The 10 Premier League players who've surprised us most this season
After a 2016/17 where Liverpool’s leaky defence cost them on more than one occasion, Reds fans were desperate for Jurgen Klopp to shore up his backline during the summer. That he did – but an £8 million left-back from relegated Hull was hardly what Kopites had in mind.
By the second half of 2017/18, however, those underwhelmed with the Scotsman’s signing had forgotten such feelings. Robertson has been the quiet success of the season at Anfield, establishing himself as an important element of Jurgen Klopp’s red machine since December’s 5-1 trouncing of Brighton, and all but confirming the end of Alberto Moreno’s career on Merseyside.
The 24-year-old has been concrete defensively but also demonstrated his devilish delivery in the final third, having created 21 chances for his team-mates in the league alone. That even neutrals were surprised by his omission from the PFA Team of the Year says it all.
It took Barnes until mid-November to get off the mark this season, and even since then he’s scored only eight goals in 23 appearances for Sean Dyche’s side – just one more than he's managed bookings in that period.
But the 28-year-old has proved something of a clutch player for the high-flying Clarets, who are bound for Europe in no small part thanks to him. Barnes’s rejuvenated partnership with Chris Wood produced four goals in successive games for him against Southampton, Everton, West Ham and West Brom – and in all of those he scored Burnley’s first or only goals.
The striker has impressed technically as well – those efforts against the Hammers and Baggies were each brilliant – so much so that he could earn an international call-up for Austria, whom he qualifies for through his grandmother (and represented at U20 level).
The Serb must have ice running through those veins of his. Crystal Palace have been awarded an astonishing nine penalties this season in the Premier League, eight of which the 27-year-old has taken. Seven have found the back of the net (the one that didn’t? The last-minute miss that would have beaten Manchester City on New Year’s Eve).
Milivojevic has added another three goals to take his total for the season to 10, but he’s been generally influential throughout the campaign; a trusted lieutenant for Roy Hodgson in the Eagles’ battle to avoid the drop.
The outstanding French midfielder in the Premier League this season? Paul Pogba? N’Golo Kante? Tiemoue Bakayoko? (Erm, OK – definitely not that last one… nor the first, for that matter.)
Nope. “I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league,” Watford’s Doucoure said in September following his side’s 2-0 win over Southampton where he opened the scoring (with his hand, admittedly) – one of seven strikes he’s managed this campaign. “I have to work on that and at the end of the season you’ll see where I am.”
Lofty ambitions, sure, but for much of the season he’s not been too far off. Since a difficult start to life at Vicarage Road – upon signing in February 2016, Doucoure was immediately turfed out on loan to Granada – he’s only missed one game all season (through suspension) and thrived as a box-to-box force.
If you believe reports, the Frenchman’s performances have impressed some of the Premier League’s top clubs including Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. A slightly disappointing end to the season might put paid to a move, but he’s certainly planted seeds of hope.
‘Looks like a 15-year-old but plays like a 30-year-old’ is a fair compliment to pay Bournemouth midfielder Cook (unless he's forgotten his ID at the supermarket, or something).
He was signed as a teenager from Leeds in summer 2016, and Cherries boss Eddie Howe has been quick to recognise his talent. No midfielder in Bournemouth’s squad has more top-flight minutes under their belt this season than the 21-year-old, and his displays have even earned him a first England cap under Gareth Southgate (much to his grandfather’s delight).
His own manager has compared him to former Bournemouth team-mate Jack Wilshere – thankfully for his playing style, rather than injury record. “There are parallels to draw between the two,” Howe said in March. “They're both dynamic players, creative players, and they've got an eye for a pass.”