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Every ‘big six’ side’s most improved player this season

Following the end of the 2020/21 Premier League season, we’ve looked back on a unique campaign and all of the winners and losers from English football’s top division.

The season brought more than a fair share of controversy, great games and unmissable action, even given the testing circumstances of the past 18 months across both the sport and world.

Before we all embark on this summer’s European Championship with much hope and anticipation, we’ve decided to reflect on the ‘top six’ players who raised their performances to a new level during the Premier League season.

 

Here is every our look at the most improved players from each of the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’ sides from the 2020/21 campaign.

Arsenal – Emile Smith Rowe

Emile Smith Rowe has been one of the bright sparks of an otherwise disappointing season for Arsenal, pre-season hopes of securing Champions League qualification misguided as the Gunners finished eighth – their lowest league position since the 1994/95 campaign.

Amongst a series of poor performances from established names, however, Smith Rowe has seized his opportunity after being introduced into the fold in December.

The academy graduate has spent the past two seasons on loan enduring mixed spells with RB Leipzig and Huddersfield, though returned following a half-season battling Championship relegation last term to become a fixture in Arteta’s side.

Smith Rowe shone in the Boxing Day win over Chelsea and has continued to flourish ever since, his technical talents providing some much-needed creativity into the Arsenal side.

The 20-year-old provides both energy and invention in addition to the versatility to play several positions, his progress this season a major boost as Arsenal look to come through a transitional period.

Smith Rowe scored twice and provided four assists in 18 league starts this campaign and alongside fellow youngster Bukayo Saka should be a player the north Londoners looks to build around for the long term.

Chelsea – Mason Mount

We’ve regularly discussed Mason Mount’s upward trajectory and the altering perceptions of the Chelsea midfielder this season, the bizarre criticism that followed the 22-year-old having all but disappeared following a brilliant campaign.

Once unfairly questioned for his regular role for club and country, there are few disputing Mount’s credentials now after a season in which he has established himself as arguably the most important player for the newly-crowned European champions.

Mount created more chances than any other U23 player in the Premier League this season, ranked second across the division for key passes, and elevated his game to a new level whether playing in the midfield three or further forward.

The star’s numbers for shots, key passes, tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes are all markedly improved from last season’s statistics, highlighting his progress and multi-faceted talents.

Mount’s quality is matched only by an incredible work-rate and level of consistency and he was rightly named as Chelsea’s Player of the Season, finishing the campaign with a Champions League winners’ medal as Thomas Tuchel’s side conquered Europe.

Just two seasons ago the midfielder was on loan at a Derby side chasing promotion from the second tier, but is now an irreplaceable figure at club level for Chelsea and an almost certain starter for England at this summer’s European Championship.

Liverpool – Nathaniel Phillips

Liverpool‘s testing season leaves the dethroned champions with few options for most improved, though Nathaniel Phillips role in the club’s top-four finish certainly deserves a mention.

Defensive injuries to key personnel left Liverpool off the title pace and staring down the barrel at an absence from Europe’s elite, only for Phillips – a player who came close to leaving for the Championship without making a senior appearance only last summer – to step up and earn cult hero status.

Phillips spent last season on loan in Germany’s second tier and had never made a top-flight appearance before the current campaign, though finished the season with 20 appearances in all competitions and a host of admirers for his uncompromising style.

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Dominant aerially, he has reportedly attracted transfer interest from Burnley, with Liverpool looking set to make a tidy profit on a player who will leave as a fans’ favourite for his role in an injury-ravaged team this season.

Diogo Jota’s exceeding of expectations following his arrival from Wolves and Curtis Jones’ progress to become a regular and trusted member of the side also deserves a mention.

Manchester City – John Stones

Pep Guardiola’s decision to spend more than £100m on centre-back reinforcements last summer was the clearest indication of the manager’s faith in his current options, as Manchester City relinquished the title in 2019/20 amid defensive fragility.

John Stones was one of a number of unconvincing options and effectively began the season as fifth-choice centre-back following the arrivals of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake, the defender out of favour for both club and country and facing an uncertain future.

He started the opening win over Wolves, before failing to feature again across City’s next seven fixtures before returning to the side against Burnley in late November.

Stones’ performances over the next few weeks saw him oust Aymeric Laporte – regarded as one of the best in the division – from the side, forming an excellent partnership with Dias as the England international’s calm and composure complimented the club-record signing from Benfica.

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Stones finished top of the Premier League for pass completion with a huge 94.3% of his passes successful in 2020/21, though it is fact that he has cut out of the errors that have so often plagued his game that has salvaged his Etihad career.

Heading towards an exit this time last year, Stones is now on his way to the European Championship as a likely first-choice for Gareth Southgate and England.

Manchester United – Scott McTominay

Luke Shaw’s consistent performances to be arguably the Premier League’s best left-back in 2020/21 deserves acclaim in this feature, but it is Scott McTominay who wins praise for his improvement at Manchester United this term.

The midfielder has often divided opinion since coming through the Red Devils’ academy ranks, a footballer whose attitude and commitment is exemplary but one whose ability to make an impact at the highest level has been questioned,

McTominay, however, has shown this season that he can be more than a footballer tasked with simply regaining and recycling possession, offering dynamism to the engine room and showcasing an improved instinct when venturing forward.

The 24-year-old scored seven goals across all competitions in 2020/21, as many as he had managed in 84 career appearances before this season.

McTominay was the club’s stand-out performer in their Europa League final defeat to Villarreal and the statistics back up the claim he is shouldering more responsibility, with only Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes having made more carries into the final third and progressive dribbles this season.

There remains improvements to be made and continuing his upward goalscoring trajectory will be important to his development, but the Scotland international has shown he can be more than just a water-carrier with adjustments to his game.

Tottenham – Harry Kane

Even the very best can improve and Harry Kane has reached an entire new level this season, the injury problems that have plagued the England captain over the past two campaigns seeming to be behind him.

Kane’s campaign proved one of the best individual seasons of his career for Tottenham, winning a third career Golden Boot with 23 league goals, in addition to finishing top of the Premier League charts for assists with 14.

It is that creative quality that has shown a new dimension to the 27-year-old’s game this term, Kane now amongst the Premier League’s best when it comes to scoring and creating.

His repertoire of passing would not look out of place amongst Europe’s elite midfielders, whilst his clinical edge remains as he became just the third player to win three or more Golden Boot awards.

At times the star’s partnership with Son Heung-Min appeared unstoppable for Premier League defences, and it begs the question as to just what Kane could be capable of with an even greater supporting cast than he has been provided in north London.

Having informed Spurs of his desire to leave in search of silverware, we may just be about to find out. The thought of Kane spearheading the current Manchester City side is one that should be feared by both rival clubs and fans.

Read – 10 of the most iconic Champions League final moments ever

Read Also – Premier League end of season awards 2020/21

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