One per club: Every Premier League manager’s unexpected gem of the season

Jason Soutar
Manchester United's Harry Maguire, Wolves' Hwang Hee-chan and Chelsea's Conor Gallagher have all performed very well this season.
Harry Maguire, Hwang Hee-chan and Conor Gallagher have all performed very well this season.

We have picked a player for every Premier League club who has performed at an unexpectedly high level this season, much to the delight of their managers.

The criteria is pretty much the club’s best player but excluding the obvious choices, like Bukayo Saka for Arsenal or Erling Haaland for Manchester City.

 

Arsenal – Leandro Trossard
This has not exactly been a season for Arsenal players coming out of nowhere and performing. Kai Havertz could have been that guy, given he was written off by fans before kicking a ball for the Gunners. But he hasn’t been great this season and as Mikel Arteta paid over £60million for him, he would hardly have qualified.

Trossard has been a superb spark off the bench for Arsenal since joining from Brighton in January. And when he has to start due to injuries to others, he always seems to step up, especially in the Champions League.

 

Aston Villa – Lucas Digne
It was tempting to say Douglas Luiz for Aston Villa but seeing as how the Villans have rejected bids from Arsenal for the midfielder, we have opted for Digne.

Unai Emery signed Alex Moreno and his arrival looked like it would be the end for the Frenchman at Villa Park, a year after he was signed by Steven Gerrard. Moreno has been injured, however, and Digne has taken his chance, notching five assists already this term.

 

Bournemouth – Dominic Solanke
Six goals in 12 Premier League appearances is a very solid return for a player who has proven himself to be excellent in the Championship but not good enough in Our League. That goal tally equals his previous best in a top-flight season. It’s been difficult for Andoni Iraola in England but at least he is getting a tune out of Solanke.

 

Brentford – Ethan Pinnock
This guy has been a monster defensively this season and it is evident that he is improving every year under Thomas Frank. After 12 games, Pinnock has 20 interceptions (third in the Premier League), 79 clearances (first), and 57 aerial duels won (first) out of 80 contested.

Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa have stepped up with Ivan Toney out injured but it was hard to look past the big Jamaican.

 

Brighton – Simon Adingra
Brighton are always pulling terrific players out of thin air and Adingra is no different. Signed from Nordsjaelland and loaned out to Union SG in the space of four days in 2022, the one-cap Ivory Coast winger looks like he will be a future big sale for Tony Bloom.

His story is reminiscent of Moises Caicedo and Kaoru Mitoma, who were both signed and shipped out on loan straight away, and if he can replicate their success, Brighton and Bloom will be laughing all the way to the bank. His start to the season hints that they will be.

 

Burnley – N/A
This is far too difficult. They have been pants.

 

Chelsea – Conor Gallagher
It was a tough choice between summer signing Cole Palmer and Gallagher, but the latter is our choice given all the rumours about his long-term future.

He has proven himself to be extremely valuable to Mauricio Pochettino, wearing the captain’s armband in Reece James’ frequent absence, and any talk of a move away from Stamford Bridge should be taken with a pinch of salt going forward.

 

Crystal Palace – Jordan Ayew
It probably isn’t much of a surprise to a lot of people how good Ayew has been for Crystal Palace over the years, so his inclusion is for those of you who are still in the dark.

For £2million in 2019, what a piece of business this has been. Dougie Freedman might be that guy. Even if Rio Ferdinand is not so sure.

 

Everton – Vitaliy Mykolenko
The Ukraine international has arguably been the best left-back in the Premier League this season. Who saw that one coming? Ask Sean Dyche and he will probably say he did but that would be a lie.

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Fulham – Bobby De Cordova-Reid
Quite similar to Ayew in that few outside of his club realises how valuable they are, De Cordova-Reid is quietly having a solid season for a pretty poor Fulham side. If the three promoted teams weren’t so tragic, we would fear for them.

 

Liverpool – Virgil van Dijk
Perhaps the silliest inclusion of them all considering Van Dijk is a former Players’ Player of the Year, three-time Team of the Year inductee, and arguably the greatest centre-back the Premier League has ever seen. But we are sure you understand why we have picked the big Dutchman.

Jurgen Klopp is not blessed with the best defence, which makes the output of Mohamed Salah even more crucial; yet the level Van Dijk is performing at this season is staggering.

Now 32 years of age, the former Southampton defender looked like he was approaching his last legs after failing to reach the heights he was at pre-ACL injury, but we might actually be looking at the best version of Van Dijk we have ever seen. It is remarkable.

Liverpool and Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool and Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk.

 

Luton – Alfie Doughty
Doughty is creating 3.7 chances per game in the Premier League in 2023/24. Fans of other clubs can be forgiven for not knowing who he was before the season kicked off and Rob Edwards even paid a club-record fee to sign Ryan Giles to play in his position. We are in November and Doughty is undroppable. Fair play, young man.

 

Manchester City – Jeremy Doku
Pep Guardiola has a stupid amount of world-class talents in his squad so selecting a surprise package is not exactly an easy thing to do.

Doku has come in and given nearly every right-back he has faced their toughest afternoon of the season. Not to mention he is benching a player who literally cost £100m. Is he nothing more than the flavour of the month or is he the real deal?

 

Manchester United – Harry Maguire
Written off by nearly everyone to watch him play football (except Gareth Southgate and his mum), Maguire has been excellent for United this season, keeping four-time Champions League and World Cup winner Raphael Varane on the bench.

His time at Old Trafford looked up in the summer but he wanted to stay and fight for his place under Erik ten Hag. That seemed like a naive and money-driven decision, but it has proved to be justified.

 

Newcastle United – Jamaal Lascelles
The thought of Lascelles starting against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League would have triggered a shiver down the spine of every Newcastle fan, but he has been pretty solid at the back, giving further proof to Eddie Howe’s ability as a defensive coach, an area of his coaching expertise he was eager to prove himself in when taking the St James’ Park job.

 

Nottingham Forest – Willy Boly
Forest have signed what feels like hundreds of players since gaining promotion from the Championship in 2022 and Boly was one of the many to join the club last summer.

Boly has always been a pretty solid Premier League defender. Rarely outstanding and almost never woeful. Middle of the road. Decent. You get the picture.

He has been a rock at the back under Steve Cooper and his centre-back partnership with Murillo – who easily could have been our choice here – and Moussa Niakhate has been a pleasant surprise for the City Ground faithful.

 

Sheffield United – Jack Robinson
Like Doughty at Luton, Robinson saw someone join the club to take his position in the starting XI, but he is keeping Auston Trusty at bay for now.

Without him at the back, Paul Heckingbottom’s already woeful defensive form would be a whole lot worse.

 

Tottenham – Pape Matar Sarr
Plenty of players are performing admirably under Big Ange Postecoglou, though there are not too many that are exactly unexpected. Cristian Romero has been great (moments of lunacy aside) but is a World Cup winner.

Then you have got someone like Yves Bissouma, who was poor under Antonio Conte, but we all knew he had great ability. The Malian’s midfield partner Sarr has been a relentless runner in Postecoglou’s tidy pivot behind James Maddison.

Tottenham head coach Ange Postecoglou hugs Pape Matar Sarr.
Ange Postecoglou hugs Pape Matar Sarr.

 

West Ham – Alphonse Areola
One of the tougher teams to single a player out for, Areola has filled Lukasz Fabianski’s position seamlessly this campaign.

Clean sheets might be hard to come by for the French shot-stopper, but his performances will be a nice boost for David Moyes.

 

Wolves – Hwang Hee-chan
One of the surprise packages of the season, Hwang, or “the Korean guy” as Pep Guardiola called him, has scored six goals in the Premier League in 2023/24 and Wolves reportedly want to reward him with a new contract.

Gary O’Neil took on a squad bereft of natural goalscorers and will be thankful, pleased, surprised, and a whole lot of other positive feelings that Hwang has been on fire.