1. Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Otamendi took a while to adjust to the English game following his £28.5m move from Valencia last summer, but his displays so far this season have dismissed all notions that he was a transfer market flop. As well as demonstrating his physical prowess in one-on-one duels with opposition strikers, the Argentina international has also proven an able distributor of the ball from the heart of the backline. Perfect for Pep.
2. Adam Lallana (Liverpool)
Lallana’s always been easy on the eye and a player capable of making things happen in the final third, but his inconsistent end product let him down throughout his first two years at Anfield. He’s shown a huge improvement in that regard this term, though: Lallana’s already netted three times, leaving him just one goal shy of his top-flight return in 2015/16. Jurgen Klopp praised the England international’s hard work as the key reason for his progress, but the German’s own role has been huge.
3. Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Costa spent much of last season sulking and throwing his toys out of the pram, but that wasn’t necessarily a problem: after all, he tends to do that that even when things are going well. The Spain international – back in for his national team too – already looks much sharper this season, having scored five goals in his six Premier League appearances and causing problems for defenders with his powerful running and hold-up play. Costa was linked with a return to Atletico Madrid in the summer, but Chelsea fans will be grateful he stayed put.
4. Kevin Mirallas (Everton)
Mirallas fell out of favour at Goodison Park last term, starting only 10 Premier League matches under Roberto Martinez. In contrast, new Everton boss Ronald Koeman has included him in all six of his line-ups this year, and the Belgian has repaid his manager’s faith thus far. Granted, Mirallas is still inconsistent and wasn’t quite at it against Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, but his performances in clashes with Tottenham, West Brom and Stoke suggest he’s making positive strides in the right direction.
5. Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United)
Manchester United’s best showing of the season may have come when Fellaini was absent, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge the midfielder’s contributions before last Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of Leicester. Although Fellaini’s not a natural holder, he performed admirably in the role against Bournemouth and Southampton, and also did pretty well in the loss to Manchester City considering he was afforded little protection from his team-mates.
6. Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
“I said many times at the start of the season that we would see a different Theo Walcott,” Arsene Wenger said after Saturday’s obliteration of Chelsea. “I could see he made a decision and sticks to it.” The 27-year-old has certainly caught the eye in the opening weeks, playing an important role in the fluid frontline which has propelled Arsenal to third in the early standings. Walcott is now seemingly content to settle for a spot on the right flank after previous demands to be fielded through the middle.
7. Charlie Austin (Southampton)
Austin wasn’t afforded much of an opportunity after swapping QPR for Southampton midway through last season, but he’s stated his case to new boss Claude Puel since the 2016/17 campaign got under way. He’s now begun as many Premier League games as he did last time out (two), with his goal tally in all competitions already surpassing his record across those four months (five vs one).
8. Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola might have been guilty of hyperbole when he praised Kolarov’s display against Sunderland as “one of the best performances I have seen in a central defender”, but the Serb’s certainly exceeded expectations in his new position. Although many thought Kolarov would be near the top of Guardiola’s ‘to go’ list upon taking charge in the summer, he’s actually started five of Manchester City’s first six Premier League matches, impressing at both left-back and centre-half.
9. Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Son could easily have left White Hart Lane in July or August, but his decision to remain in north London has hitherto paid off: the South Korean has bagged five goals in five games, following up braces against Stoke and Middlesbrough with a Champions League winner at CSKA Moscow, and now looks like an essential member of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham squad.
Son puts ahead with a huge goal in Moscow. September 27, 2016
10. James Milner (Liverpool)
Milner had a mixed 2015/16, a stretch of solid spells undermined by several shakier ones, but he’s started the current campaign brilliantly in an unfamiliar left-back role. The former Manchester City man has been reliable defensively as well as dangerous going forward, with his ability to hit pinpoint crosses into the penalty area likely to prove a useful Plan B when Liverpool’s quick combinations aren’t bearing fruit.
11. Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace)
Puncheon may have given Crystal Palace the lead against Manchester United in the FA Cup final in May, but that was a rare bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming campaign. He’s been back to his best this time around, though, resuming his role as Palace’s creative hub from either the right wing or No.10 position. No player in the Premier League has fashioned more opportunities than the 30-year-old so far this season, with attacking team-mates Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha all benefiting from his invention.
12. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
2015/16 was an extremely testing campaign for Sterling. Public Enemy No.1 for having the temerity to try to progress his career beyond Liverpool, he initially struggled under the weight of a £49m price tag at the Etihad Stadium and then endured a disastrous summer with England at Euro 2016. He’s been revitalised under the guidance of Guardiola, however, scoring four goals, setting up three more and looking a constant threat on the right flank. Still only 21, there’s plenty more to come, too.
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