With more than a fifth of the Premier League season now behind us, the table is taking shape and players have had time to get back up to speed. Some have done so significantly faster than others and really kicked on compared to their performances last season. Here are six players who have made big improvements on their showings last season.
6) Joël Matip, Liverpool
Joël Matip has enjoyed a fantastic start to the campaign, stepping out from the looming shadow of Virgil van Dijk to become our highest rated centre-back in the Premier League this season. The 28-year-old found the net in the victory over Arsenal in August, but it’s his dominance in the air at the opposite end that has improved so dramatically. The defender has won six aerial duels per 90 minutes – up from 3.9 last season – at an overall success rate of 87.8% - up from 70.2% Liverpool have only conceded six goals in their eight games so far, giving them the tightest defence in the league. Rating: 7.62, up 0.51 on last season
5) Matteo Guendouzi, Arsenal
Most Arsenal fans were encouraged by Matteo Guendouzi’s first season at the club and they will be delighted with the progress he has made so far this time around. He is now a mainstay in the side, starting every league match so far even though he only turned 20 in April. His figures for shots, key passes, dribbles, tackles and interceptions are all up from last season and that form has been noted by Didier Deschamps, who rewarded Guendouzi his first call-up to the France squad last month. Rating: 7.14, up 0.58 on last season
4) Adama Traoré, Wolves
Adama Traoré has seen a few false dawns in the past, but the 23-year old has shown signs that he is making significant strides this season – and not just in his match-winning display in Wolves’ 2-0 victory at Manchester City. End product has always been the issue for a player whose pace and power is unrivalled in the Premier League. Traoré has made 83 appearances in the Premier League for Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Wolves, but has only scored three goals in those games – and two of them came in that game at the Etihad. Although the Spaniard looks set to be a real asset to Nuno this season whether playing as part of a front three or as a rampaging wing-back. Rating: 7.21, up 0.62 on last season
3) Scott McTominay, Manchester United
This time last year it was difficult to see what Scott McTominay offered to Manchester United’s midfield. This season it’s difficult to imagine that midfield playing without him. The Scotland international has emerged as an unlikely leader from a squad dangerously lacking in strong characters on the pitch. The 22-year-old has started every league game for United this season, scoring a screamer the 1-1 draw with Arsenal and picking up his first assist for the club at Southampton in another 1-1 draw. His number of tackles he is making per 90 minutes has doubled this season, and whereas last season he created just one chance and completed just one dribble in 16 appearances, this term those figures are already at six and 11, respectively. Rating: 7.13, up 0.65 on last season
2) Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City
Having played second fiddle in much of his debut campaign at Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez has profited from Leroy Sané’s injury to become a key figure for the team this season. He has had a direct hand in five goals (two goals, three assists) in 458 minutes of league action and his use of the ball in advanced areas has improved dramatically. He is completing more dribbles and shooting less as he tries to show Pep Guardiola that he can be an effective team player rather than someone who looks to force spectacular individual moments. As such, the number of key passes (the final pass before a teammate has a shot at goal) he is providing for his team has more than doubled from 1.6 to 3.9 per 90 minutes. Rating 7.74, up 0.78 on last season
1. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
On the subject of City players who endured a difficult 2018-19 campaign, Kevin de Bruyne is one of their treble-winning squad who would have been pleased to see the back of last season. De Bruyne injured his knee in the first week of the season and, just as he had recovered from that problem, he injured his other knee in a League Cup match. He was not back in the team until around Christmas and, even when he did return, a number of niggling problems held him back from producing his best form.
Ultimately, De Bruyne provided just two goals and two assists for Manchester City in the league last season. The injuries played their part, although De Bruyne did feature in half of City’s league games. He has begun the season perfectly. He has already matched his goal return from season, scoring in victories over Brighton and Watford, and his tally of assists has quadrupled to eight in just seven appearances in the league so far this season. Tellingly, the only two games City have lost this season were the two in which De Bruyne did not start. Rating: 8.05, up 1.00 on last season
The Guardian Sport