With only eight games remaining in the season for nearly all English Premier League teams, it is now crunch time and the moment where clubs need to show their best form to obtain the goals that are within reach. For some that may mean Champions League spots, for others it’s just staying out of relegation.
Every player goes through their ups and downs in the long and grueling football season. The thought that anyone could go through an entire campaign with perfection is an unreasonable expectation that all players strive for. But now is the time when each team’s very best need to find their form to see their side through.
However, it is not always the superstars who make the difference. Sometimes the role players are the ones who need to step up to ensure victory.
Here is a list of the single most important player for each team heading into these final months.
Gervinho has enjoyed his move to the Emirates thus far. He is part of what many Gunners believe to be the rebirth of their club’s glory and that all the labor of the youth will finally payoff in some silverware.
However, the Ivoirian’s goal total has been much less than what was expected given his tallies at Lille. In 22 appearances he has only managed four goals, finding it difficult to score from the wing. It has not mattered too much for Arsenal, as Robin van Persie is having a breakout year, but the added offensive support would help down the stretch.
It seems like van Persie may never cool off, but at the rate he is going, exhaustion may start to rear its ugly head at the worst possible time.
If Gervinho can step up now, then both of them playing in top form will surely keep them comfortably in third by season's end.
For some players, an excellent season is just not enough to justify a good league position, especially when the players around you do not hold up their end of the bargain. This is the case for Petrov.
The defensive midfielder has been the first line of a defense that has the sixth-best record in the league but has very little support up top to balance the play in the back. His four goals are second on the team, where goals are rare, making it a difficult campaign for Villa.
No one has seemed to step up this year and give Petrov any help. If he wants to make sure Villa stay in the EPL next season, odds are he will have to do it on his own.
Note: Following the publishing of this article, news was released stating that Petrov had been diagnosed with acute leukemia. This information had not yet been released at the time of publishing.
As Blackburn languishes just outside of relegation , the forwards are looking back at the defense wondering where it has gone. A respectable 43 goals for the Rovers has been all but meaningless as they have conceded 62, second worst in the league.
Their young centerback, Scott Dann, has been a big reason why there has been this struggle. The former Birmingham City player is finding Premier League life with his new team more difficult and is often inconsistent in his play.
Dann is a perfectly fine young talent and at only 25 years old he has plenty of time to grow. But if he cannot perform consistently for the remainder of the season, he may be doing that growing in the second division.
Bolton is use to this kind of relegation battle and at 35 years old, Kevin Davies has seen plenty. One of the oldest players in the league, he has seen a significant drop off in his play, scoring only two goals in the league all season and two assists.
Ian Klasnic has been spearheading the attack, but it is difficult to imagine him doing it all on his own. The Wanderers need goals badly if they want to stay in the top division next season, and Davies is the person that needs to give it to them.
His leadership will also be invaluable down the stretch, making sure that they hold their spot in the EPL.
Much has been made about the Spanish strikers record breaking transfer to Chelsea, but only in the past few weeks does it look like it could potentially work out for the Blues. Torres’ two goals against Leicester City and assist against Benfica have made him relevant at the club.
Chelsea’s problem all season has been their inability to make good on their chances. The lack of midfield supply has not helped, but in the few decent opportunities the forwards get, they have not made the most of them. Neither Torres or Didier Drogba are playing at top form.
But with that said, Drogba has stepped up in the big games and come through. If Torres can find his groove and become a viable player to be called upon when a goal is needed, they could perform the perfect duo that will ensure Champions League qualification.
It is never a good thing when your keeper has as many goals as your starting forward, but that has been the case this season for a struggling Everton. Their position of 10th in the league is wholly thanks to their third best defensive record, as their attack has been atrocious.
Tim Cahill suffered his worst goal drought of his career this season, going 34 games without finding the net. The Australian is suffering a poor year in form and needs to right his ways if the team wants to improve their standing.
It has not been all Cahill’s fault. The other forwards have not been that much better. But as the veteran player in the attack, the responsibility falls on his shoulders to take the team to the next level.
Fulham’s offseason signing was suppose to be the player that got them out of the middle of the table and pushed them in to Europa League contention. Instead, Ruiz has been an average talent at best. Not necessarily a knock on the Costa Rican, he is still adjusting to life in the EPL.
His two goals and three assists has been below perhaps the standards Fulham fans expected, but his lack of performance has been overshadowed by Clint Dempsey’s excellent season.
However, with Dempsey possibly on the move in the summer, Ruiz will need to step up and take over the goal scoring responsibilities. If he can start to prove himself to the fans and team now, Dempsey’s departure will be easier to swallow.
Another disappointing year for the Reds as their Carling Cup win will be overshadowed by yet another year out of Europe. But if they want to save any kind of face with the fans, Pepe Reina will be the player to do it.
The veteran keeper has put in a solid performance all season and will have to continue to provide leadership as the club navigates the rough waters of fan unrest.
With manager Kenny Dalglish's position under fire, someone will need to take the onus upon themselves to stabilize the team.
Reina is one of the most experienced players on the pitch, and it will have to show down the stretch to salvage the season.
The rip roaring start City began the season with was in no small part due to the play of their new acquisition, Sergio Aguero. He was on fire in the early going, scoring goals every match and making him the front-runner for player of the year.
As his form has dipped over the past few weeks so has City’s place in the table. Now sitting second to rivals Manchester United, they see an uphill battle to get back the lead.
The formula is quite simple: when Aguero plays well, they win; when he is shut down, they don’t. There is not much more to it. If City want any chance of winning their first league title in half a century, Aguero will have to be at his best.
It has been a bumpy road for the new United keeper. No one expected it to be easy, taking over the position a legend had occupied for the better part of a decade, but the pressure seemed to get to De Gea at times.
He has come under the scrutiny of the fans and been replaced by Sir Alex Ferguson on more than one occasion. But he still remains the number one keeper.
With the immense pressure weighing down on him to keep up his recent good form as the season closes, it could all come down to his play in deciding the league. If he remains competent and the kind of talent that we all know he is, the league should remain in the red part of Manchester.
Ba is having an excellent year for Newcastle. His 16 league goals puts him fourth in the league for that total and has helped keep the club in the hunt for Europe, only five points back of Tottenham for Champions League.
However, what has been a bit odd is the ratio of goals scored by the team at home and away, split at 22. This bodes well from the perspective that they are scoring on the road, but one has to wonder why the number is not better at home.
Ba statistically speaking could post a better goal tally, as he averages 3.2 shots per game. The defense is likely not going to make drastic improvements over the next few weeks. But if Ba can begin to convert a few more shots, then they have a real good chance of seeing European play next season.
Norwich is enjoying a great first season in England’s top division. They sit comfortably in the middle of the table, with no real threat of even approaching relegation. But they still will want to impress the league more and make a late push to the top half.
American centerback Zak Whitbread has had a successful season in the Norwich backline despite being often injured. When he has been healthy he can make some excellent plays and shows all the signs of being a top quality back.
However, his undoing is his inconsistency. Often 89 minutes of good play will be marred by a momentary lapse in judgment or quality.
If he can find it in him to routinely play the way that he does for the better half of games, then their defense will receive a massive boost.
For all the money invested into making sure QPR was competitive in the league, they have found themselves spending most of their time at the bottom of the table. Their attack, where most time was spent building upon, has been disappointing to say the least.
Their young Moroccan, Adel Taarabt, has found life in the EPL much more difficult than it was in the Championship. The kind of freedom in the midfield he enjoyed is no longer there, as players close down on him quickly, preventing easy passes and runs.
With two assists and no goals, he has been disappointing and is a big reason for their failings. If he can get back into the groove at this late juncture, they might be able to salvage their way to staying in the league.
Stoke’s 29 goals is second to last in the league, but no one is surprised to hear that. Their style of play has never been one that will boast amazing numbers. However, they still are in the middle of the table and no threat of being relegated.
If they want to move up, all they really need to do is make the most of the few chances they get. Peter Crouch did this the other day, with what will likely be the goal of the season, and it was enough to get them the draw against City.
If Crouch can continue to get goals out of nothing, or at the very least score the ones he should, then a mid-table finish should be within reason.
Sunderland is too far behind fifth for a European spot and too far ahead of relegation to even worry about where they will be next season. The rest of this one will probably be played for pride and nothing else.
If that is the case, then Bendtner is the one who needs to step up.
The often maligned former Gunner has shaken off ridicule to turn in an okay season. Six goals is not the kind of numbers you want out of your striker, but with four assists it is more tolerable.
The rest of this season should be spent silencing critics who continue to trumpet that he can’t play. The few extra goals he provides could even put Sunderland in a position where they may qualify for Europe.
What a perfect season Swansea is having in their return to top-flight football. Smack in the middle at 10th place, they have been clinical this year, bringing an indirect passing style to the English game. Nearly all players are in good form, but Nathan Dyer could be a bit better.
The winger's three goals on the season is far behind the rest of the quintuplet that makes up the Swansea attack. This is not to say he has had a bad year, but when averaging 1.4 shots per game, the numbers don’t seem all that great.
If he can figure a way to become more directly involved in the scoring, then it would surely go from being a good season for the Welsh club to an excellent one and a top half finish.
Tottenham look in good position to secure a Champions League berth but will need everyone to be at their best down the stretch to ensure a late run by Chelsea does not bump them. But Gareth Bale may be the deciding factor.
It seems that every game Bale plays, the results mirror his performance. Their 3-1 thrashing of Wigan was an excellent game by him, while their stale draw to Chelsea never saw him really get going.
He has been the best player at Tottenham this season by a decent margin. Now is the time for him to step up, take it on his shoulders and make sure the Champions League comes to White Hart Lane next campaign.
West Brom teetered around relegation, but as the season comes to an end, they look like they will be safe 11 points clear. This is in large part due to the play of their midfielder Mulumbu.
He has been the rock of their team, providing consistent and steady play throughout the season, something many of these lower sides need during the ups and downs of an EPL season.
There is really not many places for West Brom to go. They could better their position in the table, but it would be only by a place or two and only for pride. But if they wish to, Mulumbu will have to keep up his good form.
For the third straight season, Wigan find themselves going into the final weeks in relegation battle. A league worst 27 goals scored has them being outgunned in most games they play.
Forward Hugo Rodallega has not been exactly lighting it up for the Latics, scoring only two goals all season.
When things are this close at the bottom and millions of dollars are on the table, sometimes just a goal or two can make all the difference in who gets that money. If Rodallega can find his form in this late part of the season, his struggles at the beginning may be forgotten.
What began as a promising year for Wolves, soon collapsed into what will almost surely lead to relegation. Three weeks in, they were as high as third in the table but have fallen to dead last amid a run that saw them win one out of their last 16.
No one can blame keeper Wayne Hennessey for the struggles, as he has been peppered with shots and done a half decent job keeping them out. But ironically enough he has to be better to give them any hope of staying in the league.
There is little chance of their forwards ever finding the goal enough to help out a defense that just leaks in the back. The best chance they have is that Hennessey plays out of his mind down the stretch and makes as many saves as possible to at least keep them in the game.
This is the most exciting part of the footballing season. Whether your side is battling it out for the top titles or just trying to stay alive for the chance next year, fans enjoy this stretch more than any other.
The players I have mentioned are the ones I feel will have the most impact on the fate of their teams, but by no means is it an end to the list. What players do you think will have the biggest say in how their teams finish?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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