John Obi Mikel
While there were reportedly a few players doing a jig when Jose Mourinho left Chelsea, it’s fair to say that Mikel would have danced with even greater gusto when he heard that Guus Hiddink was returning to Stamford Bridge. The Nigerian started ten of a possible 13 games under the Dutchman in 2009, and will have been confident of a repeat.
So it has proved. Having left Mikel on the bench for the 2-2 draw with Watford on Boxing Day, Hiddink promptly reinstated him into central midfield, where he has stayed for every game since.
In Mourinho’s last 11 months in charge, Mikel started four league games. He’s already equalled that in three weeks under Hiddink. He truly is Guus’ golden egg.
Quite what Ashley Young did to annoy Louis van Gaal we may never know, but the England international (can we say ‘former’ yet?) found himself left firmly on the naughty step by his manager. Having started the opening league game of the season, Young promptly lost his place to Adnan Januzaj for the trip to Aston Villa. He then started only one league game until November 7.
Has Ashley Young run over the Van Gaal family pet? #mufc
— Mark Chapman (@markchapman) December 12, 2015
Still not given the opportunity to play in his natural position, it is Young’s versatility that has caused his Old Trafford redemption. This season alone he has played as a right midfielder, left midfielder, left-back and right-back. Having started United’s last six matches, it’s probably not a time to get picky about his position.
After playing against Leicester on January 1, 2015, Toure would have been glummer than a skint second-hand car salesman had he realised that the entire year would give him just one more Premier League start. That was a 4-1 defeat to former club Arsenal.
In fact, Toure had become a parody figure at Anfield. He is King of the Memes, more joke figure than footballer. So it was quite surprising when the 34-year-old not only started the League Cup semi-final first leg against Stoke, but dominated it. League starts against Arsenal and Manchester United then followed.
There is no doubt that Toure’s return to the side is accounted for by Liverpool’s injuries. Yet there is a sense that he is climbing the pecking order at Anfield.
“Jurgen [Klopp] knows I’m a fighter and that, whenever he needs me, I will step in and give my best for the team,” Toure told the Guardian last week. “I’m playing for one of the best clubs in the world at 34. Not many players can say that.”
The sexy entrant on this list, and also the most striking. Not only has Collins returned to the centre of West Ham’s defence, he’s looked absolutely bloody brilliant since doing so.
It’s one thing starting nine of Sam Allardyce’s last ten games in charge, but another thing entirely impressing Slaven Bilic. When Collins was left on the bench for West Ham’s excellent start to the season, the 32-year-old must have feared for his Premier League future. Not a bit of it.
Collins came back into the team for a three-game spell in October, before helping Bilic out again in December. Not only has the Welshman not lost his place since, he also signed new two-year contract on Christmas eve.
“The manager pulled me in during pre-season and said ‘Yes you are fourth choice, this is the situation, but it can change, it’s up to you’,” Collins said last month. “Since then I’ve worked hard in training every day, I come in with a smile on my face and when the chances have come, thankfully, I’ve taken them.” There’s plenty to admire in that.
It is approaching six years since Carroll signed a professional contract with Tottenham, and even he must have doubted whether he would ever start a league game for the club. A loan spell at Swansea last season was only mildly successful so, with him turning 24 at the end of this campaign, 2015/16 had to see an improvement in fortunes.
That first league start finally came on December 13, Carroll substituted after 69 minutes against Newcastle with Spurs 1-0; they would go on to lose that game. Having come off the bench to score against Norwich on Boxing Day (Christmas Carroll etc and so on), the midfielder has since started three more league games and both FA Cup matches against Leicester.
“Tom made a real impact for the team and we are very pleased for him,” says Mauricio Pochettino. “He deserves this moment because he works hard in training.” Just another young player loving life down the Lane.