The Premier League is such an unpredictable place. Teams can go on surprising runs, and players would suddenly pop up out of nowhere and have spectacular seasons.
This 2020/21 campaign is no different as a number of players have significantly surpassed what most people thought they were going to do this year.
SBOTOP turns the spotlight on the five players who absolutely shattered expectations with their outstanding performances halfway through the Premier League season.
Luke Shaw, Manchester United
Manchester United have been massively exceeding expectations this season by staying right in the thick of the title race. The likes of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford have obviously been key to their robust Premier League 2021 odds to win the title, but left-back Luke Shaw also deserves a ton of credit as one of their top performers thus far.
It’s hard to believe Shaw has now been at Old Trafford for seven years. He came to United as a much-hyped teenager with a huge price tag, which he failed to live up to early on. Jose Mourinho clearly was not much of a fan.
But seven years in and United are finally seeing the best of Shaw. He has been one of United’s most consistent players this season with his contributions on both ends of the pitch. It took a while, but he has now blossomed into the player many tipped him to become when he was a promising teen.
Shaw’s fine form now puts him in strong contention to be part of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad, which would have been highly improbable a year ago.
John Stones, Manchester City
Similarly, John Stones is suddenly looking like a potential starting centre-back for England at the Euros after reviving his career at Manchester City this season.
Stones looked so shaky at City and his consistent errors led to a loss of confidence in him by Pep Guardiola. Fernandinho played at centre-back over Stones for most of last season, and the arrivals of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake in the summer seemed to signal the end for Stones at the Etihad.
But surprisingly, Stones has become a regular starter alongside Dias, with Aymeric Laporte now taking Stones’ place on the subs’ bench. Guardiola turned to Stones amid his change in system, and the 26-year-old has repaid the faith placed in him by producing consistently strong performances week in, week out.
The likes of Joao Cancelo and Ilkay Gundogan also deserve recognition for their suddenly key roles in City’s title challenge this season. But considering his lowly status last year, Stones’ resurrection at City is clearly the more surprising turn of events.
Bukayo Saka, Arsenal
Bukayo Saka’s breakout was one of the bright spots for Arsenal last season. At just 18, he got the chance to play regularly at left-back amid injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney, and he even scored 4 goals in 38 appearances.
But despite that promising season, few could have anticipated that the 19-year-old Saka would suddenly go on and become one of the Gunners’ most important players just a few months later.
Now playing in his more preferred advanced role these days, Saka has been arguably Arsenal’s Player of the Season thus far. He already has 5 goals with 2 assists in 18 Premier League appearances, with his pace and energy creating so many of the Gunners’ Premier League 2021 highlights.
His fine form and remarkable versatility have also earned him four England caps and is now a strong contender for a spot in the Euros squad.
Without Saka’s emergence, Arsenal would likely be in even worse shape in the league. The teenager has turned in a bona fide star, which has caught many Gunners fans and everyone else completely off-guard.
Tomas Soucek, West Ham United
West Ham have been the surprise team of the Premier League thus far — they are currently up in 5th place — and Tomas Soucek has been their surprise player of the season.
The 25-year-old came over from Slavia Prague last winter and had a decent return of 3 goals in 13 games. Soucek scored a couple of goals for Slavia in the Champions League that year, but no one could have expected the Czech midfielder to suddenly be an integral part of David Moyes’ system as the Hammers challenge for Champions League place this season.
Soucek is playing the role Marouane Fellaine made famous under Moyes years before at Everton as he makes late runs from midfield into the box and scores some crucial goals.
Needless to say, the Czech midfielder is a perfect fit for that role. He is currently the Hammers’ leading scorer with 7 goals and has just under half a season to score even more goals than anyone expected.
Patrick Bamford, Leeds United
After years of languishing in the lower leagues and struggling to live up to his early promise, Patrick Bamford finally found a home at Leeds as Marcelo Bielsa got the best out of him for the past two seasons.
That was in the Championship, though. There were still serious doubts that Bamford would cut it in the Premier League, where he had failed to score even a single goal prior to this season.
But lo and behold, Bamford has been banging in the goals for Leeds. The 27-year-old now has 11 goals, tied for fourth in the league along with the likes of Jamie Vardy, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Bruno Fernandes.
Bamford went on a bit of a barren spell to start 2021, but he broke out of that slump with a terrific performance in Leeds’ 3-1 win over Leicester where he scored a goal and assisted the other two.
Bamford has already blown away even the most optimistic expectations many had of him heading into the year, and he’s got half the season to exceed them even more.
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