The Hard Tackle takes a look at the five best wingers from the recently concluded edition of the Premier League.
The game has evolved considerably over the years, but if there’s one position that continues to be as influential as ever it’s that of the winger. There may have been a shift in the ways wingers operate today than a few decades ago, but the position still is the supply chain for the bulk of the goals scored by a team.
Usually the glamour players for a side, these footballers also put in the yards in order to do the job for their sides. The Hard Tackle takes a look at such noteworthy contributions as part of our End of the Season Awards.
Eden Hazard [Chelsea FC]
2015/16 turned out to be quite the disaster for Chelsea as they relinquished their Premier League title without much of a fight. Right in the centre of this slump was the Player of the Year in the previous season, Eden Hazard, who looked a pale shadow of the rampant winger who had led the Blues to a comfortable league triumph.
Eden Hazard has equalled with Frank Lampard with three Chelsea Player of Year awards:
No one has ever won it 4 times yet 👀 pic.twitter.com/hbj16Pq2Gk
— Hazard Stuff (@HazardStuff_) May 28, 2017
However, much like last season, Hazard’s form mirrored that of Chelsea’s yet again this season, as the West Londoners clinched another Premier League title comfortably. The Belgian was back to his very best in 2016/17, as he tormented opposition defenders all through the campaign.
Hazard’s resurgence gathered pace particularly after Antonio Conte changed his system at Chelsea, employing a back-three and wing-backs. It was a shift that gave the Belgium international the freedom to attack without having to worry a lot about his defensive duties.
Hazard enjoyed his most fruitful Premier League campaign in a Chelsea shirt – a return of 16 goals and 5 assists in 36 games. All that and more eventually helped Chelsea secure their 5th Premier League title.
The Blues would now hope for him to take this form into next season as well, as they aim to build on the success of 2016/17. More importantly, with Real Madrid reportedly circling around Hazard, Chelsea will be eager to keep hold of their star player.
Sadio Mane [Liverpool FC]
Another player who proved to be pivotal to his side’s fortunes this season, Sadio Mane made an unprecedented impact for Liverpool in what was his maiden campaign at Anfield.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON:
•27 PL games
•43 chances created
•63% shot accuracy
•120 take-ons pic.twitter.com/598GzyB83V
— Anfield Edition (@AnfieldEdition) May 22, 2017
Arriving at the Merseyside club after a terrific two-year spell at Southampton, Mane was rated as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League before his switch to Anfield. And the Senegalese has seemingly taken his performances up a notch at Anfield.
Menacing at his best, his fiery pace and technical ability have provided Liverpool an added dimension in attack and he has, perhaps, been the most influential player in Jurgen Klopp’s squad, which is truly highlighted in Mane’s absence as the Reds’ form often tended to peter out horribly when he was not available.
The same was first apparent when Mane departed for the Africa Cup of Nations in January – the month that effectively ended Liverpool’s bid to win the Premier League title for the first time.
Subsequently, a knee injury that brought about a premature end to his campaign also threatened to put the Reds out of Top 4 before a late flourish saw them through. Nevertheless, with 13 goals and 6 assists in 27 matches, it is not hard to see why Mane was adjudged as Liverpool’s player of the season.
Liverpool fans and Klopp would now be waiting with bated breaths to welcome Mane back into action as the Reds return to the Champions League for the first time in three seasons.
Pedro [Chelsea FC]
Another Chelsea player who has enjoyed a season of resurgence, Pedro arrived at Chelsea after a reported bidding war that involved Manchester United. However, an impressive debut was followed by a whimper of a campaign in 2015/16 that had the United fans relieved at missing out on the Spaniard.
Pedro is the only Chelsea player to reach double figures for both goals (13) and assists (11) in all competitions this season. pic.twitter.com/c817fILvB4
— ️ (@AddictedToCFC) May 25, 2017
Fast forward one year to the end of 2016/17, and Pedro has bounced back emphatically. While Eden Hazard set the league alight with his superlative outings week after week, the former Barcelona man was not to be left behind in making his impact for the newly-crowned Premier League champions.
Pedro combined beautifully with Hazard in the final third and his effectively electric bursts often helped him become the architect of a large portion of the goals scored by Chelsea. The player also grabbed a few for himself, as he found the back of the net 9 times, while also providing 10 assists in the Premier League.
More impressively, Pedro successfully managed to keep Willian out of the starting XI for large parts of the season – a mighty effort considering the Brazilian was the player of the season for Chelsea in 2015/16.
As the Spaniard continues to come into his own at Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte would be hoping that he can produce performances similar to the ones he turned in this season for his side to improve on the success of 2016/17.
Wilfried Zaha [Crystal Palace FC]
Back to his boyhood club (for two years now) and back to his very best, Wilfried Zaha has continued to produce inspiring performances for Crystal Palace as the South Londoners managed to draw away from the dreaded confines of the relegation zone.
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) May 26, 2017
His time at Manchester United was a nightmare to say the least as he could only make four appearances across two seasons for the Red Devils. However, he has since made his way back to Selhurst Park and his career has found a new lease of life.
In fact, Zaha has turned into his side’s talisman, with 7 goals and 11 assists to his name – an impressive return considering the struggles of Crystal Palace. Showcasing a bagful of tricks, Zaha used his pace effectively to often bully the opposition defenders into submission to create goalscoring opportunities for his side.
Having been potent for Palace all through the campaign, Zaha rightfully won the club’s Player of the Season award for the second successive season. And while Arsenal and Tottenham were reportedly ready to prowl, the 24-year-old has chosen to commit his long-term future to Palace – a relief for the club’s supporters.
Philippe Coutinho [Liverpool FC]
Last, but certainly not the least, is a player who is attracting the attention of one of the biggest clubs in the world – Barcelona. Philippe Coutinho has well and truly evolved into one of the most dangerous attackers in over the last two seasons.
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 22, 2017
And it was particularly in 2016/17 when the Brazilian made himself an indispensable figure in Jurgen Klopp’s side. Operating on the left of Liverpool’s front three for large parts of the campaign, Coutinho created a huge impact for the Reds, especially in some crucial moments over the course of the season.
The campaign was quite productive as well for the player, as he scored 13 goals while providing 7 assists in 31 Premier League outings. And just like Mane, Coutinho’s absence almost always resulted in Liverpool struggling to put sides away convincingly, if at all.
With Barcelona reportedly prepared to go guns ablazing in pursuit of the Brazil attacker, it is not surprising that Liverpool fans would be eager for him to remain at Anfield beyond the summer. With the Reds also set to return to the Champions, Coutinho’s presence will be key for them next season.