We’re into ‘of the season’ territory folks. Before we get to the POTYs and YPOTYs, we’re starting with the Football365 SPOTYs, the surprise players of the year.
We’re not talking your Mohamed Salahs or Kevin De Bruynes, for whom accolades will undoubtedly follow, but those who have taken the Premier League by storm when we were expecting little more than a shower. We say they’ve taken the league by storm, but we’ve done one per club, so it’s all relative. More on the great Pierre Lees-Melou to come…
Arsenal: Martin Odegaard
We knew he was good, but not quite this good. Joining the club permanently in a £34m deal at the start of the season after an impressive, if inconsistent, loan spell last term, one of Mikel Arteta’s leaders has become the creator-in-chief at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. This season, only Mohamed Salah (58) and Bruno Fernandes (73) have created more chances than Odegaard’s 52 from open play.
Martin Ødegaard created 6 chances today against Leicester. His total of 49 chances created this season is the most by an #Arsenal player in a Premier League season since Mesut Özil (84) & Alexis Sánchez (51) in 2017-18. pic.twitter.com/mkOr3VykZA
— Harvey Downes (@HarveyDownes92) March 13, 2022
Aston Villa: Jacob Ramsey
Six Premier League starts and no goals last season, 27 starts and six goals this term. Narrative dictates that Ramsey owes his rise to box-to-box midfield manager Steven Gerrard, but he’s arguably more indebted to Dean Smith, who made him a key part of his team before his sacking. He’s scored some brilliant goals this season and is one of a new generation of English midfielders – along with Jude Bellingham – who can dribble past opposition players as well as pass through them.
Brentford: Christian Eriksen
The guy died for five minutes a little under a year ago and you wouldn’t know it; in fact, he’s arguably better for those moments out of this mortal realm. Thomas Frank believes Brentford “have a very good chance” of keeping the playmaker at the club, but that will rely solely on the goodwill of Eriksen, who will have offers from bigger clubs this summer. He’s still very capable of performing at the very highest level.
Brighton: Marc Cucurella
“He’s grown up at Barcelona so he knows how to play football,” Graham Potter said this week. That’s clear not just to the Brighton boss, but unfortunately for him also to Tottenham and other parties interested in luring the £18m summer signing away from the Amex this summer. He’s featured for all but 78 minutes in the Premier League this season, and been absurdly consistent throughout.
Burnley: Josh Brownhill
A forgettable Premier League midfielder turned Burnley hero in recent weeks, there’s a dash of recency bias with this one. Brownhill is essentially responsible for dragging Burnley out of the relegation zone since Sean Dyche was sacked, earning four of their ten points having provided both assists in the 2-0 win over Southampton before scoring that late winner to see off Watford.
Chelsea: Ruben Loftus-Cheek
After a less-than successful loan spell at Fulham last season, summer money will have been piled on Loftus-Cheek either being sold, heading back out on loan, or at best making infrequent matchday squads and given a minute or two here and there under Thomas Tuchel (see Ross Barkley). But Loftus-Cheek has been rotated as one of four central midfielders, also putting in stellar showings at right wing-back – notably in the 3-2 win in the Bernabeu. We’ve all known his potential for years and Tuchel could finally be the manager to push the 26-year-old to realise it.
Crystal Palace: Conor Gallagher
Few Chelsea fans would have baulked had Crystal Palace signed Gallagher for even £10m in the summer. The 22-year-old had a rotten time in a rotten West Brom team the season before. But the Blues dodged another graduate mistake and Tuchel will welcome Mason Mount Mark II back to Stamford Bridge with open arms after a wonderful season at Selhurst Park.
Everton: Anthony Gordon
Perhaps the only thing to shout about for Evertonians in a dire season that could yet end in relegation. Frank Lampard’s players appear to have finally realised they’re in a relegation scrap and have started to care, but Gordon has cared all season. He’s a Toffee through and through and can’t help himself.
Leeds: Joe Gelhardt
Slim pickings at Leeds this season so we’ve based it on limb levels. Gelhardt has scored two Premier League goals, the first to equalise at Chelsea before a point was snatched away in the last minute, the second the vital late winner away at Norwich.
The collective “GO ON” as Raphinha rounds the goalkeeper for #LUFC is superb here.
As is the momentary silence before Joe Gelhardt taps in the winner 👏🏻
Limbs aren’t bad either 🙌🏻
— Sport Social (@TheSportSocial) March 14, 2022
Leicester: Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Plenty of surprises for Leicester this season but none of them great. Dewsbury-Hall returned from his loan with Luton and has been one of the Foxes’ better performers. It’s a low bar.
Liverpool: Luis Diaz
There have been claims in recent days and weeks, from Liverpool fans and the media (one and the same, amirite?), that Diaz is the greatest January signing ever. Is he? Maybe. Do we care? No. He is bloody good though and the latest in an absurd line of Liverpool transfer successes. He came on to completely change the game against Villarreal and see them into the Champions League final, and Jurgen Klopp’s side may well now be out of the running for the Premier League title had Diaz’s dancing feet not arrived on Merseyside.
Manchester City: Bernardo Silva
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Pep ‘The Godfather’ Guardiola has this habit of dragging unhappy players on the verge of leaving back into the fold. Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva have all been close to the Etihad exit, stayed, and have excelled since. Only Joao Cancelo and Ederson have played more minutes than Silva for City this season, as the Spaniard’s frustration has been replaced by consistent brilliance with the ball at his feet.
Manchester United: Anthony Elanga
The glitter through which the Manchester United sh*t has been rolled. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho as forward options at the start of the season, no-one – least of all Elanga himself – would have expected him to have played in every Premier League game this year, starting 12, and be the great hope ahead of yet another new dawn.
Newcastle: Dan Burn
Newcastle’s season has been a surprise all round: the takeover; who took them over; the Champions League form under Eddie Howe. And the move for Dan Burn – although the football hipsters poked their heads out from behind the latest issue of Mundial (I’ve got one on my desk right now) to inform us all that he is actually a very good footballer – did come out of nowhere. Newcastle kept two clean sheets in 23 games before Burn arrived and have five in 12 since.
Norwich: Pierre Lees-Melou
Absolutely willing to accept we may have got this completely wrong as we were a bit stumped. Grant Hanley and Teemu Pukki have been decent but that’s no surprise. Milot Rashica has looked good at times but they probably would have expected a bit more for their £10m. Lees-Melou only cost £3m, has played a lot of games and hasn’t embarrassed himself. That’s the level we’re dealing with.
Southampton: Valentino Livramento
The 19-year-old has quadrupled his market value having signed for £5.5m in the summer. With one big, athletic, technically gifted right-back blocking his path to the first team, Chelsea allowed another to leave for St Mary’s, and amid Reece James’ injury struggles and Livramento’s excellent form, they probably regret it.
Tottenham: Dejan Kulusevski
‘Interesting that Tottenham have decided to buy two ready-made flops this time’, this writer said smugly to his Spurs-supporting brother when Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur joined in January. A goal or an assist every 93 minutes from the Sweden international since has made that prediction one of the most foolish ever-ski.
Watford: Emmanuel Dennis
The goals, the assists, but more importantly, the nutmegs. In a game we too often forget is supposed to be entertainment, Dennis has served as a glorious reminder.
West Ham: Declan Rice
It’s no surprise that Declan Rice is West Ham’s player of the season, the surprise is in the way in which he’s escaped from a pigeon hole to take his game to a whole new level. It wasn’t long ago that it was posited that Rice could end up as a centre-back. He’s now one of the best box-to-box midfielders in world football, just as able to break at opposition defences as he is to break up play.
Wolves: Jose Sa
A save percentage of 82.6% dwarfs the rest of the goalkeepers and is the best in a Premier League season since Edwin van der Sar in 2009-10. Selling 34-year-old Rui Patricio for £10m and signing 29-year-old Sa for £7m has to be the best business of the season.