Arsenal – Alexis Sanchez
It is tempting to say Santi Cazorla, given that no player quite improves their reputation like an Arsenal key first-teamer ruled out with long-term injury. Theo Walcott was an option too, given that he has doubled his league goals from last season, and might consider himself unfortunate not to get the nod (he’s likely not that arsed). Yet Sanchez gets it, just. Seventeen goals and assists combined last season has already become 27 in 2016/17 in the league alone, and you can add another six in the Champions League.
Bournemouth – Josh King
The boy would would be King. It’s not all about goals, but Bournemouth tend to concede a fair few and Callum Wilson has again struggled with injuries. Eddie Howe needed goalscoring support from his attacking midfielders, and King has filled the void perfectly. Is he now Bournemouth’s best player not called Steve Cook?
Burnley – Tom Heaton
Plenty of Burnley will tell you all about the improvement in Michael Keane, Stephen Ward and Ben Mee, but Heaton has also stepped up his game this season. His masterclass at Old Trafford earn Burnley their first away point of the season, and his form in 2016/17 pushed him back into the England reckoning.
Chelsea – Eden Hazard
Chelsea’s squad is littered with players perfect for this award, from Thibaut Courtois to Victor Moses to Nemanja Matic to Pedro to Cesar Azpilicueta. Even among that group, Hazard stands above. The Belgian scored his first league goal of the season in 2015/16 on April 23. He’s already reached 13 before that same stage this year.
Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha
There are plenty at Crystal Palace who have breathed a sigh of relief after the departure of Alan Pardew, but it shows most in Zaha. Last season he scored two Premier League goals and registered one assist. This season, and especially in recent weeks, Zaha has transformed. He has six goals and seven assists, more than quadrupling his total from last season, and is playing with the self-confidence and belief that makes him a wonderful player to watch. Who needs Yannick Bolasie?
Everton – Idrissa Gueye
This one was actually really tough, which is odd given Everton’s overall improvement in league position and performance. Eventually I picked Gueye, who struggled to keep his head above water in a dreadful Aston Villa team. His tackling and interception statistics are N’Golo Kante 2015/16-esque.
Hull City – Harry Maguire
One of the easiest to pick in the list. Maguire only started 17 Championship games last season and was used seven times off the bench, but has been brilliant since Hull’s promotion. He has been a mainstay of a defence under Marco Silva that has won five of their last six home games, and even talked up for an England call-up.
Leicester City – Kasper Schmeichel
No Leicester player who won the title last season has improved in 2016/17, but Schmeichel deserves no blame for the slump during autumn and winter. Playing behind a defence that was verging on incompetence for long periods of matches this season, only Schmeichel’s form kept them out of the relegation zone. The Dane has continued that fine form under Craig Shakespeare.
Liverpool – Adam Lallana
From a bit-part player under Brendan Rodgers until October, to a player learning the demands of Jurgen Klopp until the end of the season. Lallana suffered European Championship disappointment with England, but clearly spent the rest of the summer preparing to literally hit the ground running. He is Liverpool’s, and the Premier League’s, most improved.
Manchester City – Raheem Sterling
Struggling with self-confidence and negative publicity after his record move from Liverpool, Sterling hit a nadir after Euro 2016, when The Sun newspaper made him the scapegoat for a collective failure. Pep Guardiola has not got everything right during his first season in England, but the improvement in Sterling is noticeable. That’s good news for England, and bad news for a certain strand of tabloid journalism.
Manchester United – Ander Herrera
From creative midfielder tasked with linking together Manchester United’s attacks under Louis van Gaal to an all-action central midfielder under Jose Mourinho. There may be relevant questions about just how much United have improved under their new manager, but Herrera is one certainly feeling the benefits. He’s even got himself a Spain cap.
Middlesbrough – Ben Gibson
The hardest yet to pick, but Gibson wins on the strength of his international call-up by England, and the fact that Middlesbrough have been pretty rotten in every area of the pitch other than in central defence. It’s that simple.
Southampton – Oriol Romeu
The one benefit of Southampton losing key players every summer is the opportunity it affords those waiting in the wings and practicing their lines. Romeu started 17 Premier League games last season and played 1,609 league minutes, but is likely to pass the 2,500 mark this weekend. He has been the perfect replacement for Victor Wanyama.
Stoke City – Joe Allen
It has been an almost entirely forgettable Stoke season, the inevitable result of being happy to pick up that sweet Premier League cash while being ensconced in mid table and employing Mark Hughes as manager. The only ray of light in the form of everyone’s favourite Welsh Jesus lookalike. Allen has taken his Euro 2016 form to his new club, and been comfortably their best player. Having Allen as your top league goalscorer should bar you from finishing in the top half.
Sunderland – Erm…
Sorry, I just can’t. Jordan Pickford doesn’t count because he only played twice last season, and Jermain Defoe managed 14 non-penalty goals last season but only has nine so far this season. Sunderland have been rotten from start to finish, and simply do not deserve representation.
Swansea – Gylfi Sigurdsson
The less help Sigurdsson gets at Swansea, the better he gets. Leroy Fer has chipped in with more than his fair share of goals and has also improved, but it’s Sigurdsson who seems to up his game with each passing seasons. No Premier League player has more assists than the man playing for a club in the bottom three.
Tottenham – Heung-Min Son
Danny Rose is unlucky to miss out, but the nod goes to Son, who came close to leaving Tottenham last summer. The South Korean had played only 1,107 league minutes in 2015/16, and offers to go back to Germany were tempting. Still not quite an established first choice, Son has still scored 16 goals in all competitions and proved the perfect foil for Tottenham’s more obvious attacking threats. He’s also better than Vincent Jansson.
Watford – Etienne Capoue
Oh to be back in the heady days of autumn, when life felt more innocent and Capoue was challenging to be the Premier League’s top goalscorer. That run of goalscoring form understandably dried up, but Capoue has still probably been the best player in one of the more forgettable Premier League teams. Sorry Hornets, don’t sting me.
West Brom – Gareth McAuley
Johnny Evans and Craig Dawson have been excellent this season, but both were just as good last season. Salomon Rondon started like a train before falling away, as did Nacer Chadli, while Darren Fletcher just keeps on keeping on. Instead it’s the old warhorse Gareth McAuley who deserves praise. He’s a better player at 37 than he was at 27.
West Ham – Manuel Lanzini
Another tough one to end on, because Andy Carroll has been effective around his injuries, Manuel Lanzini promising but still raw and Michail Antonio performing to his full potential. Add in a splendid Dimitri Payet and that’s 2015/16 all over again but with far fewer positive contributions from the supporting cast. Lanzini gets it, by something approaching default.