F365’s top ten Premier League players of 2017

Date published: Tuesday 19th December 2017 8:09

10) David Silva (Manchester City)
Hey, I did a Twitter vote for this and Silva beat Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil and Nacho Monreal to tenth spot, so direct all the hate mail to those voters accordingly. Perhaps that indicates a slight recency bias, perhaps I split the Arsenal vote or perhaps people just really hate defenders (Monreal got 8% of the vote).

Or perhaps Silva’s reputation as a magician demands inclusion. There’s no doubt that he was not at his absolute peak towards the end of last season, but the Spaniard’s reverse Sansom trick has brought him to the height of his form at the age of 31.

With Kevin de Bruyne making the driving runs forward, Silva can play the role of the passing maypole around which all the other attackers can dance. His new-found ability to appear as the final component of an attacking move, adding the simple finish six yards from goal, means we get to see that wonderful smile more often than ever.

 

9) Romelu Lukaku (Everton/Manchester United)
I’m in danger of becoming a parody of a man, but you cannot doubt that Lukaku belongs here. For those who would prefer to focus on the recent drought at Manchester United, hear this: Only Harry Kane has scored more Premier League goals than Lukaku this year, and the Belgian is five clear of third place on that list. Given that he was at a non-top six club for half of that year, his inclusion bears scrutiny.

My one-sided love affair with Lukaku is not because I believe him to be the best striker in the Premier League (because I don’t), but because there seems to be an almost unprecedented focus on what he can’t do, rather than what he can. That strikes me as remarkably unfair given his age and workload – without rest – over the last few years.

Only Harry Kane has more goals and assists in 2017. Only Mohamed Salah has more goals and assists in 2017/18. It’s not all bad.

 

8) Kyle Walker (Tottenham/Manchester City)
For all the talk of City ‘buying’ the title, there was no widespread summer consensus that they had spent wisely. In the Guardian, Jonathan Wilson wrote about a ‘collective madness’ that had gripped the Premier League.

‘How are historians of the future going to explain a society that has dragged itself on under austerity for seven years and yet smiles benignly at a decent right-back going for £50m?,’ Wilson wrote. And that was one of the more mild takes.

Yet you get what you pay for. Daniel Levy is a shrewd businessman with a reputation for commanding high fees from elite clubs, but the best right-back in the country last season has been the best right-back in the country this season. Walker solved a problem. within Manchester City’s squad, and he left Tottenham to win trophies. This has worked out excellently for all.

 

7) Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
There may be Manchester United supporters who believe Pogba should be higher up this list, and he would have been but for one issue: Pogba has played in only 65% of United’s league games this year. That has to be a factor.

Still, Pogba could hardly be omitted. Not when United have won 14 of those 20 matches and lost none. Emerge unscathed from Leicester, Burnley and Southampton and Pogba will have completed an unbeaten year in the Premier League. Even considering his absences, that would be a significant feat.

If David de Gea is United’s best player, Pogba is their heartbeat. He is the perfect link between midfield and attack, as capable of skillfully holding off two players before playing a simple pass as he is bursting forward with the ball. His long-range passing, even under pressure, is majestic. Let 2018 be the year that he stays fit throughout.

 

6) Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
I’m still of the opinion that selling Coutinho for £120m would have been the right call, given that it would have allowed Liverpool to sign at least three excellent players in problem positions, but you can see why the club didn’t want to lose him. Coutinho represents more than his mere ability; he is a game-changer and a ticket-shifter.

There was also a reason for Barcelona’s interest. Coutinho scored eight times between January and May to end last season as Liverpool’s top scorer in all competitions. The arrival of the majestic Mohamed Salah has alleviated plenty of that goalscoring responsibility, but moving to a midfield role has hardly held Coutinho back. He has started only ten league games in 2017/18 and yet only four players have more assists. Coutinho has also scored five league goals.

 

5) Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
It’s about this time that you realise every member of this top ten plays for a top-six club. But when you consider just how far the best are ahead of the rest, what choice is there? Any player outside the top six who shows exceptional form is soon targeted by an elite team. I suspect Riyad Mahrez, Wilfried Zaha or Wilfred Ndidi might be next.

Our first Chelsea entrant is perhaps the most consistent player in the Premier League over the last three years, and has won two league titles in that time. Azpilicueta can play left-back, right-back or in central defence, and yet takes to it all with consummate ease. While David Luiz causes Antonio Conte headaches and Gary Cahill occasionally gives him kittens, Azpilicueta is a manager’s dream. A record of only five competitive international starts by the age of 28 is a scandal.

 

4) David de Gea (Manchester United)
From one outrageously consistent Spaniard to another. #Davesaves has become a social media craze that Manchester United’s marketing team are presumably delighted by, but it really is extraordinary how often De Gea has dug United out of a hole.

When Arsenal signed Petr Cech, John Terry remarked that he would earn them 12 points a season. It was a ludicrously simplistic calculation, because that’s not how football works, but you knew what Terry meant. It isn’t him that Cech subsequently proved him wrong.

Hugo Lloris and Ederson are providing stiff competition, but De Gea is the comfortable holder of the best goalkeeping crown. Having ironed out the issues with crosses that blighted his first season in England, he is now the perfect all-rounder. De Gea’s ability to change direction to either deal with a deflection or react to a close-range shot is worth the entrance fee alone.

 

3) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
N’Golo Kante might have been named the PFA Player of the Year (and he can consider himself unfortunate to have been at No. 11 on this list), but Chelsea’s supporters were in now doubt about their club’s most important player in their title-winning season. Hazard became the second player ever (after Frank Lampard) to be named Chelsea Player of the Year three times.

You can understand their argument. Kante did indeed prompt a vast improvement in central midfield, but Hazard is the matchwinner. His ability to take repeated physical treatment from opposition players, get up and continue running at defenders and creating chances make him an easy player to appreciate.

In 2017 at Chelsea, Hazard ranks first for goals and shots on target and second for chances created, but it is the completed dribbles numbers that are most impressive, particularly as he has played as a false nine for much of this season. Hazard has 125; Chelsea’s next best has 52. His days as one of the Chelsea ‘rats’ have long been consigned to the past.

 

2) Harry Kane (Tottenham)
He ranked third on this list in 2015, but dropped out of the ten entirely in 2016 having scored ‘only’ 22 league goals that year. But Kane romps back up the list for 2017, having outscored every other Premier Keague player by at least eight goals this year. The bloody four-season wonder.

Kane’s dominance as a striker is almost unprecedented in the Premier League. While Tottenham’s attacking midfielders (both Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen miss out here) are the creative force, almost every attack ends with Kane. This year, he has attempted 172 shots. To put that in perspective, the highest figure of any Chelsea player (who beat them to the league last season) is 62.

There is an argument that this shoot-on-sight policy has its flaws, but Kane’s shooting alleviates plenty of those concerns. If quantity remains sky-high, quality isn’t bad either. His shot conversion rate is virtually identical to Romelu Lukaku and comfortably higher than Sergio Aguero.

 

1) Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Two players on this list (Kane and Lukaku) may have more goals and assists combined in 2017, but neither has the majestic all-round game of De Bruyne. If last season was good, 2017/18 is already becoming one of the great individual Premier League campaigns.

Even amongst stellar company and players who shine in one particular area, De Bruyne is shining brightest. He ranks fourth for goals at City in 2017, comfortably leads on chances created and assists and only expert dribbler Leroy Sane has completed more dribbles.

Yet most impressive are the immeasurables. The majestic skill to hold off opposition midfielders (and there is always more than one man tasked with stopping him). The improvement with his weaker foot, particularly in the biggest matches. The intensity in his running.

There was a moment against Southampton when De Bruyne harangued two teammates for not pressing their man, and he immediately turned to Guardiola as if to demand that he back him up. That moment epitomised De Bruyne in 2017, the embodiment of all that Guardiola wants in a midfielder and the perfect disciple. It is he who Guardiola uses as the example for his academy players to follow.

Daniel Storey


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