Yesterday, I began my analysis of the most valuable players currently plying their trade in the Premier League – for my criteria for selection and the players ranked from 50 to 26 – click here.
Part II – Numbers 25 – 1
(Name – Position – Club – Age)
25. Nathan Dyer – Midfielder – Swansea City – 25
Even before his two goal salvo helped Swansea win the League Cup Final on Sunday – which was followed by throwing a hilarious tantrum when Jonathan de Guzman would not give up penalty duties to allow the winger a chance to complete his hat-trick – Dyer has been one of the top performers for the Welsh club since their ascent to the Premier League last season. His pace and trickery on the right flank is a huge asset to Swansea and he can provide high quality crosses into the box, the only real doubt is about Dyer’s temperament. Alongside his histrionics at Wembley – after which he spent the remainder of his time on the pitch trying far too hard to score another, before his manager, Michael Laudrup, deemed it necessary to substitute him – he has also been sent off twice in the last two seasons, a number that is particularly high for a winger. Nevertheless, he is a fantastic winger – a surprisingly rare trait in the modern game – and any club would snap him up in an instant if he were to become available.
24. Danny Welbeck – Striker – Manchester United – 22
Although not the most prolific of strikers – especially this season with Robin Van Persie playing in front of him – Welbeck is an excellent team player who works hard for the cause whether he is asked to play up front or on the wing. His headed goal against Real Madrid in the first leg of Manchester United’s Champions League tie showed that he can be dangerous in the air, alongside the devastating pace he possesses, and should he become a more clinical finisher, he will become a first choice striker for both his club and country.
23. Joe Hart – Goalkeeper – Manchester City – 24
Although he has made a couple of high-profile mistakes this season – such as the error against Southampton earlier this month, for which he was called out by his manager, Roberto Mancini – Joe Hart has been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the Premiership over the last four years. In both 2010/11 and 2011/12, Hart won the Golden Glove award (given to the keeper who keeps the most clean sheets) and he has two more than anyone else so far this campaign. The current England number 1, Hart was also an integral part of Manchester City’s title-winning team last season.
22. Mousa Dembélé – Midfielder – Tottenham – 25
Described by his former manager at Fulham, Martin Jol, as the best player on the ball he had ever seen, Dembélé plays in the centre of midfield and provides an attacking threat with a ferocious left foot shot – as witnessed by his goals for Spurs on his debut against Norwich and versus Lyon in the Europa League last week. Two dominant performances at Old Trafford this season – the first while still playing for Fulham – showed the reason that Tottenham were willing to spend £15 million on the Belgian. In the first half of the campaign, he and Sandro were formidable partnership in the centre of midfield, prior to the Brazilian being ruled out until August due to injury. He has quickly established himself as an automatic selection by Andre Villas-Boas when he is available, despite Tottenham’s abundance of central midfield players.
21. Papiss Cisse – Striker – Newcastle – 27
After joining Newcastle in the January transfer window last season, Cisse was unstoppable, scoring 13 goals in his 14 Premiership appearances including two spectacular strikes to give his team a win away at Chelsea. Although this season he has found the net just six times, that is in part due to a general drop in Newcastle’s performances, combined with the departure of his fellow Senegalese international, Demba Ba, he is still a danger to opposition keepers when the ball is in the vicinity of the penalty area, as his fantastic volley against Southampton at the weekend proved.
20. Edin Dzeko – Striker – Manchester City – 26
He may not like it, but Dzeko has earned a reputation as a player who can come on as a substitute for Manchester City and provide a crucial goal to swing a match – in much the same way as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – having done so against Fulham, West Brom and Tottenham earlier in the campaign. The Bosnian has scored 5 times from the bench this year – with a total of 12 overall in the league – and, although it does not get as much attention as Aguero’s title-winning strike, it was Dzeko’s equaliser in the 92nd minute in the match with QPR on the final day of last season that set up the grand finale. His strike rate this season has been a goal for every 99 minutes of playing time in the Premiership, suggesting he would be a strong contender for the golden boot should he start on a more regular basis.
19. Michu – Striker – Swansea – 26
One of the bargain purchases of the summer – if not of all time in the Premiership – Michu was brought to Swansea by new boss Michael Laudrup last July with a price tag of just £2 million. The Spanish striker has already more than paid back that fee, netting 16 times in the Premiership and 21 in all competitions, including the second goal in Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley against Bradford City, as Swansea won their first ever major trophy. Michu’s most memorable performance thus far came in December at the Emirates, when he scored a late brace to give his team a 2-0 win away at Arsenal.
18. Olivier Giroud – Striker – Arsenal – 26
Another new arrival last summer, Giroud struggled in the first couple of months of his Arsenal career and there was a question as to whether he could repeat the form he had shown for Montpellier in 2011/12. Prior to this season, he had only played two years of top flight football, but if Arsenal fans feared that his success in Ligue 1 was an anomaly, they have been quelled by his performances for the club since October. While he may still waste some good chances – as was evident in the match against Bayern München, when he had the opportunity to level the game at 2-2, but he directed his close range shot straight at Manuel Neuer – Giroud has now racked up 14 goals in all competitions for the Gunners and provides them with a much-needed physical presence up front. At a club where chances are created with great regularity and the recent issue has been converting those opportunities, the French striker could be exactly what Arsenal need – look out for a second season jump next year where he could end up with 20 goals or more.
17. Demba Ba – Striker – Chelsea – 27
Since moving to the Premiership from Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, Ba has a record of 37 goals in 69 league matches during spells at West Ham, Newcastle and now Chelsea. He is a skillful striker who, despite being tall, is most dangerous with the ball at his feet and has scored some spectacular goals, most notably his volley against Reading for Newcastle earlier this season, hitting the ball in stride as it came over his shoulder. Following Chelsea triggering the £7 million release clause in the Senegal international’s contract in January, he has found the net three times in ten matches he has played for the Blues in all competitions. Only a reported degenerative knee problem – which led to Newcastle structuring his deal in a manner that gave both sides options to get out of it – stops his value from being far higher.
16. Leighton Baines – Defender – Everton – 28
Baines started his professional with Wigan Athletic, played for them in the third tier of the English League, and helped them to achieve promotion all the way to the Premiership. After two seasons in the top flight with Wigan, he was sold to Everton and, following a year where he was not first choice, has since made the left-back position his own, earning 14 England caps in the process. As well as being a solid defender, he also provides an option on the left-wing with accurate crosses and is a threat from both free-kicks and penalties. This season already represents his best return for league goals – he has five with eleven games left to play – and his fine displays have seen him linked to a possible move to Manchester United to replace Patrice Evra.
15. Mikel Arteta – Midfielder – Arsenal – 30
Such was the immediate influence that Arteta had upon his arrival at the Emirates last August, his new team failed to win a single league game that he was not involved in until the final day of the season against West Brom. The Spaniard best position is in an attacking role behind the strikers where his former manager, David Moyes, used him to great effect at Everton, but he can also play more centrally, allowing others to push forward as he does at Arsenal. Arteta does not rank as one of the most prolific midfielders – his tallies do not match up with the likes of Frank Lampard – but he does represent a threat when the ball is anywhere around the D of the penalty area and he has scored some vital goals for both Everton and the Gunners.
14. Eden Hazard – Midfielder – Chelsea – 22
When he is not kicking ballboys, the Belgian is one of the best creative midfielders in the world, who can play centrally or on the wing, can use either foot and has an explosive turn of pace. In Hazard’s final season in Ligue 1 with Lille, he scored 20 goals and provided 15 assists – testament to work he had done to improve his vision and awareness to increase the effectiveness of his passing. With Chelsea, he has netted seven times in the league and setup the same number, while it was his goal in the final minute against Sparta Praha that ensured the London club progressed to the final 16 of the Europa League.
13. Santi Cazorla – Midfielder – Arsenal – 28
The two goals that Cazorla scored at the weekend to give Arsenal – his third club in the last three seasons – a vital 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, took his tally for the season to 11, which is his best return for a single campaign. He is the type of player that was made to play for this current Gunners team – he is skillful and a clever passer, though sometimes his technical ability is overshadowed by a wastefulness in front of goal. Nevertheless, he has proven to be a quality signing by Arsene Wenger and on top of his scoring record, he has also provided 8 assists in Premiership matches this year.
12. Vincent Kompany – Defender – Manchester City – 26
Due to the large turnover of players at Manchester City since they were taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, captain Vincent Kompany, in just his fifth season with the club, is one of the longest-serving players and was at the heart of the team that secured their first title since 1968 last May. He is an accomplished player on the ball and can play in defensive midfield as well as his favoured position of centre back. Kompany also provides a threat from set pieces and it was his headed goal that earned City the three points in the derby game against United last April that ultimately resulted in them pipping their rivals to the championship.
11. Marouane Fellaini – Midfielder – Everton – 25
The third Belgian of the last four players in this list, Fellaini has replaced Tim Cahill as the dominant midfielder for Everton who also has a knack for scoring important goals for his team. Fellaini’s most notable quality is the unique way he can control the ball with his chest, but he is also adept with the ball at his feet, a tough tackler and is strong in the air in both penalty areas. This season, the big-haired Belgian has netted 10 times in 22 Premiership appearances, making him Everton’s top goal scorer.
10. Theo Walcott – Striker – Arsenal – 23
Even a year ago, Walcott would not have featured so highly on this list, but he has finally started to deliver on the promise he has shown throughout his still-young career. With blistering pace, the former Southampton player has the ability to go past defenders with ease, but up until this campaign, he has struggled to provide a quality final pass or shot to take advantage of the positions he gets into. However, something has clicked with Walcott – who at just 23, has already been controversially included (2006) and excluded (2010) from England World Cup squads – in 2012/13 and he has scored 11 goals and provided 9 assists for Arsenal in the 22 Premiership games he has played, form that led to the club agreeing a large wage increase as he signed a long-term contract.
9. David Silva – Midfielder – Manchester City – 27
For the first half of the last two seasons, Silva has been one of the best players in the league and he had one of his best games in his side’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford in October of 2011. However, in both campaigns his form has tailed off with the Spaniard’s fitness apparently fading during the course of the year. If he were able to keep up the high level of play he shows from August until December for an entire season, then Silva would be among the top five players in the Premiership. He has great vision and passing ability, can play on the wing as well as in a more central role (his better position), and he was a member of the Spain squads that have won the last three major international tournaments – starting all six matches in Euro 2012 and scoring the first goal of the final.
8. Wayne Rooney – Striker – Manchester United – 27
Despite only being 27 years old, this will be the 11th season that Wayne Rooney has played at least 25 Premiership games and, in that time, the England striker has racked up 211 goals in all competitions for Everton and Manchester United. Initially a more orthodox striker, Rooney tends to drop deeper now and puts in a decent amount of work in the midfield, but he remains a threat in and around the opponent’s box, as his 10 goals in 19 league outings this campaign shows. During his tenure at Manchester United, Rooney has won 4 league titles, the League Cup twice, the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, but never the FA Cup. He has also been capped by England 79 times, scored 33 goals for his country and played in four international tournaments.
7. Yaya Toure – Midfielder – Manchester City – 29
A box-to-box midfielder, Toure is the engine in City’s midfield and it was his dominant performances – particularly in the Manchester derby at the Etihad – that helped Mancini’s side overcome their rivals in the Premiership race last term. He can operate in both a defensive and attacking role, but he is at his most dangerous when he follows up into the opposition penalty area to ghost in and convert chances that have been created by players in front of him. He was named African player of the year in 2012 and has represented his country – Cote D’Ivoire – at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, as well as at six African Cup of Nations tournaments.
6. Jack Wilshere – Midfielder – Arsenal – 21
As a Tottenham fan, I am scared of how good Jack Wilshere already is and the potential he shows for further improvement. His combination of movement, control, passing and vision are good enough that you could imagine him slotting seamlessly into the current Barcelona or Spain sides and he also displays leadership on the field that suggests that he will one day captain both Arsenal and England. The biggest area that Wilshere will need to develop if he is to become a world class player is to get more goals – he has been on target just twice in his 68 career Premiership matches, one of which was for Bolton during a successful loan spell there during the 2009/10 campaign. One major worry for Arsenal supporters is that he missed the entire 2011/12 season due to an ankle injury that was initially expected to result in him missing only four or five months. However, if he stays healthy and continues to develop at the rate he has to this point, Wilshere will be one of the best midfielders in the world, let alone the Premiership, over the next decade.
5. Sergio Aguero – Striker – Manchester City – 24
With 23 goals last season – including the winner against QPR in the dying seconds of the campaign – Aguero was the firing power behind Manchester City’s title win in his first year with the club. After five seasons with Spanish club Atletico Madrid, the Argentine striker – who is Maradona’s son-in-law – has adapted quickly to the quicker pace of the Premiership and has scored 13 in all competitions so far this campaign, as well as providing 5 assists. For his national team, he was part of Argentina’s 2007 U20 World Cup winning team, winning the Golden Boot in the process, and also won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Although he is only 5’8″, Aguero is very adept at holding the ball up and can play as a main striker or off a teammate, while he also possesses great pace and agility, making him a threat both with the ball at his feet and when it is played in behind the defence.
4. Juan Mata – Midfielder – Chelsea – 24
Mata is a versatile player who can take up any position across the midfield and he is a dead ball specialist, scoring directly from free-kicks as well as providing assists from them and corners. The Spaniard is another in this top 10 who is defined by his excellent vision and ability to pick out an incisive through ball to split the opposition defence and provide a goal-scoring opportunity to one of his teammates. Last season, he racked up 16 assists in the Premiership and he already has 12 in this campaign, as well as 10 league goals to his name. Mata was part of Spain’s World Cup winning squad in 2010 and their successful Euro 2012 campaign, scoring the fourth and final goal of his team’s victory over Italy in the final of the tournament.
3. Robin Van Persie – Striker – Manchester United – 29
Originally a left-winger when he started his career with Feyenoord, Van Persie was converted into an out-and-out striker by Arsene Wenger during his 8 years at Arsenal. In 2011/12, the Dutchman played all 38 Premiership matches and racked up a massive 30 goals in the process – but that was the first time he had broken the 30 games and 20 goal marks in the league as he has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Rather than last year being an outlier season, his form this campaign for Manchester United has matched it as he has scored 19 times in 26 appearances, though he did suffer another injury in Saturday’s match against QPR. Van Persie was a part of the Netherlands squad that reached the final of the 2010 World Cup – eventually losing to Spain – and has played at a total of four international tournaments. If Van Persie did not have a history of injuries – and if he was a few years younger – he may have ranked as the most valuable player in the Premiership – but it is those factors that place him just behind the top two.
2. Luis Suarez – Striker – Liverpool – 26
Let’s start with the negative side of Luis Suarez – he was involved in an alleged racial abuse incident with Patrice Evra last year during Liverpool’s match against Manchester United; he handled the ball in setting up his team’s second goal against non-league Mansfield Town; and he ruined the 2010 World Cup by preventing Ghana from progressing to the semi-final by again using his hands to stop a shot on the line. Having said all that, Luis Suarez can be absolutely unplayable at times and were it not for his 18 Premiership goals this year, Liverpool would be much lower in the league than the 8th position they currently occupy. Suarez is a very versatile player – he started this season as an orthodox striker for the Reds but, since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, he has moved out to the left and his work ethic and technical ability have seen him continue to thrive in the new position. The Uruguayan was named Player of the Tournament in the 2011 Copa America, helping his nation to win the trophy for the first time since 1995.
1. Gareth Bale – Midfielder – Tottenham – 23
As with Suarez, I’ll start with the aspects of Bale’s game that cause me immense frustration, even as a Tottenham fan. I really dislike the way he dives to try to cheat the referee into giving a free-kick or a penalty (though in his recent purple patch, that has been almost completely absent) and I get annoyed by his histrionics when he is fouled and rolls around on the group grabbing his leg as if his career might be over, only to be sprinting down the wing two minutes later. Having said that, he has shown in the past that on his day, he can be completely unstoppable, as his performance in the home game against Internazionale in the Champions League in 2010 proved. That form has become the norm rather than the exception this season and since the turn of the year, he has been quite simply brilliant. The Welshman has added devastating free-kicks to his repertoire that includes pace, strength, quick feet, great skills and a ferocious shot. He has scored six of Tottenham’s last seven Premiership goals, found the net with three free kicks in two games against Newcastle and Lyon, and won the game against West Ham yesterday with a 90th minute wonder strike for his second goal of the match. At the moment, it is impossible to find enough superlatives for his play and even if it means that other clubs are more likely to come in for Bale in the summer right now we Spurs supporters, as well as fans of the game in general, must just sit back and enjoy watching a unique talent perform at a level very few players ever achieve. Just imagine how good he would be if he had a reliable right foot as well…