
Add seven Champions League goals into the mix and you’re talking about a player that is performing at a level almost unmatched in world football. Salah’s record goal return in the Premier League is 32, in his debut season for Liverpool; this is also the Premier League record for goals in a season since the league has been made up of 20 teams. At his current rate of scoring, Salah would finish the season with 31 goals should he play every game, but don’t be surprised to see him beat his own record as Liverpool look to sustain a strong title challenge.
Bernardo Silva spent the summer exploring his options after a season where he was given far less playing time than he desired last term. A move didn’t materialise and Silva has since shown that he is indispensable to Pep Guardiola’s men. His work-rate and energy set the tone for the City side, and his versatility has also been key, playing in centre midfield, on the left and right flank, and also as a false nine already this season.
Guardiola’s loves to rotate his side and keep everyone fit and firing, but Silva has seemingly been immune from this, due to his importance to the side, with the Portugal international having featured in all but two games in the Premier League and Champions League this season. He is also City’s joint top scorer in the league so far this season with seven goals, meaning he has already matched his Premier League season best from the 2018/19 season in which he was equally as crucial to his side. Silva deserves huge credit for getting his head down and making it impossible for Guardiola to replace him in a star-studded City squad.
There has been a lot of debate over whether Cristiano Ronaldo, now 36, makes Manchester United a worse team since re-signing in the summer to a heroes welcome. While Ronaldo is a player that does not press from the front, he is still one of, if not the, greatest goalscorers football has ever seen. He is not the player that left Manchester United in 2009 but he still has so much to offer.
Ronaldo is the one man you would want in a high pressure situation. He repeatedly delivers at the highest level and is always the man for the big occasion. He has joined a United side that is unrecognisable from the one he left 12 years ago and the club has gone eight years without winning the league. Ronaldo papered over the cracks during the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time in charge and repeatedly bailed out his underperforming team mates, particularly in the Champions League. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored seven goals in 13 games in the league and six in five in the Champions League and it will be interesting to see how effective he can be in the second half of the season under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
Despite the recent financial takeover, it has been a miserable season on the pitch for Newcastle United. They have won just one league game this season and find themselves in a real relegation dogfight. One bright spark has been the performances of the tricky winger, Allan Saint-Maximin, though.
Saint-Maximin plays football like a kid on the playground and has ability unrivalled by anyone else on Newcastle’s books. He is enigmatic and unpredictable, with a lightning quick turn of pace and tricks that mesmerise defenders. He carries his team up the pitch in a similar fashion to Adam Traore at Wolves. However, unlike Traore, Saint- Maximin has begun to turn his ability into end product this season. He has four goals and three assists so far this season but the numbers don’t tell the whole story on just how positive his performances have been in a team that has really struggled this season. When Saint-Maximin has the ball at his feet to gets the Newcastle faithful on their feet and he is one player who should be a key part of any revolution following the takeover at St James’ Park.
Norwich City once again face the very realistic prospect of suffering relegation in their first season after being promoted to the Premier League. They have been the very definition of a yo-yo side in recent years, constantly swapping between the Premier League and Championship. Their owners have previously stated that their goal is to be a ‘top 26 side’ in English football. It is a strange ambition but reflects their sensible approach to investing and not throwing money at staying in the Premier League which may compromise their stability in the future. While this is perhaps admirable in many ways, it does mean that Norwich fans have become used to putting up little resistance to relegation when they do get to the Premier League which must be a source of frustration.
One man that has been vital to Norwich in both the Premier League and Championship, is Teemu Pukki. The Finland striker has had the best years of his career at Norwich after signing for free in 2018. He is the one man in the Norwich team who you would want the ball to drop to in a goalscoring position and he is the beacon of hope that Norwich fans need. The Canaries are bottom of the league and have only scored a measly eight goals in 18 league games. Pukki has scored five of them.
Valentino Livramento had never made a senior appearance in any competition prior to his move from Chelsea to Southampton in the summer. You would never be able to tell, though, as Livramento has already shown that the £5 million the Saints paid for him could be one of the best pieces of business in recent times for the club.
Livramento was signed as a long-term project and no one could have anticipated how quickly he would become a key member of the Southampton side. He has displaced Kyle Walker-Peters from his favoured right back position, who himself was one of Southampton’s best players last season. Such is Livramento’s influence that, according to OptaJoe, he is the first teenager to start his team’s opening 18 games of a Premier League season since Micah Richards did so for Manchester City in the 2006/07 season.
The youngster has already been name checked by Gareth Southgate when discussing England’s options at right back and looks set to be a star for years to come. If Southampton are to sell in the future it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the fee is significantly grater than they paid for him.
Tottenham started the season well under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo but that soon curtailed with a run of poor performances and results that ultimately saw Santo lose his job after just four months in charge. Santo failed to get the best out of his players and couldn’t implement an effective style of play. The club have enjoyed a resurgence under new manager, Antonio Conte, and the Italian looks to have all of the Tottenham players playing to their full potential.
One player who has been reliable for Spurs across the bad times and the good is South Korean, Heung Min Son. Son is a firm fan favourite for Tottenham and can never be accused of dropping his standards, regardless of who has been in charge. He suffered, as the whole team did, with Harry Kane’s uncharacteristic poor run of form, but now the pair look to be approaching their best form once more.
The 29-year-old has managed eight goals and two assists in 15 league games despite the indifferent form of the team as a whole and will be one of the key men once more under Conte. Despite his consistently high performance levels in his time at Spurs, Son is still criminally underrated by many and is one of the best in his position in world football.
Watford are another team who have not had too much to cheer about so far this season. They have already undergone their customary managerial sacking for the season and Claudio Ranieri has been brought in to try and work some magic in the Premier League once more. His tenure started with a tough 5-0 defeat to Liverpool, but the following week they caused an upset by beating Everton 5-2 and a month later there was a real highlight of the season, emphatically beating Manchester United 4-1.
While Watford’s squad is a strange blend of seasoned pros and players who are new to the Premier League, one man who has lit up Vicarage Road has been Nigerian Emmanuel Dennis. The striker has seven goals and five assists in the league this season and has been heavily involved in all that has been good for Watford this season. His fine start to life in England has taken many by surprise, particularly as he didn’t manage to find the net at all in a six-month loan spell at FC Koln in the Bundesliga last season.
West Ham United
Declan Rice was a key part of the England side who reached the final of the European Championships in the summer. Any doubts over whether he was the real deal were emphatically quashed with a series of heroic performances at the base of England’s midfield and he has taken that form into the league this season. Rice is a player that just seems to love playing football and thrives off of responsibility. With Mark Noble now a rare sight in the West Ham United team, Rice is usually the on-field captain and it is something he seems to carry as a badge of honour.
Having started as a central defender, Rice is now showing why he is destined to be a midfielder for the rest of his career. He reads the game so well, but he has also improved markedly on the ball. He is brave on the ball and looks to break the lines with his passing. He also carries the ball very well and is a strong runner. A defensive midfield player that has the confidence and ability to stroll past opposition midfielders is a huge asset as they become unpredictable and can create open up a game by beating the press. The best at this in recent years in the Premier League had been Moussa Dembele when at Tottenham and Rice is starting to show shades of Dembele in the way he plays.
At 22, Rice can be anything he wants to be. There is likely to be a lot of interest around the Hammer this summer but he could do far worse than stay at a West Ham side who are on the up for a little longer.
Wolves have been undergoing something of a transitional period, with Bruno Lage appointed in the summer to replace the departing Nuno Espírito Santo. They have largely gone under the radar this season so far, but find themselves sitting in an impressive 8th position having quietly gone about their business.
They are a real team and, therefore, it is difficult to pick out an individual who has been their player of the season so far. However, it could be argued that 24-year-old central defender, Max Kilman, has been that man. Kilman has had a unique route to professional football as a lot of his background comes from Futsal; the indoor variety of the game. He had struggled to break into Wolves’ three man defence in recent seasons and it looked as though he may have to go elsewhere to get first team football. However, this season, Kilman has become a vital player for Lage, playing all 18 of their league games. He even has a goal to his name, scoring the opener in a 2-1 win over Everton in November.
New goalkeeper, Jose Sa, deserves a mention for seamlessly replacing the outgoing Rui Patricio, as does Hee-Chan Hwang who has popped up with some vital goals since joining in the summer.