5 Premier League Players Who Are Enjoying a 2013-14 Renaissance
We've perused the game tape and squad lists to bring you five prime examples of players who are enjoying a much-improved 2013-14 season.
To qualify, the player must have had a poor or underwhelming previous campaign. Bolts from the blue (such as Andros Townsend and Ravel Morrison) were not considered, while players such as Aaron Ramsey and Fabian Delph improved at the tail end of last season—not this season.
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5. Mathieu Debuchy, Newcastle United
When Newcastle United secured the signature of Mathieu Debuchy in January last season, it was widely believed that Alan Pardew had pulled off yet another coup.
The former Lille full-back was first-choice for France during Euro 2012 under Laurent Blanc and arrived with a marauding, attacking reputation, but his first half-season in England was one to forget.
If there's a moment that perfectly encapsulates Debuchy's struggles last year, it's when he appeared to deliberately get sent off when the Magpies were getting slaughtered by Liverpool. He'd had enough.
With a summer under his belt, though, he's a reformed player. His defending has improved, his presence on the pitch is increasing and he's getting better with every game.
He still gives away silly fouls, sure, but these are (largely) positive signs for Newcastle fans.
4. Martin Skrtel, Liverpool
Martin Skrtel's renaissance has come at the most unlikely of times, as when Liverpool recruited three—yes, three—new centre-backs this summer, his time appeared up.
Mamadou Sakho, Tiago Ilori, Kolo Toure and Daniel Agger were all seemingly ahead of the Slovakian in the pecking order, and perhaps the only reason he wasn't sold was that Sebastian Coates sustained a season-ending injury.
He's been given a shot in Brendan Rodgers' defence and has excelled. The three-man system suits him perfectly, as playing centrally allows him to effectively sweep as the last man. He's not required to be a prolific passer or even comfortable on the ball, and his sole requirement in possession is to dump it off to one of the outside centre-backs.
Now that Rodgers appears to be switching back to a four-man system, it will be interesting to see of Skrtel keeps his form, or even his place.
3. Ron Vlaar, Aston Villa
At the end of last season, Aston Villa fans looked back on a season in which their side had conceded a whopping 69 goals and asked how that was possible with a starting Dutch international in their XI.
Ron Vlaar missed some game time, certainly, but good performances from him were few and far between. Perhaps it was the inopportune timing of the ailments; perhaps it was the adaption to the Premier League.
Whatever the issue was, consider it now fixed: Vlaar is playing magnificent football, leading a much-improved Villa defensive line who've already secured four Premier League clean sheets and conceded five fewer goals than at this stage last season.
Against Cardiff City and West Ham United, in particular, he was colossal.
2. Gareth Barry, Everton
When Fernandinho signed for Manchester City this summer for £30 million, most thought Gareth Barry's career at the top of the game was finished.
He can strike as an unpopular figure despite most Manchester City fans readily promoting his strong form in a disappointing 2012-13 season, but that notion of "strong" was largely in comparison to other players' poor performances.
With a year left on his deal and no route into the first team, he appeared bench fodder at best under Manuel Pellegrini but was surprisingly let out on loan to Everton.
He set about earning his spot in the first XI quickly and is currently rolling back the years to provide a commanding, authoritative presence in the heart of Roberto Martinez's midfield.
The system suits his immense passing range and defensive nous, while he can also provide a foil for the marauding Leighton Baines.
1. Jose Fonte, Southampton
Southampton struggled last season in defence, shipping goal after goal before eventually tightening up under Mauricio Pochettino.
The line was being led by a combination of Maya Yoshida, Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte, and when Dejan Lovren arrived early this summer, debate turned to who would partner with the Croatian as the manager's first choice.
Fonte won the job, started at West Bromwich Albion and hasn't looked back, starting the following 10 fixtures and providing an assured presence in a top-five European defence.
Saints have conceded a league-lowest five goals, and while Lovren's leadership, Luke Shaw's solidity and Nathaniel Clyne's explosiveness have all been lauded, Fonte deserves one-quarter of the praise this back line receives.