Top Ten Surprising Successes Of The Season


Few are shocked to see Chelsea and Man City at the top of the Premier League, but we’ve found ten individuals whose success has been rather more surprising.

10) Lukasz Fabianksi
With Michel Vorm departing for Tottenham over the summer, few people believed the man nicknamed ‘Flappyhandski’ would prove to be an upgrade in the Swansea goal.

The Pole had made only 78 appearances in seven years at Arsenal, playing second fiddle to Manuel Almunia and later Wojciech Szczesny. It would be fair to say neither of his rivals for the No.1 jersey were infallible, but a series of often-comical mistakes ensured Fabianski was never able to establish himself as Arsene Wenger’s first choice.

Vorm’s move handed Fabianski his chance at the Liberty Stadium, and it is one he has taken with both hands, if you’ll excuse the pun. He is a contender to be named Swansea’s player of the season and reportedly a target for Roma. Opinions of the 29-year-old have been dramatically re-addressed.

9) Ashley Young
Despite Manchester United sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, there are relatively few feathers in the cap of Louis van Gaal right now. The form of Young, however, is one of them.

His late winner at Newcastle was his first goal in 14 months, but the statistics do not do justice to one of the few players at Old Trafford rejuvenated under Van Gaal.

He has impressed at wing-back, but it is on the wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation in United’s that Young has proven himself of greatest use. Although United were beaten, Young’s performance against Arsenal on Monday night further suggested that he is worthy of an extended run in his favoured position.

8) Jon Walters
Just as likely to feature on a list of under-appreciated, underrated players, Walters has quietly re-established himself as a crucial member of Mark Hughes’ new-look Stoke team this season. Few would have predicted at the start of the campaign, perhaps including Walters himself.

„I’m a player who wants to be playing, and if I’m not we will have to address that situation,“ Walters said last May.

After starting only one of Stoke’s final nine games last season, his comments hinted at a player that could be on the look-out for a new club over the summer. He had been undroppable under Tony Pulis and was selected in the early stages of Hughes’ reign to reach 102 consecutive Premier League starts, but the new manager’s slow transformation of the Potters’ playing style gradually led to him getting fewer opportunities.

The signings of Bojan, Victor Moses and Mame Diouf seemed to push Walters further down the pecking order and closer to the exit door, but the 31-year-old has dramatically stepped up his game.

Only five Stoke players have started more games in the league; only two have provided more assists; none have scored more goals. Walters was the archetypal Pulis player; it turns out he has pretty well suited to Hughes’ way of playing, too.

7) Garry Monk
Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins has a fine record when it comes to appointing managers, but eyebrows were raised when he put Monk in charge for the final 14 games of last season following the sacking of Michael Laudrup.

Swansea accumulated 18 points from those 14 games, with half of them coming from the last three, enough to steer them to safety but not enough to win over all of Monk’s doubters. With the squad in need of surgery, it was a big risk to place the 36-year-old, with no previous managerial experience, in permanent charge.

The signing of Fabianksi, however, was one of several excellent ones made over the summer. Allowing Ben Davies to join Spurs to get Gylfi Sigurdsson back has proven to be a masterstroke, while Ki Sung-yueng is another strong player of the season contender having been restored to the team under Monk following his season-long loan spell at Sunderland.

The fact that Swansea remain in the top half having lost Wilfried Bony to Manchester City has further highlighted that it is Monk that deserves most of the credit for the south Wales club’s impressive season. There are no doubters remaining.

6) Charlie Austin
After scoring 17 goals in 31 games in the Championship last season, it has been no surprise to see Austin emerge as the key player in QPR’s battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

A tally of 15 goals in 25 top-flight appearances is a wonderful return. Only three players in the entire league have scored more, and two of those, Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, play for the top two teams.

Austin has to work rather harder for his goalscoring chances in a struggling side, yet his tally of 4.2 shots per game is unsurpassed. He does like to shoot from distance, which partly explains that statistic, but he has also proven himself to have that supposedly untrainable knack of consistently getting into the right positions. At the top level, against top defenders, it is a talent which should not be downplayed.

His intelligent movement and finishing ability has caught the eye of Roy Hodgson, who watched him in action against Tottenham at Loftus Road on Saturday. He did not score on that occasion, but the very fact that Austin is being spoken of as an England contender is testament to a player whose improvement shows no sign of slowing.

5) Emre Can
It may not be a surprise that the £9.75m signing from Bayer Leverkusen has proven himself in the Premier League, but few would have expected him to do it in defence.

„The position was a surprise to me at first. I had never played it before, and feel more at home in midfield,“ Can said recently.

Since being introduced to the defence as a half-time substitute in Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Burnley on Boxing Day, Can has started all of the last ten Premier League games, of which Brendan Rodgers’ side have won seven and lost none.

There is certainly room for improvement for Can as a Premier League midfielder, but as a defender, only just turned 21, he has established himself as one of the Reds’ most important players in their pursuit of a second successive top four-finish. Not many would have predicted that back in August.

4) Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb
Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli. All signed for big money by Tottenham in recent seasons, yet all behind Academy graduates Mason, 23, and Bentaleb, 20, in the midfield pecking order at White Hart Lane.

Mason’s sudden emergence as a first-team player has been particularly surprising – despite making his Spurs debut in the Europa League in 2008, he had not made a single Premier League appearance until this season – but it is that he has been paired with Bentaleb that is most remarkable. The young duo have started Spurs’ last five Premier League games together, plus the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea.

The tale of Mason deserves just as much publicity as that of Harry Kane, as Daniel Storey wrote on Saturday, but the fact that Bentaleb has come back from injury to also establish himself as first choice is equally as impressive.

While some fans may have expected one or the other to prove themselves as key this season, it is doubtful anybody could have foreseen the duo heading into the business end of the season as Mauricio Pochettino’s preferred midfield pairing.

3) Jose Fonte
When Southampton were promoted to the Premier League in 2012, it was Jos Hooiveld that was viewed as the most likely of their defenders to make the step up. Fans questioned whether Fonte could cut it at the top level, and some of his early performances in the top flight justified those concerns.

He had certainly adapted by the end of that season but, although he went on to form an excellent partnership with Dejan Lovren in 2013-14, many feared for Southampton once Lovren, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and co. departed for pastures new.

Fonte therefore deserves special praise for the key role he has played in a fantastic campaign for Ronald Koeman’s men. While a number of Koeman’s summer signings stole headlines at various points earlier in the season, Fonte has been the team’s most consistently outstanding performer.

2) Francis Coquelin
„It is a surprise to everybody.“ Those were the words of Arsene Wenger last week regarding the emergence of Coquelin as a first-team player for Arsenal.

With his contract due to expire at the end of the season, Coquelin must have thought his chance had passed when he was loaned to Charlton in November. Indeed, Wenger admitted the Frenchman was not happy when he was recalled from The Valley amid an injury crisis, believing he would act simply as cover on the Gunners’ bench. He’s currently on a run of ten consecutive Premier League starts.

He is not just filling in, either. Mathieu Flamini has been fit since the second week of January but has started only two games since then, both in the FA Cup as Coquelin was afforded a rest. Having started the season in the last-chance saloon, the 23-year-old was halfway through the exit door by December yet now finds himself Wenger’s first-choice defensive midfielder with a new contract signed and sealed.

1) Harry Kane
After spending spells on loan at Leyton Orient and Millwall in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Kane was handed a chance to prove himself in the Premier League when he joined Norwich on a season-long loan in August 2012.

Kane broke his metatarsal in only his second appearance for the Canaries and was eventually recalled by Tottenham in January having failed to score in five games. When he then failed to establish himself at Leicester in the Championship having been loaned out yet again, Kane’s career looked like it was going nowhere fast.

Three goals in his first three Premier League starts for the club under Tim Sherwood last season was a hint of his potential but, still, nobody could have predicted what was to follow this season.

Kane boasts a record of 16 goals in 18 Premier League starts this season, making him the league’s third highest goalscorer, just one behind Costa and Aguero. In total he has scored an incredible 24 goals in just 31 starts and substitute appearances.

Perhaps what makes Kane’s success most remarkable, most surprising, is that it’s hard to pinpoint his greatest strength. He is not incredibly quick, does not provide the sort of physical presence that Adebayor does, and is skillful but hardly stands out in that respect. Even as he began to score regularly in the Premier League, many dismissed it as a lucky streak of a young man playing with confidence and without fear. The doubters are becoming less vocal.