It's the season of uncertainty. Previously-bottom three scrapping teams can whack the champions for seven. Penalties can and will be given for the most menial of touches. Roy Keane will offer out Tim Cahill over Arsenal's pressing.
2020/21 is the most chaotic campaign since records begun (that's 1992, by the way), with as many as eight teams in the title fight. Anyone can take points off anyone - apart from Sheffield United, apparently - and the stars are continuing to shine despite COVID outbreaks and muscle fatigue.
The likely strikers have still performed. The reliable keepers still have the cleanest of sheets. Metronomic midfielders are continuing to deliver with all the reliability of Royal Mail posties.
As the majority of teams have now played 19 games, let's look back at the best players of the season so far. Who are the 50 best performers of this term?
50. Antonee Robinson
The former Wigan Athletic full-back spent last season battling relegation in the Championship and now finds himself doing something similar in the Premier League. The American’s pace and desire to get forward are assets to a Fulham side who often lack guile, though his red card against Chelsea showed a recklessness the relegation battlers cannot afford this campaign.
49. Andros Townsend
The Crystal Palace forward continues to cause headaches for opposition defenders, thanks to his pace and trickery, even as he approaches his 30th birthday. Ranking fifth in the top-flight for successful crosses, you suspect Palace might be a little further up the table if they had a clinical target man. A committed and hardworking player any coach would enjoy working with.
48. Che Adams
Four goals and four assists in 17 appearances is a respectable haul for a player who has only been a Premier League forward for one full season before this. He’s never going to get you 20 goals a campaign, but Adams’ touch, dribbling and passing range are key to Southampton hurting teams on the break. The seven big chances he has created put him eighth on the chart. A luxury player who also works hard for his manager - a rare and valuable combination.
47. Raheem Sterling
The England winger has looked more than a little off the pace this season, with just five goals from 17 appearances so far. The seven big chances missed so far are a testament to the sticky form he and the rest of the Manchester City squad have found themselves in despite their recent surge to the Premier League summit.
Still, Sterling remains a handful for any defender on his day, and his determination and intelligent movement mean a purple patch is never far away. He’ll want to hit top form in the coming months in order to be on his game for the Euros.
46. Matty Cash
The right-back swapped Nottingham Forest for Aston Villa over the summer, and looked at home in the Premier League from the get-go. Quick, determined and solid on the ball, the Englishman has impressed defensively while chipping in with a couple of assists too. Looks a bargain at £13m.
45. Kalvin Phillips
The “Yorkshire Pirlo” has been integral once again to the way Marcelo Biela wants his Leeds United side to play. Phillips is scrappy off the ball and composed on it. While chaos ensues all around him - as it often does with Leeds under Bielsa - it is often their midfield general who restores tranquillity. Has shown the passing range and awareness to warrant a place in the England squad this summer, but faces stiff competition and must stay focused.
44. Danny Ings
Recurring injury problems have halted what was shaping up to be another stellar season for the big Englishman. Yet he can still take pride in seven goals from 13 appearances and the sixth best shit conversion rate among all attacking players. The focus now will be to get fully fit, before helping Southampton finish as high up the table as possible. If he can succeed on that front, a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad will surely be his reward.
43. James Maddison
Fantasy football fans have either celebrated or cursed the name James Maddison in January, as the Leicester City schemer’s three goals in three games were only outshone by his frank and honest post match patter.
Even before that run, Maddison has been a key man for Brendan Rodgers’ fantastic foxes, helping the club maintain their unlikely title bid. If the almost-impossible is to be done, the player who ranks in the division’s top 10s for fouls won and chances created will command a great deal of credit.
42. John McGinn
McGinn might play second-fiddle to Jack Grealish in the Aston Villa midfield, but fans of the Birmingham-based club will be quick to tell you how vital the stocky Sctosman is to the way they play. Quick feet, hard to knock off the ball and almost as adept as his partner when it comes to winning fouls (he ranks fourth in the league overall), McGinn has been a key component to the success Villa are currently enjoying under Dean Smith.
41. Ademola Lookman
It would be easy to look back on the Englishman’s humiliating botched panenka against West Ham and dismiss him as style-over-substance, but Fulham fans will be quick to correct you.
While a little raw at times, the 23-year old is direct and aggressive on the ball - a trait timid Fulham were crying out for before Lookman was loaned from RB Leipzig on deadline day - and has provided a bright spark in an otherwise difficult season so far for the Cottagers. He ranks eighth in the top-flight for successful dribbles, and his courage on the ball may yet make a big difference to Fulham’s survival campaign.
40. Kyle Walker-Peters
The Southampton right-back ranks in the top 10 for duels won and successful tackles so far this season, proving what a key component he’s been in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s much-lauded back line. The Englishman appears settled on the south coast, since making his loan move permanent for a budget £12m in the summer, and will only improve further under the Austrian’s guidance.
39. Harvey Barnes
In a team that’s so heavily reliant on the talents of Jamie Vardy, Harvey Barnes is growing in confidence at Leicester City. The young wide-man has taken some of the burden away from his teammate, chipping in with goals, assists and match-winning moments to help propel the Foxes up the table. Could he play himself into contention for the Euros?
Richarlison was always going to benefit from James Rodriguez. The Brazilian has been consistently excellent this season and Everton have seriously missed him when he’s been absent; he's ascended into becoming one of the best forwards in the league and he's an asset to Carlo Ancelotti's side.
37. Wesley Fofana
Wesley Fofana is one for the future - or least he’s supposed to be. Leicester’s 20-year-old centre-back has been outstanding in the backline for the Foxes, proving himself to be an well-rounded and mature player beyond his years. He’s arguably Leicester’s best defender already and he’s been outstanding so far.
Despite the plethora of new talent at Dean Smith’s fingertips, Trezeguet has been as good as ever. The Egyptian is a bundle of energy, a threat in the box and has tied full-backs in knots this campaign. Few teams have truly outplayed Aston Villa this season and Trezeguet has played his part in their fine form.
35. Ilkay Gundogan
It’s a role reversal that works though; the German has been growing in stature in David Silva’s absence, dictating tempo and being one of City’s most reliable performers. He’s been excellent this season.
34. Pedro Neto
Wolverhampton Wanderers have had a mixed season coping with the loss of Diogo Jota, the injury of Raul Jimenez and the lack of action for Adama Traore. In the trio’s absence, Pedro Neto have thrived, providing directness, goal threat and creative ability in abundance. He’s only going to get better, too.
33. Patrick Bamford
Most people had written Patrick Bamford off as a Premier League striker. As Leeds United have thrived in the big time though, so has Big Pat, leading the line for Marcelo Bielsa and targeting double-figures. A stunning hat-trick at Aston Villa in October marked his arrival as a true top-tier forward at last.
32. Reece James
Reece James has always had the potential for a season like this. In Chelsea’s star-studded line-up, he’s looked more than comfortable, providing excellent delivery from out wide and being a stable defensive figure, too. There’s plenty of competition for the right-back slot in England’s first XI - but James is more than staking his claim this term.
31. Lucas Digne
Replacing Leighton Baines is no mean feat. Lucas Digne has been excellent for years now, though, and this season in Carlo Ancelotti’s high-flying Everton side, Digne has delivered consistent numbers as ever, linking up nicely with the likes of Richarlison and James Rodriguez. As the Toffees improve, so does Digne: he’s been great to watch again this term.
30. Oriel Romeu
Oriel Romeu’s partnership with James Ward-Prowse in Southampton’s midfield has been nothing short of flawless all season. The Spaniard provides the bite that JWP doesn’t but he’s also displayed his technical abilities too: every team needs what Romeu gives you.
29. James Justin
Wherever James Justin slots in, he puts so much effort into his game. Over the last year, Leicester City have lost Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell from their first XI and yet Justin has done everything that Brendan Rodgers has asked for and more. With a maturity beyond his years and intelligence to turn his hand to any situation, could he be an outside bet for England’s Euros squad?
30. Joao Cancelo
Whether on the right or the left - or tucking into midfield in one of Pep Guardiola’s inverted full-back roles - Portuguese Joao Cancelo has been one of Manchester City’s better players this season, delivering consistency wherever he’s used. An intelligent player with good passing and an innate ability to always be where he’s needed, his game has stepped up another notch this season.
27. Tariq Lamptey
Signed for under £5m, Tariq Lamptey has been an absolute revelation at Brighton & Hove Albion. The tiny right-back is so much fun to watch: he’s a pure bundle of energy with intelligence in possession and a hunger to cover the ground and win back the ball. Chelsea must be ruing letting him go so cheaply.
26. Declan Rice
Declan Rice is surpassing all expectation. West Ham United’s excellent start to the season is thanks, in part, to his continued reliability alongside Tomas Soucek. Rice is getting better offensively too and learning to dictate games for the Hammers: no wonder he’s a wanted man.
Fabinho went from playing in a double-pivot at Monaco, to becoming a lone DM at Liverpool. He mastered the role; now in Liverpool’s defensive crisis, he’s become the lynchpin holding the back four together. That Liverpool’s drop-off isn’t that bad after losing the best defender in the world, is thanks to Fabinho. He’s displayed all the same awareness and excellence in possession but become a superb centre-back in a high line this season, too.
24. Ollie Watkins
A perfect hat-trick at home to the champions isn’t a bad way to start your account. Ollie Watkins has been integral to Aston Villa’s continued rise up the table, proving himself to be a well-rounded striker who’ll only get better. He cost over £20m but it may well prove to be a bargain.
23. Mason Mount
There’s a reason Mason Mount is so undroppable for Chelsea. He’s gradually becoming the kind of footballer who demands a place in any team, thanks to his superb reading of the game and ability to dictate. Mount is having a great season with the Blues and everything good coming out of Stamford Bridge is going through him, first.
22. Youri Tielemans
What a signing Youri Tielemans was. There was doubt over whether he could hack it deeper in midfield, concern over whether he could truly control games - but the Belgian is slowly growing into one of the sturdiest midfield generals in the country. You could set your watch by Tielemans: he’s hard-working and deft in everything he does. He’s key to Leicester’s ambitions.
21. Andrew Robertson
At some points, he’s been the only regular member of the back five left on the field at Liverpool, such has been the injury problems at Anfield. Scottish defender Robertson is as ever-reliable as ever, though, whipping balls into the box, scorching the left side of the pitch with his work-rate and locking right-wingers in his back pocket. If Liverpool retain their title, they’ll owe so much of it to this guy.
20. Ben Chilwell
Chilwell to Chelsea was a no-brainer, wasn’t it? In spite of the embarrassment of riches in the Stamford Bridge squad, the English left-back is one of the primary creators in the side, while he’s no slouch defensively either. Chilwell has had an instant impact - he could make this role his own for years to come at the club.
19. Bukayo Saka
Bukayo Saka is 19 but he’s no future star: he’s already the beating heart of everything Arsenal do. The shining light in a patchy-at-best Gunners season, Saka has been superb in defence, attack and transition, carrying Mikel Arteta’s side on his young shoulders. He’s already been capped for England and now he’s starting to make the right-wing position his own: it’s scary what he might become.
18. Kurt Zouma
Kurt Zouma always threatened to be one of the premier defenders in English football and this season, alongside Thiago Silva, the Frenchman is delivering - and then some. With goals to go with the clean sheets, Zouma has been assured, physical and excellent in distributing the ball: considering he’s not always been an automatic starter under Frank Lampard, you’d never guess.
17. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
Jose Mourinho has had midfield generals before but never one in the shape of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The Dane is a combination of brains and brawn, organising the Tottenham Hotspur midfield and covering every blade of the pitch. It feels like watching Christian Bale as Batman, de-masked, yet taking down bad guys one by one - he’s been a bargain at £15m.
16. Sadio Mane
One of the most unique and watchable footballers to ever play in the division, there’s nothing new that can be said about Sadio Mane. When he doesn’t score, he creates space; when he doesn’t create chances, he’s still a threat. There’s no keeping your eyes off him - he’ll only give you the slip, anyway.
15. Jannick Vestergaard
Who knew that Vestergaard was the Van Dijk replacement all along? Southampton have been imperious this season, with 6ft6in-tall Dane Vestergaard leading the back four by example. He’s a colossus in both boxes - and he’s been superb for Ralph Hasenhuttl over the past year.
14. Emiliano Martinez
Emi Martinez’s late-career renaissance is one of the more romantic Premier League subplots of the last 12 months. Dropped in at the deep end as a substitute for Bernt Leno for Arsenal at Brighton, the Argentinian stopper has since left home and moved in with Aston Villa, becoming the calm, reliable presence they needed behind the sticks. It’s hard to believe he went so long being a No.2.
13. Jamie Vardy
It’s almost certain by now that Jamie Vardy has a painting of himself in his attic. The ageless Fox in the box just keeps rolling back the years; at 34, he’s as good as he’s ever been and defenders still can’t contain him. Highlight of the season is undoubtedly that hat-trick against Manchester City.
12. Tanguy Ndombele
When Jose Mourinho singles you out as being a problem at the club, you either sink or swim - and boy has the French midfielder turned his Spurs career around.
Skilful, unbelievably press-resistant and with an array of passers in his locker to almost make Andrea Pirlo blush, Ndombele has been a glue of sorts in Mourinho’s midfield. He’s a big reason for the North Londoners’ good form - he’s repaying that investment.
11. Marcus Rashford
By day, he forces government U-turns and strives to protect the most vulnerable in society; by night, he’s now an indisputable Premier League A-lister. Marcus Rashford has 12 goals and assists in 17 appearances this term - he’s ascended to become an icon of the game off the pitch and he’s fast becoming on the field, too.
10. Tomas Soucek
The big Czech was drafted in over the summer to shore up West Ham’s midfield and he's been a revelation. Only one player (Tottenham’s Hugo Loris) has played more minutes this season, and no player has won more than his 172 duels.
The fact he’s chipped in with five goals has also been an unexpected bonus. The 6ft4in destroyer has also come across as charming and intelligent in post-match interviews on several occasions. An absolute bargain at £15m.
9. Kevin De Bruyne
Still the outstanding talent in the Premier League. De Bruyne is undoubtedly the most gifted passer Premier League fans have ever witnessed, and he’s been at it again this season.
The Belgian’s 10 assists have been the driving force behind a lacklustre City’s drive to the top of the Premier League table, while his three goals have also come at vital moments. If a pretty pedestrian Manchester City do win another Premier League title this season, there’s little doubt who they will need to thank for it.
8. James Rodriguez
Toffees fans concerned whether Rodriguez’s languid style would be a help or a hindrance in the Premier League would have only needed to watch to the end of matchday 2 to be reassured.
The Colombian’s supernatural gifts were on full display in the 5-2 shellacking of new boys West Brom. His one goal and assist were all well and good, but the stat that really had fans drooling? Rodriguez didn’t make a single spring across the entire 90 minutes. Why should he bother, when mooching around with this level of confidence will suffice?
He’s managed three goals and three assists in 12 appearances in 2020/21, but fans will be expecting more magic in the second half of the campaign.
7. Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The Everton marksman has evolved into one of the league’s most deadly finishers under Carlo Ancelotti. Calvert-Lewin’s progress from skinny-but-awkward tyro into one of the best target men in the Premier League has been as heartwarming as it has been astonishing.
He aerial threat and determination mean no cross is a bad cross, and his 11 goal haul (the third highest in the Premier League this season) should have fired him into this summer’s England squad, regardless of what happens from here on.
6. James Ward-Prowse
The Southampton midfielder feels like a throwback to an era when great freekick takers were ten-a-penny. The Englishman’s ability to lift a ball up and over a wall is unrivalled in England, and may prove a secret weapon at the Euros this summer.
His tireless workrate, industry and eye for a pass have all been key to Southampton’s sensational first half of the season. A player loved by Fantasy Premier League managers across the country.
5. Mohamed Salah
Such was Salah’s impact during his incredible first season with Liverpool, every merely-excellent campaign since is falsely seen as a slump.
The Egyptian has quietly got on with things, and this season boasts the best minutes-to-goals ratio (113) in the top-flight, while also creating chances for teammates. Reds fans, and even teammates, can be frustrated with his selfishness at times, but Mo is as close to a guarantee of goals as you’ll find on these shores.
4. Bruno Fernandes
Critics continue to dismiss the Portugese creator as a penalty-merchant; a jibe which overlooks two things. One, that it is incredibly handy having someone who doesn’t wilt from 12-yards; and two, that Fernandes has played more key passes (56) than anybody in the Premier League not named Jack Grealish and has seven assists to his name.
Fernandes has been sensational at Manchester United, and his defensive contribution and workrate should also not be overlooked. The heartbeat of the team at the top of the Premier League.
3. Harry Kane
In the past, Spurs fans were happy enough debating whether their No.10 was the best striker in world football.
Now, they could make a good case for him being the best playmaker on the planet too. Kane’s touch, vision and weight of pass are receiving added recognition this campaign, as the England captain’s 11 assists put him top of the charts ahead of Kevin De Bruyne (10). His 12 goals are evidence that his deadlier side hasn’t deserted him either. Once a great centre-forward, now an all-round supreme footballer.
2. Son Heung-min
The South Korean has always known where the goal is, but this season he’s taken it up a notch.
His intelligent movement, pace and composure have brought the best out of fellow Spurs forward Harry Kane, who appears to have honed a new side of his game thanks to Son’s willingness to run beyond defences. Twelve goals in 18 appearances - as well as six assists - is a world class haul for a player who operates more from the wing than through the middle.
His four goals against Southampton back in September (all of which were set up by Kane) remains the most jaw-dropping performance from any player so far this season.
1. Jack Grealish
The Aston Villa captain’s gift for winning fouls remains unparalleled in the Premier League, but there’s evidence to suggest Grealish has become a Jack of all trades as opposed to a master of one.
His 12 goal contributions from 16 appearances is the ninth-highest in the division, he’s played more key passes (58) than anybody else and also won the second most duels of any player - testament to his all-round importance to the Villains. Dean Smith’s side’s exciting start to the session (Villa are currently 11th with three games in hand) has much to do with their maverick’s creativity, determination and leadership.
Hair slicked back and socks rolled below those magnificent calves, there are few players more fun to watch than Grealish when he’s up for it - and he’s got the stats to back it up too.
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