10) Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace)
Unlike last week’s list of the top ten central midfielders of the season, the problem here was not who to pick but rather who to leave out. Torn between Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Oscar and Bolasie for this spot, another outstanding performance from the Crystal Palace winger in their win at Liverpool swung the decision.
Bolasie (10) would fall behind both Mata (13) and Oscar (14) in a list of goals scored and assisted combined, but that would be to ignore the work the 25-year-old – and his team-mate Jason Puncheon, who was another contender for this list – does in getting Palace into goalscoring positions in the first place. Only four players on this list have completed more dribbles per game than Bolasie.
Wilfried Zaha failed to make the grade at a bigger club, but could Bolasie differ? Palace’s counter-attacking style is undoubtedly to his benefit, but it comes as no surprise to learn the DR Congo international’s pace and trickery has reportedly caught the eye of some of the country’s European hopefuls. There are elements of his game which he can improve, not least his consistency, but an in-form Bolasie would be a huge asset for any club.
9) Dusan Tadic (Southampton)
After his hat-trick against Aston Villa at the weekend, there will be plenty that feel Sadio Mane deserves a place in this list ahead of his Saints’ team-mate.
However, I have avoided the temptation to deem performances prior to Christmas as irrelevant. While Mane has been hugely impressive at times, Tadic was undoubtedly the star of the team that for the first half of the season looked genuinely capable of challenging for a Champions League place. There is no doubt his impact has waned as Saints too have stuttered, but the Serb has still enjoyed an excellent first campaign of Premier League football.
Best operating from the left flank, Tadic is incredibly talented and has proven himself as a man for the big occasions, having scored against Arsenal and Chelsea, not to mention in Saints’ memorable 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January. He looks well capable of establishing himself as one of the league’s most exciting attacking midfielders in the years to come.
8) Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Another player whose form has taken a hit towards the end of the season is Eriksen, who has still contributed ten goals to the cause, a tally bettered by only the top three on this list.
A total of only two assists is rather less outstanding – Nacer Chadli may count himself unfortunate having contributed 11 goals and five assists – but it may be something of a quirk given only four players on this list have created more chances for team-mates than Eriksen’s average of 2.2 per game.
Furthermore, while some players in the No.10 position offer little outside of the final third, Eriksen takes on midfield playmaker duties for Spurs. He has made more passes per game than Ryan Mason this season and is also incredibly hard working – it was recently revealed by Opta that the Dane has covered more ground than any other Premier League player this season, perhaps explaining his somewhat laboured performances in recent weeks.
7) Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
Only three players have ten or more assists to their name in the Premier League this season: Cesc Fabregas, Angel Di Maria…and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Eight of the Icelander’s ten assists came in his first 13 appearances of the season, but he has also scored six goals. Only the top three players on this list have directly contributed to more goals than Sigurdsson has for Swansea.
By his own admission, Sigurdsson has benefited from being played through the middle by Garry Monk, having spent much of his time at Tottenham out on the left flank. His outstanding quality is his vision – he has created the same amount of chances per game this season as Alexis Sanchez – and perhaps he needs to be the main man in a team to truly shine. He has still certainly justified Monk’s decision to give him that responsibility at the Liberty Stadium.
6) Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Continuing with the theme of players whose performance levels have dropped as the season has gone on, it would be nevertheless be remiss to overlook the contribution to Liverpool’s cause of Sterling. He has scored two more and created two more goals than Philippe Coutinho in the Premier League this season.
It certainly seems the speculation over his future at Anfield has affected his performances, but the very fact that Sterling has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich says a lot about how good he has been.
At 20, all that is required for Sterling to fulfil his potential is hard work, humility and commitment. Whether he features on this list in 12 months’ time, assuming he is even still in the Premier League, may depend on whether he has added those qualities to his skillset.
5) Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
A total of four goals and five assists may not immediately stand out, but the German has managed that in only 18 Premier League starts, meaning he has scored or laid on a goal every other game on average. He also ranks behind only David Silva and Cesc Fabregas in terms of chances created per game, suggesting his figures would be much more impressive had he not suffered a long injury lay-off.
This website’s love of a player often under-appreciated elsewhere is well-known, but even Ozil’s biggest critics have started, slowly but surely, to pick up on his influence on Arsenal. It may take an injury-free 2015/16 for him to fully win over his doubters, but the whispers of discontent from within Emirates Stadium have quietened.
He is not particularly quick or powerful, yet he ghosts past opponents with ease. In fact, perhaps it is the ease at which Ozil does many things that prevents him from receiving the credit he receives. His movement and ability to spot a pass, however, places him on a different level to many of the players on this list.
4) Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
While a number of the players on this list have failed to maintain their performance levels from the first half of the season, Coutinho took a while to find his stride in a new-look Liverpool side but was sensational throughout the Reds’ 13-game unbeaten run in the Premier League between December and March.
That Coutinho was nominated for the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards despite his slow start perhaps highlights the flaw in the system, but it also shows just how well he was playing at the time votes were cast. Furthermore, it would be wrong to hold the Brazilian to account for his form during a period when Brendan Rodgers struggled to find a system to get the best out of his new charges.
The subsequent switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation has benefited Coutinho in that he has been allowed to play in his favoured No.10 position, but the loss of width, drop in form of Sterling and injuries to Sturridge mean it has also put him under immense pressure to provide the team with creativity.
Lesser players would have crumbled under the pressure, but Coutinho has flourished. His ability to weave his way out of tight spaces is quite astounding; his ability to pick out a killer pass is almost unsurpassed; he’s even learned how to shoot. Just think what he could achieve with a little help from his friends…
3) David Silva (Manchester City)
Perhaps it’s because we rarely hear from him in the press, because his manager doesn’t constantly talk him up or because we’re just so used to his brilliance, but yet again Silva has not got the credit he deserves for his performances this season.
To put his talent into some perspective, no player in the Premier League has created as many chances per game as Silva has for Manchester City. He may only have seven assists to his name, but his ability to fashion openings in unsurpassed. He has the vision of Ozil, the touch of Coutinho and the shooting accuracy of Eden Hazard, who has two more league goals to his name than Silva but one fewer when discounting penalties.
He may not have made the top two of our list, but there is no better, more consistent or more influential attacking midfielder in the Premier League than Silva. Just don’t expect his manager to tell us that…
2) Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
With 16 goals and eight assists to his name in the Premier League this season, Sanchez has directly contributed to more goals than anyone bar Sergio Aguero. He is also second only to Eden Hazard on this list in terms of successful dribbles per game and fourth in terms of chances created per game. By any statistical measure you care to mention, it has been a sensational first season at Arsenal for Sanchez.
Regardless of their results this week, the Gunners will finish the season with fewer points than last season, but there is still little doubt that Sanchez has improved them as a team. He is the one player in their squad with as much strength as skill, with as much brawn as brain. He is also a man for the big occasions, highlighted again last month by his match-winning double in the FA Cup semi-final.
Arsenal are often accused of lacking mental strength but Sanchez is Luis Suarez – incredibly hard working, full of fighting spirit, with an innate determination to win – without the histrionics. At 26 and now fully adapted to the league, next season could be bloody brilliant.
1) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Having being crowned the PFA and FWA Footballer of the Year, not to mention a Premier League title winner, Hazard was the obvious choice.
Jose Mourinho has described him as the third best player in the world, and while the Chelsea boss is a much better promoter than Manuel Pellegrini, it is a claim many have taken seriously. The Belgian has been the key driver in the Blues’ success this season, scoring decisive goals against QPR, Southampton, Liverpool, West Ham, Manchester United and Crystal Palace in the league alone. Some of those goals came from the penalty spot, but Hazard has proved himself time and time again as a man Mourinho can rely on.
His dribbling ability, in particular, is exceptional. Close to five successful take-ons per game is testament to that, as is the fact that no player has been fouled more in the Premier League this season. When Chelsea needed a player to turn a tight game, as they did so often during the second half of the campaign, it was invariably Hazard that stepped up.
He was undoubtedly the right choice for the end-of-season individual awards – and undoubtedly the right one to top this list.
Mark Holmes – he’s on Twitter