The Premier League’s Surprising Performers so far in 2020-21

The 2020-21 Premier League season has been full of surprises, most notably a number of different teams topping the table at one point or another so far. As things stand, Leicester City sit at the top despite a horrendous injury list. But the likes of Southampton, Everton, Aston Villa and Spurs have impressed more than most would have predicted and each have had their turn toward the very top. Much has been made about the success of these teams, but perhaps certain individuals within these teams have gone a bit under the radar. As a result, this article attempts to uncover the eleven best surprise performers of the season so far, that have helped their teams to better times in 2020-21. Here is our Surprising Performers Premier League XI after the first eight games.

goalkeeper: karl darlow

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Since Martin Dubravka’s arrival at Newcastle, Karl Darlow’s been forced to sit on the bench and watch from the sidelines. A cup appearance here and there followed for Darlow, but Dubravka never missed out in the league…that is until his heel injury this past summer. As a result of Dubravka’s injury, Darlow’s been thrust back into the side and has done magnificently well – helping Newcastle to 11 points. Although he hasn’t kept a clean sheet since the opening day, the British keeper has made 39 saves so far – more than any other goalkeeper in the league. With just 13 goals conceded, that gives him an impressive ratio of 3 saves per goal conceded. Dubravka will now do very well to get back into Steve Bruce’s side.

right back: matty cash

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From Nottingham Forest to the Premier League in a blink of an eye, Matty Cash has been one of the best right back’s in the league so far this season. The 23-year old has made more tackles + interceptions than any other player in the league when combining the two statistics together. He’s also been part of an impressive Villa defense that have kept 4 clean sheets out of 8 matches. More than just statistics, Cash has looked calm and assured in just about every 1v1 situation he’s encountered and has been an underrated addition to Villa’s rise this season.

centre back: wesley fofana

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Johnny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu were brilliant for Leicester City last season, so much so that nobody expected the Foxes to go on and snap up another top level centre-back. Further, Leicester’s decision to spend over 30 million on a 19-year old defender could have been scrutinized and some might have wondered whether or not Fofana was ready to make the jump to the Premier League and challenge for a place in the side. But since Leicester’s move to a back-three and Soyuncu’s absence, Fofana’s been arguably their best defender. His defensive statistics are impressive in every category, including 3 interceptions per game so far. But he’s also proven to be positionally sound, and comfortable both passing and driving the ball forward, whether he’s playing as the libero or on the right of the back-three. Now even when Soyuncu is fully fit again, Rodgers may stick to a back-three in order to accomodate Wesley Fofana.

centre back: max kilman

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Another youngster making his mark in this incredibly young back-line, Max Kilman looks to have established himself as a first choice member of Nuno’s back-three in his five games so far this season. In the five games that the 23-year old has played this season, Wolves have kept three clean sheets and conceded just 2 goals. He’s an elegant passer of the ball and assured in possession, as you’d expect a Wolves defender to be. But he hasn’t shied away from any of his defensive tasks and looks a very assured, confident defender, not afraid to stand his ground without overdoing anything in the way of aggression. Romain Saiss might still be Nuno’s first choice centre-back to feature alongside Willy Boly and Conor Coady, but Max Kilman is now fully pushing for a position in the side.

left back: tyrick mitchell

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Patrick Van Aanholt’s been one of Palace’s key performers in recent years, so it was always going to be hard for a player like Tyrick Mitchell to give a proper audition at left-back. But Mitchell did brilliantly well until picking up an injury last month, completing a whopping 4 tackles per game (2nd highest in the league). The 21-year old’s much less adventurous in attack than Van Aanholt, but he has more than proven himself to be an excellent defensive option that Palace should be keeping a close eye on giving game time to this season, regardless of the status of other players.

right wing: tariq lamptey

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Although technically not a right winger, Tariq Lamptey has arguably been the surprise performer of the season so far at right-wing-back for Graham Potter’s Brighton. After being let go from Chelsea for next to nothing, Lamptey’s already established himself as one of the Premier League’s best fullbacks. No one’s quite worked out how to get hold of the 20-year old so far and he’s been one of the Seagulls’ key men in both attack and defense. With 2.5 fouls won per game, he’s also clearly causing a headache for his opposition defenders. Capable of playing in both a back-four/back-five as a more traditional fullback and utilizing his electric pace and energy as a wing-back, Lamptey could soon be on his way to making a move back to one of Europe’s elite.

defensive midfield: mohamed elneny

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Although some Arsenal fans are already calling for his omission from the side, Mohamed Elneny has had a great start to the 2020-21 Premier League season. He was a complete outcast under Unai Emery, but it’s easy to see why Mikel Arteta fancies the Egyptian’s style of play. Elneny’s been arguably the best passer in the league so far, completing over 94% of his passes (the highest in the league). He’s also been immense in Arsenal’s pressing system, helping the Gunners in their attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch, while completing 2.2 interceptions so far (8th best in league). He’s not the most creative in attack, but Elneny does a very solid job for Mikel Arteta’s team and looks a capable partner for any type of central midfielder he plays alongside.

defensive midfield: nampalys mendy

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It was always going to be a near impossible job for Mendy to cover the boots of Wilfred Ndidi. For one, they are just completely different types of players. But with Leicester’s centre-back issues at the start of the season, compounded by Ndidi’s subsequent injury, Nampalys Mendy has managed to start all 8 matches so far, missing just 13 minutes of action. The Frenchman made just 7 appearances last season, so his role in the squad in and of itself is a happy surprise for Brendan Rodgers, who could have easily looked elsewhere in the squad to the likes of Hamza Choudhury or Daniel Amartey. Mendy’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, like Ndidi. Other than having the highest pass completion rate of his team (91.3%), Mendy has nothing particularly impressive when looking at his statistics. He’s just a solid midfielder who does most things in the game well, without necessarily excelling at anything. Perhaps that is exactly what Leicester need right now, in getting the best out of the likes of Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet.

left wing: diogo jota

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When Diogo Jota moved from Wolves to Liverpool, I thought it was a fantastic signing for the Reds. In Jota, they found someone with an abundance of energy, who fit their style of play in both attack and defense. But I assumed Liverpool’s front-three were simply untouchable and that Jota would have to play second-fiddle and rely on cameo appearances off the bench or in the Champions League. Jota’s ability to perform hasn’t been surprising, but just how good he’s been has. The Portuguese forward’s arguably been Liverpool’s third best player this season and has firmly pushed for a place in the side. No one expected Firmino to lose his place, but Jota’s been knocking at the door all season long. No one expected Liverpool to go 4-2-3-1 instead of their accustomed 4-3-3 formation, but it’s been necessary to accommodate Jota in the side. Capable of playing anywhere in Liverpool’s front four, it’s his versatility more than anything that Klopp will be licking his lips about. That, and the 7 goals he’s scored in just 9 matches so far between Premier League and Champions League appearances. We also can’t forget that he’s only 23-years old and will probably only get better from here under the influence of one of the best managers in world football.

striker: patrick bamford

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After scoring 16 goals in Leeds’ promotion campaign last season, Marcelo Bielsa would have been hoping Patrick Bamford was capable of carrying on his form into the Premier League. But nobody expected the now 27-year old to hit the ground running to this extent. Bamford’s been Leeds’ key man in attack, scoring 7 goals in 8 matches. In the process, new signing Rodrigo’s been forced into a midfield position, where he is comfortably complimenting Leeds’ new star man up front. Many questioned whether he was good enough to make it at this level and the British striker has more than proven to be capable of exactly that this season.

striker: ollie watkins

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Five of Ollie Watkins’ six goals have come in the span of two games so far this season, but that doesn’t mean the 24-year old’s been inconsistent. He’s been a massively important presence at the top of Villa’s attack, arguably the position they needed strengthening the most off the back of last season. Only 3 other forwards in the league have won more duels in the air, showcasing Watkins’ overall impact and link-up play with those around him, plus his threat level in the box. The former Brentford man has a great understanding with the likes of Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley and let’s not forget that those five goals came against Arsenal and Liverpool.


MANAGER: dean smith

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Given Aston Villa’s struggles last season, the board could have easily just sacked their manager and gone with John Terry or a foreign addition. But Dean Smith’s start to this season with Aston Villa cannot be understated and his job now looks firmly secure. He started the season in a 4-3-3 formation and after Ross Barkley’s arrival has switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Clearly, he’s a manager who knows how to get the best out of his players and that is exactly what he’s done with the likes of Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley this season. Although Dean Smith can’t take all the credit for this, the success of new additions like Matty Cash, Emiliano Martinez, Watkins and Barkley, illustrates Smith to be a shrewd, intelligent manager capable of bringing this Aston Villa side back to better times. Special mention to West Ham’s David Moyes after their impressive start playing 5-4-1, despite a horrendous schedule. But Dean Smith has to be the surprise manager of the season so far.

Substitutes: Vladimir Coufal, Gabriel Magalhaes, James Justin, Jairo Riedewald, Daniel Podence, Eberechi Eze, Che Adams


So there it is! The Premier League’s best eleven of surprising performers so far this season. Who do you think deserves a place in the team? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…

-> Dean Smith – Aston Villa – Tactical Analysis
-> David Moyes – West Ham United – Tactical Analysis
-> Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City – Tactical Analysis (2020-21 Edition)

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