With the Premier League season officially at the halfway point, we’re handing out some hardware, looking at the good, bad, and ugly from the opening 19 matches of the campaign.
Best player: Virgil van Dijk
That £75-million fee continues to look like a steal every week. Virgil van Dijk isn’t exclusively responsible for Liverpool’s impenetrable defense – the Reds have conceded a league-best seven goals this season through 19 matches – but he’s the anchor of a backline that has featured a rotating cast of characters alongside him. Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, and Joel Matip have all slotted in beside the towering Dutchman, who exudes a sense of calm and control that has Liverpool supporters ready to believe in the prospect of seeing their club capture a first-ever domestic title in the Premier League era.
Honorable mention: Eden Hazard
Most important player: Fernandinho
It may not be flashy – such is the life of a defensive midfielder – but Fernandinho’s role at the heart of the Manchester City machine is absolutely vital. The Brazilian, 33, is the link between the defense and attack, and, more importantly, is the shield that protects the backline. He always seems to be in the correct position to cut out a potential opposition counterattack, which is invaluable for a side like City that dictate pace and possession. It’s no coincidence that Pep Guardiola’s men have lost their last two matches – falling seven points adrift of Liverpool in the process – with the Brazilian out of the lineup. City simply don’t have a direct replacement for Fernandinho.
Honorable mention: David De Gea
Best signing: Lucas Torreira
Lucas Torreira’s combination of insatiable bite and crafty passing ability is precisely what Arsenal have long been crying out for in the center of the pitch. His move from Sampdoria, for a reported £27 million, screamed “slam dunk” when it was announced, and the 22-year-old has actually gone out and exceeded expectations for Unai Emery. Slowly integrated into the squad, the feisty Uruguayan midfielder is now firmly established not only as a mainstay in the starting XI but as a fan favorite at the Emirates.
Honorable mention: Alisson
Worst signing: Fred
Woof. Arriving at Old Trafford for a reported £53-million fee from Shakhtar Donetsk, the Brazilian was supposed to be the complementary piece that solidified Manchester United’s midfield, thus allowing Paul Pogba to have more freedom to get forward and take over matches. Fast forward a few months, and he’s largely been stapled to the bench, making just seven Premier League starts. Hopefully for the 25-year-old, Jose Mourinho being out of the picture helps to turn his fortunes around.
(Dis)honorable mention: Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Most pleasant surprise: Bournemouth’s Wilson-Fraser-Brooks triumvirate
An oft-injured striker, a 5-foot-3 winger, and a baby-faced midfielder who looks like he’s about 12 years old isn’t exactly what you think of when trying to craft an exciting attacking triumvirate, but that’s exactly the makeup of the trio that has powered Bournemouth this season: Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, and David Brooks have already combined for 17 goals and 14 assists on the campaign. The English striker, thriving after recovering from multiple ACL tears, earned his first England cap in 2018, scoring on his debut; only Eden Hazard has more assists in the Premier League this year than Fraser, the diminutive Scottish international; Brooks’ breakout season has seen him linked with the likes of Tottenham.
Honorable mention: James Maddison
Biggest flop: Jose Mourinho
We should have known it would end like this. Jose Mourinho had already begun morphing into the same miserable curmudgeon he always seems to become before his third season at Manchester United even began, but he somehow kicked things into another gear at the tail end of 2018. His sacking was inevitable. He racked up a meager 26 points over 17 matches – United’s worst start to a season in 28 years – and consistently put forth a dour product that was horrid to watch. His antics, and, indeed, his brand of football, is grating even when his club is winning. When he’s losing, though, it’s downright impossible to put up with.
Honorable mention: Fulham
Best young player: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Crystal Palace will need a miracle to keep hold of Aaron Wan-Bissaka through the summer of 2019. The 21-year-old right-back has been one of the breakout stars in the Premier League this season, showcasing both his defensive aptitude – he’s among the league leaders in both tackles and interceptions – and attacking flair. The London native, who has garnered sustained praise from fans and pundits alike throughout the campaign, looks destined for an opulent transfer in the very near future.
Honorable mention: Trent Alexander-Arnold
The Christian Eriksen Award for making ‘the leap’ to stardom: Heung-Min Son
Heung-Min Son is a bona fide superstar. The electrifying Tottenham attacker, who has five goals in his last three matches in all competitions, has gone from criminally underrated to perpetually praised in the blink of an eye. More impressively, in this hyper-partisan age of fandom where it’s become frowned upon to acknowledge the talents of someone who plays for a club you don’t support, Son is universally loved. Perhaps that’s his greatest accomplishment of all.
The Jogi Low Award for weirdest touchline snack: Maurizio Sarri
If you can’t smoke ’em … chew ’em? Unable to light up on the sidelines in the Premier League, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has resorted to chewing his cigarettes while furiously taking notes and giving instructions from the dugout. Jogi Low isn’t the only one with questionable touchline etiquette, then.
The Harry Kane Award for proving the ‘one-season wonder’ haters wrong: Mohamed Salah
Those who questioned Mohamed Salah’s ability to sustain his scoring output have, thankfully, gone into hiding. Much like the inane chatter around Harry Kane earlier in his career, there were questions about whether Salah’s incredible 44-goal season in 2017-18 was simply a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Don’t look now, but he’s sitting second in the Premier League with 12 tallies this year – only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has more with 13 – and, in an even greater indicator of his continued ability to deliver, the Egyptian star is tops in Expected Goals, too.
The Antonio Conte Award for best follicle transformation: David Silva
The mystery has been solved. David Silva’s jarring decision to shed his luscious locks in 2017 left many perplexed, but his newfound hairline – which has only come to light in the last few weeks – puts any confusion to bed. The methodical Spanish midfielder followed in the footsteps of Antonio Conte, Andros Townsend, and countless others, and went in for a hair transplant. Thankfully, he didn’t get a referral from Wayne Rooney.
The Alisson Award for making pundits eat crow about a transfer fee: Richarlison
Many eyebrows were raised when Everton splashed £40 million to pluck Brazilian forward Richarlison from Watford, reuniting him with manager Marco Silva. Those critical of the move have surely changed their tune now; the 21-year-old, who can play in a variety of attacking positions, leads the Toffees with nine Premier League goals on the season. His combination of trickery on the ball and prowess in the air makes him one of the most unique players in the league, and he should only continue to develop into a dominant force.
The Jose Mourinho Award for tiresome managerial soundbites: Sean Dyche
Sean Dyche worked wonders with Burnley last season – thanks, in no small part, to a fair bit of luck at both ends of the pitch – but it certainly looks as though his fortune has run out. Mired in a relegation scrap, the Clarets have already conceded more goals this season (41) than all of last year (39). As results have worsened, so too have the hoarse manager’s post-match excuses; a lecture about diving and the state of the sport after a loss to Arsenal was his most tedious yet.
The Adrien Silva Award for waiting to get your chance: Fabinho
Patience is a virtue. It took an eternity for Jurgen Klopp to integrate Fabinho into the side after his big-money move from Monaco, but the versatile Brazilian is looking more and more comfortable as the midfield conductor we all expected him to be upon his arrival from Ligue 1. He’s been involved in three goals in as many Premier League matches over the last two weeks, with a commanding Man of the Match performance against Manchester United his standout outing thus far. If the Reds are actually going to pull this off and capture the title, Fabinho will play a pivotal role.