The 2012-13 English Premier League season might only be six weeks old, but already we have been stunned and amazed by the performances we've seen so far.
Some we have expected—Robin van Persie and Demba Ba's goal-scoring antics; Leighton Baines' world-class play and the dominance of Rio Ferdinand and Jan Vertonghen in defense—but others, we did not see coming as much.
Some stars of the opening six weeks we simply did not expect, so in no order, let's take a look at the 15 biggest surprise stars of the Premier League season so far.
Few defenders have started the season as strong as Arsenal's Keiran Gibbs, who has been arguably the most underrated defender through the opening six weeks of the Premier League.
The Englishman is currently leading the team in tackles and interceptions and is ranked high in average passes per game—showing his ability to inject himself into the game and allow the Gunners' defense to turn into attack very effectively.
Want to know why Arsenal have conceded just four goals through their opening six matches in the league this season? Look no further than underrated players like Kieran Gibbs.
After making a move from Wolverhampton to Sunderland over the summer transfer window, Steven Fletcher has certainly made his presence known at the Black Cats—scoring five goals through six matches for Martin O'Neill so far this season.
What's even more mind-boggling is the fact that Sunderland have only scored five goals this year—meaning that every single one of their goals has come from Fletcher.
Sunderland are one of three undefeated teams left in the league this season and if the Scotsman can continue to find the back of the net as he has done so far, perhaps that run could continue a little longer still this year.
With the departure of Andy Carroll and no replacement apparent, Liverpool needed somebody to step up and give some creativity back into their attack. It wasn't coming from Fabio Borini, so Brendan Rodgers played some unknown 17-year-old on the left wing called Raheem Sterling.
The results were phenomenal, as the Reds winger terrorized their opponents and caused havoc for defenders in the five matches that he played.
And whilst it did take several weeks before Sterling's influence was coupled with Liverpool picking up three competition points, there is little doubt that the Merseyside club have a real player for the future in their lineup and a potential world football star.
There is little doubt that Arsenal's Carl Jenkinson deserves a mention as a surprise star of the season so far, though some will disagree with the inclusion of the 20-year-old into this list.
But considering that Jenkinson was played basically as a fill-in due to the injury suffered by Bacary Sagna at the end of last season, you have to give the Gunners' right-back some credit when credit is due—he has filled in very well through the six matches so far.
A crucial part of Arsenal's strong defense so far this season, Jenkinson has turned the ball over just twice this year and been disposed just thee times—fewer than any other player in the Gunners' squad.
Hard to argue against that.
What about Brad Friedel, the aging Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper whom many thought would simply take a secondary role when the North London club signed French international Hugo Lloris over the summer transfer window?
Friedel has managed to hang on to the No. 1 spot—much to the ire of Lloris—and has done so through spectacular reflex saves through all six Premier League matches that Spurs have played.
Tottenham currently sit fifth on the table, with the veteran goalkeeper arguably the biggest reason as to why they have lost just one match so far this season.
Few doubted Friedel's capacity, but most will still admit that they have been pleasantly surprised with the American's performances so far this year.
Some saw Michu as a potential Premier League star; others did not—but regardless of whether you did or didn't see the Spaniard as a breakout player this season, few expected him to have the impact that he has so far.
He has been Swansea's best player—without a doubt—and as they now come to terms with what could be a long season in the EPL and a possible relegation battle, will become even more important to the club.
The Swans haven't looked like they offer a great deal in attack through their past few games, and if that's what we're going to expect from them this season, the input and attacking ability of Michu could be the difference between staying up and going down at the end of the year.
Again, we all knew that Marouane Fellaini was a talented player, but few expected the Everton attacker to have started the season as well as he has done so far—arguably the strongest player in the Premier League through the opening six weeks.
Fellaini has been in everything that the Toffees have created in attack this season, with three goals and an assist, and has been the spark to ignite the talent around him in Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar.
The Belgian international also ranks top three in tackles for the Merseyside club, who could be in for a big season in the Premier League if Fellaini continues to shine as he has done so far.
Last season, Rafael da Silva was a solid but average defender, whom Manchester United would probably bench in favor of Phil Jones when the going got tough.
And they might well have started this season with the same mentality had Jones not got injured, so the excellent play of the Brazilian through the first six weeks has been a joy to watch for Red Devils fans—one of the rare highlights as far as defense goes.
Rafael has two goals to his name, and whilst he has been caught out attacking too much, his defensive play has been much better this year—leading the team in tackles and interceptions, and sitting third in average clearances per match.
As United's defense continues to fall apart on itself, Rafael will become even more important this year.
Gervinho currently leads the Arsenal goal-scoring this year and if you'd picked that, well, you probably should go buy yourself a lottery ticket for this weekend.
The Ivory Coast international simply hadn't shown any signs that he was capable of leading the Gunners' attack, or even really contributing in any way, but with the departure of Robin van Persie and the arrival of Santi Cazorla, Gervinho has done exactly that.
With Lukas Podolski and Cazorla firing behind him and Olivier Giroud on the brink of opening the goal-scoring floodgates, Gervinho could be the missing piece that takes the Gunners attack from being "good" to "great."
Either way, it's been an excellent six weeks for Gervinho and for Arsenal.
With the backing of manager Sam Allardyce (via TribalFootball), Richard Vaz Te has been one of the most underrated but efficient strikers in the Premier League this season—a large reason behind the Hammers' strong start to the year.
Vaz Te only has the one goal and two assists so far, but with Andy Carroll likely to return from injury this weekend, will now have a star-striker and playmaker to work off in attack. And if Carlton Cole continues to struggle like he has done so far, Vaz Te's importance could continue to grow with every passing week.
There isn't a whole lot to like coming out of Norwich City at the moment—winless through their first six games and in the relegation zone—but Scotsman Robert Snodgrass has certainly shown he is a potential breakout star this season if the players around him can also perform.
Snodgrass contributes both in attack and defense (second in tackles), and averages 2.2 chances created per game, which for a team that doesn't see a whole lot of possession and attacking chances is an excellent figure.
The former Leeds captain has adjusted beautifully to life in the Premier League this season, but isn't getting the deserved accolades or recognition due to the poor start made by the Canaries so far.
Few players can claim that they have had a strong start to the season with two different clubs so far, but Tottenham's Moussa Dembele is someone that can.
After starting the season in dynamic fashion for Fulham, the Belgian international moved to Spurs over the summer transfer window and immediately made an impact once more—scoring on his debut for the club and picking up two assists in his next appearances for the club.
Dembele gives Spurs their drive through midfield. and with a bevy of attacking players around him, has the potential to make Andre Villas-Boas' men a genuine top-four team this season. He is brilliant on the ball and makes the team look good—a mark of a strong player and a star of the Premier League.
Branislav Ivanovic is currently the second-highest goal-scorer at Chelsea—something that seems simply unbelievable in a side featuring the attacking talents of Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard and many, many more.
However, the Serbian has chalked up his attacking contributions without shirking his defensive responsibilities—sitting top three in the team for tackles and interceptions, as well as effective clearances.
It helps having a talented squad around you, but still, few expected that Ivanovic—a possible transfer rumor at one stage this summer—would have started the season as strong as he has done so far.
I'm not going to hide on this one—I'm a massive fan of Ben Foster—and I've loved his start to the Premier League this season in goal for West Bromwich Albion.
With the Baggies sitting in sixth place, Foster's strong reflexes and ability to somehow save shots that come his way a large factor to their success.
The shot-stopper has faced more shots than any other goalkeeper through the Premier League so far, but has recorded the second-highest number of clean sheets and the third-fewest number of goals against.
Few players have as large an impact on a team that Foster can have at the Hawthorns this year.
Wrapping up our list is Santi Cazorla, who we all knew was brilliant and would dominate the Premier League, but not this much and as quickly as he has done.
The Spanish international must be considered a surprise star because he has adjusted to the EPL from the opening match and has led the Gunners' attack to a top-three spot in the league—something that might not have been otherwise possible considering that they sold their top goal-scorer and assist-maker from last season.
Cazorla has been the best player of the Premier League so far, which some might have hoped for but would have dismissed this early in the season. He is in everything as far as the attack goes, and holds the midfield together for Arsenal.
He's primed for the biggest year of his career perhaps, which would have to come as a surprise to most.
Agree? Disagree? Who has surprised you so far this year?
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