It may seem like only yesterday the 2015/16 campaign kicked off, considering the sheer velocity of unpredictable chaos in the Premier League this season, but we’re now just seven games away from its ultimate conclusion.
Indeed, there’s not long left until all of the medals are handed out at the end of May, before Premier League clubs enter the summer transfer window and start preparing for the 2016/17 season – which already looks set to be as ridiculous as the current one.
So now seems like as good a time as any to begin reviewing a season that has seen Leicester City launch the most unexpected title bid of all time, Aston Villa produce the most pathetic top flight side in living memory (or since Derby), Arsenal capitulate as usual and money-mad Chelsea nervously flirt with the relegation zone.
Our first point of interest? The signings who have impacted the most since their arrivals during the 2015 summer transfer window. With that in mind, here’s our ‘Signings of the Season XI’.
Most Premier League clubs stuck with their goalkeeping options last summer so the shortlist for this position was always going to be rather well… short.
Nonetheless, that shouldn’t downplay the influence Petr Cech’s had at Arsenal since signing from Chelsea at the start of the season, injecting calmness and composure into a backline plagued by disorganised chaos during prior campaigns.
£10million remains an absolute steal for a goalkeeper with a record as proven as the Czech international’s – especially in the Premier League – and still just 33 years of age, he’s got plenty of campaigns left ahead of him at the Emirates.
If there’s one disappointment, however, it’s that Cech’s quality and leadership skills haven’t been able to stop yet another Gunners capitulation in the title race.
This might be deemed a slightly unfashionable choice, but that’s exactly Glen Johnson has proved such an astute signing on Mark Hughes’ part.
The England international’s stock couldn’t have been lower when he left Liverpool last summer but the Stoke City boss wasted no time in signing an experienced full-back on a free transfer and Johnson’s unquestionably delivered for the Welshman this season.
Indeed, the 31-year-old has bagged three assists in 25 appearances whilst helping the Potters claw their way to eighth in the top flight table – which would constitute their highest ever final standing of the Premier League era if its maintained until the end of May.
A shoo-in for the PFA Team of the Year and easily one of the signings of the season, regardless of position, the summer arrival of Toby Alderweireld has catalysed Tottenham’s transformation into Premier League title challengers.
His telepathic understanding with former Ajax team-mate and fellow Belgium international Jan Vertonghen has seen Spurs emerge as the most defensively-assured side in the Premier League, conceding the fewest goals of any team in the division.
But the 26-year-old has proven equally effective alongside Kevin Wimmer in recent weeks and impacted significantly at the other end of the pitch, with three goals and two assists from the heart of defence – including a strike in the north London derby.
A class act who combines technical ability, tactical awareness and no-nonsense defending, coughing up £11.5million for the former Atletico defender – despite the threat of legal action from loan club Southampton – has proved a masterstroke on Daniel Levy’s part.
A number of Premier League clubs have flirted with the idea of signing Virgil van Dijk in recent years but Southampton actually took the punt last summer and it’s already paying off dividends.
Indeed, the Saints boast the best goals conceded record outside of the Premier League’s top six and much of that can be traced back to the Netherlands international, who combines an aerially dominant 6 foot 4 frame with sensational technical quality on the deck.
The 24-year-old has averaged the most successful aerial duels per match of any Premier League defender this term, 5.1, whilst netting three times at the other end of the pitch – including a last-minute equaliser against Sunderland earlier this month.
Whoscored.com have issued him seven Man of the Match awards this term. On Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez has more.
Nathan Ake’s loan stint at Watford deserves an honourable mention but few left backs in the Premier League – let alone new signings – have matched the form of Leicester City’s Christian Fuchs.
An acquisition that slipped somewhat below the radar last summer, the Austrian international arrived from FC Schalke on a free transfer and has consistently demonstrated his Champions League pedigree at the King Power Stadium, bagging three assists in 25 appearances whilst averaging 3.3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1.1 created chances per match.
That experience at top European level has proved vital amid the business end of the Foxes’ shock Premier League title bid and the combination with winger Marc Albrighton has become a recurring feature of Leicester’s attacking play.
Many deemed Etienne Capoue below the standard of the Premier League whilst wallowing on the bench at Tottenham Hotspur but he’s been a revelation for Watford this season, missing just 91 minutes of their top-half contending campaign.
The industrious midfielder has provided forward-thinking drive from the middle of the park, supporting strike force Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo whenever possible, whilst protecting the Hornets backline with averages of 2.9 tackles, 2.6 interceptions and 1.4 clearances per match.
Many raised their eyebrows when Watford coughed up a club-record £6.3million fee for the Frenchman last summer but with their Premier League survival all-but-mathematically secured, that now seems like a very astute investment.
Amongst the contenders for PFA Player of the Year, N’Golo Kante is easily the best pound-for-pound purchase of summer 2015, costing the title-chasing Foxes just £5.6million from Ligue 1 outfit Caen.
The France international has since emerged as arguably the top enforcer in the Premier League, combining the defensive awareness of Claude Makelele and the energy of Ramires to complete 4.4 tackles and 4.2 interceptions per match – ranking second on both fronts throughout the division.
But the drive and ranged passing Kante offers on the counter attack equally catches the eye, especially in a two-man midfield alongside Danny Drinkwater, and has been an intrinsic influence on Leicester’s attacking efforts this term.
Technically, Tottenham Hotspur signed Dele Alli in January 2015 rather than last summer, allowing him to spend the remainder of last season on loan at former club MK Dons. But we’re prepared to make an exception, simply because few Premier League arrivals have come anywhere close to matching the 19-year-old’s impact this season.
Indeed, the teenager has emerged from the relative anonymity of League One to become amongst the first names on the Spurs team sheet and a crucial component in Roy Hodgson’s plans ahead of the European Championships in France.
He’s bagged seven goals and nine assists in 24 Premier League starts this term, proving equally effective as a No.10, a deep-lying midfielder and a winger for Spurs, and has been at the heart of impressive England performances against France and Germany.
Considering many expect Alli to now start for England at the Euros, it’s phenomenal to think he was playing in the English third tier this time last year – and that Spurs snapped him up for just £5million!
Another PFA Player of the Year contender, it’s taken just a matter of months for Dimitri Payet to reach godly status in east London, echoing the same levels of worship once reserved for Paolo Di Canio.
The West Ham fan base are a tough bunch to please but they do appreciate good football and that’s what the playmaking Frenchman offers, combining majestic movement, technical brilliance, creative vision and impressive output from the attacking hub of midfield.
Indeed, he’s claimed eight goals and eight assists in 22 Premier League outings this term whilst averaging 3.7 created chances per match – the second most of any player in the division after Arsenal star Mesut Ozil.
If the Hammers finish in the top six this season as expected, that impressive final standing will owe much to the man from Marseille, who is believed to have cost the club just £12million.
Roberto Firmino endured a tricky start to life at Liverpool but has rediscovered his fine form for Hoffenheim since Jurgen Klopp took the managerial reins from Brendan Rodgers in October, going on to claim eight goals and seven assists in 25 Premier League appearances.
The Brazilian international has found output as a wideman, a No.10 and a striker – offering the mobility and energy Christian Benteke is often accused of lacking – and provided significant performances in the Reds’ biggest results of the campaign, scoring or assisting (or both) against Chelsea, Manchester City, Leicester, Arsenal and Manchester United.
The 24-year-old perhaps hasn’t fully justified his £29million price-tag just yet but he looks like a high-quality player who’ll be heavily involved in Klopp’s plans for next season – when his talent could truly shine.
Perhaps Anthony Martial hasn’t set the world on fire since moving to Old Trafford in an incredible £36million deal last summer, going on to claim a decent if unspectacular seven goals and three assists in 24 Premier League appearances.
But he’s still United’s second-top scorer across all competitions with twelve strikes and their third-top assister in the Premier League, and it’s the maturity the 20-year-old has demonstrated in holding down a role of such responsibility in the Red Devils’ starting Xi – despite that monolithic price-tag hanging over him and the constant upheaval at Old Trafford this season – that we’ve found the most impressive.
It’s rare to find such a composed head on young shoulders and although he’s not quite lived up to that £36million valuation just yet, the France international already seems like a worthwhile long-term investment, on track to become one of the best attackers in the business.