Just past the halfway point of the Premier League, it’s time to recap the players and headlines that have defined the season.
Samir Nasri (Arsenal):
The Gunners’ 23-year-old attacking midfielder has improved dramatically this season, adding finishing power to his relentless run and silky skills. Against Fulham last month, Nasri scored a contender for the goal of the season, when he slalomed through the opposition defence before pivoting and lobbing home from an acute angle. All class.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham):
Of all players in the English league, Bale’s stocks have risen the most – to the point where Spanish giants will likely come knocking. In October, Bale scored a remarkable hat-trick against Inter Milan and hasn’t looked back. It might seem like hyperbole, but Bale could become one of the great British players.
Andy Carroll (Newcastle):
A big, powerful striker with a big mop of hair and a nose for trouble, not to mention a knack of scoring important goals. The Geordie cult figure turns 22 this week so he’ll be around for a while, scoring goals for both Newcastle and England alike.
Carlos Tevez (Man City):
The year ended with Tevez throwing his toys out of the pram and demanding a transfer from Eastlands, but whatever the depth of his dissatisfaction, Tevez has still delivered on the pitch. City remains a talented but unstable club and Tevez, the captain, has been their star performer.
Javier Hernandez (Man United):
Another young gun to emerge this season, Chicharito – Spanish for ‘Little Pea’ – achieved the remarkable feat of replacing Wayne Rooney when the latter went awol. Given United managed to sign Hernandez for just £7m – an absolute bargain compared to Rooney’s demands – United may think about making the switch more permanent.
Trouble at Chelsea:
They started like a runaway train and it looked for all the world as though the League title would be heading to Stamford Bridge for a second season on the trot. But then a rash of injuries, combined with behind-the-scenes unrest, produced roadblocks in Chelsea’s path where there had been none before. Fans will be hoping owner Roman Abramovich keeps out of it.
The Man City powder keg:
Even with all the sheikhs’ riches at their disposal, City have been unable to establish themselves as a serious, credible, pointy-end contender. Sure, they’ve played some stunning football and should finish top four, but it’s hard to imagine City creating the stability and team ethos required for real success. Robinho left and Tevez wants out. There’s something wrong at Eastlands.
Magpies take flight:
When, in May 2009, Newcastle dropped out of the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, there was much gnashing of teeth and self-flagellation. Newcastle, so the line went, were too big a club
to go down. Well, they weren’t – but they were big enough to bounce straight back up and then exceed expectations on their return to the top flight. The footnote to this resurgence, though, was the bewildering sacking of popular manager Chris Hughton in December.
Tangerines march on:
Blackpool secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time and were duly written off as the competition’s worst side to ever. Blackpool have made fools of those critics as they sit well clear of the relegation
zone. They were belted by Arsenal and Chelsea but have otherwise impressed with their commitment and composure.
– Tom Sturrock