The 2012/13 English Premier League season is exactly at the halfway point at the moment, with the 19 rounds of football not failing to live to expectations so far.
Every team—regardless of their current league position—has had its ups and down through the first half of the year, as have the players within those teams.
Yet some players have simply sparkled and have stood out not just to their respective team, but also right across the Premier League. Their individual skills are brilliant and their importance to their respective club has become more and more apparent as the season has progressed.
Let's take a look at the most valuable player for every Premier League team through the opening half of the season.
Spanish international Santi Cazorla has been the clear standout from Arsenal's season this year, with the summer transfer sparkling in central midfield so far.
The 28-year-old is currently second in the team for assists, but has created a team-high 2.7 goal-scoring chances per game—averaging a staggering 68.9 passes per game at an 88 percent completion rate.
He is the heart and soul of the Gunners' attack and is the club's leading goal scorer as well this year, with his long-range shooting in particular creating some spectacular highlights packages this season.
Honorable mentions: Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta
Currently lagging in 16th position, there haven't been too many highlights from Aston Villa this season, but one that definitely stands out is the strong performances of Christian Benteke.
Transferred from Genk over the summer transfer window, the Belgian international has been superb up front for Villa this season—filling in the void left by the poor play of Darren Bent and giving Paul Lambert's men a genuine threat at the top of the attack.
Benteke leads the club in both goals and assists to date and will be integral to the Villans' quest to avoid relegation towards the end of the season.
Honorable mentions: Andreas Weimann, Brad Guzan
Juan Mata has once again proven himself to be the strongest player at Chelsea, with another superb season so far for the European champions.
The Spanish international can turn a match in a moment with his incredible on-ball skills and passing, averaging 55 passes per game this season at a strong 87 percent completion rate.
However, the fact that he leads the West London club in both goals (seven) and assists (seven) so far this year despite a host of other strong attacking players speaks volumes about his involvement and significance to Chelsea at the moment.
Chelsea are not the fluid, attacking team that they are without Mata, and the 24-year-old will continue to show that to be true through the back half of the season.
Honorable mentions: David Luiz, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres
Everton's long-haired Belgian attacker Marouane Fellaini has been in career-best form through the season to date and is one of the big reasons behind the club's strong start this year.
Fellaini has reaped havoc on defenses right across the league—averaging 3.4 shots per game—and has bagged himself eight goals and three assists in the process also.
Much of the Merseyside club's attack is funneled through Fellaini, with the Belgian international's ability to hold up the ball and work those around him into the game an integral part of the Toffees' success so far.
Honorable mentions: Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka
Dimitar Berbatov's shirt last week against Southampton spoke perfectly about the current situation at Fulham—passing him the ball will be the best thing for the club.
The former Manchester United striker has been a revelation at Craven Cottage so far this year, and with better support around him would likely have posted even more incredible numbers than he has done through his 14 appearances this season.
Even still, Berbatov has netted six goals and provided three assists on the year—leading the club in goal-scoring opportunities created per game as well. The Bulgarian international's willingness to drop deep to help the midfield is also notable, with the 31-year-old averaging more passes per game than several of the Cottagers' other midfielders.
Honorable mentions: Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff
Luis Suarez has become the heart and soul of the Reds' attack this season with the departure of Andy Carroll, and the Uruguyuan has met the challenge with one of his strongest years so far.
Playing without the infrastructure around him that the likes of Robin van Persie have, Suarez has netted 11 goals and two assists through his 18 appearances so far—chalking up a stagerring 6.1 shots per game in the process.
The 25-year-old also leads the club in goal-scoring chances created and successful dribbles per game, and will no doubt be Brendan Rodgers' most valuable asset in their hunt for a top-four finish once more.
Honorable mentions: Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard
The defending Premier League champions might sit seven points behind their rivals in the title race heading into the New Year, but from 2012, it's hard to find fault in the performances of former Manchester United striker Carlos Tevez.
Tevez leads City in both goals and assists this year, and has been their most consistent attacking weapon through the opening 19 games of the season. The 28-year-old has averaged 3.3 shots per game and creates nearly two goal-scoring opportunities per game also, highlighting his significance to the Citizens attack this season.
Honorable mentions: Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure
Robin van Persie has been without doubt United's most valuable player through the year so far—there is no one that even comes close to rivaling his importance and significance to date.
The Dutchman has netted 13 goals and six assists from just 17 appearances this year and has allowed greater freedom for Wayne Rooney as well as the likes of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young on the wings.
There is little coincidence that Van Persie's arrival has United seven points clear on top of the table heading into the New Year—his significance is told in the table.
Honorable mentions: Rafael Da Silva, Jonny Evans
Following on from his strong showing last year, Newcastle United's Demba Ba has once again been in fine form for the Magpies this season.
Ba leads the team with 11 goals this year from 18 appearances—a remarkable effort considering that the next-highest scorers in the team are Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse with three goals each.
Alan Pardew's men have been largely disappointing this season, sitting all the way down in 15th position through the opening half of the year. But the performances of Ba in attack, when there doesn't seem to be a whole lot else happening, have provided a rare highlight this year.
Honorable mentions: Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa
After making a move from Leeds United over the summer transfer window, Norwich City midfielder Robert Snodgrass has been excellent for his new club this season—recording the highest average match rating through the opening 19 fixtures.
The 25-year-old leads Norwich in both goals and assists this year, but also contributes greatly in defense as well, with the Scotsman leading the team in tackles per game as well.
Throw in a team-high 1.8 goal scoring chances created per game and a pass completion percentage that ranks in the top five at the Canaries, and Snodgrass is a clear favorite for the club's most valuable player through the opening half of the year.
Honorable mentions: John Ruddy
Harry Redknapp's men sit last in the Premier League at the halfway point of the year. with a serious challenge on their hands to avoid relegation.
And if they're going to do that, the man that will be the most significant for Rangers this year is Adel Taarabt, who has been strong through the first half of the season.
The controversial Moroccan international has been dynamic in attack so far and despite averaging a large number of shots per game, has still been effective in front of goal—netting a team-high four goals and two assists from his 14 appearances to date.
Taarabt is nowhere to be found in defense, which often hampers Rangers, but going forward, he is their best attacking weapon and a dynamic player on the ball, leading the team in goal-scoring opportunities created per game this season.
There haven't been too many highlights for the London club this year, but the 23-year-old has provided a rare glimpse of the good things that QPR can do on the field.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Nelsen, Alejandro Faurlin
Nicky Shorey has been strong for Reading this season—a statement that perhaps seems a little bizarre given the league-high 37 goals the Royals have conceded this season.
The 24-year-old defender has been solid in defense, but it has been his attacking contributions in particular that have caught the eye of many around the league.
Shorey, despite only averaging 37.3 passes per game, chalks up an average of 2.9 goal-scoring opportunities created per game for his teammates and currently leads Reading this year with four assists. The table below helps put that into perspective.
|Nicky Shorey||2.9 chances created per game||37.3 passes per game|
|Juan Mata||2.6 chances created per game||55.2 passes per game|
|Santi Cazorla||2.7 chances created per game||68.9 passes per game|
|Joe Allen||1.0 chances created per game||63.4 passes per game|
|Yaya Toure||1.5 chances created per game||81.9 passes per game|
Honorable mentions: Jobi McAnuff, Adam LeFondre
He might not be scoring the incredible number of goals that he was last season in the Championship, but Rickie Lambert has once again been brilliant for Southampton's attacking unit.
The 30-year-old forward leads the team with seven goals for the season—double goals than any other player in the team—and also sits second in assists as well this year.
Lambert's goals have come on just 2.4 shots per game this year, with his 2.2 goal-scoring chances created per game contributing to give the striker one of the best average match ratings for the newly promoted Saints.
There is simply no other player as important to Southampton this year as Lambert—especially with Gaston Ramirez having time off due to injury.
Honorable mentions: Adam Lallana, Gaston Ramirez
Known for their defensive stinginess, Stoke City's goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has thrived in the league this season—establishing himself as arguably the top shot-stopper this season.
Chalking up nine clean sheets—the most in the league—Begovic has made more saves than most goalkeeper this season, with only a handful of keepers, including Petr Cech and Simon Mignolet, making more saves than the Potters' star.
Considering also that three of the 14 goals that Begovic has conceded this season came from penalties, it's truly been a remarkable start to the season for the Potters' shot-stopper, who has been vastly important to Tony Pulis' side's rise into the top eight in the league.
Honorable mentions: Geoff Cameron, Robert Huth
No other goalkeeper has made as many saves this year as Sunderland's Simon Mignolet—it's as simple as that for the Black Cats# keeper.
Mignolet has made over 260 saves through the 19 games so far this year and despite that, has managed to record the third-highest amount of clean sheets in the league.
Martin O'Neill's men have been solid defensively this year and while they are nowhere near where they were this time last season, they are slowly starting to establish themselves as a defensive force once again in the Premier League.
Steven Fletcher has been excellent in attack with not much else around him, but the Black Cats' chances of success this year starts and ends with Mignloet. And so far, the shot-stopper has been superb.
Honorable mentions: Steven Fletcher, Craig Gardner
No player has made more of an impact so far this season for their club than summer signing Michu has for Swansea City.
The Spaniard, who was brought in for just £2 million during the transfer window, has been the club's best attacking option this year whether playing as a lone striker or just behind one—bringing out the best in those around him as well this year.
Michu has racked up a remarkable 13 goals and an assist through his 19 appearances to date despite only having 2.9 shots per game and playing the vast majority of the match in midfield—not up front like all the other top goal scorers in the league.
The 26-year-old also ranks strongly in tackles, interceptions and goal-scoring chances created per game, and will continue to show his importance to Swansea in 2013.
Honorable mentions: Nathan Dyer, Chico
After signing a four-year contact extension at the start of the season, Gareth Bale continues to shine at Tottenham Hotspur—chalking up a very impressive opening half of the year for the north London club.
The left-winger has netted nine goals and an assist from his 16 appearances this season and also leads the team in goal-scoring chances created (2.4) and accurate crosses (2.1) per game.
Bale's ability to chime in from the left and offer another dimension to Spurs attack has been key for Andre Villas-Boas' side so far this year and will continue to be significant as Spurs push on for that elusive top-four finish in 2013.
Honorable mentions: Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Jermain Defoe
Few would have predicted West Bromwich Albion's surprise start to the year, with the Baggies currently only goal difference away from a top-four spot heading into the New Year.
Much of that has been down to their midfield cohesion and solidity, with Claudio Yacob particularly important for Steve Clarke's men in the middle of the field.
Yaccob currently leads West Brom in pass completion percentage and sits second in average passes per game—providing the anchor that the team needs to attack through the likes of Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie both out wide and in the middle.
The 25-year-old's defensive work has also been huge, with Yacob leading the team in tackles and interceptions through the opening half to the season as well.
Honorable mentions: Romelu Lukaku, Shane Long
Anybody who isn't convinced of Mohamed Diame's importance to West Ham only needs to look back at the London club's last three performances.
With Diame in the team, the Hammers beat Chelsea at Upton Park. Once he was forced off against Liverpool they threw away a 2-1 lead, were unable to score against West Brom and lackluster in defeat to Everton.
Diame is the heart and soul of the Hammers' midfield this year—averaging an incredible 4.1 tackles per game to lead the team in that category and interceptions as well—but he has also been more than helpful going forward as well in the opening half of the season.
The 25-year-old sits third in goals scored for the club so far, and is completing his passes at a very high rate as well—second only to Mark Noble in that category.
West Ham need Diame back as soon as possible before they slip too far down the Premier League ladder; his absence is more than duly noted so far.
Honorable mentions: Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan
Wigan Athletic have been largely inconsistent and generally poor this season, but one of the stronger players for the Latics thus far has been midfielder James McCarthy.
The Irishman has netted two goals and an assist on the season so far, but his ability to fight and work hard in midfield—despite the lack of quality players around him—has been notably impressive for Roberto Martinez's side to date.
McCarthy currently leads the team in tackles and interceptions per game, as well as highest average passes per game also—completing his passes at a strong 89 percent completion rate.
Wigan lack a genuine striker up front and the likes of Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo have been too inconsistent to give the most valuable player award to as a result. Had they been more effective, not only would Wigan be further up the table, but McCarthy's numbers would look even more impressive than they have done through the opening 19 matches.
Honorable mentions: Franco Di Santo, Arouna Kone, Ali Al-Habsi
Who has been your team's MVP through the year so far?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre