6 of the best

6 of the best

1 DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United)

One day, many years from now, white-haired men and women will sit their grandchildren on a gnarled knee and reminisce about that save.

Bryan Oviedo had scored, surely. He had to.

Our betraying eyes deceived us. His volley had a right to score; the Everton substitute had ticked every technical box. Instead, de Gea pulled off a save for the ages and got his just desserts.

For an entire season - and part of this one - the Manchester United goalkeeper has been a caveat, an exception, an anomaly.

Last year, United were rubbish, except for de Gea. In the opening months of this campaign, United were a bit of mess, except for de Gea. As darkness consumed the club, he was the only ray of light.

Now that United are improving, no one deserves an upturn in fortunes more than de Gea.

He's been the best EPL goalkeeper this season. By the end of it, he might be the best in the world.


Azpilicueta is the first of three Chelsea players on a best-of-six list, which is a reflection of the Blues' brutal dominance rather than my myopia (and Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard only just miss out).

With alarming ease, Jose Mourinho's men swatted aside Arsenal - the only other defeated side left in the EPL. Azpilicueta has played a pivotal role in Chelsea's increasing omnipotence, a remarkable feat considering he shouldn't even be playing.

There are almost 16 million reasons why he was not expected to feature. Mourinho forked out £15.8 million ($32.3m) for Filipe Luis to be first-choice left back. The newcomer is picking up bench splinters along with his exorbitant pay cheque.

Azpilicueta's role has been revelatory in Chelsea's swift revival, linking effectively with Hazard.

Not always the most flamboyant of fullbacks, he quietly neutered Alexis Sanchez against Arsenal. Flipping positions with Mesut Ozil, the Chilean posed a credible threat to Azpilicueta.

Sanchez never got a sniff of goal.

More importantly perhaps, Azpilicueta compensates for John Terry's dwindling pace, making up any lost ground between them.

The view from the bench may be a familiar one for Luis.


Like his squabbling manager on the touchline, Mathieu Flamini was clearly flustered against Chelsea.

His physical approach was failing. The occasion wasn't getting the better of Flamini, Matic was. Once again, the tall, muscular midfielder rose above the niggles, the stray elbows, late tackles and dugout handbags to command the centre circle with effortless authority.

He's been doing it for months, making him an early front-runner for Player of the Season.

To call the Serb an enforcer is to undersell his attributes and downplay both his intelligence and finesse in possession.

He's not a Mourinho cog, a subservient automaton running around at the behest of others. He forms the spine of this Chelsea side and shapes their movement.

Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla were headless chickens in comparison, unable to match Matic physically or mentally.

He plays above the fray, exuding confidence with every interception, pass and purposeful run into an opponents' half. Rival midfielders are being treated like skittles: static, unimportant objects to knock over as part of a bigger, professional goal.

Good luck trying to contain him. No one else has managed so far.

4 DAVID SILVA (Manchester City)

To a degree, Silva has suffered with what might be called David de Gea Syndrome.

A sputtering team overshadowed his technical exploits. City haven't suffered the inconsistent meltdown witnessed on the other side of Manchester, but they are making heavy weather of defeating opponents they ordinarily massacre.

Compared to Chelsea's early dominance, inspiration is proving hard to come by. But Silva has delivered nonetheless. While his teammates struggled with World Cup hangovers, the pocket dynamo displayed his usual effervescence, fizzing between the lines, linking play and demanding possession no matter how tightly marked.

At times, Yaya Toure has plodded, but Silva darts and dashes, cutting inside like a giddy schoolboy. City's architect of victory against a determined Aston Villa, Silva showed a level of commitment and industry that, frankly, has been more common at Stamford Bridge than the Etihad.

If City are to retain their title, they should follow their impish Pied Piper. His wizardry is second only to his work-rate.

5 ANGEL DI MARIA (Manchester United)

Di Maria feels like a throwback to a more innocent time, when footballers smiled and played to the crowd, acknowledging the supporters' existence.

The skinny Argentine still looks and performs like a malnourished urchin messing about on the back streets of Buenos Aires, as if he's playing for his supper.

When he glides past burly defenders, like a red skeleton lost in his own slipstream, he evokes warm memories of George Best - another cheeky United winger with scrawny legs and bony elbows.

Apart from his three goals (and an assist for Radamel Falcao), di Maria radiates joy. For a fleeting moment, he reconnects that emotional cord between footballer and fan, sharing the sheer exuberance that the sport provides.

His marvellous back-heeled flick to Falcao against Everton was a lovely reminder that, occasionally, we all play and watch the game for the same reason - for fun.

6 DIEGO COSTA (Chelsea)

If men in white coats spent years lost in a laboratory, incubating a scoring machine, the end result would probably look something like the untamable beast who battered the Gunners at the weekend.

Costa's efficiency has been quite extraordinary, finding the target 16 times from only 19 shots (and ending up with nine goals). He displays the cold, ruthless accuracy, stealth and reliability of a missile.

His strike against Arsenal combined his explosive twitch fibres with a clinical economy of effort.

His power took him past a pair of trailing defenders, his chest acted as a navigational tool, knocking Fabregas' pass into his stride and the chip confirmed his status as the Premier League's most effective assassin.

Men in the mafia don't hit the target as often as this guy.

A supreme professional, he doesn't miss.


In the interests of fair play, here are six players who could do better

1. MARIO BALOTELLI (Liverpool)

Brendan Rodgers' style of play doesn't suit him, but no goals in five appearances do not really suit, either. A player who runs around a bit and avoids a red card hardly constitutes a success.

2. GARETH BARRY (Everton)

Since his loan agreement turned into a permanent deal, the midfielder has struggled to find his fine form of last season.

3. JACK WILSHERE (Arsenal)

Like Aaron Ramsey, this was going to be Wilshere's make-or-break season. So far, it hasn't happened for either player. 4. RIO FERDINAND (QPR)

Any of his teammates could've made this list, but Ferdinand might now be thinking retirement was the better option. His lack of pace is being painfully exposed in a poor defence.

5. JUAN MATA (Manchester United)

Occasional flashes of his undoubted ability only further add to the frustration. Mata had a chance to stake his claim for a place in Wayne Rooney's absence against Everton. Once again, he failed the audition.

6. LAZAR MARKOVIC (Liverpool)

Everyone remembers the £20 million ($40.9m) fee. Anyone remember anything else the Serbian winger has done for the Reds? Anything at all? Anyone? So it's not just me then.

This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
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