"I hope there’s a small flame flickering here that can hopefully grow into a blazing inferno.”
– Antonio Conte
This quote epitomised the Premier League season that concluded last month as Chelsea climbed their way to a sixth league title. The Premier League saw a new winner for the ninth year running as a tough competition between the top six sides and an equally interesting relegation battle reaffirmed the fact that ‘English Premier League is the most competitive in the world’.
Many records were shattered during the nine-month extravaganza and an amazing season of football was on display week in week out. The campaign saw many new players emerge on the scene, along with experienced players, proving their worth to their sides.
Goals were scored for fun by the elite strikers in the league while the best defenders lived up to their expectations as well.
While every club had an MVP who helped them turn losses into wins and had crucial contribution throughout the campaign; there were few who not only helped their sides cross the finishing line but were far superior to their peers.
Here is a list of the top 10 players from the 2016/17 Premier League who stood out from the rest and were literally a class apart from the others.
#10 Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
The Senegalese arrived amidst doubt regarding his huge fee last summer but he soon won the hearts of Liverpool supporters with his stunning performances in the Premier League. It is true that any one of Mane, Coutinho or Firmino could be included in this list but the impact which Mane had on the Reds was crucial to their top four finish.
His value was truly felt when the 25-year-old was with Senegal for the AFCON and then was injured for the last two months of the season. Mane was Liverpool's joint top scorer with 13 goals and was inarguably one of the best wingers in the Premier League last season.
#9 Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Tottenham Hotspur had the best defence in the league by a mile and conceded the least number of goals (9 goals in 19 games at home). Alderweireld played a huge role in that and complemented his partner in crime, Jan Vertonghen well.
The Belgian duo was impervious for the most of the season and Alderweireld coupled his supreme defensive abilities with his goalscoring threat in set pieces and starting out attacks with his brilliant passing range. He was colossal in the big games as well.
#8 Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
This might seem shocking to some that Paul Pogba has been selected in this list ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the Frenchman has been highly effective for Manchester United despite general public ridiculing him for his transfer fee, his celebrations and even his haircuts.
There is more to Paul Pogba than all those things and statistics tell the whole story. He is ranked second in the average passes completed per game (74.5) and in the most accurate through balls (12) in the league. Pogba also attempted 2.4 dribbles every 90 minutes and was the link between United's midfield and their attack.
#7 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola's arrival helped a lot of players and one of them was Kevin de Bruyne. In the past season, the Belgian was at his creative best and delivered a brilliant return of 15 goals and five assists along with receiving eight man of the match awards.
De Bruyne's vision was his most powerful weapon this season and he also produced arguably the best individual performance in the Premier League in recent times when he took the field against Manchester United in the first derby of the campaign at Old Trafford.
Pep called him a genius on numerous occasions and also labelled De Bruyne as one of the best players that he has ever managed.
#6 Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
The seamlessness with which Azpilicueta slotted in a back three can be termed as one of the turning points in Chelsea's run-in to the title this season. The Spaniard made up for the lack of pace of Gary Cahill while his brilliant positioning gave David Luiz a sense of freedom to play naturally.
It is easy to say that Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 became a success because of Cesar Azpilicueta. He then played in his traditional fullback role in the last few games and gave a perfect example of his utility by playing there with the same effectivity.
#5 Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Lukaku didn't harm his reputation one bit this season as a goal-laden league campaign put the Belgian on a pedestal from where he can now move to a bigger club. The striker single-handedly helped Everton win games with his tally of 24 goals and 5 assists.
He was at his bullish best against the defensively weak teams and was unplayable at times because of his speed, power and finishing. Even if Lukaku does move to Manchester United/Chelsea, he will always be considered as the most talented striker to wear the famous Everton shirt.
#4 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Premier League 2016/17 was not an easy campaign for Arsenal as they finished out of the top four for the first time in 20 years. But time and again, a player who has been nothing short of a messiah for the Gunners rose to the occasion and played like a true champion.
We are talking about Alexis Sanchez who scored 23 goals and laid 10 assists - the only player in the league to reach double figures in both goals and assists columns. He was at his best yet again, scoring for fun and working tirelessly week in week out and helping his club's cause.
#3 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Harry Kane missed almost a month due to an injury but was still able to beat Romelu Lukaku to the Golden boot by a whopping five goals. Kane scored 29 goals in the league and was the fulcrum of a high-functioning Spurs side. He scored goals left, right and centre for the Lilywhites and made all of it look super easy.
His partnership with Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son helped Spurs challenge Chelsea for the title till the end. More importantly, this season confirmed his status as an elite striker in the Premier League and also in Europe.
#2 Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Hazard was back to his sizzling best this season as Antonio Conte decided to give him the freedom to express himself. He scored sensational goals in the season - some with solo brilliance while some with the help of his teammates.
This season reaffirmed the fact that Chelsea do well when Hazard fires for them. Hazard tracked back regularly and his influence in this Chelsea team made him regain his lost touch and helped him create magic on the field.
#1 N’golo Kante (Chelsea)
Ngolo Kante was as important to Chelsea's renaissance this season as Antonio Conte. The epitome of a hard-working midfielder, Kante again imprinted his class on the field, this time for Chelsea, as he became the first player since Eric Cantona to win back to back league titles for two different clubs.
He made 127 tackles in the Premier League which surpassed his total of the previous season.
With him in the side, Chelsea had an aura of invincibility around them which Leicester had last season. He deservedly won the Football Writer's award and the PFA player of the year award and convincingly proved to be the best player in the Premier League.
Special mentions - Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his goalscoring antics in what was a solitary season in England for the Swede. Dele Alli for continuing his dream run in the league, Jermaine Defoe for reaching double figures for Sunderland, Christian Eriksen for his creativity and Marcos Alonso for his productivity in a left wing back position.