1. Riyad Mahrez
Sometimes statistics can be misleading but, in Mahrez’s case, they tell the story wonderfully. Leicester’s right-winger is in the Premier League’s top five players in terms of both goals and assists and has developed into an extremely clinical player in the final third, having previously been an exciting winger rather than a truly effective one.
Jamie Vardy grabbed the headlines in the first half of the season, but Mahrez has been Leicester’s most consistent attacker over the course of 2015/16. He’s been crucial to Leicester’s counter-attacking gameplan, but has also proved able to break down packed defences too – important considering the Foxes’ opponents have increasingly sat back since Christmas.
Since heading the opener in Leicester’s 4-2 win over Sunderland on the opening day, Mahrez has been fantastic. There’s been a hat-trick against Swansea, a memorable curling shot against Chelsea in Jose Mourinho’s final game – where he was Leicester’s most threatening player with his dribbling and shooting – and a stunning individual effort in the 3-1 win at Manchester City which confirmed Leicester’s status as the best side in the division.
2. Jamie Vardy
It’s worth reiterating that Vardy scored just five Premier League goals last season, and endured a 21-game run where he failed to find the net entirely. In the Premier League’s 24-year history, no one has exploded quite so spectacularly. His record-breaking run of scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League games could stand for a considerable period of time.
Vardy specialises at running the channels, particularly the inside-right position. He’s thrived in a team usually playing on the counter-attack because of his pace and excellent first touch.
His performances have dropped in the second half of the campaign, as teams have afforded him, and Leicester, little space. But his work rate has been exceptional, helping to keep Leicester compact, and he’s become a better provider too, notching three assists in the period since his last goal at Arsenal on Valentine’s Day.
His outstanding moment was the mid-air goal against Liverpool, a perfect demonstration of Vardy’s ability to turn hopeful long passes into goals.
3. Harry Kane
Last season it was slightly difficult to work out whether Harry Kane was really as good as his goalscoring return suggested. Was he simply getting lucky? Would defenders work him out in his second season?
The answer to both questions is an emphatic no. Kane endured something of a goal drought at the start of the season, but still offered Spurs great quality – he dropped deep, linked play and improved his all-round game.
Inevitably, he started scoring soon afterwards, and has barely stopped since. Underrated for his aerial threat, Kane was particularly impressive in a 5-1 win at Bournemouth in October, constantly winning balls in the air, and scoring a close-range hat-trick too.
A master poacher, Kane doesn’t need to be provided with clear-cut chances – he has a tremendous habit of controlling the ball and adjusting his body into a goalscoring position quickly and efficiently, converting half-chances with ease.
His bending strike from a tight angle against Arsenal in the 2-2 draw in March was quite extraordinary. Few players score 20 Premier League goals in two consecutive seasons – Kane is evidently a seriously good striker.
4. Dimitri Payet
From his opening-day performance in a surprise 3-0 victory over Arsenal, it was clear Payet was going to be an exciting newcomer to the Premier League. But even his greatest admirers must have been surprised at his consistency – in Ligue 1 he often drifted in and out of games, whereas this season he’s been leading West Ham’s charge.
A mazy dribbler, a prolific assistor and a goal threat too, Payet is essentially a great all-round attacking midfielder. West Ham’s fine counter-attacking victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City early in the season were largely because of Payet’s thrilling directness with the ball at his feet.
His performance in September’s 2-0 win over Newcastle showed his ability to create chances for team-mates – and he hit both goals himself.
He’s also scored some quite outrageous free-kicks, at a time where the Premier League lacks the dead-ball specialists of yesteryear. West Ham are constantly linked with big names ahead of their summer move to the Olympic Stadium, but it’s tough to imagine anyone will be as popular with Hammers fans as Payet.
5. N’Golo Kante
Adjusting to the pace of Premier League football is often difficult for Ligue 1 arrivals, who are accustomed to a much slower tempo. But this hasn’t remotely been a problem for Kante, who has been the Premier League’s best defensive-minded midfielder by a long way.
Kante has patrolled the central midfield zone effectively alongside Danny Drinkwater, and was immediately impressive for his stamina and ball-winning qualities, prolific in terms of both tackling and intercepting. In the 3-0 win over Newcastle in November, he won possession a staggering 16 times.
But Kante’s attacking qualities have increasingly become obvious too. Capable of sudden bursts forward into the final third, he’s perfect for a counter-attacking side and has shown an ability to make good decisions to feed Vardy and Mahrez too. At £5.6m, he’s been a bargain.
6. Mesut Ozil
Inconsistently impressive over his first two Premier League campaigns, Ozil’s 2015/16 season has unquestionably been his best since joining Arsenal.
Ozil became the first Premier League player to assist in six consecutive matches when he teed up Kieran Gibbs’s equaliser against Tottenham in November and has been a constant source of creativity.
In Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth just after Christmas, he created an astonishing nine goalscoring chances. What’s more impressive: he wasn’t constantly trying to play the final ball, barely conceding possession.
His performance in the 3-0 victory over Manchester United is probably his most outstanding display, counter-attacking efficiently to help win the game within the first 20 minutes. His assist count has dropped in recent weeks, but his contribution over the course of the season has been outstanding.
7. Dele Alli
For a player who was playing third-tier football last season, Alli’s performances this season have been unbelievably impressive. He was on the bench for Spurs’ first four matches of the campaign – but since starting against Sunderland in September, he’s barely been out of the side.
A naturally formidable athlete perfect for Spurs’ pressing game, Alli is also excellent technically. His first touch is outstanding, always putting himself in a position to play a decisive pass with his second touch.
There’s an element of trickery about his game, too – he loves a nutmeg, while his outstanding goal against Crystal Palace, flicking the ball over an opponent’s head before volleying into the net from outside the box, is one of the best of the season.
His display at Watford in December showed his simple ability to intercept the ball regularly to regain possession, and then keep the ball with a succession of solid passes.
Alli also has a curious habit of going in behind defences to collect long balls, which is rather unusual for a midfielder. But that’s the movement of a player determined to contribute in the final third, not just in midfield. Alli turns 20 this month, and will surely improve further.
Verdict: Riyad Mahrez
The Leicester man's brilliant numbers across the board speak for themselves. Many players have contributed terrifically to the Foxes' cause this season, but their Algerian wideman has pulled out the magic moments when his side have needed them most. It's been far from an individualistic season for Mahrez, though – and that's arguably the most impressive thing he'll come away with.
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