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Five Most Improved Premier League Players this Season

Each season has its standout players. Often, the star men in each season are the same names that have been pinpointed in the past. The likes of Robin van Persie, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney have been among the top players for many of the last five seasons. However, each year, there are certain players that really make the step up and improve their performances from the previous season.

Using the player rating data from the excellent WhoScored, we can take a look at which players have improved their rating by the greatest amount from last season. As a small number of appearances can unfairly skew the data, we will only include players that played a part in at least 65% of matches last season and 65% of matches this season. This works out at 25 matches last season and 18 matches this season.

Clearly, this is not a list of this season’s best players, but rather the most improved. Honourable mentions go to five players that just missed out on the list – Gareth Bale (7.54 to 7.95), Leon Osman (6.8 to 7.23), Leighton Baines (6.97 to 7.4), Sandro (6.85 to 7.33) and Glen Johnson (6.85 to 7.33).

5. Theo Walcott

Last Season’s Rating: 6.76
This Season’s Rating: 7.26
Rating Increase: 0.50

In January, Theo Walcott signed a new contract worth around £100k per week, and his improved performances this season would suggest that this is entirely deserved. In seventeen starts and seven substitute appearances, Walcott has scored eleven goals and created nine assists, meaning that he has been directly involved in twenty goals, which works out at almost 38% of all Arsenal’s Premiership goals this season.

This is a significant improvement on last season, where he scored eight goals and created eight assists in thirty-two starts and three substitute appearances. This meant that he was involved in just over 21% of Arsenal’s goals last season.

He has improved his shots per game rate from 2.2 to 2.7 this season, he runs with the ball more often and has kept his key passes per game constant.

The key to Walcott’s improved performance has been the greater responsibility that he has gained following the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. He is now seen as Arsenal’s key scoring threat and he has thrived under this responsibility. Clearly, he is attempting more shots on goal and has more confidence to run at defenders. In addition, he has kept the creative aspect of his game at a high level, despite playing a number of games as the central striker rather than on the wing.

This is already his best season in terms of both scoring and creating, and he has justified the faith the manager has shown in him and is deserving of a new improved contract.

4. Bryan Ruiz

Last Season’s Rating: 6.70
This Season’s Rating: 7.23
Rating Increase: 0.53

Bryan Ruiz has been Fulham’s second best player behind the rejuvenated Dimitar Berbatov this season, and it is the Costa Rican’s partnership with the Bulgarian that has been key to his improvement this season.

In Holland, Ruiz played as an out-and-out striker at Twente, scoring 35 goals in 65 appearances, helping to fire Steve McClaren’s team to the title. However, at Fulham, he has been converted into more of a creative attacking midfielder, very much as they did with Moussa Dembele. His ability to float in front of the defence allows Berbatov to play as the main striker and their partnership has flourished. In the fifteen games that they have started as a pair, Ruiz has scored twice and created six goals. Berbatov has scored eight goals in those games. In the other eight games without Ruiz, Berbatov has scored just twice.

While he has scored just one more compared with last season, it is on the creative side where Ruiz has stepped up his performance. Just two assists last season has been blown out of the water by the six goals that he has already created this season. He has increased the number of key passes per match from 1.3 to 1.6, while his overall passing accuracy has risen from 81.0% to 84.9%.

However, he is looking to score more often himself. Last season, he averaged just 0.9 shots per game, while he has improved that significantly to 2.1 per game this season. If he can keep up this increased rate, the goals will come. His record in Belgium and Holland shows that he can score goals and it should just be a matter of time until they start to come in the Premiership.

3. Adel Taarabt

Last Season’s Rating: 6.87
This Season’s Rating: 7.46
Rating Increase: 0.59

It seems strange to see Adel Taarabt in this list, given that QPR currently find themselves adrift at the bottom of the Premiership. However, the form of the Moroccan has been one of the bright points of their season and the ratings suggest that he has been the eighth best player in the division this season.

Having been magnificent in their promotion campaign, the mercurial midfielder had a difficult first season in the Premiership with QPR, scoring just two goals and creating three assists. For a player that had scored nineteen goals the previous year, it was disappointing.

While his 2.2 key passes per match last season put him in the top-10 in the league, he has stepped this up again this season, making 2.8 key passes per match. To put this in perspective, only four players are above him and he finds himself ahead of the likes of Gerrard, Mata, Cazorla and Bale.

He also loves to run at defenders. He averages 3.2 successful dribbles per game, comfortably more than any other player in the league. This is a dramatic increase from the 1.4 last season, and shows how he is stepping up to try and create the opportunities for QPR as they look to defy the odds and stay in the division.

Linked to this is the reduced number of times that he is dispossessed on the ball. Last season, only Emmanuel Adebayor and Cheik Tiote were dispossessed more regularly than Taarabt’s 2.9 times per game. However, this season, he keeps possession far more regularly, despite his greater dribbling and key passing statistics, with just 2.2 dispossessions per game.

The Moroccan is doing everything in his power to help QPR avoid relegation. He has stepped up to the plate this season, particularly in a creative role. However, the failure of his teammates to make the most of the passes that he has made and the opportunities he creates when he runs at defenders has hampered their efforts.

2. Luis Suarez

Last Season’s Rating: 7.28
This Season’s Rating: 7.91
Rating Increase: 0.63

Given Luis Suarez was rated inside the top-15 players last season, it is testament to how good he has been this season that he appears in the list. His rating of 7.91 would have seen him top the list last year, and it is only the stunning form of Gareth Bale that sees him drop to second place this season.

Indeed, there are only six players that have a higher rating than Suarez across Europe – Messi, Ribery, Ronaldo, Kießling, Pirlo and Bale. To be rated in such exalted company, it shows how Suarez has developed into one of the best players in world football.

Twenty-one goals in twenty-seven appearances is a fantastic return and he currently leads the race to win the Golden Boot. While he only has four assists, this is predominantly due to the number of goals that he scores himself. Combined, he has been involved in over 47% of Liverpool’s goals this season. This is a clear improvement from last season’s eleven goals and three assists in a season that was disrupted by the ban that he received for racially abusing Patrice Evra.

Whilst he is not the most clinical of strikers, he cannot be criticised from shying away from goal. Last season, he averaged 4.1 shots per game, only behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and he has stepped this up dramatically this season, attempting 5.8 shots per game. This is an entire shot per game more than the second-placed player on the list. He is also excellent with the ball at his feet, particularly inside the penalty area. His 2.9 successful dribbles per match puts him joint-second with Jack Wilshere and marks another improvement from last season’s 2.5.

However, to suggest that he is a selfish player does him a disservice. His 2.9 key passes per game puts him in joint third place in the league, only behind Leighton Baines and David Silva, and is a significant improvement from the 2.1 he achieved last season.

After the season that he has had, it would be no surprise to see Europe’s top clubs sniffing around Suarez in the summer, especially given it is highly unlike Liverpool will be in the Champions League. This season, he has developed into one of the continent’s biggest stars and Liverpool will be desperate to hang onto their talisman.

1. Marouane Fellaini

Last Season’s Rating: 6.83
This Season’s Rating: 7.63
Rating Increase: 0.80

It would not surprise anyone to find Everton’s star midfielder at the top of this list. He is ranked as the fifth best player in the Premiership this season and is inside the top-30 in Europe.

The key to the improvement that Everton have seen in Marouane Fellaini has been his switch to a more attacking role. In previous seasons, he has played more as a holding midfielder, albeit a threat at set pieces. However, this year, he has been deployed as an attacking midfielder, playing off the striker, and he has developed into a defender’s worst nightmare.

At over 6`4, he is a real threat in the air and is able to hold the ball up excellently. Only three attacking players have won more than Fellaini’s 5.1 aerial duels per match this season and all of those play for teams that utilise the long ball far more than Everton. Last season, he was winning just 2.1 aerial duels per match in the deeper position, and this new threat has proved very valuable for Everton.

He has scored eleven goals already this season, marking the most productive season of his career. Indeed, he had only scored fourteen goals in his previous four seasons for Everton. He is finding plenty of opportunities to get shots in on goal and his finishing is much improved this season. 3.2 shots per game is double the 1.6 he had last season and is clearly a result of his more advanced role.

Unsurprisingly, his tackles and interceptions per game have dropped given his new role. However, compared to other players in his position around the league, he shows up close to the top of the rankings in both these categories, demonstrating the advantage that he can provide to Everton in defending high up the pitch as well.

This positional change in pushing Fellaini up the pitch has been one of the key factors behind Everton’s unlikely push for fourth place in the Premiership this season. They have traditional struggled to score goals. Only two players have scored more goals in a season than Fellaini’s eleven since the turn of the millennium – Louis Saha’s 13 in 2009/10 and Yakubu’s 15 in 2007/08 – and you would certainly not rule out Fellaini catching them.

His improvement this season has been astronomical and has attracted the attention of some of the top clubs, with Chelsea known to be admirers. This is natural given his performances this season and it will be interesting to see whether they earn him a big money move.

Thanks to www.whoscored.com for all ratings and statistics.

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