As the Premier League campaign approaches the halfway mark we’ve seen plenty of familiar faces and big money signings make the headlines. However from breakout stars, to replacements to comeback stories, here we look at some of the unexpected hits of the season.
12. Adrian (Liverpool)
When Alisson went down injured on the opening night of the season, it looked like a significant blow to Liverpool’s title hopes. In stepped former West Ham stopper Adrian who became an instant hero with a penalty save on his debut in the European Super Cup Final. He hasn’t been without fault, most notably with his gaff against Southampton, but the experienced ‘keeper has proved an able deputy in his 11 league games as Liverpool’s title challenge hasn’t missed a beat. It’s hard to believe that would have been the case with the erratic Simon Mignolet or butterfingered Loris Karius between the sticks.
11. Leondra Trossard (Brighton)
After the disastrous signing of Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the addition of another £18million winger from one of Europe’s middleweight leagues looked an ominous move for Brighton. Fortunately Trossard has proved a big hit at the Amex Stadium. Trossard has provided a tricky threat down the wing, notably pulling Manchester City’s defence around. Since October his progress has been interrupted by injury but his 2 goals and an assist from his first 5 games suggest Graham Potter has found a good ‘un.
10. Danny Ings (Southampton)
Its been a tough season thus far for Southampton, but without the goals of Ings they’d be below Watford. Ings’ career at Liverpool was wrecked by a serious knee injury, sustained shortly after his England debut. His loan to Southampton last season yielded just 7 goals from 24 games, but following his permanent transfer to the South Coast, things have taken off. Ings has contributed 8 goals this season in 15 games, the rest of the Southampton squad have managed just 9 between them. His previous best at Premier League level was 11 goals back in 2014-15, he’s set to beat that mark by some distance but it may need to be close to 20 for Southampton to survive.
9. Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)
The signing of Mings last January saw Aston Villa rise from Championship also-rans to playoff winners. However after his injury wrecked time at Bournemouth, it was unclear how he’d adapt to the Premier League. Mings has provided an assured presence to the Villa back line from day one of the season when he excelled against Tottenham. He hasn’t been without mistakes but he has marshalled Villa’s survival fight and won the admiration of Gareth Southgate in the process. Southgate called Mings up in September and the Villa man got his debut in a hostile atmosphere in Bulgaria. He responded to racist chants with an impressive performance and provided an instant upgrade on Michael Keane.
8. Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)
Those who followed Norwich’s progress in the Championship will be unsurprised by how well Teemu Pukki and Emeliano Buendia have adapted to the top flight, Cantwell however has been a pleasant surprise. Cantwell made just 24 league appearances last season, but has been a key player this term. The 21-year-old has been a constant presence in Norwich’s midfield and bagged 4 goals and 2 assists in the process. Norwich’s leaky defence may yet cost them their Premier League status, but Cantwell looks set for a bright future.
7. Daniel James (Manchester United)
It’s becoming a season of familiar failings for Manchester United, with a ponderous approach to attacking play amongst their greatest ills. That criticism cannot be extended to new signing James. The Welsh winger arrived from Swansea for £15million and was expected to be a player for the future. But James came off the bench to score on his debut against Chelsea and quickly took his tally to 3 goals in August, including a spectacular strike against Southampton. James hasn’t been quite able to match his early season form and has attracted criticism for going to ground too easily, but he has added 3 assists to his goal tally and looks a key player in United’s Champions League aspirations.
6. Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea)
When Frank Lampard took over at Chelsea it was little surprise he made his former Derby loanee Mason Mount a key player. The future of Lampard’s other Pride Park loan star Fikayo Tomori looked less certain. Even after the sale of David Luiz, it seemed Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen would be ahead of Tomori in the pecking order. However Rudiger has suffered with injury issues and Tomori has grabbed his chance to become a regular. He’s contributed to an improving Chelsea defence in his 11 games and played his first 4 Champions League games this season. The former Under 20 World Cup winner has also made his way into the senior England squad.
5. Dwight McNeil (Burnley)
McNeil hinted at his potential with strong end to last season with Burnley. Having broken into the first team at Turf Moor the young winger bagged 3 goals and 5 assists down the stretch last term. This season he’s kicked on to become a constant presence for Burnley with 4 assists and a goal to his name thus far. Sean Dyche has tipped McNeil to be a late bolter into England’s Euro 2020 squad, he may well be right.
4. Aaron Ramsdale (Bournemouth)
It seemed the most obvious oversight of the summer transfer window was Bournemouth not signing a goalkeeper, after Asmir Begovic’s horror season. Instead Eddie Howe looked to his youngsters and settled on 21-year-old Ramsdale. The England Under 21 international spent last season on loan in League One, but has stepped up to claim the number one jersey at the Vitality Stadium. He’s kept 3 clean sheets, made 51 stops, has yet to make an error contributing directly to a goal conceded and even managed an assist with his accurate kicking. More importantly he’s saved his club a fortune in transfer fees.
3. John Lundstram (Sheffield United)
Sheffield United collectively have been a surprise hit this season, even the most sensible pundits predicted they’d be fighting for their lives at the foot of the table, instead they’re pushing for Europe. There have been plenty of outstanding contributions, but most were either key promotion players (David McGoldrick, George Baldock) or (relatively) big signings (Lys Mousset).
Lundstrum was neither, making just 10 appearances in The Blades promotion season. This season has been a different story for the midfielder who’s provided strong defensive midfield cover for United’s backline and provided a box to box presence. His goal against Crystal Palace ensured he has one in all four of England’s professional divisions, he then grabbed brace against Burnley. It seems the Bramall Lane faithful have a new cult hero.
2. Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
The arrival of Frank Lampard and their transfer embargo meant Chelsea were always likely to finally give Abraham a chance this season, few expected he’d grab it so convincingly. His previous Premier League stint was an unsuccessful loan spell with Swansea two seasons ago, sandwiched by a two prolific seasons in the Championship. His early miss on the opening day of the season suggested he wasn’t up to it, but Abraham rebounded. He’s currently the league’s second top scorer on 11 goals and added 2 assists, leaving World Cup winner Olivier Giroud kicking his heels. He’s also gained a foothold in the England squad, scoring his first goal for his country and looks set to travel to Euro 2020 as Harry Kane’s understudy.
1. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester)
When Leicester banked £80million for Harry Maguire the burning question was who would they sign to replace their star defender, James Tarkowski? Lewis Dunk? Brendan Rodgers however refused to panic buy and instead turned to Soyuncu, the 23-year-old Turkey international has proved to be the surprise star of the season. Soyuncu has been pivotal at the centre of a Leicester backline that has taken 7 clean sheets to date as they powered up the league. The tough defender has been dominant in the air and secure in possession whilst becoming a cult hero at the King Power Stadium. He’s also proved instrumental in Turkey qualifying for Euro 2020 after taking 4 points of World Champions France.