Moving on up
We're getting to the stage of the campaign where fans and pundits begin to discuss candidates for the Premier League’s end-of-season individual awards, and marvel at how a 24-year-old Bernardo Silva is still eligible for the Young Player of the Year prize.
The following 10 names may not have done quite enough to be in contention for the top PFA gong or its youthful equivalent, but they've certainly made huge strides this term...
Ben Chilwell (Leicester)
If Chilwell initially struggled when breaking into Leicester's first team last season, the 22-year-old has more than made up for time since. The Foxes' youth product has cemented himself as the first-choice left-back over stalwart Christian Fuchs, and has already amassed a career-high 26 league appearances with just over two months of the season left.
His superb club form led to a first full international cap in September against Switzerland – at the King Power Stadium, no less. Chilwell has improved his positioning and decision-making this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him become a fixture in the England side.
Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)
Fraser has been on Bournemouth’s books since 2013, when they were still in League One. He didn’t play at all in the Cherries’ debut Premier League campaign, instead spending the season on loan at Ipswich, but he’s now one of the first names on Eddie Howe’s team sheet.
As it stands, only Eden Hazard (10) has more assists than Fraser (9), who is also averaging 2.3 key passes per game – the fourth-best figure in the Premier League. A tricky and elusive dribbler, the Scotland international is Bournemouth’s key creative spark.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
Iwobi is one player who has considerably improved under Unai Emery. Although statistics don’t show a huge increase in terms of his output – he’s scored three goals and set up another six in all competitions this term – the Nigerian’s all-round play has been much better. His confidence has returned, and he’s more of a threat in the final third as a result.
The forward is still far from the final product – his decision-making can still be erratic – but it’s easy to forget that he's just 22 and already has over 100 Arsenal appearances under his belt.
Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Son has been a reliable goalscorer at Tottenham for three seasons running now, but in 2018/19 he’s cranked up his all-round game more than a notch. After registering 12 goals and six assists in 37 league games last season, the South Korean forward is only one goal shy of those totals despite playing in just 22 Premier League matches this time around.
With confidence, consistency and purpose coursing through his game now, Son hasn’t only improved from last season but become one of the deadliest players in the Premier League.
Victor Lindelof (Manchester United)
The £30m Manchester United spent on Lindelof in summer 2017 looked like a waste last season. The Swedish centre-back was particularly poor in a 2-1 defeat by Huddersfield – his second appearance for the club – and his form barely improved for the remainder of the campaign.
Things have changed dramatically this term, though, and Lindelof has now established himself as United’s best defender. An intelligent reader of the game who excels in one-versus-one situations, the 24-year-old could be a mainstay of the Red Devils' defence for seasons to come.
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Rice recently made headlines for choosing to represent England over the Republic of Ireland, having enjoyed a fantastic season in central midfield for West Ham so far.
The 20-year-old's classy passing and astute defensive work – he leads his team with 68 tackles this season – has earned him 25 starts this season, with the youngster consolidating his place as one of the Hammers’ most important players. Rice has a big future ahead of him, and West Ham fans were delighted when he signed a long-term contract in December.
Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham)
Sissoko endured a shaky first two seasons for Tottenham and was derided as one of their bigger flops in recent times. But all of that has changed this season.
After missing out on France's successful World Cup campaign, Sissoko has enjoyed a new lease of life in his preferred central role, helping Spurs overcome key injuries to the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. The 29-year-old is playing the best football of his Spurs career by far, and puzzled Tottenham fans are appreciating him more than ever.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
Monday marked the first anniversary of Wan-Bissaka’s professional debut. Thrown in amid an injury crisis at Selhurst Park, the youngster caught the eye against Tottenham that day and has barely looked back since, becoming Palace’s first-choice right-back and alerting Gareth Southgate along the way.
Wan-Bissaka has made more tackles (96) this season than anyone but Idrissa Gueye. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s only been dribbled past seven times in his 25 league appearances.
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Liverpool splashed the cash on Fabinho and Naby Keita to bolster their midfield options last summer, but Wijnaldum has been the team’s engine-room star.
While his attacking statistics have dropped, the Dutchman has helped Jurgen Klopp’s side function fluidly, keeping them in pole position of a fierce title race. His energy in the centre of the park is infectious, and he leads Liverpool midfielders for passes (1,362) and minutes played (2,025).
Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth are the Premier League’s Jekyll and Hyde team: they possess the best home record outside of the big six but are currently on a wretched run of nine consecutive away defeats. Wilson has performed well at several stadiums this season, though, with his 10 goals split evenly between home and away games.
He’s also provided five assists and proven the perfect focal point for Eddie Howe’s attack. Wilson was particularly impressive in the first half of the campaign, earning his maiden England cap in November and being linked with a January move to Chelsea.
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