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The Most Improved Premier League Players This Season

The Premier League season is in its closing stages, and while there could yet be a great deal of drama, it is now possible to begin looking back on the season and assessing players’ long-term performances. There are now enough statistics for this season to compare it to last in a meaningful way so here we will take a look at some of the most improved players this season.

Luke Shaw

When Manchester United signed Luke Shaw in 2014, he was considered one of the most promising young players in English football. He was also the youngest player to take part in the 2014 World Cup. However, he never really managed to make his mark at the team and this season he had everything to prove after suffering from numerous injuries over the last few years.

When Jose Mourinho was in charge at United he was very vocal and public with his criticism of Shaw, but he did at least give him the opportunity to play this season, playing him as left-back more often than not. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over, Shaw has missed just two games and the Solskjaer has said that he is “delighted” with Shaw’s playing. Hopefully for Shaw, this is a sign that his career is back on track.

Moussa Sissoko

After joining Tottenham Hotspur from Newcastle in the summer of 2016, Moussa Sissoko failed to impress during his first two seasons with the team. However, he seems to have drawn a great deal of motivation from his exclusion from France’s World Cup winning squad. Since last summer, the 29 year old has become a real presence and vital part of the Spurs midfield.

In the 2017/18 season he played the full 90 minutes in the league on just six occasions. Usually he was taken off midway during the second half, or just brought on for a few minutes. However, this season he has become an indispensable part of the team playing the full 90 minutes in sixteen Premier League games and playing 80+ minutes in another five. When he has missed games, it has nearly always been due to injury. Furthermore, some of his best performances have been in the Champions League in particularly against Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.

Granit Xhaka

When Unai Emery took over at Arsenal there were many fans hoping that he would be able to turn the team around instantly. While that was always highly unlikely, there are some players who have thrived under him and Granit Xhaka is one of them.

While not all Arsenal fans are convinced by Xhaka, Emery certainly seems happy with him and has chosen him for all but a couple of games and on occasion has even given him the captain’s armband.

Ryan Fraser

Often referred to as a ‘pocket rocket’, the Scottish winger has delighted Bournemouth fans on many occasions since the start of this season. In the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons he made a total of 54 appearances, scored eight goals, and set up 11 more. This season he has already made more than 30 appearances, scored six goals and set up 10 more. Early in the season his form was particularly impressive, and his excellent combination with Callum Wilson make him one of the top choices for Fantasy Premier League players everywhere. Considering Fraser’s previous reputation, this is a massive step up.

Alex Iwobi

Over the years there have been a number of young Arsenal players who have never quite fulfilled their potential. Players such as Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, and Theo Walcott. However, Alex Iwobi has spent this season ensuring that he doesn’t become another name on this list.

Iwobi, who is just 22 years old, is beginning to display the kind of improvement that one would expect from a player of his age. Iwobi has credited his improvement to the performance analyst he has been working with at Emery’s suggestion, and while his decision-making is far from perfect, it is far better than it was and you no longer seem him consistently running into blind alleys as he has done in previous seasons.

Those who like statistics will enjoy the fact that in 2016/17 he scored three goals and assisted five, in 2017/18 he also scored three goals and assisted five. So far this season, he has scored three goals and assisted five.

Conor Coady

Last season Conor Coady was not playing in the Premier League so it is not really fair to compare his performances. However, he has made the move from the Championship with such style that it deserves to be recognised.

At first it looked as if Coady was destined to become one of the many young players who come through to one of the top clubs surrounded by hype and then end up with a relatively obscure career in the Championship. The former England youth captain and Liverpool prospect was once called “the next Steven Gerrard”, but now comparing him to Jamie Carragher seems more appropriate. After starting as a central midfielder, Coady has now dropped back to centre-half and has been thriving ever since.

Coady keeps going from strength to strength at Wolverhampton Wanderers, as their captain last season he led them to promotion and they have surprised many with their performance in the Premier League this season. While they missed out on a place in the FA Cup final, and Coady is yet to receive an England call up, if he continues in his current vein then he is sure to attract a great deal more attention.

Declan Rice

West Ham are arguably the most improved team in the Premier League compared to this time last year and one of the reasons for this is Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to move Rice from central defence to holding midfield.

At just 20 years old, Rice has demonstrated surprising maturity in the role and he is seldom caught committing fouls. Rather, he has become known as one of the Premier League’s best ball-winners, a true feat considering that he began the season as a teenager playing in a completely different position.

Georginio Wijnaldum

Georginio Wijnaldum has been impressive for Liverpool since he joined in 2016, but this season he has taken his game to another level. Now that Jordan Henderson is wearing the captain’s armband and Naby Keita is the new big money signing, many half expected that Wijnaldum would fade into the background. However, instead of doing that he has worked hard to ensure that he is a vital part of the team and a firm favourite of both fans and Jurgen Klopp.

Bernardo Silva

While there is no doubt that Bernardo Silva was always an excellent player, he has still managed to improve and is now one of the most impressive players in the Premier League. There were some concerns that Silva would not be able to secure a place in the City first team, the squad contains plenty of wingers and while he made 35 Premier League appearances last season, he was only on pitch for an average of 43 minutes per game.

However, this season that has massively increased to an average of 79 minutes per game, and to the surprise of many, he has spent much of the season playing as an extremely good central midfielder during Kevin de Bruyne’s absence.

Now that De Bruyne is back, Silva has moved back onto the wing, but the ability he has shown was clearly enough proof for Pep Guardiola that he can make his mark in a team full of top players.

Raheem Sterling

After receiving a lot of negative attention over the years, Raheem Sterling has finally begun to win people over and there is no doubt that he has improved massively over the course of the last year. Sterling turned 24 in December, an age where players begin to enter their prime, and Sterling has done just that.

He no longer looks like a promising youngster who is playing in the shadow of more talented older teammates such as Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero. He now looks like a mature player, one who not only knows how to dribble, but also when and where to. Most importantly, he seems to have developed the ability to make sure that he is in the right place at the right time.

So far this season Sterling has scored fifteen goals and delivered nine assists in 27 Premier League appearances. This means that he has been involved in a goal in almost every single game that he has played in, a truly impressive feat that very few players can match. Some used to claim that Sterling had problems scoring, but there is no way that these accusations can now be taken seriously.

OCA News Editor

Christian Bright is a professional sports commentator with keen interests in football, tennis and horse racing. His experience in the reporting on professional sports makes him a key asset to OCA’s coverage of athletic events and matches.

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