10. Sead Kolasinac (Arsenal)
The first thing that strikes you about Kolasinac is his sheer body mass. Lantern-jawed with the torso of an Olympic weightlifter and a backside that puts Kevin Davies to shame, Arsenal’s new left-back is an antithesis of the fragility that has blighted Arsenal for years.
Yet there’s a deceptive level of subtlety to the Bosnian’s game too, and for a man seemingly built to defend it’s his attacking that has impressed the most. His performance against Swansea on Saturday was a masterclass in smart movement and shrewd link-up play, capped with a wonderfully composed finish.
9. Richarlison (Watford)
The most entertaining player in the league? Certainly there are few who possess the ability to place themselves at the heart of the action like Watford's Brazilian forward. The results can vary – this season has already produced three goals and at least as many spurned sitters – but there’s little argument that Richarlison has that cocktail of fearlessness and attacking unpredictability which can turn a well-drilled side into one capable of beating anybody.
As it stands, Marco Silva’s Watford are edging towards the latter category. While their excellence is very much a collective effort, you sense that they’d miss their impulsive attacker a whole lot more than they would anyone else.
8. Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
When Yoshida first came to Southampton, in their first season back in the top flight, he was a largely uninspiring regular in a side that conceded as many goals – 60 – as that season’s bottom-placed club. The next season he was promptly dropped, and their defence has drastically improved over the four years since.
Yet the story hasn’t quite been as straightforward as that. In the background, Yoshida has been steadily working himself back into the fold, and this term proven himself to be a one-man remedy to the crisis that threatened to ensconce Southampton’s season.
Having spent the summer pining for a move, Virgil van Dijk wasn't picked until mid-September, but Yoshida’s steady presence at centre-back – his side have kept clean sheets in half the games he’s started – ensured Southampton’s star player wasn't missed a jot.
7. Ben Davies (Tottenham)
The most impressive aspect about Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs project is the team’s remarkable ability to absorb the loss of any one player. Danny Rose has been one of the club’s standout performers over the last three years or so – perhaps the country’s most improved player in that time, with his tireless engine vital to the team’s style.
Yet his absence has not dented Spurs in the slightest. His replacement at left-back has offered greater composure and final-third delivery, all while compromising very little of the scampering energy that’s so critical to his side. His alertness in denying Marcus Rashford a tap-in at Old Trafford last weekend was supreme defending. Rose has his work cut out to win his place back.
6. Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle)
One of the quiet triumphs of the season so far has been Newcastle's steady rise away from relegation dogfight territory, and closer to the heady heights of the European places. As sure as night follows day, Rafa Benitez has fashioned a canny and tightly disciplined team whose collective powers outstrip the sum of its parts.
At the heart of that has been Lascelles, who began the season in the odd position of being club captain yet third-choice centre-back. The 23-year-old has stepped into the side to make a mini injury crisis look like nothing of the sort, impressing with his maturity, no-frills defending and strong off-the-field personality.
5. James Tarkowski (Burnley)
When Burnley sold Michael Keane to Everton and decided not to delve into the transfer market for a replacement, many feared the worst. Keane was Burnley’s best player by a distance and his replacement, James Tarkowski, had only four top-flight starts to his name.
Yet as tends to be the case when it comes to blood-and-guts centre-halves, Sean Dyche’s judgment has proved spot on. Tarkowski has slotted seamlessly into a side that has already taken points off Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool, and notched a gritty 1-0 win against Keane’s new outfit. Only the top three have conceded fewer than Burnley, and Tarkowski has played every minute.
4. Romelu Lukaku (Man United)
Lukaku’s last league goal came in September – but a quiet month is not enough to dent the claim that the Belgian’s arrival has taken his side up a level or two. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s aura was all well and good, but Lukaku’s tirelessness, smart movement and high-intensity hustling make everything tick that little bit more smoothly – all without sacrificing any of the goal threat at centre-forward.
Critics will point out that the failure to make his mark against top sides – the continuation of an unfortunate theme from his Everton days – still counts against him. Others would say he’s hamstrung by his manager’s bleak lack of adventure in such fixtures and that, anyway, it’s the lesser teams that United need to learn how to beat.
In that regard, the games in which Lukaku has scored in represent a six-point improvement on the corresponding fixtures last season.
3. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Although the first three months of Chelsea’s season have been a bizarre Frankenstein’s monster of chest-beating victories and shock suckerpunch defeats – and most players’ form being subject to the same zigzagging unpredictability – one man has remained characteristically consistent.
Azpilicueta is the archetypal coach’s dream: not only can he play a number of positions within a number of systems, but he can do so without it affecting his remarkable level of reliability. Add to that quiet leadership and understated authority, as well as the handy knack of making those around him look that bit better, and you have quite a player.
Flitting between centre-back and wing-back this term, it’s taken six seasons at Chelsea for the wider world to start appreciating his importance – testament not to his lack of influence, but simply his unwillingness to make a show of it.
2. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Business as usual so far for the Premier League’s standout performer of recent seasons. After his customary (and increasingly inexplicable) August malaise, Kane has been making up for lost time with eight goals in six league games – 17 in 13 altogether for club and country. It’s fairly clear that, as is now becoming customary, anyone who finishes above him in the scoring charts will have earned themselves a golden boot. If indeed anyone can.
Kane gets plenty of praise for his phenomenal consistency, but the truth is even more impressive: he is getting better. He’s improving every facet of his skill set – season by season, month by month, game by game – to the point where at 24 years old, his game is devoid of anything resembling a weakness.
He does not boast the pace of Henry, the power of Shearer, the charisma of Cantona or the impudence of Fowler. Instead, he’s turning himself into a better all-round player than any of them.
1. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Good players can bend a game to their will. Great players can do it with entire seasons. It doesn’t happen often but Eric Cantona in 1995/96, Robin van Persie in 2012/13 and – nearly – Luis Suarez in 2013/14 are rare instances of a player taking 38 games by the scruff.
If things continue as they’ve started this term, perhaps the only thing stopping De Bruyne joining that list will be the quality of his own team-mates: they’re unlikely to need dragging out of too many holes. But City’s opening 10 games of the season have doubled as a glittering highlights reel for their No.17; it’s not just the brilliance of his play that stands out, but the sheer range of it.
The Belgian midfielder can shoot, cross, drive forward and play a defence-splitting pass as well as anyone in the league – and in his new, deeper role, it turns out he can dictate a game too. Early days, perhaps, but it’s hard to think of a more complete player in the modern era.
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