So, the curtain has been drawn on another Premier League season (they come and go so fast, it seems) in what has been one of the most enthralling and unpredictable campaigns in the format’s 22 year history.
There was the four-way race for the title (though including Arsenal amongst that quartet is a little generous), the battle for the Champions League between Everton and erm… Arsenal, Tim Sherwood’s week-to-week breakdowns, Southampton’s soon-to-be excessively-overpriced English talent, Newcastle’s mid-season capitulation (and head-butting manager), Stoke City’s tiki-taka revolution and 10 other teams (that I’m too lazy to list) changing managers every couple of weeks in a desperate – and often embarrassing – attempt to avoid the dreaded drop.
Oh, and did I mention Manchester United finished seventh? Yes, it was a crazy year.
By now you would have heard, read and even developed your own opinion (if you’re particularly sad) on the season’s top performers. Luis Suarez, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, Steven Gerrard – you get the idea.
But spare a thought for those who didn’t get a mention. Those individuals who flew under the radar this season and perhaps didn’t get a two-minute analysis attributed to them on Match of the Day or make Garth Crook’s prestigious Team of the Week.
Here are eight players who deserve more credit than they actually received.
When Everton signed Gareth Barry on loan from Manchester City it probably wasn’t the most well received transfer dealing of the summer window. Barry, coming towards the twilight of his career, wasn’t getting any quicker (mind you, he was never that quick) and was a player seemingly on the decline given his reduced role with the national side.
However, the 33-year-old’s reading of the game, clever passing and partnership with midfield partner James McCarthy has provided the bedrock of a new and expansive brand of football under boss Roberto Martinez. With his contract at City up in the summer, it would be a shock if the Blues weren’t to tie Barry up on a permanent deal.
After a relatively slow start to his life as a Swans player, the best compliment you can pay Wilfried Bony is that there has been little mention of last season’s star performer – Michu. With the Spaniard’s dip in form and recurring injury problems, the stocky Ivorian has helped fill the void. With 25 goals in 47 matches, Bony’s has managed a mightily impressive 13 Premier League goals in the calendar year – helping Garry Monk’s team avoid relegation with important goals against Arsenal, Newcastle and Aston Villa.
If you’re the wrong side of 30 and pace isn’t your biggest asset then life as a Premier League centre-back can be pretty daunting.
For Martin Demichelis it was exactly that during his initial tenure at the heart of Manchester City’s defence. The experienced Argentine has shown his class over recent months, though, forming a formidable partnership with club captain Vincent Kompany and vindicating Manuel Pellegrini’s faith in his former Malaga player.
David De Gea
It’s difficult for any Manchester United player to come out of the 2013/14 season with their reputation enhanced – but if there is one that deserves some plaudits it is goalkeeper David De Gea. Another much-maligned performer during his early days at Old Trafford (there’s a lesson in there somewhere), De Gea has evolved his all-round game enormously since his arrival from Atletico Madrid. No longer just a flamboyant shot-stopper, De Gea has the presence to command his penalty area and eradicated the lapses in concentration from his game.
Seemingly out of his way of Anfield at the beginning of the last campaign, the transformation in the fortunes of Jordan Henderson has been quite remarkable. The former England Under-21 captain has gone from unwanted to indispensable in the eyes of manager Brendan Rodgers. It is unsurprising then that Liverpool’s end-of-season wobbles against Chelsea and Crystal Palace coincided with Henderson’s absence from the team. The midfielder’s drive, boundless energy and creativity in the final third was instrumental in the Reds’ unexpected title charge.
While the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva have taken much of the spotlight, it’s important not to understate that value of Samir Nasri’s contribution to Manchester City’s second title in two seasons. Given the arrival of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas in the summer, many expected Nasri’s first team opportunities to be limited this time around. However, the Frenchman has flourished under Pellegrini and returned seven goals and nine assists during the course of the Premier League season.
Following a more than respectable season with Southampton, it was a little bit surprising that coach Mauricio Pochettino felt the need to let Jason Puncheon leave St Marys. And, as it turned out, the 27-year-old proved to be an excellent addition for Crystal Palace and their subsequent revival under Tony Pulis. With seven goals to his name in 2014 (including winners against Stoke, Hull and Aston Villa), Puncheon has done more than most in a Palace shirt to haul the Eagles into an 11th place finish.
Many will argue that the reason Liverpool fell short of an unprecedented Premier League title was the 50 goals conceded by an often leaky and disorganised backline. That is, of course, a key contributory factor. However, while central defender Martin Skrtel had his share of mishaps (most notably the four goals he put through his own net), generally the Slovak provided a solid last line of defence – flourishing in his ability to read, anticipate and snuff out danger in typical no-nonsense fashion.
Then there were the goals. Skrtel was a constant menace from set pieces (not just in his own area) and chipped in with seven goals for Liverpool in the Premier League – the highest from any defender in the division. And two more than a certain £50m striker.