This Premier League season has been full of surprises. The Champions of last season have faltered badly, the team fighting relegation has ended up winning the title, players we had never heard of before the start of the season are included in the PFA team of the year.
There are some players who take to the Premier League by storm. However, there are players who take time to adjust to the English game. There are players who suffer from injuries, dips in form and are branded as a failure by the fans. Nevertheless, there are a few players who get through this difficult phase, grind it out, adapt themselves to their manager’s requirements and become an integral part of the team. We look at 10 players (in no particular order) who have taken massive strides and shown major improvement in the PL season 2015-16.
1. Riyad Mahrez
From an unknown entity bought from a second tier French side in 2014 to becoming the PFA player of the year in 2015-16, Riyad Mahrez’s meteoric rise has been in synchrony with Leicester City’s rise to the top. His talents weren’t as visible in his debut season at the club. In 2015-16, Mahrez has dazzled everyone with his dribbling skills and has been a consistent match winner for Leicester City racking up 17 goals and 11 assists for the club. Naturally, he has been the subject of interest across top clubs in the Premier League and also Spain with Madrid and Barcelona keeping tabs on the midfielder. It would be interesting to see if he leaves the Foxes after their dream season.
2. Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling’s improvement has been one of the major positives for United this season. Injuries and defensive errors had marred his early years at Manchester United following his transfer from Fulham. However, this season he has been a rock at the back and is one of the reasons why United boast of the second best defensive record in the league. He displayed tremendous consistency, particularly in the early part of the season, prompting Van Gaal to give him the captain’s armband in the absence of Wayne Rooney. He has attributed his success to the meticulous training methods of Van Gaal. Coming off a good season, Smalling would be expected to lead the defence line for the Three Lions at the Euros.
3. Danny Rose
Two years ago, Danny Rose was probably enduring his worst spell as a player under Andre Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood. He improved in his first season under Pochettino, who had told Rose that he would make him the best left back in the Premier League. In his second season he has taken his abilities closer to his boss’ enunciated ambition. With showing marked improvement in his defensive abilities, he has been a threat going forward with his marauding runs. He is another one who has staked a claim for a spot in the England national team at the Euros.
4. Jamie Vardy
Well, Leicester City have been the most improved team this season from being 14th in the league to title winers and it is perspicuous that their main man be on this list. Though full of pace and energy last season, Vardy’s finishing was very erratic. Vardy has shown remarkable composure with respect to finishing in this season. He has been Leicester’s main outlet while counter attacking and has used his predatory instincts to perfection scoring 22 goals. The English fans would hope he carries on his rich goal scoring form into the Euros, where he can become England’s X-factor.
5. Eric Lamela
Brought in to replace Gareth Bale, Lamela looked completely out of sorts in his first two seasons in the Premier League with Spurs. This season has been a sort of revival for the Argentine and slowly he is beginning to justify the hefty price tag of 25.8 million pounds that Spurs paid for him. The sort of player who likes to taking on players and creating chances, Lamela has been the symbol of changing times at Tottenham. He has an impressive tally of 10 goals and 9 assists to his name this season.
6. Etienne Capoue
Capoue did not have a good first adventure in the Premier League with his first two seasons at Tottenham. Deemed surplus to requirements at Spurs, he joined Watford for a club record fee of 7 million punds this season and is enjoying life there. Watford have silently been another success story of this season and Capoue has played a major part in it. He has played a vital role with his holding ability and the ability to move forward with the ball. In awe of his manager Flores, Capoue is finally fulfilling his potential in the PL.
7. Mousa Dembele
Moussa Dembele is one of the many Spurs’ players who have thrived under Pochettino this season. Though he hasn’t received as much plaudits as Harry Kane or Alli, he has been one of their most consistent performers. He has formed a strong partnership with Dier at the heart of midfield. The two have dominated midfields all season. Dembele, though starting at the centre, has moved forward twisting and turning and providing the necessary support to Alli, Eriksen and Lamela ahead. He has a dribble success ratio of 88.6% which is one of the best in the league.
8. Eric Dier
Dier is another beneficiary of Pochettino’s focus on improving and giving an opportunity for home grown talent to rise. Dier has made the most of opportunity. He started his career as a right back, then played as a centre back and at the start of the season was drafted into the holding midfielder’s position. Dier is the midfield pivot at Spurs providing extra cover to the back four. He was unlucky to miss out on a spot in the PFA team of the year. Coming off a very successful campaign, it would be interesting to see if he is in Hodgson’s plans for Euro 2016.
Fernandinho was always thought of as a supporting midfielder to Yaya Toure. This season, due to Toure’s poor form, he has been the main man linking the defence and the attack for the Citizens. An energetic box to box midfielder, Fernandinho also pops up to score vital goals for City, as evident with his goal against PSG away from home. He is one player who doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for his performances at City. With Pep Guardiola coming to the blue half of Manchester in the summer, it would be interesting to see what roles he plays for them next season.
10. Hector Bellerin
Bellerin broke into the Arsenal side last season owing to injuries to their then first choice right back Debuchy. In his second year of senior football, Bellerin has come a long way. He has now become Arsenal’s first choice right back. He is probably the fastest player in the entire league currently and coupled with his desire and commitment, he has the potential to become the best right back in the Premier League. He capped off a personally successful season with a place in the PFA team of the year 2015-16.