With the season coming to an end, read about the most improved Premier League players of this season…

As the Premier League season is drawing to a close, I just thought I should write a piece on the most improved players for this season, in MY opinion. These may not necessarily be players who didn’t perform last season and have performed this season, or players who are ‘underrated’ in any terms. Just players who I think have stepped up their level of performance considerably and added consistency to their game. Furthermore, I’ll include some stats as to why they deserve to get a mention and their current importance to their respective clubs.

So, let’s get underway… 

Laurent Koscielny 

Last season many Arsenal fans had a hard time warming to him as a centre back partner to Thomas Vermaelen. Highlights of a bad start to his Arsenal career was his poor start to the campaign by getting sent off in his league debut to Liverpool followed by several cases of poor positional play and another red card in the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle at home. Most notably, his worst moment in an Arsenal career was the bizarre breakdown in communication with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in the dying moments of last season’s Carling Cup final loss to Birmingham City. Many Arsenal fans were thinking ‘this isn’t the first time Wenger has made a poor buy for a Central Defender’.

However, it was his colossal performance against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League last 16 tie at the Emirates that changed some fans minds about him, if it weren’t for the heroics of Jack Wilshere in that game, arguably Koscielny would have been Man of The Match.

This season he has come up on leaps and bounds and has been Arsenal’s stand out performer for me. He has held down the Centre Back position and made it his own, partly due to defensive injuries for the majority of the season. What has impressed me most about him is that his ability to read the game, his anticipation is exceptional, timing of the challenge, pace and his aerial ability (for a man that stands at only 5 ‘11). His ability to bring the ball out from the back and play forward passes is something he always had and that’s one of the reasons why Wenger bought him from Lorient. He has remained consistent all season in what has been a make shift Arsenal defence has added real value to his place in the Arsenal team. A couple of times even being deployed at right back and performing well. His stats have proved his value to Arsenal where his number of tackles stands at 78 for the season and interceptions at 79 – more than any central defender in the Premier League. The Arsenal faithful have warmed to him so much that they even call him ‘Bosscielny’ due to his commanding performances at the heart of the Gunners defence. At 26 years of age he’s a year or two off his prime and the Gunners fans will expect him and Vermaelen (the same age) to form a colossal partnership for seasons to come. 

Jonny Evans

Jonny Evans has been at Man Utd for a 6 seasons now (first two seasons spent on loan at Sunderland), but many fans were second guessing that he would even make a career at United let alone establish himself in the first team. He looked like he would slowly prove otherwise, gradually making more appearances in the first team, especially in the more important league games. However, last season he was halted to just only 13 league games. In those starts the United defender seemed to lack the confidence in his own ability to succeed as a Manchester United player, he didn’t prove in his performances that he has the quality to challenge Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

Earlier this season, arguably his lowest point in a United top was his performance against Man City in the 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford where got sent off for a last man tackle and was largely poor prior to his dismissal. People were beginning to think, his old habits are coming back again but he managed to turn things around very quickly and it came through the injury of talismanic defender Nemanja Vidic. Vidic’s injury has enabled him to gain more starts this season and his partnership with Rio Ferdinand has blossomed. An interesting stat that I came up with before the game against Everton, United’s back 4 have started the last 9 Premier League games (longest run during the season), and in those 9 games they have kept 6 clean sheets prior to the Everton game.

Jonny Evans at 24 now, still young for a Centre Back, is pulling in a fine string of consistent performances, increased concentration and more confidence game after a game (3 C’s –Concentration, Consistency and Confidence. I’m quite proud of that one haha). His passing accuracy stands at 90.4%, the second highest for a centre back in the league and the number of times he’s been dribbled by other players has been 9 times this season, one of the fewest in the league. Many will argue that Rio Ferdinand’s time at United is coming to an end due to his age but this could make way for Jonny Evans to partner Vidic more often next season, and it would be well deserved for his efforts this season. 

Alex Song

The crazy haired combative midfielder has been one of the premier league’s ever improving players, cementing his place in Wenger’s strongest XI season after season. However, this season one thing that has come to my attention has been Song’s tremendous variety in his passing. In previous seasons passing isn’t something we associated with Alex Song, usually it’s his engine, strong tackling and knack of scoring important goals. Last season, he scored 5 goals, the last minute winner against West Ham at home to win 1-0, the 2nd goal in a 3-0 win at the Etihad against City, the 1st in a 3-1 win against Chelsea at the Emirates. In terms of his passing, his passes were sound and simple.

Currently he still plays deep in midfield as the ‘Anchor Man’ behind either Rosicky/Ramsey or Arteta. However, one particular element of Song’s game has been his marvellous ability to play lobbed through balls that have created winners this season, on two occasions this season against Liverpool and Everton. Furthermore, the same kind of passes has come in wins against Tottenham and Dortmund at the Emirates. It’s not only the sort of passing we are accustomed to see Song pulling off, this season it’s been a variety of passes; through balls in behind the defence, lobbed through balls and chips over the defence. Alex Song’s game appears to be evolving each season and there’s more in his locker, at just 24 years of age he’s proved himself to be one of, if not the Premier League’s best defensive midfielder (although some may argue that he is not a defensive midfielder due to his attacking abilities).

According to Who Scored stats, Song has played the most accurate through balls in the Premier League – that’s more than Mata and Silva, also managing 9 assists (14 in all competitions) and an impressive 41 Key Passes. Suggesting that with every 4 key passes Song makes 1 assist, superb for a ‘defensive midfielder’. 3 of the 9 assists Song has got in the Premier League have won Arsenal 9 points – The assist to Van Persie against Norwich to win 2-1, the assist to Van Persie again for Arsenal to win 1-0 against Everton and the assist to guess who? Van Persie again, for Arsenal to win 2-1 at Liverpool. Nothing has changed in terms of his defensive contribution to the team; he still boasts 91 tackles in the Premier League and averages 2.9 tackles per game. I think the term ‘defensive deep lying playmaker’ can now be associated to Song for his improved ability to start attacks and finish them off with the final pass.

P.S. Why on earth he was not on the short list for PFA Player of The Year, bearing in mind that Scott Parker was?

Ramires

Ramires, the ‘Blue Kenyan’ known by his team mates for his constant running. Now, it’s evident that Ramires doesn’t strike anyone as the typical Brazilian, a trait that I find unfair and crude national stereotype, a stereotype that you expect a Brazilian to possesses flair, great technical ability and eye for the spectacular, but, what he is is very efficient.

Ramires joined Chelsea in the January 2011 window from Benfica as a wide midfielder (on the right of a diamond), he began his Chelsea career as a box to box midfielder often being the scapegoat for Chelsea fans when things weren’t going right for them, when they needed a goal and the last thing they wanted to see was Ramires in the final third of the field. Perhaps because of that stereotype as I said earlier the reason for their disappointment in his attacking qualities and ability to create chances for forwards. As we often tend to find that players who play in the Premiership for the first time won’t find it easy (especially when arriving in the January transfer window) and will show glimpses of their quality now and again but will fail to find any real consistency as this was the case for Ramires but his work rate and tactical awareness was undoubted. Usually you won’t see the full ability of a player if he arrives in a January transfer window until the season after and this proved so with Ramires. In his first season he was so typical of his running and work ethic, but quite often he was pushed off the ball. 

This season Ramires appears to be a key player at Chelsea, although being played out wide on the left or the right wing he has shown his directness, the ability to drive at the defence with or without the ball, cutting inside to create space for the fullbacks too. His stats are hugely impressive too; he averages the most tackles per game in the Chelsea side, 3 per game and 77 this season, he also has 49 interceptions in the Premier League this season too.

Since being managed under Di Matteo Chelsea is now playing a 4-2-3-1 and defensively they are more set up to defend with 2 banks of four. This suits Ramires’ game because it will require the wingers to drop back and be more disciplined. This has enabled the Chelsea fans to realise Ramires’ qualities even further than they did playing in a 4-3-3 as a central midfielder. However, even when he did play as a central midfielder he showed he can chip in with goals too, showing nice composure in front of goal. With an ageing Chelsea side, he provides the legs and balance, and the day after AVB was sacked Ramires signed a new 5 year contract only into a year into the current one he signed back in January when he joined. Clearly Ramires is a player Chelsea sees for the long term. 

Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey is an ever improving player, but the Fulham player has hit new heights this season, scoring an impressive 16 goals in league and 22 this season. The Texas born footballer has always had an eye for goal in all his previous seasons with Fulham, but none like this season in where he’s evolved his game, consistently winning games for Fulham on his own. Widely regarded as a midfielder who can play in a number of roles due to his versatility, in the latter stages of the season we have seen him been deployed as a striker because of injuries to Andrew Johnson and Pavel Pogrebnyak, scoring 5 goals in 5 starts upfront for The Cottagers, some suggesting that that should be his role on a more long term basis. However, that would see them lack in other areas in midfield where he’s needed more.

This season Clint has developed his all round game, scoring different types of goals and producing some sublime passes, whilst keeping the gritty side to his game of winning aerial duels and tackles. For this reason it’s why I believe he’s one of the most complete attacking players in the Premier League, and if not Europe. Over his career he’s been known to be a hard worker on and off the pitch, and it’s his hard work ethic that has seen him get so many goals and a variety too, scoring free kicks, headers, tap ins and long distance goals. One particular element of his game that has impressed me is his passing, Dempsey has made 10 successful through balls out of 17 this season and 47 key passes, I believe this to be quality stats because it’s a successful amount of through balls made for the amount tried. He’s also managed 82.2% pass success rate, and for a player who has been shifted around in to different positions this season it’s a good rate of passing to maintain.

At the latter stages of the season Dempsey is stalling on a new contract and some of the Premier League’s bigger clubs (most mentioned Arsenal and Spurs) have sent scouts down to Craven Cottage to look at Dempsey whose contract runs out next year. At the age of 29, he would be available at around £8-10million or Fulham risk losing him for nothing next year. Many believe that Dempsey deserves his chance to play Champions League football and show not only the Premier League his ability, but Europe, too.

P.S. Why wasn’t he on the short list for PFA Player of the Year ?

Honourable Mentions:

Yohan Cabaye, Kyle Walker, Victor Moses, Tim Krul, Demba Ba, Stephane Sessegnon, Moussa  Dembele and Micah Richards.  

So those were my most improved Premier League players of 2011/2012 – please feel free to give me your opinion on these players, or any other players that you feel warrant a mention, or an extended mention more than them, via the comments. You can also find me on Twitter @TouchlineOracle (could do with some bigger audience). Thanks.