Certainly, it would be a misstep to construct too loquacious a narrative while only a third of the way through this current Premier league season. Even more misguided would be to conduct a fictitious awards ceremony at this point; it would be silly in the extreme to do this, to figuratively present some small, gold-plated statuettes of, say, Emmanuel Adebayor, that notorious fast-starter and slow-finisher, who makes such a glowing impression at first, but then leaves whatever club he’s at in utter ignominy. I mean, what can you tangibly draw from a football season of which two-thirds remain? The barest, frayed threads of a footballing tapestry, only the most preparatory strokes of the 2014/15 Premier League portrait. Were we to begin chronicling this season now, we’d risk having to include a From Dusk Till Dawn-style, whiplash-inducing change in direction if, for example, Sergio Aguero’s season was ended next week by some horrific injury and, to fill the void, Roberto Soldado suddenly began scoring 3 goals a game from now until June. Already fingers have been burned by over-zealous story-telling; remember when Burnley were going to break Derby’s lowest points record? And when Alan Pardew was one Mike Ashley fart, maliciously aimed in his general direction, away from being sacked? And what about Chelsea having an invincible season, eh? I mean, how fanciful, how absurdly presumptuous, they’ve surely lost by now, let’s just have a look at the resul… ah.
But on the other hand, it might be an interesting exercise to ignore the sound, rather self-indulgent reasoning written above, and do exactly the thing that the antecedent block of digital text is warning us against doing, because why not? Letters and symbols displayed via an electronic display don’t control my life, they shouldn’t dictate the actions I take, except when I get a text message, or when the green man tells me to cross the road, or when I use an ATM, or when I’ve put an unexpected item in the bagging area. So let’s get on with the ceremony, and hand out the Premier League So Far Awards, known informally as The Addy’s, to the deserving (so far) winners.
Player of the Season, so far: Sergio Aguero
He leads the league in scoring, having bagged a phenomenal 14 goals in 14 games. He’s had more shots than any other striker, and has had an incredible 59 shots from inside the box so far this season, 14 ahead of the next best player. He’s the most lethal attacking weapon in the country, and has kept his team, one that has laboured collectively at times, within a sniff of the leaders, Chelsea. Already he’s had two god-like exhibitions; his stupendous 4-goal haul against Spurs, and his prodigious hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The latter showing, in particular, could already be marked down as the most important individual performance of City’s season, single-handedly reversing their seemingly doomed European campaign. Edin Dzeko can be too hot and cold, Steven Jovetic’s flashes have been sporadic, and with Alvaro Negredo on loan in Spain, Aguero is City’s lone top-class striker. That he has risen to this considerable challenge and carried the goal-scoring responsibilities (and without David Silva for the last 5 league games) makes him even more worthy of this lovely Addy statuette. There have been a handful of other star performers, but Aguero, City’s gleaming stiletto blade, poison-tipped and pinpoint accurate, has been the most consistently impressive… so far.
Most Improved Player, so far: Stewart Downing
There was a period, not so long ago, when Stewart Downing’s stock was so low, so abysmally unwanted, it almost had a negative value. As an assets in the football marketplace, he had become toxic, like a Detroit subprime mortgage. His very presence had rendered Kenny Dalglish’s ill-advised (and ill-executed) second spell in charge of Liverpool insolvent, and he was offloaded in fire-sale style, to Sam Allardyce and West Ham. Initially brought in exclusively as a crossing machine, sent out onto the pitch with the specific mandate of sending bombs flying into airspace that might also be co-inhabited by Andy Carroll’s forehead, Downing did not flourish in his first full season as a Hammer. In fact it was quite the opposite, in 32 league matches he scored 1 goal and provided 1 assist. He was 163rd in the league in terms of passes. He created only 62 chances and won only 48% of his duels. Almost no one, save a few Middlesbrough fossils, considered him a player of any especially noteworthy talent any more, let alone a player within range of an England call up.
This season, in only 13 matches, he has scored 2 goals and provided 5 assists. He is 60th in the league in terms of passes made. Already he’s created 40 chances, and made more key passes than anyone in the league. He’s winning 51% of his duels and is, statistically speaking, one of the most productive midfielders in England. It is, simply, a stunning turnaround. His renaissance has come about, not coincidentally, with West Ham’s remarkable surge up the table; they are the most improved side in the league, +14 points better off than this time last season. His outstanding form has merited inclusion in the most recent England squad, due rewards for his form of late. The resurgence can also be linked to the fact that he’s been played in a central position by Allardyce this season, which has turned out to be, somewhat surprisingly, a very good fit for Downing. Well done, Stewart, that Addy will look fine on the mantle.
Manager of the Season, so far: Ronald Koeman
It’s strange that a manager as journeyed as Ronald Koeman, as intimately acquainted with clubs such as Ajax, Benfica, Valencia, PSV and Feyenoord, should be met with such caution on his arrival in England. Koeman managed all of these clubs before he arrived at Southampton. He’d won the Copa del Rey with Valencia (their first in 8 years) and won the Eredivisie with Ajax and PSV, so why shouldn’t he be expected to be occupying third place at this point in the season? Well, a lot of reasons actually.
Southampton were in the relegation conversation before the season kicked off, and it was because they’d experienced a remarkable exodus of first team talent over the summer. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren went to Liverpool. Calum Chambers went to Arsenal. Luke Shaw went to Manchester United. And then, to make room for Koeman, exalted manager Mauricio Pochettino went to Tottenham Hotspur. On top of the officially departed, Morgan Schneiderlin and the injured Jay Rodriguez were making all sorts of impatient harumphing, glancing around at all the new faces, then at the door, both worrying about the upcoming campaign. So that made it 5 first teamers gone, 1 manager gone, 1 injured top scorer, and 1 wantaway Frenchman, and a host of untested new signings. The ingredients for rapid decline were there.
But Koeman refused to allow it. He recruited excellently, with Graziano Pelle, Fraser Forster and Dusan Tadic instant hits. He chaperoned the youngsters who were still at the club, James Ward-Prowse (now unfortunately injured) and Nathaniel Clyne, into the space that had been vacated by the outgoing stars. Clyne’s super form this season has rightly merited an England call up. He used the loan system to his advantage, borrowing Ryan Bertrand, who has been outstanding and ever-present in what is still the league’s best defence. And he’s even managed to transform players who, last season, were lacklustre and goal-shy into constant threats; Victor Wanyama created only 7 chances last season, and didn’t score a goal. This season he’s scored 3 already, and has created 6 chances so far. Though their 3-0 loss to City exposed that the gap between them and the genuine title challengers is still a large one, the improvement that Koeman has overseen, amid all the player exchange, deserves rapturous commendation, as well as this Addy.
Biggest Flop, so far: Dejan Lovren
Liverpool challenged for the title last season on the back of Luis Suarez’s goals. They lost the title because their terrible defending proved too heavy an anchor. When Luis Suarez left, he took 30 or so goals with him, and suddenly the ‘out-score the opposition’ game plan became wholly unworkable. When Daniel Agger quietly went back to Denmark, the wailing need for a central defender was notched up to ear-splitting levels, such was the dearth of quality in that area. Dejan Lovren, off the back of a good season with Southampton, was brought in for £20 million, and the words of Brendan Rodgers accompanied him;
“He’s aggressive, he goes and attacks the ball,” the Reds boss said.
“He’s a good character and he can play.
“But first and foremost a defender has to be able to defend and he can defend.”
Oh, Brendan, you may have jinxed it there with that last quote. Lovren has been largely awful so far this season, committing more defensive errors than any other player in the league. He has been repeatedly bullied by opposing centre forwards, notably Bobby Zamora and Diego Costa, and has seemed a mere shadow of the player he was at Southampton. It was tempting to award this Addy to another Liverpool import, Mario Balotelli, but his own lack of prosperity this term is easily explained by the fact that his static, focal-point style is highly ill-fitting in Rodgers’ system. No such excuse is there for Lovren, who is very familiar with Liverpool’s pass-out-from-the-back system, a system that Southampton used, and for whom there is no physical reason to be dominated by a player as permanently crocked as Bobby Zamora. After agitating for a move to Merseyside, the errors and uncertainty that plagued the Croatian at Lyon have crept unannounced back into his game this season, and his poor form has coincided with Liverpool’s marked decline; they’ve conceded two more goals than at this point last season. He was brought in to sure up the back four, to lead, to command. He has done the exact opposite, and now he’s got an Addy.
Here ends Part 1, and now there’ll be a small intermission. But stay tuned for the next instalments, where we’ll hand out the Addys for Biggest Comeback, Best Goal, Team of the Season, Foul of the Year, Outstanding Brain-Snap, Save of the Year, Most Underrated Player and much more!