Top XI: Most Improved Premier League Players

Chris Wright

18th, April 2011


By Chris Wright

With the end of the 2010/11 season just beginning to crown over the horizon, Pies presents a tip of the bonnet to the top flight’s most improved players throughout the course of this campaign…

(P.S – We’ve consciously tried to steer clear of the obvious choices, i.e, the Bale, Wilsheres and Nasris of this world, to give some of the Premier League’s ‘lesser lights’ their moment in the spotlight.)

11. Joey Barton, Newcastle

A divisive Marmite character who, according to Joey Barton, is hands down the best English midfielder in the business.

Pies wouldn’t go quite that far, but the snarling Newcastle schemer has undoubtedly been in fine fettle this season – filing several truly immense displays (and interviews) along the way, all the while running the jagged edge between unhinged genius and complete shit-for-brains thuggery.

10. Johan Djourou, Arsenal

While the recurring stat vis-a-vis the disproportionate number of goals that Arsenal have shipped without Djourou in the side is vastly distorted by the fact that is was usually the woeful Seb Squillaci that stood in for him, the Swiss centre-half has undoubtedly come along leaps and bounds this term after seeing the first few years of his burgeoning Emirates career stymied by a wretched string of injuries.

9. Chris Baird, Fulham

The man was an unmitigated liability a few years ago, with a series of hapless performances seeing him forcibly ejected from the Fulham first string and labelled as ‘easily the worst player in the Premier League’ on several occasions.

At that point, you could have forgiven him for disappearing back into the relative anonymity of the lower leagues, but Baird got his act together and has, in the space of two seasons, turned it around completely.

He sure-as-scheisse isn’t fashionable, but the sheer fact that Baird is now a dependable mainstay in Mark Hughes’ backline – even chipping in with the odd thunderous goal or two from time to time – shows just how far the Premier League’s ‘worst player’ has come on.

8. Dimitar Berbatov, Man Utd

After two years of near-merciless haranguing from the United support, Berba has somehow managed to pull 21 league goals out of the bag this season without really altering his game or attitude to any great lengths.

Sure, he’s still prone to pranging the odd sitter and do little more than saunter for games on end but the guy’s been leading the Premier League goal-scoring table for months on end – which is no mean feat.

7. Matt Jarvis, Wolves

Time will tell whether Jarvis’ England nod was just one of Fabio Capello’s periodical ‘token call-ups’, but it’s fairly safe to say that the Wolves winger has had the best season of his career to date and that he will almost definitely not be washing up on the shores of the Championship if/when Mick McCarthy’s side bite the relegation bullet.

6. Peter Odemwingie, West Brom

Like me, anyone who’s sole exposure to Odemwingie prior to his arrival in the Premier League was his craptacular performances for Nigeria in last year’s African Cup of Nations will have been amazed at his goal return in his debut season at the Hawthorns.

To my eye, the guy has gone from looking like a rickets-riddled newborn giraffe of a winger to a top flight striker with a 12-and-counting goal tally for a middling side – with most of those coming before Roy Hodgson arrived to shore things up at the Baggies.

Not bad, not bad at all.

5. Seamus Coleman, Everton

Seems like the license Blackpool gave young Seamus to raid forward from right-back during his year spent on loan at Bloomfield Road last season has paid dividends for parent club Everton – with David Moyes deploying the young Irish flanker on the right wing all season only to see him nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award alongside Nani, Gareth Bale and Jack Wilshere as a result.

4. Johan Elmander, Bolton

Bolton got sod all out of Elmander for an entire year after splashing out £8.2 million at the beginning of last season, only for the perennially sweaty Swede to suddenly burst into life at the start of 2010/11 with a flurry of goals.

His prolific scoring rate has tailed off as the season has rumbled on, but he’s now grafting away as an integral part of the hard-working support structure (along with Kevin Davies) that Owen Coyle has built around his free-scoring loanee, Daniel Sturridge.

3. Matthew Etherington, Stoke City

Etherington almost disappeared under the weight of a gargantuan gambling addiction, but Tony Pulis’ faith in the former West Ham winger has well and truly been repaid this season with a string of dynamic performances down the left flank – providing arcs of endless, Grade A ammunition to Stoke’s towering front line.

2.  Stewart Downing, Aston Villa

Downing was on the verge of being dismissed as an also-ran after a slightly half-arsed debut season at Villa, but his excellent combination and support work on the right-hand side of the Brum club’s new-fangled ‘too good to go down’ three-pronged attack means that Gerard Houllier’s side are now thankfully teetering on the edge of being able to confirm that a shock relegation will not be on the cards at Villa Park this term.

1. Lucas Leiva, Liverpool

From outright joke to work-horse to midfield lynchpin, 2010/11 has been a landmark season in the Brazilian’s career at Anfield. Always undervalued and often played out of position to accommodate supposedly better players under Rafa Benitez, Lucas has benefited from captain Steven Gerrard’s injury-plagued year to step into the void that he should have been filling for quite some time now.

Photos via the PA.

Any player you feel we’ve missed and deserve a mention (to be fair, there are quite a few – though there will be more Top XIs coming over the next few weeks)?

Let us know all about it in the comments box below…

Posted in Featured, Top 10s & lists

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  1. C says:

    Good call on Lucas. No bias on my part. None at all…

  2. James says:

    I guess it depends on your definition of improved. Stewie Downing has certainly improved since last year, but I still don’t feel that he is playing to the level he once was at the Boro. He was excellent in 04/05 – forced Zenden into the middle, he was instrumental in our UEFA Cup run, despite missing half the season, and was our top scorer in 2008.

    He can get better yet, I’m sure of it.

  3. marajonna says:

    Always glad to see fulham get a mention but I’d like to point out bairdinho did his improving last season, so much so he even looked ridiculously assured in midfield against juve. A long, long way from the sanchez days.

  4. Caleb says:

    If this was written in January, Andy Carroll would have been an easy pick. Looks like he’s getting a bit of his form back though.

  5. Freddie Mercury's Ghost says:

    perfect top four

  6. Jack says:

    @Caleb, how did you work that one out? surely he hasnt improved seeing as its his debut premier league season…

  7. dan says:

    James McCarthy. Rapidly maturing into one of the best all-round midfielders in the country.

  8. shawn says:

    No love for the American? Stu Holden was having a breakthrough year for Bolton before Jonny Evans realized he wasn’t a good defender.

  9. shawn says:

    Oh… just realized you were comparing from years past not from the start of this year to the end.

  10. Yaaaaaarrrs says:

    Surprised to see Leiva in there, happy to see that people other than Liverpool fans are noticing how much this player is improving. How about a shout for Scott Parker? Did not make it to the final 23 cut at last years world cup but is having a fantastic season and did wonderful on his last England call up.

  11. shaan says:

    What about Nani?!

  12. Calski says:

    @Jack, it isn’t his first premier league season.

  13. Danger_Dustin says:

    what about Huth?
    I have not seen any games of him (in Germany) but his stats look surprisingly amazing

  14. Andrew Thompson says:

    Great List, it would be hard to give someone whos had a debut season in the PL a spot, because we never get to see them as much.

    Transfers of the season list would be brilliant.

  15. Fredmeister says:


    He played and scored a few in their delegation season. Looked quality then.

  16. Markell says:

    Gonna be a homer here, but Vinny Kompany? Central midfield also-ran to either best center half in the league or first runner up? AND he was threatened with being washed away in the flood of the Sheik’s cash.

  17. jamie says:


    It’s also Odemwingie’s debut Premier League season but he is included on the basis of his performance in other competitions. I’d assume Carrol could also be included on that basis. Besides, he made his debut in the Premier League in 2007 and played and scored in the 08-09 season… Actually.

  18. :) says:

    couldn’t have said it better jamie. i’d throw in scott parker but i’m bias.he’s always been good but this year he improved a lot.

  19. Doppelganger says:

    Where’s Stu Holden?

  20. JN says:

    “Always undervalued and often played out of position to accommodate supposedly better players under Rafa Benitez”

    What a load of tosh. He’s now played in exactly the same position, and Benitez was slated for playing him, so very much not “undervalued”.

    Great job for picking him, terrible job in assessing why.

  21. rakhmaninov says:

    where’s manuel almunia?

  22. Hirsty says:

    where’s jens lehmann?

  23. Ell says:

    Where’s Wally?

  24. Patrick says:

    Great list, must say that Odemwingie was immense when I saw him playing in France, and he scored on his debut, but having said that, he deserves some credit…

  25. gene wilder says:

    Where’s Peter Ndlovu?

    Not for the list, I just want to know where he is.

  26. King Eric says:

    I think Lucas’ improvement probably says more about the decline in quality of the squad at Liverpool more than individual performance.

    Also, Gareth Bale? 2nd choice left back 18months ago to being linked with Barcelona on this morning’s sky sports news.

  27. Michael D says:

    @shawn & doppelganger

    I would’ve raised a stink about Stu Holden but as was pointed out, this is about most improved. Considering its his debut season he’s simply showing everyone what he’s capable of. I sincerely hope he recovers from injury and stays on form as he has a bright career ahead of him.

    And as I’ve remarked before, I’m happy to see him growing in the EPL but miss him on the Houston Dynamo team. Oh well, caged birds and all that…

  28. Gordon says:

    it’s absolutely dubfounding that Charlie Adam wasn’t in the top 11 never mind picked number 1,1 year ago he was a Rangers mis-fit that done ok in the championship and now are comparing him with Xabi Alonso

  29. dwgfdbhdfd says:

    You kinxed Berba.

  30. tronf says:

    Smalling, Ramires, Huth, Bardsley

  31. Zuka says:


  32. perry says:

    Daniel sturridge ?

    down to more playing time but has improved.

  33. Tony Blundetto says:

    matthew etherington? is this last season’s list?

  34. Carlos says:

    ummm i wouldve thought hernandez wouldve been in there

  35. templus says:

    truely lucas really improved……..

  36. Ricky says:

    Great to see Lucas finally getting the praise he deserved and he’s been fantastic this season, although last season he was also solid.

    Unfortunate that the reasoning behind his inclusion is such a load of rubbish. Rafa played him as a holding midfielder and always encouraged and believed in him and he’s not playing in EXACTLY the same position under Kenny. The dig at Rafa was very needless and highly inaccurate.

  37. Ricky says:

    * is playing in exactly the same position

  38. scott says:

    lucas leiiva lucas leiva ayyy ayyy

  39. davey says:

    really – where is nani? granted the start of the article mentioned passing over “obvious choices” like bale and wilshere, but i took that as a polite way of saying overrated and destined to flop. your list is balls.

  40. Danny says:

    Good pick on Lucas Dig at Rafa was unjust and totally out of order.

  41. Matthew says:

    Erm.. Titus Bramble? Never hear about him being embarrassing anymore. Seems fairly solid after years of being awful.

  42. Max says:

    Johan Djourou is an awful player. His positioning and first touch beggar belief most of the time. There’s no way he belongs on an improvement list.
    DJ Campbell should be on here, remember his (pretty dire) first top flight season where he failed to score after signing for Birmingham in January? Robert Huth also has become an essential Stoke player and has popped up with a fair few goals for a central defender too. David (Junior) Hoilett and Richard Stearman could also get a mention.

  43. Max says:

    You are a complete idiot

  44. Jim says:

    Max clearly enchanted with his own “knowledge” but equally clearly, knows naff all. Opinionated, crappy club supporting old fart, no doubt.

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