Top 20 Most Improved Premier League Players at the Halfway Stage

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2014

Top 20 Most Improved Premier League Players at the Halfway Stage

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    We are about halfway through the Premier League season. New signings have had a chance to bed in, new managers have had time to lay out their blueprints for success, and players are stringing together some form.

    As each club looks to the January transfer window to improve upon their current stock, we take a glance at the current rosters and honour the most improved players this season.

    To qualify, each player has to have played in the Premier League for the 2012-13 season; cross-league comparisons are difficult to assess and make. It's largely a comparison of a player's form from this season and last season, so anyone who's made great strides in the past 12 months will feature highly.

20. Per Mertesacker, Arsenal

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    Per Mertesacker, like Laurent Koscielny, was excellent during the second half of the 2012-13 season, but he's stepped it up another level this time around.

    Splitting the two defenders in terms of who's best has become an insanely difficult task, as both complement each other so well and cover for each other's weaknesses.

    Koscielny doesn't appear on our list because he's been consistently excellent, but this big German is catching up fast.

19. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool

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    Raheem Sterling's stupendous performance against Stoke City on Sunday was indicative of his transition from boy to man.

    He's now a consistent menace, combining raw pace with an excellent understanding of Brendan Rodgers' system, and he remains a selfless nature in front of goal.

    This spurt of form has come at a great time for Liverpool, and fans will be hoping he doesn't burn out like last time.

18. Geoff Cameron, Stoke City

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    Geoff Cameron doesn't really want to play right-back for Stoke City, but he gets on with it anyway given the presence of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth in the squad.

    He was an understated signing and remains an understated player, but he pours his heart and soul into every game and is starting to look like an extremely solid option.

    The Potters have grabbed a good 'un here.

17. Samir Nasri, Manchester City

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    With Jesus Navas arriving to pair with David Silva this summer at Manchester City, Samir Nasri's future began to look bleak.

    But Silva's injury gave the Frenchman a chance to reassert himself, and he took it with both hands. His goal threat has improved as he's matched his 2012-13 scoring tally, and he's linking with his forwards superbly. Most recently, he has been starting ahead of Navas alongside Silva.

    Unfortunately, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's horror challenge on him has forced him to miss eight weeks, per The Guardian. Can he come back even stronger?

16. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal

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    Kieran Gibbs has managed to keep Nacho Monreal—an established, quality left-back—out of the Arsenal team all season long.

    It's a measure of his talent, but it's also indicative of the fitness struggles he's experienced throughout his career so far. He's way behind where he should be, and that's solely down to cruel injury luck.

    He's now a potent weapon moving forward. He has red-hot pace and has improved his crossing.

15. Ron Vlaar, Aston Villa

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    Ron Vlaar has been a magnificent presence at the back for Aston Villa this season, and when he's injured, it really does show.

    In the 16 games Villa have played without the Dutchman since he joined, they've accrued only 10 points while conceding an average of two goals per game.

    His injury this season coincided with four straight losses, and on his return, Paul Lambert's men kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light. He's Villa's most improved and perhaps most important player right now.

14. Danny Welbeck, Manchester United

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    Danny Welbeck scored just one league goal in the entire 2012-13 season—a statistic that, while not entirely indicative of his role at Manchester United, was used to malign his contributions regardless.

    He surpassed that tally on the opening day this season by scoring twice at the Liberty Stadium, and he's added seven more in all competitions to keep pace with some of the best in the league.

    He's a valuable weapon in buildup play, and now he's adding goals to his game.

13. Jose Fonte, Southampton

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    Southampton were horrendously suspect in defence last season, and while Dejan Lovren is a major factor in their much-improved back line, Jose Fonte has seriously upped his game, too.

    The Portuguese really should have won an international call-up by now given the state of Paulo Bento's central defensive corps. That's a marker for how well he's playing under Mauricio Pochettino.

    The consistency of the Lovren-Fonte partnership has been one of Saints' unsung plus points.

12. Olivier Giroud, Arsenal

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    Olivier Giroud had a first half to forget in the 2012-13 Premier League season, skewing shot after shot over the bar and generally cutting a disconsolate figure.

    Fast-forward to Christmas 2013, though, and he was into double figures for the season while producing some incredible all-action target-man displays.

    He leads the line superbly, works his hardest in every game and utilises clever movement to free his midfield outlets. He's intrinsic to Arsene Wenger's method.

11. Gareth Barry, Everton

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    Gareth Barry fell so harshly out of favour last season at Manchester City that Manuel Pellegrini, upon taking the reins, retained Javi Garcia ahead of him in selecting his 25.

    City's loss, though, has been Everton's gain, and the former Aston Villa stalwart has enjoyed a renaissance season during a World Cup year.

    His positional diligence allows Leighton Baines to explode offensively, his passing style suits Roberto Martinez's tempo and system, and he even chips in with the odd goal.

10. Adam Lallana, Southampton

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    Southampton fans didn't think their captain could get substantially better, but Mauricio Pochettino has truly unleashed a demon in the form of Adam Lallana.

    His silky skills and sublime touch took him to great heights in the lower leagues, but in the top tier, he's combined those talents with noteworthy awareness and tactical understanding to make himself an option for England's national team.

    There isn't a full-back he can't embarrass, and he's scoring more and more.

9. Bacary Sagna, Arsenal

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    Bacary Sagna entered the season as a serious question mark, but fast-forward six months, and Arsenal are desperate to not lose him for free.

    Every single area of his game has improved, with his crossing and aerial ability in particular coming on leaps and bounds. He currently stands as a top-three right-back in the Premier League.

    The difference between an Arsenal side with Sagna and one without is astonishing.

8. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool

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    Jordan Henderson was once a ridiculed purchase, but Brendan Rodgers has finally managed to unleash the drive and energy to his game that make him the player he is.

    He's not a percentage passer and doesn't comply to the traditional rules of a No. 10. It's best to let "Hendo" keep himself busy on the pitch and do what he does best: run, harass and pursue.

    Tactically, he's also very talented and drops into different positions and roles off the ball, which allows Rodgers to morph his formation between phases.

7. Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal

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    He still gets away with the odd near-glaring error, but this is a very different goalkeeper to the one most fans were calling for to be replaced this summer.

    The Pole has completed the transition from unwanted to one of the league's best in just five short months. He's an eccentric goalkeeper and will always make the odd mistake (Manuel Neuer does too!), but his performances this year have vindicated Arsene Wenger's trust in his talent and potential.

6. Ross Barkley, Everton

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    It's difficult to gauge Ross Barkley's progress, and he is perhaps the most contentious selection on this list.

    He played very little last season, so how do we know he wasn't this good all along? His performances at the FIFA U-20 World Cup this summer didn't match up to current form at all, but international football is a different kettle of fish.

    What is measurable, though, is his marked improvement with every game this season. He has essentially displaced Leon Osman, a seasoned veteran, in the Toffees' midfield, and that should tell you all you need to know.

5. Mathieu Debuchy, Newcastle United

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    When Mathieu Debuchy joined Newcastle United last January, fans were looking forward to seeing a marauding, established, first-class right-back dominate the flank and score goals.

    What they got was a timid, gutless version of the man who excelled in Ligue 1 for years, and legitimate concerns emerged over the defender's work ethic in the midst of a relegation battle.

    This season, though, he's been one of the league's best in his position, replicating his international and Lille form to help carry the Magpies into the top half of the table.

4. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

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    Despite being just 23 years of age, Eden Hazard finds himself with very little to improve upon.

    He has as much raw talent as anyone and has already wowed spectators with dazzling skill. But what takes a player like Hazard from Ashley Young's level to that of Ryan Giggs?*

    The answer is consistency, both in performances and in end product, and Jose Mourinho is moulding the Belgian into his very own carbon copy of Cristiano Ronaldo. It's exciting to watch his sizable progress each week.



    *Hypothetical comparison of statures, not a direct levelling of Hazard and Young's abilities.

3. Luis Suarez, Liverpool

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    Luis Suarez's 2012-13 campaign was a breakthrough due to the amount of goals he scored, but this season, he's taken that to another level.

    Despite missing the first six Premier League games of the season, he's already breached the 20-goal mark, scoring 43 percent of his side's 51 goals near the halfway point in the season.

    We didn't think he'd get much better, but he's proven us all horribly wrong.

2. Seamus Coleman, Everton

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    Seamus Coleman—or should we say, Seamus "Goalman"—has been outstanding so far this season.

    Many naysayers predicted Everton would falter in the top-four chase when Leighton Baines went down with a foot injury, but his opposite number stepped up and produced several goalscoring performances and outrageous athletic displays.

    He's a menace, he attacks and pins people back, and he's developed an eye for a goal.

1. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal

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    The media has fallen over itself in a race to praise Aaron Ramsey this season, and B/R has been no different.

    The Arsenal midfielder enjoyed a career year in 2013, with just two or three average games blotting a near-perfect annual showing.

    He emerged back in February as a real box-to-box threat, and Gooners were raving about him then. But midway through the 2013-14 season, it's evident that he's added goals to an all-action game.