Wolves’s forwards may be more exciting, their playmakers more gifted and their marauding right-back more eye-catching, but there’s a good case to be made that it’s their captain who has been the standout performer for one of this season’s standout teams.
The Merseysider’s old-school approach to centre-half duties can disguise his crisp distribution, and that he is one of the three outfield Premier League players yet to miss a minute this season is proof of his centrality to a thoroughly modern and vastly ambitious side.
What’s your favourite sight in the Premier League? Is it Eden Hazard, with his twinkling feet and shimmying hips, haring towards a cowering defender? Is it Sergio Aguero unleashing the full force of a tree-trunk quadricep to lash a 20-yarder towards goal? Or is it the ever-willing Rondon bustling after a hopeful long ball and fending off a small army of defenders without a team-mate in sight?
Ultimately it’s a matter of taste, but if yours verges towards the brutish then there are fewer more viscerally thrilling spectacles than the Venezuelan in full flow. His nine goals do scant justice to the legwork put in as the remote focal point to a side that has again punched above its weight.
At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, all dazzling stepovers and jet-heeled pace, is another talisman who has inspired a season of quiet overachievement. As well as staking a good claim to be the most exciting player in the division, Zaha is also one of its most effective: has any player in Premier League history been able to carry the ball past opponents with such remarkable reliability?
Flair players are rarely associated with hard work, consistency or leadership: this season, Zaha has shown all three abundance.
Less consistent but no less exciting is Watford’s forward-raiding full-back. Almost as fearsome as his tackling (he leads the division’s yellow card table, just as he did two seasons ago) is his dead-ball ability.
Those whipped deliveries, paired with a penchant for dribbling that remains undimmed at 34, means he spends much of his time as a defender in name only. Indeed, of the Premier League’s defenders, only Liverpool’s free-roaming full-backs have laid on more goals than the Greece international.
Things may have started to unravel in recent weeks, but that Brighton are now in a relegation dogfight should not detract from the fine work they have put in all season to keep their heads above water. And given that Chris Hughton’s kings of caution have scored the second-fewest goals in the league, there’s no overstating how much of that is down to the emphatically no-frills pairing at the heart of their defence.
In truth it’s a coin toss between which of Duffy and Lewis Dunk makes this list, but the Irishman’s five goals – four of which helped his side towards a result of some sort – means his sterling work has reaped valuable dividends at both ends of the pitch.
Any sports fan will tell you that there are few more enjoyable sights than a little guy making a mug of someone twice his size. As both a tricky winger and the shortest player currently registered in the Premier League, Fraser has plenty of opportunities to deliver the above, and this season few have gone to waste – his bedevilling of Leicester goliaths Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan back in September was an all-time classic of the genre.
With only Eden Hazard having registered more assists this term, Fraser can expect a summer soundtracked by flattering whispers.
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