Ranking the Top 25 Players in the Premier League This Season
The Premier League season is winding to a close. If the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) can announce their shortlist for the player of the year, then we're plenty close enough to the campaign's end for me to pick mine.
So who will it be? The rampant Robin Van Persie? Wayne Rooney's always a popular choice. And what to do with Mario Balotelli? Can you really include him in a Top 25?
How do you handle the massive gap between the top few teams and the rest of the league? Can a player from Swansea or Sunderland make the list? What about Wolves? Okay, that last one was a step too far to keep a straight face. Maybe Blackburn, though.
Here's the list. The top 25 players of the 2011-12 Premier League season. Enjoy.
(All stats unless otherwise noted come from Whoscored.com.)
No. 25: Michel Vorm (Swansea)
Swansea have been rightfully lauded for their attractive playing style throughout their debut season in the Premier League.
But what's left out of that praise is the fantastic form of their goalkeeper, Michel Vorm.
Joe Hart and his 14 clean sheets get all the talk, but Vorm has been better. He's kept 13 clean sheets playing behind a back line whose salaries couldn't pay the dry-cleaning bill for City's defenders.
When the two keepers faced off last month, Hart blinked and Vorm made nine saves to help Swansea escape with a 1-0 win.
No. 24: Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland)
Sunderland's midfield creator has shredded some of the best teams in the Premier League this term. Stephane Sessegnon's trickery on the ball and eye for a deadly pass have made him feared by even the biggest clubs.
When Sunderland unlocked a defense, it was more times than not on the strength of the Benin international. His scoring and ability to set up teammates have other clubs lining up to lure him away from the Stadium of Light.
PSG and Arsenal are reportedly very interested. Sessegnon would help either club. But Sunderland are understandably keen to keep their main man.
No. 23: Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle)
I know Papiss Cisse has only played nine matches with Newcastle since joining the club in the winter transfer window. But no player has had such a massive influence in so short a time.
Cisse's 10 goals in nine matches is absurd and has led to Newcastle going unbeaten in their last seven games. Consequently, the Toon have climbed even on points with fourth-place Tottenham.
If Newcastle are able to pass Spurs for the final Champions League slot, they will owe their sudden elevation to the new man in the No. 9 shirt.
No. 22: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Banned for much of the season, Luis Suarez could be forgiven for being a bit distracted. But with apologies to Steven Gerrard, the Uruguayan is Liverpool's most dangerous attacking player.
His movement both with and without the ball is as good as any player in the EPL, and if his finishing hasn't been clinical, the rest of his game has proven hard for defenders to manage.
If Suarez can put controversy firmly in his rear-view mirror and focus on football next season, he will be much much higher up this list.
No. 21: Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
I've never given Michael Carrick any credit. So it took me a good long time to warm up to the fact that he is having a spectacular season for Manchester United.
Carrick is a defensive stopper in front of the United back four. Between tackles and interceptions, he recovers the ball nearly six times per game.
In addition, he plays more passes than anyone other than Yaya Toure and Mikel Arteta. And he plays his passes to the tune of a 90.2 percent success rate.
Effective defensively, excellent distribution, no fuss and little attention. All that adds up to the oft-overlooked Michael Carrick having one of the best seasons of any midfielder in the league.
You'll never know how that hurts me to admit.
No. 20: Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Mikel Arteta stepped into a no-win situation after arriving at Arsenal over the summer. With the club's supporters devastated by the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, the 30-year-old was expected to make up the creative loss in the squad.
And for the most part, Arteta has succeeded. He's not Fabregas. But the hole in the center of Arsenal's attack is much smaller than fans dared to hope.
Only Yaya Toure plays more passes per game than Arteta. And the Spaniards 90.8 percent success rate means that most of those balls find their target.
There's also the little matter of his late winner against City in what is probably Arsenal's biggest win this season.
No. 19: Leighton Baines (Everton)
With apologies to no one, Leighton Baines is the best left-back in England. Patrice Evra, nope. Ashley Cole, not this time. Anyone else? That's what I thought.
Baines bombs up and down the left side for Everton. He puts in more crosses than any other defender in the league and more than all but four other players at any position.
He's fast enough to recover from those forward thrusts and a good enough individual defender to shut down the opponent once he gets there.
It's only a matter of time before Baines turns his league form into a starting role in the England side.
No. 18: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
For all his distracting nonsense, Mario Balotelli scores goals... and lots of them. It's no wonder that Roberto Mancini continuously comes back to the young Italian.
In just 14 league starts (and 22 total appearances), the 21-year-old has scored 13 goals. With his goals have come yellow cards, red cards, on-field bust-ups, off-field bust-ups and tabloid headlines.
But, oh the goals!
No. 17: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal)
Fast, strong and tenacious, Thomas Vermaelen puts some bite into the center of Arsenal's defensive line.
His ability is evidenced by what happens when he isn't available. Vermaelen was out early in the season due to injury, and Arsenal struggled mightily. Upon his return in October, the Gunners went six matches undefeated.
When Vermaelen was injured again during international duty with Belgium just after the New Year, Arsenal lost three in a row. In short, when Vermaelen is out of the lineup, Arsene Wenger loses matches.
No. 16: Samir Nasri (Manchester City)
Samir Nasri's place in this countdown suffers from high expectations. Manchester City thought they were getting the everyday danger man who broke out last season at Arsenal. Instead, they got a more moody genius.
The Frenchman started incredibly fast with a goal and seven assists in his first six league games. But then he went missing for long stretches of the season. It wasn't that he was bad (after all, his pass-success rate is second in the league), he just wasn't living up to the hype.
Over the last few matches, Nasri has seemingly rediscovered his best form. He makes this list because of the dizzying heights of his best and despite several completely forgettable afternoons.
No. 15: Clint Dempsey (Fulham)
Clint Dempsey is enjoying a breakout year in the Premier League this season. The United States international has scored 16 goals during Fulham's domestic campaign and has become the undisputed big man in Craven Cottage.
Whether playing center midfield, wing or forward, Dempsey has displayed a prodigious skill on the ball and an impertinent ability to finish from anywhere he chooses in any way he chooses.
Dempsey's form has Fulham manager Martin Jol wondering what he'll do to keep his player this summer when bigger clubs come calling.
No. 14: Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham)
Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Redknapp appear to be a match made in heaven.
Adebayor has been a revelation at Spurs. After joining Tottenham on loan from City last summer, the striker has returned 13 goals and 11 assists to the playing bottom line.
It's a shame that Adebayor's bank statement is likely to keep him from becoming a more permanent fixture in the Tottenham lineup.
But with his massive City contract looming like an anvil over a potential move, it appears Adebayor will be headed back to the uncertainty that awaits him at the Etihad come season's end.
No. 13: Alex Song (Arsenal)
With the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Alex Song has grown into the single-most influential player in Arsenal's midfield.
He's done a wonderful job this season of disrupting opponents' attacks and is rapidly becoming the man Arsene Wenger looks to when he needs a killer final ball played.
Song plays nearly 70 passes per game as he distributes out of his deep midfield position and has racked up nine assists on the season. But the numbers only go so far in illustrating the growth that's been evident in his game this year.
No. 12: Luka Modric (Tottenham)
Luka Modric makes Tottenham's attack go. Without the little Croatian's magic on the ball, Tottenham can stagnate. But when he's involved from early, Spurs flow beautifully.
Modric is in the Top Five 5 in passes played per game, completing those balls at a rate of 87.8 percent and oftentimes drops long passes exactly where they are most dangerous.
Recent rumors that Spurs are prepared to sell Modric (along with Gareth Bale) if they don't reach the Champions League should trouble every Tottenham fan. Parting with Modric in the midfield would represent a loss of Fabregas-like proportions.
No. 11: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Manchester City has conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Premier League this season, and Vincent Kompany is a big reason why.
Kompany's physicality and strength contribute to his excellent individual defending, and his dominance in the air makes it virtually useless for opponents to lump in crosses when he's in the lineup.
The absence of Nemanja Vidic through injury helped his cause, but Kompany was the best defender in the league this season.
No. 10: Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Juan Mata is one of the only Chelsea players who has excelled no matter who the coach was each day when he got to work. If David Silva is the premier creative force in the league (and he is), then Mata is the slightly discounted version.
Six league goals and 11 assists speak to his influence, but Mata's creative role in the Chelsea team goes far beyond his numbers. He provides the spark, the unexpected idea, and more often than not, the difference between success and failure.
No. 9: Demba Ba (Newcastle)
It might be hard to recall just how dismal Newcastle's prospects looked at the beginning of the season. Andy Carroll had gone the previous winter, and Joey Barton was busy grousing with management on Twitter. It was not a healthy situation, and the Toon seemed closer to relegation than a Top Four finish.
Then the malcontents were sold off, the season started and Demba Ba fired Newcastle to an 11-match unbeaten streak right out of the gate.
The forward has scored 16 goals this season. He also showed his character by willingly moving out to the wing in order to accommodate fellow Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse in the team.
Out of dismal projections, the Newcastle's season blossomed into something special. That's thanks to Ba.
No. 8: Scott Parker (Tottenham)
If Luka Modric is the creative heart of Tottenham, Scott Parker is the man who does everything else in Spurs' midfield.
Parker ranks second in the Premier League in both tackles per game and interceptions per game. And after he wins the ball, he's very tidy with his distribution as evidenced by his 89.9 percent pass-success rate.
He's not spectacular which is why many people expressed surprise at his inclusion in the PFA Footballer of the Year shortlist. But the players know what they're talking about. Modric and Gareth Bale get all the glory, but Scott Parker is the one who makes Spurs tick.
No. 7: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
Antonio Valencia missed a month for Manchester United due to injury. But when he's played, he has been unstoppable.
In just 23 EPL appearances, Valencia has racked up 13 assists to lead the league along with City's David Silva. He's added four goals and left defenders all over England wondering if there's any way to stop his combination of speed and incredible strength.
No. 6: Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
Parker and Modric are the midfield maestros, but Gareth Bale is Tottenham's superstar. He's got nine goals and eight assists this season, but his impact goes beyond the numbers.
When the ball's at Bale's feet, defenses get scared and make mistakes. All heads turn to the Welshman, and suddenly it becomes much easier for his teammates to slip their marks and create danger all over the pitch.
Bale's mix of speed, skill and finishing have Real Madrid and Barcelona sniffing around. If Spurs have any interest in maintaining their recent resurgence, they'll throw the bank vault at Bale and soon.
No. 5: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
Prior to his departure for the African Cup of Nations, there was an argument to be made that Yaya Toure was the best player in the Premier League.
Although his form faded a bit as late season fatigue set in, Toure was the driving force when City played at their lethal best. Whether deployed in a deeper role or pushed up as an attacking midfielder, Toure is a distribution machine.
His Barcelona past is evident in the way he sprays the ball around the park. Toure can play short, he can drop long balls onto forwards feet and he can drive at defenses on his own.
With his recently announced decision to forego international competition next season, Manchester City can look forward to having the best version of Toure from start to finish in 2012-13.
No. 4: David Silva (Manchester City)
David Silva is quite simply the best playmaker in the Premier League.
He is more creative than everyone else, and he is more capable of bringing his imagination to bear on opponents. Simply put, Silva thinks of things that no one else is even considering. So far this season, he has six goals and 13 assists to show for it.
He's been a workhorse for City this season, playing 43 times across all competitions. The load took its toll on the diminutive player as his form dipped late in the season. But he appears to have regained his mojo with a goal and an assist in City's last two league matches.
No. 3: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Sir Alex Ferguson's bulldog is having another phenomenal year. Wayne Rooney's 24 goals put him just three behind league leader Robin Van Persie, despite RVP having made four more appearances.
Rooney's formidable attacking talent is married to his fierce determination to help his team in whatever capacity is required.
Fans will have lost track of how many times they've watched the forward track all the way back to his own end line to defend or drop deep into his own half to pick the ball up from United's back line.
He's been the league's best player before and undoubtedly will be again. But not this year.
No. 2: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Where Rooney gives you a little bit of everything, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero is a striker through-and-through.
The Argentinian has been genius for Roberto Mancini netting 21 goals and tacking on another seven assists in the Premier League. The foot spray used by the club's medical staff has been the only thing to slow him down all season.
Partnered by Carlos Tevez, Balotelli or Edin Dzeko, it didn't matter. As long as Aguero was in the lineup, City generally won.
No. 1: Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)
Was there ever any doubt? Robin Van Persie is the best player in the Premier League.
Twenty-seven goals, 10 assists and carrying the entire Gunners universe on his shoulders. That's what Van Persie's done this season.
He was the only star man left after the summer departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. As Arsene Wenger mourned and fans looked forward to a wasted season, RVP calmly went about the business of scoring goals.
With 34 games played, Arsenal sit on the exact point total they had after 34 games last season. When Fabregas and Nasri were leaving, no one would have predicted that.
It's all down to Van Persie. That's why he's No. 1.