As we enter the New Year, the end of 2012 has brought some spectacular performances in the Premier League, many of which from players we were already aware of.
However, amongst the standout performers, we take an opportunity to look back on the league’s most improved individuals.
First up is Manchester United’s Brazilian right-back Rafael – he as been speaking in the last few weeks about his own improvement, most notably his ‘maturity’ and I have to agree with his self-assessment.
Not only has he grown up from his attitude and discipline but it’s clear he’s been working hard to become one of the best right-backs in the league. His professionalism goes hand in hand with a progression in his physicality, quality, and application.
Another right back that has come on leaps and bounds is Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson – he’s simply not the same player that we saw scalped all day long in Arsenal’s 8-2 defeat to United at Old Trafford last season.
He’s improved technically – his crossing is accurate and his vision to pick players out in the box shows he’s intelligent when called upon to be decisive. Most importantly, his defending capability has seen him become a reliable understudy to Bacary Sagna.
Across North London, Tottenham Hotspur’s Sandro has been a revelation so far this season – he’s another Brazilian who has been worth his weight in gold to his team.
He’s shown great mental conviction – he’s one of Spurs’ most capable leaders and, at just 23 his commitment, determination and steel in their midfield has put points on the board for Spurs in a number of tough fixtures.
His technique and creativity has also taken a burden off the incoming signings who have been tasked with replacing Luka Modric. Andre Villas-Boas has in Sandro someone who, at the very least, is willing to give it a good go.
Another midfield enforcer is Everton’s Marouane Fellaini – he’s been deployed in a more attacking role this term and it’s paid dividends for David Moyes.
We already knew he was strong, powerful, and poses a dangerous aerial threat but this season he’s shown his quality in possession and his intelligence off the ball.
He’s clearly just hitting the peak of powers and has been in superb form (head-butting aside).
And, last but by no means least, across Merseyside, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has, much like his Belgian rival, hit the peak of powers – he has almost single-handedly kept Liverpool’s season alive. Without him they really would be in trouble.
He’s undoubtedly matured – his discipline looks to be improving, despite still being the centre of controversy every other weekend – he’s almost unrivalled in his quality and craft.
Perhaps only a Manchester United Dutchman could rival him on ability and class but his attitude and application has been what has set him apart this season.
When he arrived last year as Uruguay’s trickiest customer, he still needed to adapt to the Premier League and now it’s the Premier League that may have to adapt to Luis Suarez.
image: © simonw92