Raising their stock: The Premier League's most improved players
Something wasn’t quite working for Jordan Henderson under Kenny Dalglish. Signed from Sunderland by the former Anfield boss in 2011, Henderson was much maligned by many Liverpool fans for not living up to his £16m price tag. This season however, the promising England youngster has shown the Premier League what he is all about. Undeniably, Brendan Rodgers must take huge credit for the transformation of a player that has proved so key to Liverpool in this campaign. Henderson has become a regular first team player this season, playing the full 90 minutes in all but one of Liverpool’s Premier League games, until being sent off against Manchester City in April. His relentless running gives opposition players little time to settle on the ball and his energy has made him an invaluable member of Liverpool’s team. His set piece delivery is also a notable quality and his range of passing has vastly improved. Henderson has come on leaps and bounds this season and his consistent form has earned him a place in recent England squads.
There has been no better right-back in the Premier League this season than Seamus Coleman. The 25-year-old has excelled in Everton’s attacking system and was rewarded for his efforts with a place in the PFA Team Of The Year. Full-backs are often criticised for lacking quality in either going forward or tracking back, but the Irishman has proved this season that he is equally equipped in both aspects of his duties. He has the ability to maraud forward and supply attackers with top quality crosses, but can also track back and tackle expertly. He’s also added goals to his game this season, netting 6 times in the league. Coleman cost Everton just £60,000 when he joined from Sligo Rovers at the age of 20 and this must be considered one of the bargains of the Premier League era.
It’s hard to think of a player who started the season in finer form than Aaron Ramsey. If it wasn’t for a thigh injury that would see the Welshman sidelined from boxing day until mid april, who knows what kind of season he could have had. Arsenal’s poor form coincided with the loss of Ramsey and it was then that many people realised just how much the 23-year-old had improved. There were fears that he would never quite fulfil the potential shown before his leg break in 2010, but 9 goals and 8 assists in just 22 Premier League games this season proves he is finally over the injury that undoubtedly stunted his development as a player. He has played with a new found confidence this campaign and a flair that many didn’t think was part of his game. Ramsey’s tireless work rate, vigorous tackling and box-to-box mentality saw him rewarded with a new contract earlier in the season. This not only underlines his importance to Arsenal, but shows how far he has come from the days of doubt concerning his progression.
You could argue that Steven Naismith was primarily signed as a squad player when he joined Everton from Rangers in 2012. He featured sparingly under former boss David Moyes but has become a key part of Roberto Martinez’s thoughts this season. A terrier-like forward that gives defenders no rest, Naismith has established himself as a firm favourite with the Goodison faithful, bringing a great enthusiasm to the team. His versatility has also played a big part in his rejuvenation as a player this season. He has played in a number of different positions over the course of the year and has looked extremely competent wherever he has been asked to play. At the age of 27, many fans and pundits had written off Naismith’s chances of developing his career any further; but this season the Scotsman has definitely proved his doubters wrong.
When a player has featured in the League One, Championship and Premier League PFA Team Of The Year (in that order), it is clear to see how far he has come. Adam Lallana has played for Southampton in each of England’s top three divisions and now looks more at home than ever in the Premier League. Having recently gained International recognition following blistering form for his club, Lallana has proved he’s got what it takes to consistently perform at the top level. His close control is almost unrivalled in England’s top flight and he has the ability to weave through opposition defences with ease. Having featured in every single Premier League game for the south coast side this season, Lallana has netted a very creditable 9 goals from midfield. He has established himself as one of England’s most creative players over the course of the season and possesses an almost continental flair which is rarely seen by home-grown players.