As we approach the second half of the season, we pick out 5 players to keep an eye on in 2017.
Matt Philips – (West Bromwich Albion) – Winger
The West Brom wide man has been is hot form so far this season. Making 19 appearances, scoring 4 and providing an impressive 8 assists which in fact has him joint second across all of Europe’s top leagues; only Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne has more with 9. He has also averages a 1.6 key pass per game. What’s perhaps most impressive is his efficiency with the ball. Whilst Phillips has had half the key passes of Mesut Ozil in the league this season, he has more than double the assists as Ozil. He’s also created 20% fewer chances than Eden Hazard yet has 4 times the assists compared to the Chelsea flare man.
His pace and direct style of play makes him a nightmare for any defender to cope with. West Brom have been dubbed the ‘new Stoke’ under Tony Pulis with his usual style of having a big strong team, tough to beat and let’s be honest not very easy on the eye, however Matt Philips offers them a different dimension and has been one of the main reasons for West Brom’s recent run of good form. If Philips can carry on this great run of form into 2017 West Brom will have a great chance of taking a Europa League place.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – (Manchester United) – Midfielder
It’s fair to say the Armenian hardly had a fairy tale start to life at Old Trafford. He didn’t play for more than 45 minutes in any of his first 4 games. It was in fact the 4th game that saw a spectacularly below par performance in the Manchester Derby where manager Jose Mourinho took him off at half time. It took some 8 Premier League games to pass until we saw him again against West Ham on 27th November, albeit from the subs bench.
Some say he struggled mentally after the City performance, some say he was injured or maybe a bit of both. But Since Mkhitaryans return he has shown why Man United signed him turning in some impressive performances, creating 15 chances and scoring his first Man United goal against Zorya Luhansk in a match United simply could not afford to lose. He then went on 3 days later score the only and his first Premier League goal against Tottenham Hotspur in what was an important win for the Red Devils having drawn the 4 previous Premier League fixtures. It was that win that kick started the great run of form United are currently in. There was then the infamous scorpion kick against Sunderland that I’m sure will be played over and over for years to come. Now with a run in the team and looking like a first team regular I predict a huge 2017 for the former Dortmund man and see his as an integral part in Man United’s push for a Champions League place.
Now whilst Henrikh Mkhitaryan was hardly an unheard of player before his move to the Premier League the way he started life at United seemed as if he could go on be another Angel Di Maria or Shinji Kagawa. Mourinho has to be applauded for the way he’s managed Mkhitaryan, and we predict he will have a great 2017 as he settles even further in England.
Nathan Ake – (Chelsea) – Defender
The young Dutchman has been in great form this season, so much so that Chelsea have decided to call him back from his season long loan spell at Bournemouth. Ake spent last season on loan at Watford where he was voted player of the season. The aim to give him some first team football, he made 24 appearances for the hornets where he turned in some very good performances. Having signed Marcos Alonso in the summer Chelsea decided to let the 21 year old go back out on loan to Bournemouth this season where he has once again impressed. When Bournemouth met Arsenal on 3rd January 2017 in a thrilling 3-3 draw, Ake had the joint best tackle win percentage in the Premier League this season along with Laurent Koscielny with 68% which is impressive to say the least. For someone so young he is rarely caught out of position and has an immense work rate.
Having only played 10 games this season, Antonio Conte has seen enough to call Ake back from loan which is a shrewd move from the Italian as I’m sure some of the big boys would have come sniffing around in the summer window. How much Ake will feature for the rest of the season I don’t know as Chelsea have been in scintillating form with the formation they have been playing, that being said it would be pointless calling him back from loan to sit on the bench, so watch this space.
Alex Iwobi – (Arsenal) – Midfielder
Having just won African Youth player of the year 2016 Alex Awobi has been a breath of fresh air for the gunners this season. Iwobi has made 16 appearances in the Premier League this season and also featured in the Champions League 6 times. The young Nigerian is a very creative player who’s first thought is always to pass forward. He has created 19 chances this season with 3 assists, the same number of assists as Ozil. He has also completed a total 514 passes with an impressive 86% pass accuracy of which near 60% were forward passes.
At just 20 years old he’s definitely one for the future and will only get better. I believe he will continue his impressive form into the New Year and cement his place in the starting line-up for Arsene Wenger’s side.
Adama Traore – (Middlesbrough) – Winger
The wildcard in our selection is the young Spaniard who started his career at the famous Barcelona La Masia youth academy making only 1 appearance for Barcelona’s first team. Traore moved to Aston Villa in 2015/16 season before the 20 year old joined Middlesbrough in the summer for £7m. He’s since made 13 appearances in the Premier League this season, but is yet to get off the mark with goals or assists. Admittedly those stats are not something to shout about, however what has caught the eye is his performances. His lightening quick pace and his ability to beat 1,2,3 men has seen him tear full backs to shreds this season.
And this is his ‘A game’. He has 72 successful take ons in the Premier league this season, 6 times that of Alexis Sanchez and more than 4 times that of Mesut Ozil. His take on success rate is also very impressive at 75.8%. To put that in perspective, Eden Hazard has completed 76.5% of take ons this season so Traore really is at the top of his game where that’s concerned. He has a higher take on percentage than Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Adam Lallana to name a few.
His direct style of play of getting to the by line and putting a ball in the box makes him look like and ‘old school’ winger. The only downside of his play is his delivery which for a winger is crucial. That being said he is only 20 years old and has a lot to learn and under the talented young manage Aitor Karanka he will be given minutes and time to develop. For young wingers, it’s often the decision making which takes time to develop that needs to work hand in hand with the natural talent.
We predict he will come on leaps and bounds throughout 2017. If he can add the assists to his game I feel in 2-3 years’ time he could be a world beater and would not be surprised to see the bigger clubs interested in his signature.
By Stephen Thatcher @Thatcher_89