Handing out half-time gongs

Now that the Premier League is officially at its halfway point, what better time to dole out some festive imaginary awards?

Handing out half-time gongs


Chelsea have a number of credible contenders but in truth their collective effort has trumped individual brilliance. It’s not that they haven’t had exceptional performers, they have. It’s just that no one player has stood out.

Thibaut Courtois has stepped seamlessly into Petr Cech’s shoes, John Terry is, in the eyes of Jose Mourinho, back to his 2004 to 2006 level, Cesc Fabregas has made 13 assists already this season, while Diego Costa, having netted 13 times in the league, has provided the cutting edge the Blues so badly lacked last season.

That’s before the contributions of Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic or Branislav Ivanovic are considered.

Elsewhere, David De Gea’s consistent brilliance has rescued Manchester United time after time while Wayne Rooney has enjoyed a stellar five months.

Alexis Sanchez has almost singlehandedly kept Arsenal in the hunt for a top-four spot, while Charlie Austin has been on a similar one-man operation to keep QPR out of the relegation zone.

On balance, the player who has performed best so far this season is Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. Despite missing most of December through injury, no player has scored more Premier League goals than his tally of 14. His breathtaking early-season form was crucial, coming at a time when many of his team-mates were struggling badly for form and Chelsea looked likely to cruise to the title. Thanks to Aguero, what might have been a procession now looks a genuine race.


Plenty of contenders right from the opening weekend when Andre Schurrle applied the final touch to 25-pass team goal that saw an assist to die for from Fabregas. Aguero’s second against QPR stands out too as the Argentine took instant control of a long ball from Yaya Toure, rounded keeper Rob Green and, with the three defenders diving in front of him, dinked the ball over the line. Enner Valencia’s bullet in West Ham’s win at Burnley stands out as the best header of the season.

In the final analysis, the best goal, albeit in a losing cause, was scored by Angel Di Maria in Manchester United’s 5-3 defeat to Leicester. Found by Rooney, there seemed little on as two Leicester defenders closed in. That was when Di Maria produced a magical chip that left Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel helpless and evoked memories of Karel Poborsky’s famous Euro 96 goal for the Czech Republic against Portugal.


That Jozy Altidore features in this section will surprise no-one. The hapless striker has scored a miserable tally of two goals in nearly 70 Premier League and his miss in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with West Ham illustrated why. The goal was at the American’s mercy but his effort from just three yards out inadvertently turned out to be a magnificent clearance. Honourable mentions go to Sanchez for failing to apply the finishing touch to brilliant run by hitting the post with the goal gaping against Stoke, and Wes Morgan for his horrible miss in Leicester City’s recent defeat to Tottenham.


De Gea has made a selection of outstanding saves throughout the season, most notably against Everton when, having already thwarted Leighton Baines from the penalty spot, he denied Leon Osman and then Bryan Oviedo with two stoppage-time saves.

Courtois has also excelled, with his save from Aguero a standout moment.

But the award goes to Joe Hart for a stunning — and vital — save to deny Everton’s Samuel Eto’o in Manchester City’s 1-0 win earlier this month. Eto’o couldn’t have met his volley any sweeter but Hart stretched magnificently to get a strong left hand to the ball and divert it for a corner.


De Gea’s performance in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Everton have already been mentioned but his heroics in that game and, to a lesser extent in the wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, make him a credible contender.

Sanchez produced a number of superb displays for Arsenal, albeit against lesser lights like Burnley and, more recently, QPR.

Ultimately, the gong goes to Sergio Aguero for his performance in Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Tottenham. Aguero scored all four and missed a penalty in a scintillating performance.


In a post-World Cup, you’d expect that the best games of the season would not have come in August or September. That, though, has not been the case.

Week three of the campaign saw Chelsea hit Everton for six in a nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park. It was an early statement that the Chelsea class of 2014/15 were going to be ruthless bunch and a sign of the defensive problems that would undermine Everton in the months ahead.

In September, Arsenal and Manchester City played out a 2-2 draw that, in the second half in particular, was utterly compelling. But the game of the first half of the season came a week later at the King Power Stadium. Twice Manchester United lead by two goals but Leicester City struck four times in an astonishing 21-minute period to seal an incredible 5-3 win. It was the first time in 853 Premier League matches that United let a two-goal lead turn into a defeat.


Three games stand out. The first came on week two when Everton led Arsenal 2-0 before switching off and allowing the Gunners claim an unlikely point thanks to goals from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in the final seven minutes.

Leicester City’s 5-3 win over United also warrants consideration but in the final analysis it’s impossible to look beyond QPR’s win over West Brom when a stunning Charlie Austin hat-trick turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 victory.


Only one contender here. Given their bright start to the season most people would have fancied Southampton to beat Sunderland at home. Few, though, could have anticipated the massacre that would follow as the Saints, inspired by Dusan Tadic, hammered the Black Cats 8-0. A result that forced the whole league to take note.


Mario Balotelli is the obvious option but, in truth, you could make a case for just about every player Liverpool signed in the summer, the likes of Dejan Lovren and Emre Can have been desperately disappointing.

But, given he cost Manchester City €40m, the biggest disappointment has been centre back Eliaquim Mangala. He began his spell brilliantly, produced a colossal display in the draw with Chelsea but it’s been downhill ever since. Considering City’s problems complying with Financial Fair Play, it looks money very badly spent.


No shortage of options here with Costa and Sanchez both hitting the ground running to justify the hefty investments made by Chelsea and Arsenal respectively. Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle at Southampton and Diafra Sakho and Aaron Cresswell at West Ham also warrant consideration but for his skill, tenacity and impact, the award has to go to Sanchez. A snip at £35m.


The choice here has to be Gylfi Sigurdsson, who looks unrecognisable from the player that toiled so listlessly at Tottenham. Honourable mentions go to Stewart Downing, who has benefited dramatically from being moved off the wing to a more central role, at West Ham, and Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.


A tricky one. A compelling case can be made for Jose Mourinho on the basis of his brilliant summer business and the fact Chelsea are fighting on four fronts. But in the context of what was anticipated before the start of the season, the choice has to be Sam Allardyce at West Ham or Ronald Koeman at Southampton.

Allardyce was among the favourites to be the first manager sacked but has West Ham playing a brand of stylish football completely at odds with his reputation. Koeman took charge of Southampton at a time when they were haemorrhaging players but, like Allardyce and Mourinho, the Dutchman spent wisely, and with the Saints currently occupying fourth spot, he just gets the nod.


Like his team, he hasn’t scaled the heights he hit last season but Seamus Coleman remains ahead of club-mate James McCarthy as the most influential Irish player in the Premier League. Another Everton man, Aiden McGeady, netted the best Irish goal of the season so far, a precision finish in the 2-2 draw with Leicester. Shane Long is the highest placed Irishman in the division but in truth, has been little more than a bit-part player at Southampton and needs to contribute far more to justify his £12m fee.

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