Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Mid-season awards: The five most influential players in the Premier League


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Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa and an underrated England international feature in this list...



Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero (Reuters)
Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero (Reuters)
We are precisely halfway through the Premier League season. Traditionally this is the time of year when managers say that no awards are given out at this time of the season.
To prove them wrong, we at Eurosport are handing them out. Principally, here is our list of the most influential players of the season so far.
In fifth place: Stewart Downing
Now those are words nobody of a Liverpool affiliation would have ever expected to read. But Downing has been a revelation this season. Brought in from the flanks by Sam Allardyce to operate behind the main strikers, Downing has demonstrated quite what an intelligent footballer he is. His guile, wit and inventiveness have transformed West Ham from long ball scrappers into a team oozing tempo and pace, a team which, until Christmas at least, were in a position of sufficient elevation to threaten widespread nosebleeds among their supporters.
Whatever Liverpool fans might suggest, Downing’s ability to cross a football was never in doubt. That, after all, was why he was brought to Anfield in the first place: to put the ball with laser precision on Andy Carroll’s head. This season at West Ham, reunited with a fit and firing Carroll, putting the ball on the big lump’s head may have appeared his priority, but he has been doing so much more than that. The added responsibility of playing through the centre has unleashed a range of passing not seen since his early days at Middlesbrough. A recall to the England squad has been legitimate recognition.
In fourth place: Alexis Sanchez
A player who every Liverpool fan would have loved to see come to the club as part of the deal that took Luis Suarez to Barcelona. It has been to every Arsenal fan’s good fortune that Sanchez preferred to head instead for London.
Without the electric-heeled Chilean, this would have been the grumbliest of seasons for Gooners. His pace, persistence and determination, however, have provided something of a bright spark amid the fug of gloom hanging over the Emirates. His goals, too, have provided the difference between constant pain and occasional joy.
In third place: David De Gea

David De Gea (Reuters)
David De Gea (Reuters)
David De Gea
This has been a much more enjoyable half a term than the first bit of last season for Manchester United fans. Although evidently not the force they were and clearly a long way from being championship winning material, the thing about Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United is that you can see the progress. The future looks bright. Which is never something that could have been said about David Moyes’s time in office. Even so, United owe their current elevated position in the table to their keeper.
When he bought De Gea from Atletico Madrid, Sir Alex Ferguson recognised that the young goalkeeper was the man to replace Edwin van der Sar. There were many – me included – who did not initially share such an optimistic assessment. In his early days, the young Spaniard seemed physically not up to the task; easily bullied, he looked an accident waiting to happen. No-one is saying that this season, as he has looked rock solid, more secure than the Bank of Spain. He has been personally responsible for securing at least half a dozen points for United with a series of vital saves that have defied all known laws of physics. Now Van Gaal’s major priority is seeing off the predatory advances of Real Madrid, and making sure the player stays where he is for the next 10 seasons.
In second place: Sergio Aguero
If he had not been injured latterly, Aguero would be in line for the award of the most influential player of the first half of the season. When he has played, his contribution to Manchester City has been magnificent. While some of his team-mates went through a sizeable dip in form and concentration in mid-autumn, he kept on scoring, kept on winning matches and points, maintained the belief that the title could be retained.
Not just a player of lynx-eyed ability in from of goal, he is too one of those who embodies a team’s spirit. By his very refusal ever to give up on a lost cause, the diminutive Argentine has come to define this current City team even more than his titanic colleagues Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompanyand Joe Hart. With Aguero in the team, for City fans everything looks brighter.
In first place: Diego Costa

Diego Costa (Reuters)
Diego Costa (Reuters)
Diego Costa
This time last year, Jose Mourinho had already given up any hope of the title. As he made clear in a wayward remark to a corporate sponsor, it was pretty obvious where he thought his team was deficient: they were a side without strikers. Able over the summer to remove from the playing staff (if not the pay roll) the albatross that was Fernando Torres, he added to it a proper striker. And what a buy Costa has proven to be. Together with Cesc Fabregas the best bit of summer transfer business, there was no acclimatisation needed by the Brazilian turned Spaniard when he arrived from Atletico.
Hitting the ground running, Costa made a difference from the moment he pitched up in London. His goals have clearly added to the points tally. But it is his all-round play that has transformed Chelsea from also-rans to championship favourites. His game perfectly attuned to the requirements of the Premier League, he leads the line with bullish muscularity, able to battle for the ball when it its fired long from John Terry or Gary Cahill, capable of holding up play and, best of all, brilliant at timing his runs into goal scoring positions. If he can produce another half a season like his first in English football then the title is as good as on its way to the Bridge.
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