Unexpected Heroes of the EPL Season Part II: The Entire Campaign
Last week, I published a list of 10 unexpected heroes of the home stretch of the 2010-11 season.
This list invoked, as is expected from such a piece, the ire of a good number of community members, particularly Manchester United fans.
Some of these people misinterpreted the list, others simply disagreed with it.
Here, in an attempt to rectify some of the confusion and placate some of the anger provoked by the previous piece, is a new list.
This list takes into account performances from throughout the season, rather than limiting inclusion to performances put in over the past few months.
For anyone not paying much attention to the day-to-day operations of Guadalajara’s Chivas football club, Javier Hernandez is the revelation of the season.
Chicharito first impressed the world at the 2010 World Cup, scoring two goals for Mexico. Surely had United not already acquired him another top flight side would have.
Since arriving at Old Trafford in the wake of the World Cup, Little Pea has scored 13 league goals and notched a pair of assists in 27 EPL matches.
Hernandez is a great out-and-out striker, a man who sits up front, waits for the ball, and finishes with extreme speed and exacting precision. Pele recently dubbed Chicharito “the new Messi.”
Whether or not the world needs a new Messi, particularly when that new Messi is only a year younger than the actual Messi, is unclear, though it's high praise none-the-less.
Rafael Van Der Vaart
Rafael Van Der Vaart is the bargain of the season.
Since arriving at White Hart Lane in September, the Dutchman has racked up 13 goal and nine assists.
With inconsistent play from Tottenham's strikers and a string of injuries plaguing Gareth Bale, VDV has been Harry Redknapp’s undisputed talisman.
In addition to bringing goals and assists galore to Spurs, Van Der Vaart has brought an essential creative flair to the team.
Though Spurs’ form has flagged in recent performances—with notable exception against Liverpool last weekend—the team promises to threaten top sides in the coming seasons if Redknapp can provide Van Der Vaart with the supporting players he needs to shine.
Peter Odemwingie is West Bromwich Albion’s revelation and salvation.
Since arriving at the Baggies camp from Lokomotiv Moscow, the Uzbek-Nigerian striker has scored 15 goals and contributed nine assists to the WBA cause.
This is all the more unexpected considering Odemwingie’s record of 25 goals in 77 appearances for his previous
Perhaps even more striking than his numbers is Odemwingie’s humility and overall kindness. He comes across as extremely genuine and thoughtful in interviews, and even admitted to the press in the wake of a mid-season slump in form that he regained confidence through the power of positive thinking.
Given his refreshing performances and demeanor, there’s not a single reason to criticize Odemwingie.
Scotsman Charlie Adam is the star around which the Blackpool solar system rotates during the 2010-11 campaign.
All poetical waxing aside, Adam signed to Blackpool in the summer of 2009 for a fee of £500,000. He helped Blackpool gain promotion with impressive performances in the Championship, but playing in the EPL is a different thing all together.
Adam has more than proved his worth to the Blackpool faithful and EPL fans the world over during the team’s (potentially unsuccessful) 2010-11 campaign.
He has 11 goals and nine assists on the season, and has displayed a workman like dedication and indefatigable desire to win that has been of immeasurable assistance to his team.
Nani’s performances during the 2010-11 season rate him as one of the best players in the league and throughout Europe.
The Portuguese winger has always been good, but he could hardly have been expected to lead the EPL in assists and be approaching a double-digit goal total with one game remaining the season.
But Nani has nine goals and 14 assists on the season, and you can’t argue with statistics.
All told, Nani has contributed directly to 23 United goals in the EPL, or about 31 percent of the team’s league goal total for the season.
Add to that his indispensable speed and quick, controlled passing and who knows how many goals the Red Devils have racked up because of his efforts.
If it weren’t for a recent dip in form, Nani would be, indisputably, the EPL player of the season. As it is, he’s in contention for the position in my book.
Andy Carroll had a big reputation coming into the EPL on the back of Newcastle’s successful promotion campaign, though that reputation involved a penchant for arrogance, violence, misogyny and youthful indiscretion.
Come the beginning of 2011, Carroll had built himself a very different reputation, as one of the most precise and dangerous goal scoring threats in the EPL.
Between opening day and December 26th 2010, Carroll scored 11 goals as a Magpie, and contributed five assists to the Toon cause.
A lengthy hamstring injury ruined his goal scoring record, as Caroll missed eight consecutive games for Newcastle and, after a stunning January transfer, Liverpool.
Carroll’s accomplishments have recently been eclipsed by those of Anfield teammates Luis Suarez, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt, but he deserves a mention none-the-less.
Time and again during the previous two campaigns, pundits decried the purchase of Dimitar Berbatov as one of the worst decisions Alex Ferguson had made in recent years.
In the Red Devils 2010-11 campaign, Bulgarian Bomber Berbatov has silenced all of these voices.
Berbatov is tied with Carlos Tevez for most goals in the EPL, with 21. He has given the Red Devils three assists, as well.
Nothing Berbatov did during the 2010-11 season was more mind-boggling than his five-goal game against Blackburn Rovers, though he nearly topped that feat by scoring a hat trick against Birmingham and a brace against Blackpool during a three-day period in January.
Since taking over from the shamed Roy Hodgson in January, Kenny Dalglish breathed new, fiery life into Liverpool. He lead the team from 12th place to sixth, and the side may finish in fifth if it wins its last game and Tottenham slips up.
Dalglish ushered Anfield hero Fernando Torres out of the club and brought in new heroes Luis Suarez and Andy Caroll. In addition, the legendary Scotsman has inspired phenomenal performances in Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Raul Meireles
Of course, Dalglish was expected to play the part of the hero when he returned to Liverpool in January. But rewind your watch to August 2010 and tell me you wouldn’t slap someone for telling you something this outlandish would happen.
To his credit, Joe Hart played incredibly well at Birmingham last season.
He helped the side to a 12-match unbeaten streak, though did show some poor errors of judgment in that time.
Good season or no, few could have predicted that the 23-year-old Hart would help Manchester City keep 17 clean sheets for the season, the most in the league.
Despite his young age, Hart has shown tremendous ability in goal, and a strong sense of leadership.
He is one of the breakout players of the season, and put in a string of brilliant performances that no one save the most dedicated City fan saw coming.
Leighton Baines is the left back revelation of the season; a player with the technical ability of a great central midfielder, who brings the ball up the wing and puts it just where it needs to be.
Everton’s top two strikers, Jermaine Beckford and Louis Saha, each scored seven goals this season. The team’s high scorer, midfielder Tim Cahill, scored nine.
Baines, a defender, has five with one game to go. Add to that his 11 assists and you begin to see how important he is for his squad.
All of this has come as something of a surprise. For his first season at Everton, Baines failed to find a permanent place in the squad’s starting 11.
Throughout his entire club career, Baines has scored 11 goals, four with Wigan, seven with Everton. Almost half of those have coming during the Toffees 2010-11 campaign.
Baines’ play helped lift Everton from the doldrums of yet another season marred by draws and insufficiencies to seventh place in the league, where the side looks to finish its campaign.
Clint Dempsey spent a good many years playing second fiddle to Landon Donavan in the landscape of American soccer. No more.
In the 2010-11 season, Dempsey became the first American to reach a double-digit goal total in the EPL. His 12 goals and three assists have helped Fulham find their way from just shy of the drop zone to eighth place in the league in a matter of months.
Dempsey has always been a reliable presence at Fulham, but never a great player capable of leading the team. All of that changed in 2010-11.
Dempsey scored more than a third of his 33 goals in 144 appearances at Fulham during the season and showed dedication, creativity and leadership, all qualities that have helped his side immeasurably.
Charles N’Zogbia’s talent exploded this campaign.
In his 82 performances with Wigan Athletic since 2009, N’Zobgia has scored 15 goals. Nine of those goals have come during the 2010-11 season.
In addition to his nine goals, N’Zogbia has contributed seven assists to the Wigan cause. If the Latics are to avoid relegation this season, N’Zogbia will be key in the team’s doing so.
If not, the midfielder will surely be off to another EPL club. N’Z provides aggressive forward movement, consistent pressure and a restless desire to test the opposition that have made him an unexpected success in the 2010-11 season.
Scott Parker has always been a good player, and a occupied a special place in the heart of the Hammers faithful.
But this time last year, no one would have called Scott Parker the type of player who could carry a team on his back for the majority of the season.
By Parker’s own assessment and those of nearly everyone else, the midfielder has been playing the best football of his career.
His midfield play has been in essential in providing the forward thrust West Ham needed to get the ball at the foot of Freddy Piquionne and Demba Ba, the most consistent striking presences for the Hammers this season.
Unfortunately, Parker couldn’t stave off the humility of relegation, but this might be a blessing in disguise for the Irons, a side that desperately needs to reconfigure the way it plays football if it is to have any success in the future.
A Word on Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has been phenonemnal for Liverpool since arriving from Ajax in January.
However, Suarez scored 49 goals across all competitions for Ajax last season, including a six-goal game against WHC Wezep.
He was great for Uruguay in the World Cup finals and qualification. There is no reason his performances should be considered unexpectedly good. The guy is amazing and should be playing as well as he has.
In fact, expect even better things from Suarez next season, as he adjusts to life in the EPL.