The 2011 English Premier League season is winding down, and it is time to start looking back on the players who made it so memorable.
Thought the season will once again end with Manchester United on top, this year will be remembered for being one of the most unpredictable seasons ever. Everywhere you turned there was another twist in the race.
Heading into March, Chelsea were 15 points behind Manchester United in the title race. United had a chance to put them 18 points back, eliminating them from the title race and possibly knocking them out of contention to finish in the top four.
Yet one week later, Chelsea had closed that gap to just nine points. With three weeks to play in the season, Chelsea had climbed all the way back to second place and were within three points of the leaders.
Following the high profile appointment of manager Roy Hodgson, expectations at Liverpool were sky high this year. Instead, Liverpool crubmbled and Hodgson was sacked in December. In January, Kenny Dalglish took over with Liverpool just three points above the relegation zone. Since Dalglish took over, Liverpool have picked up 33 points in the league, just two less then Chelsea and one more then Manchester United.
Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson moved to West Bromwich Albion and now has the Baggies within striking distance of finishing in the top half of the league.
Of course it hasn't been the managers that have made this season memorable but the players. Many teams would not be where they are now if it were not for the outstanding contributions of some players, or in other cases, the lack of contributions from certain players.
Here are the top 10 players from the 2010/11 English Premier League season.
It must say something about the integrity of the PFA Player of the Year award if this year's winner is nowhere near the list of the Top 10 players of the year. This award was also called into question two seasons ago after Ryan Giggs won it despite only making 12 league starts.
Unfortunately Bale did not win this award based on his season performance but likely won it based on the potential of his ability and the amount of hype he has received. Bale has been receiving a tremendous amount of hype this season after he repeatedly torched Inter Milan and Brazilian right back Maicon in back-to-back games in the Champions League.
Furthermore, Bale has been the talk of some of the biggest transfer rumors all season long, with European giants Real Madrid and Barcelona both reportedly ready to make £45 million bids for him this summer. No other player in the Premier League has generated that much talk from other clubs this season, not even Cesc Fabregas.
If this award was called the "PFA Player of the First Half of the Season" then I would have no problem with Bale winning the award. Bale has scored seven goals and has three assists this season on a team that struggles to score goals. Though the assists total could be better, the seven goals is a great contribution from a left winger.
However with the exception of one goal scored on Jan. 1st, every one of Bale's goals and assists this season came in the year 2010.
While he did spend an extended amount of time injured during the second half of the season, Bale wasn't producing even when he was on the pitch. Somehow, his lack of production over the full season was overlooked when the players voted on this award.
When it comes to the top 10 players for the season, Bale does not make the cut.
This truly has been an incredibly strange season in the Premier League. The PFA Player of the Year has scored one goal in 2011, and the league's top scorer hasn't been a first choice in his teams starting XI since February. But that is the life of Dimitar Berbatov, who leads the Premier League with 21 goals, but now finds himself on the bench at Old Trafford behind Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez.
Berbatov picked up a hat trick back in September against Liverpool, scored five against Blackburn in November and picked up another hat trick against Birmingham in January, a truly remarkable season but not enough to put him in the top 10.
Luis Suarez has easily been the best winter signing in the Premier League and is a large reason for Liverpool's charge up the table. Suarez has scored four goals and picked up five assists this season, as Liverpool have climbed up from the relegation battle to now battling for a place in the Europa League. Had Suarez been playing for Liverpool all season long, he easily would have made this list.
Though Fulham haven't been doing as well this season after the departure of manager Roy Hodgson, Clint Dempsey has been having a phenomenal season.
Dempsey has been a tremendous player throughout his career but is currently enjoying his best season in England. Prior to this season Dempsey had never scored more then seven goals in a Premier League season. This season, Dempsey has scored 12 and became the first American to ever score 10 in a Premier League season.
Arguments can be made for both Wayne Rooney's inclusion in the top 10, as well as for leaving him off. After all, the start of his seson was full of controversy about his personal life and an ugly contract dispute with the club. To make matters worse, Rooney was on the worst form of his career where he couldn't even buy a goal, including missing a penalty vs. Arsenal.
But Rooney has turned it around in the second half of the season, where he has begun scoring goals at an incredible rate once again, including his wonder bicycle-kick against Manchester City. Rooney has been the engine that has made United run all season and has settled remarkably well into a new role of a deep lying striker, making room for Javier Hernandez to run wild and score.
Rooney has morphed himself into a playmaker this season, opening things up for his teammates. It is no coincidence that 18 of Dimitar Berbatov's 21 goals this season have come with Rooney on the pitch.
Rooney has 10 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League this season, a far cry off from the 26 goals and six assists he picked up last season. Rooney has scored nine of those goals and picked up five assists since January, as he has begun to show more and more of the form he had last season.
Over the second half of the season Rooney has undoubtedly been one of the best and most important players in the league.
Like Suarez and Bale though, he was unable to play at this level over the entire season, therefore leaving him off of this list.
Last season's Golden Boot winner is a very large reason as to why Chelsea will finish second in the Premier League this season. Unfortunately for Drogba, that statement can be both a positive and a negative.
Drogba scored 29 goals and had 13 assists last season, helping Chelsea win the title by a single point over Manchester United, though that total was aided by the offsides rule not being enforced on more then one occasion.
This season, Drogba has scored 12 goals while picking up 15 assists, a dip in form but still more production then Wayne Rooney.
On March 1st, Chelsea were 15 points behind Manchester United and in fifth place in the league. Chelsea then won eight of their next nine games, climbing all the way up to second place and just three points behind United for their showdown at Old Trafford. Much of this charge up the table was due to the superb play of Drogba.
While he only scored twice during this stretch (albeit two important goals), Drogba picked up six assists and opened the field for his teammates. This allowed Chelsea to go from possibly not finishing in the top four to possibly winning the title in a matter of weeks.
On the other hand Chelsea could have been many points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table if it weren't for Drogba.
After starting the season off with six goals and five assists in Chelsea's first seven games, Drogba became almost invisible over the next eight games, as Chelsea dropped many points against inferior opponents. While he did have a battle with malaria, even when he overcame that he was still not performing on the field.
Drogba's poor form caused Chelsea to fall behind in the title race, which led to the winter signing of Fernando Torres. That signing seemed to halt Chelsea's form even more.
When Drogba has been good this season he has been tremendously good. However, his eight-game period of invisibility during the first half of the season could have easily costed Chelsea their second title in a row.
Every season at Goodison Park seems to unfold in the same way. The strapped for cash club gives David Moyes a small young squad that finished last season strong and look like this could be the year they take it to the next level. But then they start every season poorly and require their late season push just to give them a respectable finish.
Everton currently sit seventh in the table, right around where they always sit, though the ride has once again been as rocky as can be. If Everton are good at one thing, it is being consistently inconsistent.
But where would this club be without Leighton Baines?
Baines has established himself as one of the best attacking fullbacks in football and has been the spearhead of the Toffee's attack all season long.
Last season Baines led all defenders with nine assists; this season he has increased that total to 11. He has also become Everton's penatly taker and one of their free-kick specialists, which has helped him score five goals this season.
Baines' ability to fly down the left wing has become a nightmare for opposing managers and players. He is the starting point for all of Everton's attacks, helping to keep them in any game.
Despite an extreme lack of size, Everton score an abundance of headed goals, mainly because of Baines' fabulous crosses. Without Baines, Everton would be much closer to the relegation battle then to fighting for a top-five finish.
Arsenal fans, imagine how your team would be if van Persie could stay fit for an entire season. Unfortunately, it seems that every season van Persie is set back by another injury.
When van Persie has played this year, he has been one of, if not the best striker in the league. Van Persie has piled up 16 goals and seven assists in the league this season. He has scored eight goals in Arsenal's last 10 matches. Unfortunately for Arsenal, it has been too little too late, as the team has won just two of their last nine matches, dropping them out of the title race.
What has been the most impressive part of van Persie's goal scoring form is that his first goal didn't come until Jan. 1st! All 16 of van Persie's goals have come in the second half of the season.
Van Persie may easily be the best player in the Premier League this season, but he drops down this list do to not being the best over the course of the full season. Van Persie didn't even play a full 90 minutes in a match until that Jan. 1st match against Birmingham.
To leave him off the list entirely would be a crime as well, as van Persie WAS producing before an ankle injury kept him out for much of the first half of the season. Prior to his injury, van Persie had assisted on two Arsenal goals, in two of the three games he appeared in. He played just a half hour in each of the three games.
When van Persie returned in January his goal scoring became the engine of a great run of form for Arsenal. A friend of mine who is an Arsenal fan said to me, "This is what Arsenal does, they play great football and they are unbeatable, and then all of a sudden they all get hurt and we slip in the table."
How right he was, just imagine what Arsenal could do if they stayed fit all season.
It is very rare for a player from a team that was just promoted to the Premier League to be in the running for the PFA Player of the Year award, but Charlie Adam did just that.
Adam was a catalyst behind Blackpool's surprising start to the season this year, with Blackpool picking up 25 points before January. While the club might not have been winning, Adam helped to ensure the club scored at least one goal in every home match until the streak came to an end on the April 30th in a 0-0 draw with Stoke City. Ironically, that was also the first time Blackpool kept a clean sheet at home.
While Blackpool's form has dipped since the turn of the year, Adam's has not. He has scored 10 goals this season, with seven of them coming in the second half of the season. He has also racked up eight assists this year.
Adam found himself in the middle of many January transfer rumors this season, including a £4.5 million bid from Liverpool that Blackpool rejected. Manager Ian Halloway called the figure "disgraceful." Meanwhile, in what was likely just an attempt to "stir the pot" against his rivals, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said that Adam's corner kicks were worth £10 million alone. Ironically, just a few weeks later Blackpool took a 2-0 lead against United behind two Charlie Adam corner kicks.
While Blackpool managed to hold on to Adam in January, he will no doubt be front and center in many transfer rumors once again this summer. Adam currently refuses to speak about the manner, instead focusing the talk on Blackpool's fight to avoid relegation.
Charlie Adam is the main reason why Blackpool are in a position where they have a chance of avoiding relegation. While Blackpool may not be in the Premier League again next season, Charlie Adam most certaintly will be.
After years of Manchester United fans being frustrated over Nani's inability to reach his potential, Nani finally had his breakout year this season. When Antonio Valencia broke his ankle in September, Nani became United's full time right winger, and he did not look back.
Nani has scored nine league goals for United this season, six more then his previous high of three. His goalscoring helped keep United afloat during Wayne Rooney's six-week absense in October where Dimitar Berbatov couldn't score either.
Nani's biggest contribution this season has been his 18 assists, the most in the league by quite a few. He has become the creator behind the Manchester United attack. This meant that United did not need to rely on Ryan Giggs as much as they did before, allowing them to rest the veteran Welshman more often during the winter to ensure that he would be fresh for the run-in at the end of the season.
As of late though, Nani has seen his production take a steep drop. Antonio Valencia returned to the first team for United on March 19th against Fulham. In a related story, Nani has just three assists and zero goals during that time.
With Valencia back in the picture, Nani has often found himself either on the bench or playing on the left wing, where his production is significantly less. Since Valencia's return, Nani has found himself on the bench for almost all of United's big matches. When he has played, United have not faired too well, losing to Arsenal in the league and Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals.
With the PFA Player of the Year award being announced close to a month ago, many people were saying that Nani deserved to win it, and as little as one month ago, he probably did.
Over the past month however Nani has found himself either on the bench or not being very productive on the field. Like Berbatov, his status as the best has been hurt by the fact that he is no longer a first choice player for a big game. However, his fantastic play over the entire season merits him a place on this list.
There have been few players who have been more consistent then Dirk Kuyt has been for the last few years for Liverpool. In his first four seasons at Anfield Kuyt produced Premier League goal totals of: 12, three, 12 and nine. This season he has scored 13 goals and has added eight assists.
Kuyt has been the ultimate role player at Liverpool. While he has never been the best player on the field, if you forget about him for one second, he will kill you.
After scoring just four goals through the seasons first 28 games, Manchester United came to Anfield with their eyes intent on stopping Liverpool's January's signings Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. While Suarez and Carroll were kept off the score sheet, it was Kuyt who had the last laugh, scoring all three goals in Liverpool's 3-1 win.
Since that game Kuyt has been on fire, forming a deadly partnership with Suarez. Kuyt has scored nine goals and picked up three assists since the beginning of March. He has scored a goal in each of Liverpool's last five league matches.
Kuyt's partnership with Suarez is the reason why Liverpool are now thinking of Europa League football next season, after being in the relegation battle back in January.
Since the start of January, Liverpool have picked up more points in the Premier League then every team except Chelsea. While through the years you have heard about Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres leading the Liverpool attack and being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, quietly, Dirk Kuyt has been there the entire time, consistently scoring goals.
Nemanja Vidic has been the only thing that is consistent about Manchester United's back four. With Rio Ferdinand battling injuries all season (OK, the past three seasons), and United's right backs being unable to play two games in a row without picking up an injury, Vidic is always there.
At the start of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson took the captains armband away from club-captain and now retired defender Gary Neville. Ferguson said he no longer to rotate the armband based on who was playing, but rather give it to someone who would always be in the team. In stepped new Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic.
While Vidic has been far from perfect throughout his career, being sent off in three straight matches against Liverpool as well as at Stamford Bridge this season, he has emerged as one of the best central defenders in the world.
Two seasons ago, United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set a world record for keeping a clean sheet for 3,111 minutes, or 14 consecutive games. During the streak, the only defender to play in every match was Vidic.
Vidic has been a rock in the back for United and has been a major reason why United are at the top of the league and playing the Champions League final. Though United have had to call upon van der Sar to make several age-defying saves this season, he would be called upon far more often if it weren't for Vidic.
Vidic is also a nuisance for opposing defenders, as his size and aerial ability makes him a dangerous weapoin on set pieces. Vidic has scored five goals for United this season.
After being sent off in injury time against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, it was only fitting that it was Vidic who headed home the winner in the return fixture at Old Trafford. The new United captain scored the goal that effectively brought the title back to Old Trafford.
Where did this guy come from? Odemwingie is a Nigerian footballer who grew up in Russia. He played two seasons for French Club Lille and scored five goals for the club in the 2006-07 Champions League, including two at the San Siro against AC Milan in the knockout rounds. In 2007, Odemwingie moved to Russia to play for Locomotive Moscow.
Odemwingie spent three seasons in Russia, where he scored 25 goals in 77 Russian Premier League games. Last August, West Bromwich Albion pulled off one of the signings of the season when they signed Odemwingie for just £1 million.
Odemwingie began contributing to the Baggies just one day later when he scored the winner for West Brom on his Premier League debut.
After a very solid first half of the season, Odemwingie has taken off since the arrival of manager Roy Hodgson to the club. Odemwingie has scored nine of his 15 goals this season since Jan. 15th, a major reason for the Baggies climbing close to the middle of the table and getting themselves out of the relegation picture.
No matter who the opponent is, Odemwingie just keeps scoring. He has scored a goal in each of WBA's last five matches and six of their last seven. While still in his first season at West Bromwich Albion, Odemwingie is now attracting attention of the bigger clubs in the Premier League, with Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish saying he expects the club to make an attempt to sign the striker over the summer.
With 15 goals for West Bromwich Albion in his debut season, Peter Odemwingie has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the Premier League this season.
Say what you want about Carlos Tevez (and believe me, many people have), but when the striker actually plays, he scores goals.
Throughout his career Carlos Tevez has been nothing short of a crybaby. He is always finding something to complain about. Every few months he'll talk about how he hates Manchester City or about how unhappy he is in England. Recently even Manchester City has even grown tired of this and have said that if Tevez says he wants to move this summer, they will sell him.
But when Tevez is on the field there is no denying both his ability and what he has done for City this season. Tevez has scored 19 goals this season and has added six assists. His form has helped City to a fourth place finish, and their first ever Champions League birth.
Despite being injured for the FA Cup semifinal, Tevez was a crucial part of City's run to the FA Cup final, where the club was able to win their first trophy in 35 years.
Tevez's goals seem to come in bunches as well. Of his 19 goals this season, he has had five games where he has scored twice and has scored a hat trick on one other occasion.
While he may be a primadona off the field, when Tevez does step on the field for City, other teams need to beware. As Tevez keeps scoring, City keep getting better, and by next season, they could very well be ready to challenge their neighbors Manchester United for the title.
When Manchester United came thiiiiisss close to winning their fourth straight Premier League title last season, fans wanted a big name signing to get them over the hump. After all, the season before they had seen both Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo leave, and Sir Alex had yet to replace them. What United fans got though was the announcement of the signing of a little known Mexican striker, hardly the signing they were hoping for.
One year later though, Javier Hernandez has been the signing of the season in the Barclays Premier League. With Fergie shying away from a big-name signing by saying there was no "value" in the transfer market, Fergie has gotten a ton of value from the £6 million he spent on Hernandez, which of course is less then the £7.5 million he spent on Bebe.
As fans took notice of Hernandez, the striker impressed with Mexico at the World Cup. When he joined United on their preseason tour, he scored in his first game against the MLS All-Stars. These may have only been friendlies, but Hernandez has not stopped scoring since.
At the start of the season Sir Alex said that he thought Hernandez and Wayne Rooney were too similar to play together. Hernandez started the season mainly on the bench, often coming on as a substitute and scoring late goals to rescue United. He began earning himself comparissons to former United super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Hernandez has become a natural goal poacher, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time to provide a finish. He has shown an incrdible ability to score with both his legs and his head, including an astonishing backwards header that opened the scoring in an away game against Stoke this season.
Since March Hernandez has displaced top Premier League goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov as a first choice striker in United's starting XI. He has formed an incrdible partnership with Wayne Rooney, which has helped United stay atop the Premier League table and advance to the Champions League final.
In their May showdown with Chelsea at Old Trafford, Hernandez opened the scoring for United after just 36 seconds. It was his 20th goal of the season, making him the first United player to score 20 goals in a season since Ruud Van Nistelrooy did it in the 2001-02 season.
Hernandez's ability to stretch the field has opened the field up for his teammates, namely Wayne Rooney, who has rediscovered his goalscoring form since forming his partnership with Hernandez.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has come out of virtually nowhere to lead Manchester United back to the top of the Premier Leagua and another Champions League final, making him the top player in the English Premier League this season.