With the Premier League now at the halfway stage, we look at the season's stars, from Arsenal to Tottenham, via Manchester City and a saving Swan.
Goalkeeper: Michel Vorm (Swansea City)
Fast becoming the top choice for fantasy football enthusiasts thanks to his frugal fee, the £1.5m Dutchman has excelled in the Premier League. A relatively late arrival in pre-season for the Swans, Vorm has kept eight clean sheets with his most memorable display coming via an impregnable performance at Anfield during a goalless draw in November. Nicknamed ‘The Penalty Killer’, he has thwarted two-out-of-three opponents from the spot so far.
Right-back: Micah Richards (Manchester City)
‘Sometimes Micah thinks he can only play at 50 per cent,’ said his manager Roberto Mancini earlier this season. His club coach isn’t the only Italian who takes umbrage at Richards’ perceived laxness – Fabio Capello continues to ostracise him from the England squad even when calling him up. But it’s all rather baffling when the 23-year-old has been in outstanding form this campaign, with several indications contradicting the notion that he is yet to address his once questionable attitude. Now more athletic striding forward, he may lack the discipline of Pablo Zabaleta (he made only one appearance in the Champions League) but there is a marked improvement in his defence-attack variety.
Centre-back: Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United)
Though he may bear resemblance to Sideshow Bob hair disciple David Luíz, the Argentine most definitely doesn’t play as if controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation. Deceptively quick and physically imposing, his partnership with Steven Taylor was indispensable as Newcastle remained unbeaten for their opening 11 games. Where once the Toon were as vulnerable as Gordon Brown's emails, they have shored up considerably the past couple of years and it is no coincidence that Coloccini’s absence prompted the porous performance away at Norwich City, as United lost 4-2.
Centre-back: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Cultured, imposing and sly when necessary, the Belgian is perhaps the first name on Mancini’s team sheet. One of the best centre-backs in Europe, it was a matter of time until Kompany was bequeathed with the captaincy at Eastlands, and he has thrived under the extra responsibility. City’s miserly home record has seen them concede just four goals in the league.
Left-back: José Enrique (Liverpool)
Belated appreciation has finally arrived for the Spaniard. Like Coloccini, he too suffered from employment as a Newcastle United defender when he arrived in England over four years ago, but is now comfortably the best left-back in the Premier League. Utterly dependable and savvy in his own and the opponents’ third of the pitch, he has been a mainstay for Kenny Dalglish’s side and at £6.5m represents a rare bit of good business by the Liverpool manager. The one nagging conundrum is why Vicente del Bosque won’t call him up for the Spanish national squad.
Midfield: Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur)
A media darling who compels some journalists to tweet as if they are a parody account of themselves, Parker is nevertheless an exceptional grafter. Like Jeff Lebowski’s rug, he really ties the room together at Tottenham, offering a balance that has allowed Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Luka Modrić off the leash and Spurs to emerge as title contenders. Energetic, combative and resilient, he is more skilful than he is given credit for but essentially has no sentiment for the past when he emerged as a promising playmaker for Charlton Athletic. It was mystifying why it took a Premier League club until August’s deadline day to acquire his services.
Bale is presently Britain’s best footballer.
Midfield: Juan Mata (Chelsea)
In what has been a nomadic four months for Chelsea and André Villas-Boas, Mata has, to borrow Shakespeare’s description of Juliet, stood out like a dove amongst a flock of crows. Whilst Frank Lampard refuses to acknowledge that his age and limitations make him a bit-part player, John Terry extends his rap sheet and Ashley Cole regresses, Mata sometimes makes the extortionate admission fee at Stamford Bridge worth it. A graduate from Spain’s imperious Under-21 European Championship winners in the summer, he has acclimatised to English football seamlessly, flourishing as the Blues’ trequartista. Possessing enviable balance and a graceful left-foot, his adventurousness places him a level above the sideways-passing Tiki-taka Spaniard.
Midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)
Although his influence isn’t quite as dynamic now as it was earlier in the campaign, he is possibly the third best player in the world at the moment. At one point in the Manchester derby, the 25-year-old ventured into United’s territory and was surrounded by half-a-dozen opponents, evoking memories of that Maradona picture. Not one of them could prise the ball off of him.
The best impersonator the Premier League has of Lionel Messi, the Spanish international has already scored as many goals as last term and his crucial knack for important strikes illustrates an unwavering dependableness. Silva has also acted as something of a trailblazer, ridiculing the jingoistic crowd’s assertions that lightweight Latinos would struggle amidst the rough ‘n’ tumble of English football.
Attack: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
It’s something of a fad for cynics to belittle the brilliance of Bale because of the sycophancy he receives from the media. It may be ridiculous to compare him to George Best, or to say he has no weaknesses, but he is world-class and he is presently Britain’s best footballer. As dynamic as he is direct, there are few left-wingers in world football who are as effective as the marauding Welshman when it comes to leaving defenders with twisted blood. Old-fashioned he may be, but Bale’s raison d’être is to ensure that when he leaves the pitch his garishly coloured boots are covered in chalk and that the opposition right-back is reeling. Just cut out the stupid f*****g celebrations.
Attack: Robin van Persie (Arsenal)
Arsenal would feasibly be hovering above mid-table if they were bereft of their goaltastic striker. Van Persie has scored 17 of the Gunners’s 35 league goals and has emerged as the club’s saviour in the post-Fàbregas era, the irony being that he is a square-peg-in-a-round-hole rather than his number ten forte, which intensifies appreciation for his 21-goal spell as a number nine. A great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, every club in Europe who can afford the Dutchman should be courting him in the summer, with his contract up in 2013.
Striker: Demba Ba (Newcastle United)
The signing of the year. His auspicious four months at West Ham United – where he scored seven goals in 13 games – posed as a worthy reason for Alan Pardew to nab the Senegalese on a free. Ironically Ba didn’t score in his first five games for Newcastle, but then a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers lit the fuse for an explosive run which currently stands at 14 goals in 15 games. A sublime finisher inside and outside of the box, Ba’s absence in January as he heads off to the African Cup of Nations could act as a crippling handicap for the Toon Army. A teetotal Muslim, his potency has ensured that there’s one Ba hard-living Geordie boy Andy Carroll isn’t fond of.
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