Premier League Player Rankings: Costa and Cesc In, Lukaku and Ighalo in Trouble
The FA Cup stole the limelight the weekend before last, so the Premier League responded with a double whammy of action, featuring a full midweek slate in addition to a Saturday-Sunday-Monday triple hit. As a result, there are some big movements and four new entrants—and a new No. 1.
The rankings are based on players' last six games, with slightly more emphasis placed on their most recent outing. Only Premier League performances are counted, and typically, one-week wonders do not find their way in (for example: Sergio Aguero is not in the rankings yet because he's only just returned from injury).
We look beyond the statistical measures and into the performance, reviewing tape and gauging impact.
It's not just goals, assists and heroic clearances that impress. It's about how a player contributes to the tactical plan at hand and what impact he has over a 90-minute period.
Take a look and see if you agree with our selections, and if you feel like we've missed anyone, let us know in the comments section below.
Marc Albrighton, Leicester City: Has fizzled out as Leicester's attack has.
James Collins, West Ham United: Finally relented this week, and therefore so did West Ham.
Jonny Evans, West Bromwich Albion: Unable to prevent the shipping of five goals in two games.
Bojan Krkic, Stoke City: Completely nullified by Mathieu Flamini.
20. Muhamed Besic, Everton
Last Week: Unranked
Muhamed Besic has shot into life in 2016, coming into the Everton XI in place of injured soldiers and really carving out a role for himself.
Toffees fans fear he will drop back to the bench as soon as James McCarthy recovers from injury, but surely he's done enough to win a consistent role in the short term?
Martinez does have his favourites, granted, but Besic's slick ball-playing presence has so far held Tom Cleverley at arm's length and that could extend to the Irishman too.
Besic's expansive game and clipped passes delight the fans, making him a genuine crowd favourite, and his full array was seen against both Manchester City and Chelsea.
19. Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City
Last Week: Unranked
With Vincent Kompany dogged by injury problems, much has been made of Manchester City's inability to keep clean sheets. The statistics make for quite a galling read, actually.
But Otamendi has begun stepping to the fore in every fixture, and City's last two games (against Everton and Crystal Palace) have both seen zero goals conceded.
The Argentinian is leading the line, clearing everything with his hammer of a forehead and putting his body on the line.
18. Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea
Last Week: Unranked
Alert! Alert! Cesc Fabregas has scored a goal!
The Spaniard spent the entirety of 2015 in hibernation, but he came alive against Crystal Palace in early January on a soaking wet Selhurst Park pitch.
Rediscovering his passing range and through-ball ability—thanks in part to John Obi Mikel's presence alongside him—he's now moving through the gears quickly and setting up lots of chances.
A goal and an assist at the weekend was a just reward for his positive play over the last three weeks. Blues fans will hope he finds this sort of form consistently over 2016.
17. Diego Costa, Chelsea
Last Week: Unranked
We get the impression Diego Costa wasn't enjoying playing his second season under Jose Mourinho. Why? Because since the Portuguese was sacked, Costa has been on fire.
With four goals and two assists in his last four Premier League showings, he's more than deserving of his entry into our top 20. In three of those games, he was a strong contender for man of the match across the board.
If Costa can stay fit—and that's a big if—and continue to fire in such fashion, the Blues will be flying up the table under Guus Hiddink.
16. Erik Lamela, Tottenham Hotspur
Last Week: 15
Erik Lamela continues to epitomise Mauricio Pochettino's hard-working, high-energy Tottenham Hotspur system, but he fell under the microscope this week for the wrong reasons.
He missed two big chances against Leicester City, and they would go on to cost the team as Robert Huth headed home late on to give the Foxes a true smash-and-grab victory.
His goalscoring isn't quite there even if his approach play is, and he moves down one spot as a result.
15. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
Last Week: 10
Despite Manchester City procuring four points from two games and keeping two clean sheets in the process, some of their players had a rough week on the pitch. Kevin De Bruyne was one of them.
Usually so full of bustling energy and so creative in the final third, nothing really came off for him as a touch of fatigue has started to set in.
City absolutely poleaxed Crystal Palace at the weekend, but it was all via Fabian Delph, David Silva and Sergio Aguero; De Bruyne was strangely quiet.
14. Yaya Toure, Manchester City
Last Week: 17
Yaya Toure has quietly crept back into form over the past six weeks and, over the last seven days, has produced some magical moments on the football pitch.
He's been playing with Fabian Delph and Fernando rather than his usual partner in Fernandinho, but that hasn't changed anything.
He delivered a "30-minute masterclass," per Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News against Crystal Palace and controlled proceedings in the previous game against Everton.
13. Fernandinho, Manchester City
Last Week: 11
Fernandinho was injured for both of Manchester City's last two games and did not partake. He's been sent on a mini-winter break, per the Evening Standard, and should come back rejuvenated and fresh as a result.
12. Gerard Deulofeu, Everton
Last Week: 12
Gerard Deulofeu is the only player in the top 20 who is in exactly the same spot as last week. It's been a tumultuous edition with 19 movers, droppers and new entrants, but the Spaniard finds himself stock-still.
His week of football was rather mixed; he played just 70 minutes against Manchester City, once again sparking questions over just how durable and fit he is, and he then predictably started on the bench against Chelsea—but did come off it to send in a peach of a ball for Ramiro Funes Mori to knock home.
11. Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur
Last Week: 15
So Dele Alli didn't score this week, but he did put in a fantastic performance against Sunderland and worked hard, as usual, against Leicester City.
He may be seen chiefly as a goal threat to many, but it's his midfield movement and ability to interchange that impresses the most.
He and Mousa Dembele switch around effortlessly to pull players out of position and create space, and it's no wonder Alli often finds Frank Lampard-esque scoring chances falling to him.
10. Bacary Sagna, Manchester City
Last Week: 13
Bacary Sagna's dominance over the right-back spot in Manchester City's XI may finally be slipping a little.
Despite a good performance and a clean sheet against Everton, Pablo Zabaleta returned to the setup against Crystal Palace and looked good in a 4-0 win.
Fans will be delighted they have two legitimate options for the position once again, but Manuel Pellegrini won't enjoy having to pick between them.
Sagna has essentially been the Premier League's best right-back this season, though, so he should have enough to stave off the challenge a little while longer.
9. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City
Last Week: 5
Riyad Mahrez has suddenly gone oh so quiet, struggling to impact games positively and failing to influence the pattern of play.
His missed penalty against Aston Villa essentially cost Leicester City two points—the Foxes would have gone 2-0 up and likely sucked the fight out of the Premier League's basement club—and Claudio Ranieri has told him to "take a little break" from spot-kick duty, per Sky Sports.
Given how consistently excellent he has been, a drop-off this severe has shocked a few.
8. Romelu Lukaku, Everton
Last Week: 4
Romelu Lukaku moves down four places after struggling in two consecutive games.
He was ineffectual against Manchester City and made a meal of most long passes directed his way, struggling to make it stick and putting his team on the back foot for long periods as a result.
Against Chelsea—his former club—nothing went his way, and despite the fact Everton scored three in that game, Lukaku was a peripheral figure.
7. N'Golo Kante, Leicester City
Last Week: 8
N'Golo Kante was not his rumbustious self this past week, toning things down by 10 percent or so, but that still makes him one of the busiest, most effective players in the Premier League.
Against Tottenham Hotspur, he buzzed about shutting off avenues out of possession, helping earn a valuable clean sheet, and against Aston Villa, he cleared a lot of crosses after taking up excellent positions.
He appeared to lack sharpness in possession at Villa Park, but we can forgive him for that due to the other outstanding parts to his game.
6. Ross Barkley, Everton
Last Week: 9
Everton managed two draws against Manchester City and Chelsea this week—a feat Roberto Martinez should be proud of. They had to work hard to earn them and show plenty of grit and determination in grinding them out.
As a result, the attacking options in the Toffees' ranks struggled to put together strong patches of play, but Ross Barkley was a consistent threat pushing forward with the ball and made some good decisions.
He didn't hit the dizzying heights of late, sure, but it was an impressive week for the Englishman.
5. Odion Ighalo, Watford
Last Week: 5
Odion Ighalo drops from second to fifth after coming up empty in two consecutive games. His moment in the sun is over for now, it seems.
Against Swansea City on Monday, he struggled mightily to assert himself in the game—Federico Fernandez and Ashley Williams won the physical battle—while against Southampton, he tried a trademark "Ighalo scoop" only to be stopped by a highly anticipatory Ryan Bertrand.
It's not all his fault—the Hornets as a whole have collapsed, the service isn't there—but a pair of 5/10 performances isn't a good look for one of the league's form players.
4. Mousa Dembele, Tottenham Hotspur
Last Week: 7
Mousa Dembele returned from a three-game absence (all competitions) to dominate Sunderland on Saturday. It is simply no surprise to see him running games with ease at the moment.
The Black Cats couldn't get near him as he spearheaded an impressive 4-1 victory, completing 91 percent of his passes, per WhoScored.com, and netting the go-ahead goal in the second half, ultimately crushing Sunderland's resistance.
We talk of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Tottenham's other impressive youngsters, but Dembele's re-emergence has been the biggest storyline of them all this season.
3. Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham Hotspur
Last Week: 6
Toby Alderweireld is a tad fortunate to move up in the Premier League player rankings this week, benefitting from those around him and above him struggling in gameweeks 21 and 22.
Robert Huth's free header from a corner led Leicester City to a victory at White Hart Lane on Wednesday and it's arguable he was Alderweireld's man. It's not like him to surrender any quarters during set pieces, so this lapse was a shock.
But against Sunderland, he was predictably excellent, marshalling a high line and quelling counter-attacks with ease. There's no doubt he's been one of the most consistent players in the Premier League this season.
2. Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Last Week: 1
Mesut Ozil missed Sunday's draw with Stoke City due to a nagging injury complaint, and while his creative influence was missed, Olivier Giroud received ample chances to put Arsenal ahead but squandered them all.
He was present for the 3-3 draw against Liverpool but was strangely quiet, producing one stunning touch to kill a ball into his path—causing the Anfield crowd to gasp as a whole—but failing to procure a trademark assist.
As a result, he moves off top spot.
1. Jamie Vardy, Leicester City
Last Week: 3
Jamie Vardy is perhaps a touch fortunate to move back into the No. 1 position, but with Mesut Ozil, Odion Ighalo, Romelu Lukaku and Riyad Mahrez all failing to impress, there's very little choice in the matter.
Vardy was ineffective against Tottenham Hotspur in midweek as Leicester City recorded a rather fortunate victory at White Hart Lane, but he did cause Aston Villa fits by running the channels on Saturday.
His lobbed attempt in the first half forced Mark Bunn into an outrageous save but did eventually lead to Shinji Okazaki's opening strike, and he escaped Jores Okore's attention twice more, forcing a desperate clearance that nearly ended in an own goal and a yellow card for Bunn.
In a week of sparing quality from the top order, it's enough to lift him to the summit.