Five players found down the back of the sofa

Mo Elneny (Arsenal)

Had Mo Elneny joined Besiktas on a permanent £4m deal this summer, we would have debated whether it was even worth writing the story, such was his lack of proximity to our radar after a year in Turkey. Obviously, we had entirely forgotten that Mikel Arteta is so green around the coaching gills that he had actually been part of the same Arsenal squad as Elneny in the latter half of the 2015/16 season. He obviously left an impression because while the rest of us wondered if Arteta could possibly get a tune out of Lucas Torreira, Arteta remembered the unassuming man from Egypt.

“Obviously I played with him so I know his qualities and who he is as a person, and what he brings to the squad. I like players that have zero ego, who play for the team, who want to contribute regardless of what it is, whether that’s one minute or 96 minutes or just by being there and giving positive feedback all the time.”

If Arsenal fans were surprised to see him start the Community Shield, they were astonished to find that the Egyptian is apparently the perfect partner for Thomas Partey. Which by our reckoning makes him the new Emmanuel Petit.


Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City)

Nobody outside of Leicester noticed when the Frenchman extended his contract so he could stretch his forgettable Foxes career into Project Restart and barely anybody outside of Leicester noticed when he signed a new two-year deal with Brendan Rodgers specifically mentioning the Europa League as he praised the “experience, quality and maturity” of his forgotten man. He would be a handy squad player.

Within four games of the new season, Mendy had surpassed his Premier League minutes total of last season as injuries first forced Wilfred Ndidi into central defence and then into the treatment room. Mendy has been pressed into ever-present action and was even rested against AEK Athens in Europe to keep him in good shape for the top-flight clash with Leeds. It’s fair to say that Hamza Choudhury’s propensity for fouls as unsubtle as his hair has rescued the Leicester career of Mon. Mendy.


Nat Phillips (Liverpool)

He may never play in the Premier League again but he will always have West Ham (H). And he will always have that quote – “He’s not easy on the eye, he’s not Messi but who cares? In the air, he’s a monster! He was incredible” – from Jurgen Klopp to keep him warm at night, long after he has joined a Championship club on loan. That was supposed to be Swansea this summer after a credible loan at Stuttgart, but Liverpool’s annoyance turned to relief when they lost centre-half after makeshift centre-half after centre-half and Phillips was the best option still standing.

“Twelve Championship teams wanted him and to me it was clear he was going, and I was fine with that – and it didn’t work out for whatever reason, and it’s great!” said Klopp after watching him ease his way through his first 90 minutes of Premier League football. And you just know that Michael Edwards will somehow sell him to Eddie Howe for £20m next summer, even if it’s just for use around the house.



Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)

Edouard Mendy has selfishly come along and recorded a 100% save completion rate but second on the list is still Darlow, saving over 75% of shots on target allowed by this terrible but bizarrely successful Newcastle side. That’s marginally better than Aaron Ramsdale and a whole lot better than any of the English goalkeepers actually being picked by England.

There was much wailing and gnashing of Geordie teeth when Martin Dubravka succumbed to injury but it seems that Darlow was quietly waiting for so much a moment to shine while making literally zero Premier League appearances over the last two seasons. He has been a revelation this campaign; Steve Bruce should look down the back of the sofa more often.


Max Kilman (Wolves)

Despite being capped 25 times by England, Kilman had played just four times in the Premier League for Wolves before this season, until a 4-0 thwacking by West Ham left Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo looking for solutions. Roman Saiss moved (slowly) to wing-back and in came Kilman to a back three which has Conor Coady and Willy Boly as its key components. Santo has since kept faith with Kilman, who has settled into a defence that has conceded just one goal in four games.

“Max has been with us for years, he trains with us every single day, he knows the role inside out, he’s a fantastic lad and a brilliant professional as well,” said Conor Coady last month. “He’s brilliant to have around and is a brilliant professional – he listens to the manager, he learns off the lads who’ve been playing there the last couple of years.”

We suspect that Conor Coady thinks Max Kilman is brilliant.


Sarah Winterburn

There are no Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City representatives in our rundown of the top ten players of the season. Nor Manchester United, of course, but Jay Rodriguez gets in?!