Since long, the Barclays Premier League has been recognized as one of the best leagues in the world. The reason for this is simply the quality of football at display in the league. The style of play in England is quick and physical, and yet can be aesthetically pleasing too. A player like Mata is as respected as a player like Bale, a man like Carrick and an unsung hero like Snodgrass too receive their share of accolades.
Every season, we find that new stars are born. And while the media has a tendency to overhype raw talent, it is salient to note that very few of the players go on to make a successful career; David Bentley being a case in point.
So here are five breakthrough players of the season, who dazzled all and sundry with their performances. Players who I expect will keep viewers excited for seasons to come.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
The former Lille youngster came with a huge price-tag and a larger hype. And it has to be said that he has lived up to both, the hype and his price. He took the Premier League by storm and tortured defenses all through the season. He has an exceptional sense of balance, almost Messi-like close control, unrelenting determination and loads of pace. Most importantly, he has the ‘X’ factor. He has the ability to produce a moment of absolute brilliance which can lift up his team.
Moment of the season: The FA cup quarterfinal at Old Trafford against Manchester United, where, other than scoring a stunning curler, he also carried his team to a draw. Tireless against a tiring United defense, Hazard revitalized his team and even did his tracking back duties.
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
He was an arrival in the winter transfer window and touted for greatness. In the last two decades, Liverpool have had many false dawns about players who could change their status, the most painful being Michael Owen. But this player has looked like a man who could lead the Reds to success again. He is a supremely talented creative midfielder, who can score goals too. He had an instant impact on Liverpool after joining them, and was the chief creative outlet after Suarez’s suspension. He has only played 13 games but makes it on the list for his sheer talent and direct impact.
Moment of the season: His performance against Newcastle at St. James’ Park was breathtaking. He was absolutely perfect in the game. No opposing player could get near him and he was pulling strings like a seasoned pro. The runs were perfectly timed and the balls were perfectly weighed, one of the best performances I have seen.
3. Romelu Lukaku (West Bromwich Albion)
Touted as the ‘next Drogba’ when he came in, Lukaku was frustrated with being on the bench at Chelsea. Chelsea legend and currently West Brom manager, Steve Clark, called him on loan to WBA, and he has been a revelation since. The Belgian has been a talisman for the Midlands club this season. Used initially as an impact substitute, Lukaku established himself in the first team in the latter half of the season. The former Anderlecht man has it all. He is quick on the ball and makes beautiful runs with and without the ball. He is strong and aerially potent, he has quick feet and a quicker footballing brain to complement them.
Moment of the season: Against Liverpool, Lukaku was brought on when the score was 0-0. He made an immediate impact and left Carragher and Agger decimated as he made a 50 yard run to shoot agonizingly wide. He gave Liverpool plenty of problems and was impossible to deal with. After Mcauley got the opener, Lukaku sealed the points with a stinging finish that flew through Reina’s hands.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
Generally, foreign strikers find it difficult to adapt to the Premier League; Benteke, though, had no such problems. He hit the ground running and was pivotal in keeping Aston Villa in the Premier League. Like Lukaku, he too is a Belgian, and shares similar features. Quick feet are complemented by extremely quick pace and an infallible finisher’s instinct. Perhaps a better all-round player than Lukaku, Benteke has a bright future ahead of him.
Moment of the season: Against Liverpool, Benteke was at his determined best. He and Weimann were irresistible together and tortured Liverpool. Benteke scored two beautiful goals, the first a 22-yard strike filled with venom, and his second was from a beautiful individual run that left half the Liverpool squad trailing in his wake. It was Villa’s second goal however, that showed Benteke’s true ability. After an 18-pass move, Weimann and Benteke played a couple of one-twos and the final touch by Benteke was an exquisite back-heel that Zidane would have been proud of. If this performance is anything to go by, the Belgian prodigy is going to be on top of the goal-scoring charts for a long time to come.
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Not exactly young at 31 years of age, the Southampton marksman has been a breakthrough player nonetheless. He has been prolific for the Saints and has at times battled alone to keep his team alive and kicking. The joint highest English scorer has been a late-bloomer but right now is one of the best English strikers in the league. A dominating physical presence, Lambert is a terrific player with his back to the goal. He may not have a lot of time left at the top level of football, but he gave a brilliant account of himself during the season gone by.
Moment of the season: The best victory of the season for Southampton was the 3-1 win against Manchester City at St. Mary’s. In all the 22 players that played, Lambert was the best player on the pitch that night. He did not get a goal but was the chief reason for them being scored. He was too quick to track and too mobile to be marked and the Manchester City defense chased his shadow all through the game. If ever there was a striker who won a game without scoring a goal, it was Rickie Lambert against Manchester City.