Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. As many of you are aware the publication of my top 100 Premier League players is now into its 4th year and I hope it has become a tradition for many of you at this time of year.
This year I decided to offer you it in five parts and after reading the columns this week here at the Footy Show Blog some of you may well be aware of the players who make up numbers 100-21. Those who have yet to see them need not worry as I have incorporated the whole list into this one, including the top 20 at the bottom. As usual I advise you to grab a cuppa and take your time through all of this. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I have enjoyed putting it together for you. Please remember to give your thoughts in the comments below and go ahead and create your own top 10, 20, 50, etc!
Before we get to the players there are a couple of things that need to be cleared up so here is my usual preface.
First of all this is a 100% Kristian Jack list. No one else here at the Footy Show had an impact. Secondly it is not a list of the best players of 2010. Regulars will be aware that the list I’ve put together is based around players who I would want on my team right now. If a player is simply higher on the list then he is simply a better player, in my opinion, right now than the one underneath him. This is easier said than done, mind you. Of course, sticking to this process, means you have to account for current form but I’ve also accounted for genuine talent. I’ve been around long enough and watched hours upon hours of games to know a great player from a good player. That being said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so please feel free to let me know what you agree and disagree with. However, remember that over 500 players are registered to Premier League clubs which includes a lot of good players who did not make this list.
Just like past years there are once again players who do not qualify. This is the ‘not played enough to be judged’ category featuring many players who have been injured more than they have played, including for a fourth successive year its founder member, Ledley King. King in many ways is the reason for such a list. When he plays he is a top 50 player but the fact that he doesn’t play often drops his stock down significantly. Before we get to the ‘real’ list I would like you to be aware of all those present and accounted for in this class: Michael Johnson (Man City), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate (Spurs), Dan Agger (Liverpool), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Jack Collison (West Ham), Owen Hargreaves (Man Utd), John Mensah (Sunderland).
Earlier this month I appealed to you – the educated fans of the Footy Show – to help put together the final touches on the list and, as usual, you didn’t disappoint. Hundreds of votes were taken and seven players owe their inclusion down to you. Of course I had the final say but I really didn’t have a problem with the players voted in. Of the 50 listed to get votes I had four players who I felt absolutely should be in the top 100. All four were voted in by you. These players will be highlighted in their descriptions. The seven voted in do not make up 93-100, as explained later, but are all featured in this section of the top 100. Alright, let us get to the fun part:
100. Johan Elmander (Bolton) – Timing is everything with this selection and a player who wouldn’t have been in the top 200 last season makes the list after a fantastic start to this season which saw him named Premier League Player of the Month for November. The Swedish striker cost a lot of money from Toulouse in the summer of 2008 and he had a frustrating first two seasons but his goals, combined with a fine ability to hold the ball up, has finally given the Reebok fans something to smile about. Voted in by the Footy Show fans.
99. Heurelho Gomes (Tottenham) – Another selection from the fans who just edged Brad Friedel from the list of goalkeepers and I don’t have too much of a problem with it due to the real ‘highs’ shown by Gomes when he is on his game. He is extremely inconsistent and prone to the occasional error, as shown in the Chelsea game, but he is also able to put such errors in the past and make up for his mistakes immediately, as also shown in the Chelsea game. Has some of the best reflexes in the league.
98. Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland) – When clubs like Sunderland spend 13 million pounds on a player then they better get it right. I first saw Gyan in Cologne during the World Cup of 2006 and, in person, was very impressed in his running off the ball and his passion for physical play. His goals per shots ratio isn’t great but we are now seeing fewer strikers with the capabilities of scoring 15 league goals a season, let alone 20, and Gyan is a player who can get that level. Voted in by Footy Show fans.
97. Pablo Zabaleta (Man City) – Zabaleta was not included in the shortlist for fans to vote because he was one of two players that were borderline picks but who I didn’t think would get the votes. Zabalata is a player I admire for his adaptability to play in many different positions and master all of them. Already this season he has played in midfield, right back and left back. Another player that Diego Maradona should have taken to South Africa but didn’t.
96. Roger Johnson (Birmingham) – Last year I wrote that I expected Johnson to be in this list one year later and you the voters have ensured his place inside the top 100. Strong in the air, fearless at blocking shots and going up against some of the league’s best forwards, the centre-back has been a fantastic signing since arriving from Cardiff 18 months ago.
95. Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham) – The Russian striker is the second player who was a borderline pick who wasn’t voted in by the fans. My reasoning for his selection is ironically similar to his goalkeeper in that he occasionally shows some flashes of brilliance that justify the 14 million pounds that Spurs spent on him. Often wonder what damage he could do if he played for a team that would start him every week.
94. Scott Parker (West Ham) – The West Ham midfielder was the third highest selection in the fans voting and is a worthy choice. What Parker lacks in skill he more than makes up for in hard work and football intelligence. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for such a competitive player to play for a club who won the least amount of games in 2010 of any teams that played the full year in the Premier League.
93. Paul Scholes (Man Utd) – More than 60% of the people who voted last week for this list did not include the Manchester United midfielder but those who nominated him did so with some passion. Scholes is, of course, one of the league’s top 100 players despite a lack of pace and inability to tackle cleanly on a regular occasion. Football intelligence is a term I will use once again here and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time makes him a vital player for United in big games.
92. Matthew Upson (West Ham) – Like Parker, Upson, perhaps, should be higher on this list but has suffered to the lack of talent around him at Upton Park. It has actually been comical for neutrals to watch the Hammers continue to concede sloppy goals from crosses this season and the England international has not been without blame, but he remains a good defender who would suddenly look much better again in an organised defensive system.
91. Peter Crouch (Tottenham) – Crouch is one giant polarizing figure. I have never been a big fan myself and but his ability to hold a ball up and play off a front man is one he does better than many. His goalscoring record in the Champions League, and for England, is more than adequate but in the Premier League he has struggled to find the back of the net this season.
90. Kevin Davies (Bolton) – Davies has shown under Owen Coyle that he can play in an ugly side and now an attractive side. No defenders like to play against him, he is fantastic in the air and chases every cause even if it looks lost. A supreme leader both on and off the field for a club that is heading in the right direction. Treated disgracefully by England in 2010.
89. Michael Turner (Sunderland) – Turner was stolen from a cash-strapped Hull by Steve Bruce 16 months ago and has rarely put in a poor performance since. This time last year he sat out four games for suspension and the club conceded 12 goals in the four matches he missed. The Black Cats have some fine young defenders at the club now but he is the best of the bunch.
88. Ryan Shawcross (Stoke) – Some call Stoke the new Wimbledon for their style of play but every successful team needs good defenders and they have two excellent centre backs. Robert Huth didn’t get enough votes to make the top 100 but Shawcross is better than that and has taken his game to a new level recently. Stoke will have a hard time keeping hold of their club captain in 2011.
87. Leighton Baines (Everton) – The runaway winner in the fans vote, the Everton left back has had a fantastic season this year and has improved into an excellent all-around left back. Baines gets a lot of publicity for his ability to put in some fine crosses and has linked up well with Steven Pienaar down the left flank all season long but he has also produced some fine displays at the back despite being sometimes left isolated by the careless Pienaar.
86. Steven Pienaar (Everton) – Pienaar ends a run of 8 straight Englishmen on the list and it’s only fitting that he is next to Baines. The South African has his faults defensively but is exciting on the ball and can provide width from a central area. Faces an interesting future as his contract expires at the end of the season.
85. Richard Dunne (Aston Villa) – Dunne has had a torrid time lately. After taking over as Villa skipper, while Stiliyan Petrov was hurt, he was then dropped from the first XI after numerous poor performances. Never blessed with pace, the Irishman’s leadership and do-or-die mentality makes him a crowd favourite as he puts his body on the line each game. Still an excellent defender although may not be a top 100 player next season.
84. Ji Sung-Park (Man Utd) – Is there anything this man cannot do? Scorer in three successive World Cups, Park has also created headlines this season for scoring crucial goals for United. However, it is what Park does without the ball that makes him such a special player. Tracking back and making sure your full back isn’t overlapped sounds easy but many struggle to accomplish it. One of the most selfless players in the league.
83. Clint Dempsey (Fulham) – One of the most improved players in the Premier League over the past year, the American is full of confidence after playing well in Europe with Fulham and at the World Cup with the USA. Can play on the wing or behind the front man and makes a habit of scoring crucial goals for a club that needs all the goals they can get.
82. Jack Rodwell (Everton) – Future England regular, I’m absolutely sure of it. Still only 19, he is exceptional when deployed as a defensive midfielder but can equally look at home at centre back or as an attacking midfielder. One of two young Jack’s from England blessed with a great left foot and the creativity and style to play inside rather than simply on the wing. More from the other later.
81. Wilson Palacios (Tottenham) – One of the biggest mysteries of the year came in the significant drop of form from Palacios. Absolutely loved by the White Hart Lane faithful when he arrived from Wigan, he is currently nothing more than a squad player for Harry Redknapp after suddenly losing the ability to pass accurately and tackle properly. Still a fine player when at his best, it’s now up to Redknapp and his numerous assistants to work on finding the player they bought from Wigan two years ago.
80. Tim Howard (Everton) – Howard’s consistency at Goodison Park has been remarkable and will have surprised even his biggest fans who followed his early days in Montclair, New Jersey. He is a perfect goalkeeper for Everton who can go a long period of time without giving him much work to do. You also know a great goalkeeper when you see him make a mistake and you are very surprised, such as his error at Blackburn on the opening day of the season.
79. John Obi Mikel (Chelsea) – I am a little disappointed in Mikel this season. Really seemed to thrive in a midfield without Essien but now the Ghana skipper is back it seems that Mikel is often caught out of position and is confused of his duties. Remains an excellent tackler and has saved some of his best performances for the big games, however, his reluctance to ever get forward often leaves Chelsea needing a more offensive player in that position.
78. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool) – Fitting that the Liverpool legend is next while we are on the topic of raising your game for your opponent. Carragher has become a little bit of a punching bag for fans of other teams and it’s true that his pace is going quickly but he was fantastic against Chelsea earlier this season and remains a real leader for a club that lacks them in abundance.
77. Gary Cahill (Bolton) – It is worth noting that Martin O’Neill saw very little in the Yorkshireman that he sold him two years ago this January and spent more money on Curtis Davies and then Carlos Cuellar. Oops. Cahill is fearless in his defending and is very accomplished on the ball. Just turned 25, he has a big future ahead of him including a big contract (possibly at a big club) very soon.
76. Edwin Van der Sar (Man Utd) – It appears that the Old Trafford number one is in his final season but he is proof that you can replace Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United. No one else was able to do it but the Dutchman has been a fantastic servant for the past six years and will be difficult to replace. Over to you, Anders Lindegaard.
75. Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham) – The Spurs midfielder turned 24 this week and is one of many young players that England should start to play more often. Composed on the ball, a good passer and tackler, the former Derby County player has become a valuable member to Harry Redknapp who had no problems playing him in central defence during an injury crisis at the back.
74. Rafael Da Silva (Man Utd) – Two days before this year’s World Cup final, Rafael turned 20. Twenty! Winner of five medals already in his short spell in Manchester, the better of the Da Silva twins already looks destined for stardom. I’ve been very impressed with him in big games, particularly in the Champions League, where he shows a willingness to help Nani in attack while also being comfortable at defending in one-on-one situations at right back. Example number one of a million as to why Gary Neville needs to retire.
73. Michael Dawson (Tottenham) – A year is a long time in football and last season I placed Dawson on the short list and he wasn’t voted in by readers. I have to say I am coming around to him. This season he fully deserves a place inside the top 100 and has been a fantastic leader for Tottenham after a year that saw him become a regular in the England squad.
72. Gabby Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) – Number 40 last season, the Villa striker is falling down the pecking order fast. Blessed with incredible speed, he still doesn’t score enough goals to be considered an elite striker in the Premier League. Admittedly hasn’t been helped by the lack of talented strikers to play with.
71. Brede Hangeland (Fulham) – Now looks like a matter of when, not if, Fulham sell him. Roy Hodgson’s first buy at Craven Cottage is a solid, physical centre back, comfortable on the ball and also dangerous in the opposing penalty area. Fulham fans do not want to think of a team without him because it could well be a team that is playing outside of the Premier League.
70. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – Positioning young players with few Premier League games in their career was one of the hardest tasks in putting this list together but in the 18 matches that the Welshman played in the 08/09 season he produced some wonderful performances. Once back to full fitness, Ramsey has the potential to be a top 10 player in this league one day.
69. Stiliyan Petrov (Aston Villa) - The moment Villa lost their skipper against Sunderland in October I knew they were in for a tough ride. You won’t find a bigger fan of the Bulgarian than me. Every fan loves players who try and work hard and he goes above and beyond in terms of effort and has the play to back it up. Supreme reader of the game who is no longer looked at as a scoring threat like earlier in his career. Terrific leader.
68. Aaron Lennon (Tottenham) – Like Agbonlahor, this speedy Englishman has had a 2010 he’d rather forget and like the Villa striker he is still at an age (23) that shows he can become something special. After an impressive 2009 it looked like he would be England’s right winger for years to come but questions over fitness and form remain a year later and the former Leeds man needs to find more consistency, particularly in his crosses that need to be better.
67. Ryan Giggs (Man Utd) – I make sure I do not read my list from last season while putting this together but now it is complete I have noticed I have placed Mr Giggs #67 once again. What can be said of the Welsh Wizard that hasn’t already been said? How about his fitness? Supreme. Intelligence? Supreme. I will add that last year many people couldn’t believe I had him so low. Of course he is one of the greatest players to play in this league but at this stage in his career I just happen to think that I would rather have 66 other players instead of him. Just as I did one year ago.
66. Jose Bosingwa (Chelsea) – October 2009 is a long time ago I know. However, what we saw of Bosingwa prior to that is enough to keep him as high as he is. However, he is very close to being sent to Ledley King’s class. Injury-prone he is not. He just happened to suffer a really bad knee injury and is still working on being back to his best. Once he gets there we can all get back to watching one of the league’s best right backs.
65. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) – For what I wrote about Ramsey in number 70 I could add here. Exceptional talent and the sky is the limit. Already blessed with a wonderful left foot, Wilshere is maturing into a complete box-to-box midfielder. Personally I would pick Wilshere in every England senior side going forward. Is also at the right club to improve his technical ability.
64. Jerome Boateng (Man City) – Boateng has created some headlines off the field so far this season after suffering an injury on a plane and having a fight in training but, hey, that just means he fits right in at Eastlands. Another excellent signing by Roberto Mancini, the German international can play anywhere across the back four and already looks comfortable with the speed of the Premier League game.
63. Gael Clichy (Arsenal) – I am not one to borrow lines from fellow analysts. I come up with my own opinions but I cannot help but agree with former Arsenal defender Martin Keown who had this to say recently: “Clichy is going backwards. We all have a bad time at some point maybe he needs to have some time out to look from the outside. It sometimes helps.” At 25 he has time to improve but his hopes of being one of the world’s best left backs is no longer in jeopardy, it is simply in tatters.
62. Denilson (Arsenal) – My faith in the Brazilian remains but after a poor 2010 I couldn’t place him any higher. When given the opportunity he looks like a man who could be an important part of Arsenal’s midfield for the next decade. I like players that treasure the ball and he fits the bill.
61. Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – The Serbian continued his development in 2010 and is now a first class defender at the Premier League level. It took eight months for him to make his debut after signing from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008 and he struggled, initially, but thankfully that’s a distant memory now as he regularly puts in excellent performances at centre back and, importantly, at right back where he has filled in admirably despite it not being his preferred position.
60. Adam Johnson (Man City) – It needs to be stated that this time last year Johnson was still a Middlesbrough player and was available to numerous Premier League clubs for a very reasonable price. In the end he ended up going to the billionaires, no doubt thanks to amount he gets paid every two weeks, but in the past year has shown real flashes of brilliance that means he might just escape falling into the pit that many English players have succumbed to since arriving at Eastlands.
59. Theo Walcott (Arsenal) – Similar to Johnson, Walcott is a player with a ton of ability but has yet to put it altogether for a long period of time. I happen to believe that next year he will be placed higher than this, should he get the opportunity to play regularly. Can be breathtaking in top gear and lethal in front of goal.
58. Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton) – Bolton’s hidden gem remains as valuable as ever to a club that now have aspirations of playing in Europe. He is without doubt the most underrated goalkeeper in the league but in Bolton if you ask anyone who attends the Reebok on a regular occasion they will tell you all about his shot stopping ability, his reflexes and his incredibly consistency.
57. Anderson (Man Utd) - Incredibly polarizing figure. Many excellent football minds have argued over the young Brazilian and will do so for years to come. Personally, I absolutely love Anderson. It’s a measure of how good he is that I still hear people refer to him as a holding midfielder. This kid can do it all but is still very much an attacking central midfielder. If he played more often, or for a different team, he’d be higher on this list, but he’s got lots of time ahead of him. Wonderful left foot and a player who is always big in the big games. – that’s the exact same description I wrote last season for Anderson at #60 and a year later it remains fitting.
56. Aleksandar Kolarov (Man City) – The Premier League is yet to see the best of Kolarov thanks to injuries and a suspension but I predict a huge 2011 for the Serbian left back in England. Was fantastic at Lazio and is quickly emerging as one of the world’s best defenders who gets headlines for his attacking play but is a real menace for opposing wingers and forwards, many of whom, in the Premier League, still don’t know how good this guy is.
55. Alex Song (Arsenal) – One of Wenger’s favourites, Song does an exceptional job in the Arsenal midfield allowing others in front of him to get the glory and headlines. However, his overall game needs improvement and more consistency. Playing inside a team full of elegant passers and dynamic dribblers has worked against him a little as he tends to often want to get in on the party and can be found out of position. Needs to keep his passing game simpler but has added another dimension to his game this season in an new found ability to find the back of the net.
54. Gareth Barry (Man City) - 2010 wasn’t a great year for Barry and I’m not just talking about the video released of his night in Scotland. In the summer his lack of pace was exposed in South Africa and he ends the year with some wondering whether City’s best XI actually includes him. Barry excels in a tight games, inside a crowded midfield where he can play alongside Nigel De Jong. Without De Jong, the emphasis falls on Barry to sit deeper and he isn’t able to dictate the play or use his exceptional passing ability to create chances. A big year awaits for him. He left Aston Villa to play in the Champions League, now he must prove he is good enough to still play once they accomplish that goal.
53. Javier Hernandez (Man Utd) – I cannot talk highly enough of Hernandez. I am extremely impressed at how quickly he has adapted to not just the English game, but the English lifestyle. It is not a generalization to say that less than a decade ago, a 22-year-old Mexican would not have adapted so quickly. A pure poacher who is blessed with incredible pace. I remember saying during our FIFA World Cup Tonight show that he was an offside-trap killer and he is already showing that at Old Trafford.
52. Hugo Rodallega (Wigan) – January 12th will be the second anniversary of Rodallega’s time at Wigan and I am very surprised they have managed to hold on to him for so long. In an era where it is getting harder and harder to find natural strikers who can score goals regularly in the Premier League, the 25-year-old Colombian scored 10 Premier League goals last season and Wigan lost just once when he scored. Imagine how good Everton, for example, would be with Rodallega.
51. Shay Given (Man City) – One of my favourites just misses out on a top 50 spot after sitting on the bench since August. Many players aren’t getting the playing time they should be at Eastlands but in the case of Given (and a few others) when evaluating their talent we shouldn’t forget just how good they are, despite not playing often. Given is one of the world’s best shot stoppers who needs to find a new home immediately.
50. Joe Hart (Man City) – It was quite the year for Hart. In years to come, people will look back at South Africa and wonder how Robert Green and, incredibly, David James prevented him from becoming England’s number one. His development was likely helped, however, by not being involved in those matches and City have reaped the rewards this season as he showed just what Birmingham fans knew already. He is now one of the league’s best goalkeepers and will be for a decade.
49. Kolo Toure (Man City) – An absolute integral member of Manchester City’s ambitious plan that is currently in place. Some have wondered if the inmates are running the Eastlands Asylum but if Kolo Toure remains in that team then they shouldn’t worry. A first class centre back who brings tremendous experience on the field (Champions League final, 2006) and off the field (learning under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal about how things should be run). Should never have lost the captaincy to Carlos Tevez.
48. Antonio Valencia (Man Utd) – Currently sidelined after breaking his left ankle against Rangers in September, Valencia is a throwback to the days were all wingers did was pick up the ball, run towards the white line and swing in a cross. This is not meant to take anything away from the 25-year-old, however, who does it better than many in the game today at a time when wide men now include forwards, midfield creators or inside-out wingers. Wayne Rooney would likely put him in his top 10 players.
47. Andy Carroll (Newcastle) - Magpies fans will not like this but is simply a matter of time before he moves elsewhere for a lot of money. Carroll arrived in the Premier League with Newcastle in August as a player not many people knew about some had compared to Alan Shearer and it’s looking increasingly like the team has a real star on their hands. Astute observers of the first game at Old Trafford in August will have seen what a handful he was to one of the very best in Nemanja Vidic and in every match since he has given defenders a torrid time. Carroll is brilliant in the air and has an ability to set up goals as well as score them. If he stays in on Saturday nights and avoids trouble, the sky is the limit for Carroll.
46. Abou Diaby (Arsenal)- If the Frenchman can somehow put a full season together without getting injured then he has the capabilities of being one of the best in the league. I love to watch him take over games with his incredible energy as he glides across the field (from box-to-box) with ease. His position and height, 6ft 3in, has brought comparisons to Patrick Vieira but in many ways he has the abilities to be a better overall player due to his offensive abilities. Obviously that is a long way away but it absolutely could happen.
45. Petr Cech (Chelsea) – Great goalkeepers are a rare breed and become great not because of saves that make highlight packs but because of the incredible consistency each week to not make crucial mistakes and be the marshal of the back four in front of him. Cech delivers in all aspects and is one of the world’s best.
44. Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal) – Is now officially the best centre back Arsenal have. Will be interesting how he plays once he returns from injury but there is little doubt his calmness has been missed while he’s been out. Fearless in tackles and a fierce competitor for the ball in the air, the Belgian is a fan favourite at the Emirates. Arsenal fans need to watch who he will be paired with up on his return as partnerships at that position are crucial and he needs to be placed next to a defensive minded player who doesn’t commit forward, which Vermaelen does a little too often.
43. Michael Carrick (Man Utd) – In this job I sometimes feel I am living a second life, as Michael Carrick’s agent! The England midfielder is a wonderfully intelligent player who I would want inside my midfield three any day of the week. The more important the match the more likely you will see team’s employing three in midfield (Man Utd in the Champions League or against top teams in the PL) and Carrick is a positional wizard. Not many England players treasure the ball like Carrick who has had an up and down 2010 but remains a player who is incredibly unappreciated.
42. Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal) – The Gunners have found a real star here. Excelled in France for Bordeaux in big matches over the past few years and has already settled into English football like a duck to water. Looks capable at playing the role as the sole front striker at the Emirates as he is superb with his back to the goal and has excellent work ethic at covering space without the ball. Looks a lethal finisher with both feet and his head.
41. Sylvain Distin (Everton) – Michael Carrick may be unappreciated. Darren Fletcher may once have been underrated but both play for one of the greatest clubs in the world. They are not flying under any one’s radar. Sylvain Distin, however, is the most underrated player in the Premier League. A fantastic centre back who is strong, commanding and calm on the ball. Everton, when opposed against a team playing one striker, this season have also often pushed him into a midfield area to not get overrun and he looks comfortable there as well. I will leave you with what I wrote about him last season: After a long soap-opera of selling Lescott, David Moyes moved quickly to get a better player for a far less amount. Distin is a player you can build a defence around. Extremely gifted and quick, he is incredibly controlled and calm. Amazingly, still no French caps.
40. Phil Jagielka (Everton) – In many ways Jagielka is this era’s Gareth Southgate. Started as a midfielder and moved to centre half where he has become one of the best defender’s in the league. Like Southgate, should also gain a lot of caps for England in his late 20′s and early 30′s in preparation for Brazil 2014 where, at 32, he should be playing. Six England caps aren’t enough.
39. Ashley Young (Aston Villa) – England as a nation continue to struggle to produce players with an excellent ability to beat a full back and cross the ball with precision into the box and in Young they have one, however, it remains a great mystery why Fabio Capello doesn’t rely on him more often. Without doubt one of the deadliest crossers in the league who has taken his game to another level in 2010 where he has often operated in the hole, centrally, behind a sole striker. Still needs to stop with the diving and playacting. Likely playing for a different club very soon.
38. Vincent Kompany (Man City) – The runner-up for the award of the most improved player in 2010. Kompany took some time to adjust to the Premier League following his move from Hamburg in 2008 but under Roberto Mancini has blossomed once again into the fantastic defender that he was before he came to England. Can also play in midfield if needed but his play at the heart of City’s defence this season means he won’t be asked to change position again.
37. Darren Bent (Sunderland) – I just continue to be more and more impressed with Bent each time I watch him. A fine goalscorer whose record speaks for itself (since Bent moved to the North East at the start of last season only two players in the Premier League have scored more goals, Didier Drogba and Carlos Tevez), the former Spurs man is improving his all-around game and now seems to be thriving in a better team this season, enjoying not carrying a team on his back for a change. Also here’s one more stat for you – no English player scored more goals in the Premier League in 2009 and 2010 combined.
36. Dimitar Berbatov (Man Utd) – How many players in the history of the Premier League have scored five goals in one game and then been dropped for the next match? Yep, you guessed it, just Mr Berbatov. In part it is an incredible indictment on the player as well as a perfect example of his talents. At the start of this season, following a spectacular hat-trick against Liverpool, many wondered if Berbatov had finally reached a different level but the fact remained that he is a dangerous finisher who takes games off even when he is playing in them.
35. Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) – Defoe has struggled for fitness this season but seems to be slowly getting himself back to his best and that is great news for Tottenham. Has now reached a completely new level as a striker who can score goals in the big occasions and is now one of England’s best pure finishers. Terrible penalty taker though.
34. James Milner (Man City) – Despite what many people said, Milner was a fantastic signing for City in August and is a manager’s dream. Gained a lot of press for his play at Villa last season in a central midfield role but is now mainly back to playing wide for City. Excellent crosser and his overall work rate and understanding of his role without the ball often means he can be found behind the ball inside his team’s own box.
33. William Gallas (Tottenham) – The Frenchman has his critics and seems to get under the skin of many a teammate but he can play for my team any day of the week. Nasty, tenacious, aggressive and in total command when captaining his back line. The first player to ever play for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
32. Nigel De Jong (Man City) – Talking of aggressive, commanding leaders, the Dutch Destroyer finds the headlines for famous incidents such as his karate kick on Xabi Alonso and his challenge on Hatem Ben Arfa but regular viewers of De Jong cannot help but be impressed at his overall positioning, bravery and fitness. Regularly tracks the attacking member of the opponent’s midfield and is incredibly valuable to the defenders playing behind him. City have yet to lose a Premier League game this season in which De Jong has played in.
31. Tim Cahill (Everton) – No player in the entire list of 100 gets more out of less than this typically fierce Aussie. As a kid he was told he was too short. In 1998 he left Sydney to go to England and Millwall was the only team who wanted him. In 2004 he was worth just 1.5 million pounds and Everton pounced. In 2006 he scored Australia’s first ever World Cup goal. In 2010, after being sent off against Germany, he bounced back to score against Serbia to ensure the tournament wasn’t a disaster. Heading into 2011 he has 54 EPL goals, 31 of which he has scored with his head. Incredible.
30. Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd) – At 32 it appears his best days are clearly behind him but Utd will hope that he can stay fit and remain available for their biggest games between now and when his contract expires in 2013. When fit he remains one of the best defenders in the league. Physical, commanding in the air and remarkably quick considering the amount of injuries he has suffered lately.
29. Emmanuel Adebayor (Man City) - Players such as Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Joleon Lescott, Shaun Wright-Phillips and even Roque Santa Cruz are legitimate cases to be thrown in the garbage by Man City but it is startling that the club has absolutely no use for a talent like Adebayor. For a tall man he has brilliant technical ability with the ball, can hold off defenders with tremendous skill and turn players inside and out. Intelligent enough to play in a system with only one man up front and has the goal ratio to back up his ability. Clearly on his way out at Eastlands. One team’s trash is another team’s treasure.
28. Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool) – Many Liverpool players, like their team, end 2010 (and ironically the same way they ended 2009) with some incredible inconsistency but Kuyt doesn’t fall under that class. The Dutchman is as consistent as they come and never has a bad game for the Reds. Unfortunately it appears his manager still doesn’t know where best to play Kuyt, who rarely gets the opportunity to play in a wide right role inside a 4-5-1/4-3-3 which is clearly where his energy, passing work rate is best suited.
27. Patrice Evra (Man Utd) – The disgraced former French captain remains one of the league’s most outstanding left backs despite a below par 2010. After a nightmare summer in South Africa it appears he has struggled to regain his top form at Old Trafford this season but his speed, judgment and defensive abilities still make him one of the premier left backs in world football today.
26. Bacary Sagna (Arsenal) – Evra’s mate and full back partner with France comes in at #26 and is without doubt the league’s best right back. While Evra had a poor 2010, Sagna went from strength to strength and is now a true world class full back who is brilliant at defending and is getting more and more comfortable at contributing to Arsenal’s all-star attacking game.
25. David Silva (Man City) – The World Cup winner turns 25 next week and, after less than a dozen Premier League games for City, already looks comfortable in English football. Generally, watching a left sided player operate on the right or in the middle of the field, in an advanced role, can be very exciting and the Spaniard rarely disappoints to the point now in which his manager trusts him to start all of the club’s important matches. Successful as an inside out winger or trequartista behind Tevez, Silva is on the fast track to elite status in the Premier League.
24. Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal) – Such a destination was where this Russian star was heading, in the fast lane, as 2009 turned into 2010 but the last 12 months, and 4 in particular, haven’t shown us the best of Arshavin. Although he remains one of the most talented and skillful players in the league, he is ridiculously lazy and has been shown up in big games by players willing to work harder for the cause.
23. Darren Fletcher (Man Utd) – The 26-year-old Scot is now in the middle of a third straight season at Old Trafford as a regular inside the Manchester United midfield and is turning into a real leader at the club. United’s famous youth academy hasn’t produced too many stars recently but at 26 Scotland’s captain is now well and truly a star. A box-to-box player who is excellent at pressing the opponent’s holding midfielder, while not losing site of his own defensive responsibilities.
22. Florent Malouda (Chelsea) – Kompany may well be the second improved player of 2010 in the Premier League but Malouda is right behind him. Recent games haven’t been good to the Frenchman but overall he has been fantastic for Chelsea with his darting runs from deep positions that have led to goals, often scored by himself. Usually deployed in a wide left position in a front three but can play as the attacking member of a midfield three as well. Chelsea are 6-0-0 when he scores this season and 4-4-5
when he does not.
21. Mikel Arteta (Everton) – One of my favourites, Arteta is now enjoying a return to top form following a horrendous injury at Newcastle over 18 months ago. Outstanding from set pieces, the Everton player is crucial for the Toffees playing as a creative central midfielder behind Cahill and a lone striker. Arteta’s role is often that of a quarterback, the starter of many attacks who has to cover an incredible amount of ground to receive the ball.
20. Yaya Toure (Man City) – What a terrific footballer he is. Much has been written in recent years at how long it takes players to settle in the Premier League but here’s another example of a top class player fitting in immediately. Toure has been magnificent for City so far as the attacking member of a midfield three and that’s not even his best position! In future do not be surprised to see him replace Barry alongside De Jong but for now he is the link between the midfield and attackers and creates triangles with brilliant, accurate passes and runs throughout a match.
19. Robin Van Persie (Arsenal) – We are now in an era where a striker needs to influence the game with and without the ball and the Dutchman is the perfect solo act, the angel on top of Arsenal’s attacking tree. The only problem remains staying fit (in the 2009 and 2010 calendar years combined he played in just 41 Premier League games) but when the 27-year-old is fully fit then there are few better. Fantastic off-the-ball runner into the channels and is always looking to play others into space, making him as good a provider as a scorer.
18. John Terry (Chelsea) – An incredibly polarizing figure, Terry has been called overrated so often that he is actually underrated. Winner of many medals and individual awards, such as UEFA defender of the year three times and the much acclaimed ‘Dad of the year’ honour at least once. Sticking to his play on the pitch, though, you cannot deny his value to Chelsea as a top class defender who reads a game better than most in the league. I will be interested, though, to see how he performs in the latter stages of the Champions League this season now his old mate Carvalho is in Madrid.
17. Pepe Reina (Liverpool) – The Premier League’s best goalkeeper and one that Liverpool are now extremely unfortunate to still have. Fantastic concentration, shot stopping ability, command of his box and technique with the ball; all traits that helped him achieve his 100th Premier League clean sheet recently. Hands down would have been a super star and a legitimate World Cup winner (rather than a backup) in South Africa if it wasn’t for a man named Iker Casillas, who is slightly (nothing more) better.
16. Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea) – The last six months of 2010 have been awful for the Frenchman. Absolutely pathetic, in all aspects, in South Africa, Anelka has since played 16 Premier League games and has scored in just two of them. Its also 668 minutes (over 11hrs) since he found the back of the net. Such poor streaks are only highlighted now as his club continues through a terrible run but when Chelsea are firing on all cylinders, Anelka is more than just a goalscorer. Gained 10 assists last season thanks to a fantastic ability to always look to play in a crucial pass to teammates. Has taken a very selfless role under Carlo Ancelotti by playing wider and deeper at times and has turned into more of a complete footballer.
15. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) – Another player who has had a miserable 2010 and the weight of all the problems at Anfield look to be on his shoulders during a game. Gerrard has always been known for that one moment of magic but such moments are few and far between these days as the management at Liverpool continue to surround him with average players. He remains a fine player but it’s looking next to impossible for him to achieve his dream of lifting a league trophy in the red of Liverpool.
14. Gareth Bale (Tottenham) – Without a shadow of a doubt the Welsh Wizard is the most improved player of 2010 in the Premier League. What Bale has done week in, week out on football pitches across Europe in 2010 has been absolutely staggering considering it isn’t too long ago that he was a fringe player who had an awful losing statistic next to his name. Blessed with a wonderful left peg and incredible speed, Bale actually knows how to use both to the best of his ability and contribute to many of Tottenham’s goals. When not scoring or providing goals he is also now being targeted every week and thwarting opponents as the wide right player against him must track him regularly and therefore cannot be high up the pitch enough to make a difference.
13. Michael Essien (Chelsea) – One of the most disappointing aspects of 2010 was Essien missing the World Cup due to injury. Ghana’s fantastic run without him only makes you wonder what kind of impact a healthy Essien could have made on the world in the game’s biggest stage. Nevertheless, now back and healthy, he is an absolute force inside the Chelsea midfield with his darting runs from deep positions into the opponent’s final third and his brilliant tactical awareness of all around him.
12. Fernando Torres (Liverpool) – Last year’s winner of this award falls out of the top 10 after a poor 2010. There are not too many World Class players in the Premier League and although Torres remains one of them he ends the year in dreadful form. An electrifying striker when at the top of his game but something is clearly wrong at the moment. Fit or not, the stats do not lie: Torres has appeared in 17 Premier League games this season, has played in 1352 Premier League minutes, which is the equivalent of 15 full games, and scored five goals. All in all, he is scoring a goal every 270 minutes, which is 1 goal every 3 games or a goal every four and a half hours. Fitness and Roy Hodgson’s tactics may have something to do with all of that but excuses are wearing thin. The Spaniard is much better than we are seeing at the moment.
11. Ashley Cole (Chelsea) – The Premier League’s best left back never has a bad game. Fantastic in defence and getting better and better at operating down the left wing and joining Drogba, Anelka and co as an overlap problem for opposing right backs. Excellent crosser of the ball, Cole is one of the best left backs the game has seen in recent years. At 33 he should get one last chance at a World Cup in Brazil 2014 and by then he will likely have overtaken David Beckham’s record of 125 caps. Currently sits on 85.
10. Rafael Van der Vaart (Tottenham) – Some of you may recall my column on the Premier League’s latest superstar that I wrote back in October and I encourage you to read it again to see my thoughts on the Dutch Dynamo. What I will say here is that he is without doubt one of the most exciting players in the league. He often needs a player camera just for himself. Since arriving in London at the start of September he’s been playing with such reckless abandon that it really isn’t surprising that he is now hurt. Fantastic ability, fearless dribbler, loves to shoot and has a cannon of a left foot.
9. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) – Like Cole, Terry, and Gerrard for that matter, he has hit the headlines for many of the wrong reasons in 2010 but a new year gives him a great opportunity to get his confidence back and perform the way he did up until April. If he does that sooner rather than later, United will win the league easily. Here’s a look at Rooney’s last great game for his club in the Premier League when he attempted 13 shots, a mark he hasn’t come close to achieving since:
8. Samir Nasri (Arsenal) – From potential to prolific inside 12 months, Nasri has been one of the success stories of 2010 in the Premier League. Operating in one of Arsene Wenger’s wide attacking roles, Nasri has found the net regularly this season but is far more than just a player who scores goals. The Frenchman is a majestic dribbler and is a player who plays the game with tremendous intelligence and quickness. In Arsenal’s system it’s crucial to have a player like Nasri who is always looking to speed the game up and hit opponents on the counter. Also impressive when operating in a central playmaking role when Cesc Fabregas is injured, showing that Arsenal just may have the Spaniard’s replacement already.
7. Luka Modric (Tottenham) – In many ways Modric is the epitome of a modern day playmaker operating from a central, deeper position. With more and more teams using three players high up the field an emphasis is required from someone in more congested midfields to quarterback the style of the game. In Modric the modern day game now has a player who can spray the ball all over the pitch, occasionally push forward and create openings but, more importantly, can be relied upon to tackle and operate deep in his own half as well. The latter is where Modric has adapted quickly and the Croatian is now the complete midfielder. Last year I placed him at #9 and many felt it was too high. A year later they should no longer be surprised. The following, in his recent match against Newcastle, highlights his vision in looking for Bale down the left as well as the ground he covers to make passes:
6. Frank Lampard (Chelsea) – There’s something about English footballers playing for Chelsea. After all, what’s not to like about a good old fashioned debate with a football fan over how good someone like Lampard is? Ok, maybe everything. After 83 poor games for England, selling non-Chelsea fans, particularly based in the UK, on the merits of Lampard is a tough task. I understand he is a tough player to fit into a system. I understand he has never lived up to his potential for his country but for Chelsea he has put together a legendary career and, up until a recent injury, hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Ended a title-winning campaign in May with 22 goals and a league-high 17 assists. From midfield.
5. Nani (Man Utd) – Another player who would be named on the all-improved XI after a fantastic 2010 for his club where he is now producing consistent, world class performances every week. Nani seems to have excelled with a switch to the right side of midfield at Old Trafford, where in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 he has improved the defensive aspect of his game dramatically. One of many players across Europe who have raised their game in the wake of not playing at the World Cup, the previously-unpredictable Nani rarely has a poor half, let alone game, these days. Dynamic crosser, outstanding dribbler and shooter of the ball, the world is literally at his feet. The following are his pass completions in the two Premier League matches at home to Liverpool in 2010. Right side dominant in September; left side dominant in March:
4. Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd) – The Premier League’s best defender for the third successive year in this blog. If you were to create the perfect centre back then you would make a player just like Vidic. First of all he is as tough as nails, is always willing to put his body on the line and never backs down from a battle. He is incredibly composed in every aspect of his game with a great technique on the ball and in the air where he is a real threat in both penalty areas. It takes the best of the best to make Vidic look human and its a rare sight.
3. Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) – How Fabregas has been used by his manager in 2010 showed a lot about the overall qualities of the Spaniard. Central midfield, the attacking member of the three is the normal positioning for Fabregas but how often he sits deep closer to Alex Song or how often he gets forward closer to his striker is often dictated by the opponent and his own instincts. A beautiful passer and runner, Fabregas is the league’s best at creating space for team-mates with close ball control and runs that often draw numerous defenders his way. Fitting that he saved one of his best performances for the club’s historic win over Chelsea earlier this week:
2. Didier Drogba (Chelsea) – Coming anywhere close to his fantastic 09/10 season (29 goals and 13 assists) for Chelsea was always going to be a tough task for Drogba and although he is on pace for far less goals this campaign, he is setting up players even more this season than last. Drogba is one of the main reasons the modern day tactics have shifted towards many team’s playing just one striker. After all, why play two when one man can do everything himself? The Ivorian is a physical specimen and wouldn’t look out of place as a centre back but thankfully he was blessed with a lethal shot and work ethic that many other forwards need to watch. In many ways, amongst his unfortunate histrionics, his running off the ball to allow space for others and his runs with the ball into deep areas goes unnoticed by many, but not opposing defenders, who have nightmares when preparing for Drogba. Check out his passing graph from what I believe was his best game of the season so far, at Wigan. Forget the misplaced passes, look at how deep he came for the ball and how he would often drift wide. Not bad for a ‘centre’ forward.
1. Carlos Tevez (Man City) – Many of you will be surprised by my selection but for me the Argentine is the best player in the Premier League as 2010 turns into 2011. A couple of weeks ago it looked like he might not even be in the league but it now appears he is committed to play for City until the end of the season and he is good enough to guide them to glory. Forgetting his antics off the field, there is no doubt about his commitment on it. Fantastic at leading the line by himself, Tevez is a perfect target man, despite his small stature, as he is always looking to play off team-mates, run the channels between defenders and find key space. Has a wonderful eye for goal, can create something out of nothing, is excellent from set pieces, is a lethal finisher and has a reputation for scoring goals in crucial games:
- Has now scored 6 PL goals against Chelsea and has scored in each of the last five matches against them in the PL.
- In the 32 Premier League goals scored by City this season, Tevez has directly been involved in 17 of them.
- Tevez led the PL with 26 goals in 2010.
All-in-all the maturation of Tevez the player (not the human) was a pleasure to watch in 2010 as he settled in as the talisman to a side that continues to go from strength to strength. Under Mark Hughes, Tevez, like many of his teammates, was treading water, but up top on his own he has flourished and no longer disappears for long stretches, like he was known to do a year ago. In my opinion, he is the league’s best player.