Premier League: Each Club's No. 1 Standout Performer of 2011
As the year 2011 draws to a close, we at Bleacher Report will be publishing a series of articles looking back on the various happenings in the world of football for the past 12 months.
In this article, I present to you my votes for each club's standout performer in the past year.
Now, given that the 2011-2012 season started in August, there are inevitably three changes in teams compared to the tail-end of last season.
But, as the old adage goes, the league table never lies, and so this review, rather than mentioning the erstwhile Premier League teams of West Ham, Blackpool and Birmingham City, will draw attention to this year's newcomers: Swansea, QPR and Norwich City.
Without further ado, here are the 20 standout club performers in 2011. Feel free to nominate your own candidates in the comments below.
Arsenal: Robin van Persie
Who needs Batman when you have Robin?
Our first club on the list couldn't have presented us with an easier choice for their player of 2011.
Robin van Persie, already on a scoring high in the first half of 2011, stepped up his game even further after the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
Armed with the responsibility of club captaincy, van Persie has literally taken Arsenal on his shoulders and has scored a bucketload of goals to prove that he is quickly maturing into one of the world's finest strikers.
He's scored 33 league goals already in 2011, and with a few games still left to play during the Christmas period, you wouldn't bet against him getting the four required to break Alan Shearer's record.
Honorable Mention: Wojciech Szczesny
Aston Villa: Darren Bent
Darren Bent's game has always been about goals.
He scored them when he first started out at Ipswich. He scored more at Charlton. Then at Tottenham. At Sunderland. And now at Aston Villa.
Gerard Houllier knew what he was paying a club-record £24 million (with add-ons) for in January 2011, and Darren Bent didn't disappoint.
In an otherwise average calendar year for the Villans, Bent's goalscoring exploits have stood out during his 11 months at Villa Park, and have earned him a more regular place spearheading the England attack.
Honorable Mention: Gabby Agbonlahor
Blackburn Rovers: Yakubu Aiyegbeni
Feed the Yak and he'll score.
Whatever Venky's are feeding Yakubu Aiyegbeni, it sure seems to be working.
He's only been at Ewood Park since this summer, but he's arguably exceeded everyone's expectations by delivering nine goals in an otherwise dismal season for Blackburn. Steve Kean's side have scored 23 goals in total, and Yakubu has contributed almost half of them.
With Rovers sitting second from bottom with only 10 points, one wonders where they would be if it weren't for Yakubu's goals. Kean will know who to thank if Blackburn manage to retain their Premier League this season.
Honorable Mention: Christopher Samba
Bolton Wanderers: Ivan Klasnic
Ivan Klasnic finished the 2010-2011 season as Bolton's resident super-sub.
Having scored seven goals in all competitions despite never starting a league game for the Trotters, he was finally awarded a place in the starting lineup by Owen Coyle at the beginning of this season.
And with seven goals and four assists in 11 starts, he has been directly involved with over half of Bolton's 20 league goals this season.
It'll be a big task for Bolton to turn their dismal form around and climb out of the bottom of the table, but you can be sure that Ivan Klasnic will be central to their plans.
Honorable Mention: Gary Cahill
Chelsea: Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard's recent demotion to bench duty by Andre Villas-Boas has grabbed the headlines.
What doesn't grab the headlines anymore, however, is the number of goals he continues to score year in, year out for Chelsea. He's grabbed more than 20 in 2011. Again.
For all of the hype surrounding the "new Chelsea" spearheaded by the exciting young Daniel Sturridge and supported by Barcelona youth product Oriol Romeu, Chelsea still possess one of the finest players in their history.
Ever the consummate professional, Lampard will be finding himself among more goals as he completes his 11th season at Stamford Bridge. He already has seven goals and four assists this season.
So much for a player in decline.
Honorable Mention: Ramires
Everton: Leighton Baines
Another easy pick.
Leighton Baines has been earning rave reviews for his performances at left-back for Everton, and with good reason.
With pace, dribbling and a sweet left foot more than capable of scoring and creating goals, Baines has made a reputation as one of the Premier League's finest full-backs, all the while playing for a less-than-flashy Everton side.
So far, he's resisted overtures from the League's big boys and from overseas, but with such consistent displays at Goodison Park, he may follow Mikel Arteta's footsteps towards the biggest stage.
Honorable Mention: Seamus Coleman
Fulham: Clint Dempsey
In 2011 alone, Clint Dempsey became the highest-scoring American ever in the Premier League. He also broke Fulham's Premier League goalscoring record. A Player of the Season award for Fulham was merely a formality.
He's started the 2011-2012 season in similar fashion. Topping Fulham's scoring charts with five goals and assist table with four, he remains Fulham's creator and scorer in chief.
If he keeps this form up, a successive Player of the Season award might well be coming his way.
Honorable Mention: Danny Murphy
Liverpool: Luis Suarez
For all of the controversy that Luis Suarez has courted during his 11 months in England, there can be no denying that he has been a revelation for Liverpool.
Having briefly become Liverpool's record signing in January 2011, Suarez has returned the gloss and prestige so closely associated with the iconic Red No. 7 jersey.
Unpredictable with an endless bag of tricks, Suarez has tormented Premier League defences up and down the country. Creative with fantastic vision, he has set up numerous goalscoring chances for his Liverpool teammates.
Now if only he could add a true finisher's touch to his game.
Honorable Mention: Lucas Leiva
Manchester City: David Silva
It says more about the quality of the Spanish national team than that of Manchester City that David Silva doesn't command a regular starting place for his country.
But the truth is that Valencia's loss was City's, and the Premier League's, gain. In Silva, both City and the League possess one of the finest creative talents in the world, and he's improved even more following his arrival on English shores.
Having always been blessed with dribbling skills and an eye for a pass, he's added goalscoring to his arsenal of abilities that make him one of the premier attacking players in the world.
Already considered one of the top contenders for the Player of the Year award for the 2011-2012 season, Silva truly has the world at his feet.
Honorable Mention: Vincent Kompany
Manchester United: Wayne Rooney
On paper, it's simple: If Rooney is on form, Manchester United are on form.
But how exactly do you stifle someone with such vision, work rate, passing and finishing ability?
Those are the qualities that make Rooney such an indispensable figure for both United and England. Both squads have players who are more than capable of winning games on their own, but you know Rooney is the most important when you hear that pundits and fans alike pin losses down to Rooney's absence or an underwhelming performance.
And that is why Wayne Rooney is, not for the first time, United's outstanding player of the year.
Honorable Mention: Nani
Newcastle United: Fabricio Coloccini
Very often, attacking players dominate the headlines and grab all the attention. And with such a blistering start to the campaign, summer signings Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye may feel slightly aggrieved that they weren't my pick for Newcastle's best player of 2011.
But in this particular case, Fabricio Coloccini surely deserves the award, having put in colossal defensive performances at the heart of the Newcastle defence. Ba may have scored the goals to propel Newcastle to the heady heights of the Premier League at the start of this season, but Coloccini provided the platform for their excellent performances.
Technically gifted and uncompromising in the tackle, Coloccini has already attracted the attentions of many top clubs, but he might just want to finish as the league's best defensive captain before he moves elsewhere.
Honorable Mention: Cheick Tiote
Norwich City: Grant Holt
And now we arrive at the first of the Premier League new boys.
Summer signing Steve Morison might be Norwich's current starting striker, but super-sub skipper Grant Holt is currently leading the Canaries' goalscoring charts this season, with seven goals in seven starts.
Add this to the 21 goals he scored in the run-up to Norwich's promotion from the Championship and you can see why he finished as Norwich's 2010-2011 Player of the Year and just behind QPR's Adel Taarabt in the Championship Player of the Year awards.
Expect Holt to continue unsettling even the best Premier League defences for the rest of the season.
Honorable Mention: John Ruddy
Queens Park Rangers: Alejandro Faurlin
With a Tony Fernandes-bankrolled summer transfer revolution, picking a QPR Player of 2011 could've been a tall order.
But not with the continued presence of Alejandro Faurlin.
Unlike Adel Taarabt, who has been deemed unfit for Neil Warnock's Premier League tactical plans just a summer after being crowned the Championship's best player, Faurlin has gone from a Championship-winning midfielder to one of the Premier League's best midfielders.
Recent interest from Arsenal and Tottenham merely confirm his lofty status at Loftus Road.
Honorable Mention: Heidar Helguson
Stoke City: Matthew Etherington
If you think that Stoke City are only capable of "rugby" football, take a look at Matthew Etherington's performances for Tony Pulis and think again.
Armed with pace and tricky dribbling skills, Etherington causes untold problems for Premier League defences with his direct running. He commands enough attention to unsettle opponents.
His six goals and 10 assists last season, and two goals and four assists already this season, are ample proof of his ability to deliver week in, week out.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Walters
Sunderland: Phil Bardsley
Having made a total of 34 league appearances last term, Phil Bardsley has truly made the Sunderland right-back slot his own.
And his versatility means that he's more than capable of filling in at left-back, which is his starting position for the Scotland national team.
His three goals and one assist, allied to the much-improved defensive side of his game, earned him Sunderland's Player of the Year award for the 2010-2011 season, as well as third place in the North East Football Writers' Footballer of the Year awards.
Honorable Mention: Sebastian Larsson
Swansea City: Nathan Dyer
Standing at merely 5'5", Nathan Dyer's diminutive stature is well known.
Now, Premier League defenders and managers are standing up and taking note of the magic Dyer is capable of weaving with the ball at his feet.
After a season of scintillating performances for Swansea in the Championship, Dyer picked up the Swansea City Supporters' Player of the Year award at the end of the 2010-2011 season.
Not even halfway into the 2011-2012 season, his unpredictable and electric style has already won him such prestigious admirers as Liverpool.
Honorable Mention: Michel Vorm
Tottenham Hotspur: Rafael van der Vaart
Just how do you pick from a Tottenham squad laden with world-class glittering talent?
In total contrast to some of my previous picks, Harry Redknapp's was perhaps the hardest to cherry-pick the cream of the crop.
We all witnessed the mouthwatering performances from midfield maestro Luka Modric and the energy injected by summer signing Scott Parker, who might just be able to provide the boost Spurs need to get to the next level.
But in the end, Rafael van der Vaart just shades it.
13 goals and eight assists in his debut season earned van der Vaart a nomination as the Premier League Player of the Year. His consistent goalscoring displays, often against top-caliber opponents, earn him the nod here ahead of the inconsistently brilliant Gareth Bale, who ended up as the league's Player of the Year of 2010-2011.
Honorable Mention: Gareth Bale
West Bromwich Albion: Youssouf Mulumbu
Defensive midfielders usually do all the dirty work and rarely get much credit.
Not so for West Brom's Youssouf Mulumbu.
Alongside 2010 summer signing Paul Scharner, Mulumbu struck up a productive and physical midfield partnership, ending the season as both the Club and the Fans' Player of the Year—and his seven goals in the 2010-2011 campaign hardly reflects a purely defensive mindset either.
He's found goals harder to come by this season, with just the solitary strike since August, but his continued fine performances at the heart of West Brom's midfield continue to justify flirtations with bigger-name clubs.
Honorable Mention: Chris Brunt
Wigan Athletic: Ali Al-Habsi
It's a measure of Wigan's performances in 2011 that their goalkeeper was their standout player.
Having spent the vast majority of the calendar year embroiled in a relegation fight—they successfully avoided the drop in May but may find things harder this time around—Wigan continue to owe a massive debt to Ali Al-Habsi and his heroic performances in the Latics goal week in, week out.
With outstanding shot-stopping ability and a commanding aerial presence, Al-Habsi has cemented himself as one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the English top flight.
And with Roberto Martinez struggling to get goals out of Wigan's attack, it looks as if Ali Al-Habsi will have to continue his one-man rescue missions for a while yet.
Honorable Mention: James McCarthy
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Steven Fletcher
10 goals in 15 starts last season. Six in nine this season.
Steven Fletcher has consistently provided the firepower for Wolves since his switch from Burnley in the summer of 2010.
His finishing prowess greatly complements the work rate and unselfishness of strike partner Kevin Doyle in one of the Premier League's most quietly effective strike partnerships.
With Wolves becoming increasingly embroiled in a battle against relegation this season, Mick McCarthy will be relying on Fletcher to continue his prolific strike-rate if they are to beat the drop.
Honorable Mention: Matt Jarvis
Your Thoughts, and Other "2011 in Review" Articles
So there you have it—my pick for each Premier League club's best player in the 2011 calendar year.
Did you agree with my picks? Or perhaps you had other players in mind? Have your say in the comments below.
I'll also be updating this page to include other interesting and related articles that are a part of our "2011 in Review" series as they come up.
To get us in a festive mood, here's a link to Tony Mabert's Top 25 Footballers in the World in 2011.
Enjoy and happy holidays!