Premier League footballers are tasked with performing under an intense spotlight, with each and every performance subject to scrutiny.
Pundits and fans alike each have their opinions on the game and in today’s world of social media there is little escape from criticism and judgement. Among the most rewarding aspects for a footballer can be proving people wrong and already this season we’ve seen several stars begin to silence their doubters.
Here are five players proving the critics wrong right now.
Granit Xhaka’s career in the Premier League has been more turbulent than most, a rollercoaster ride at Arsenal that has included several highs and some notable lows.
Xhaka’s mix of impressive performances and moments of rashness have seen him become a much-maligned figure on occasion. He famously clashed with the club’s supporters during a draw with Crystal Palace in 2019 and was stripped of the captaincy under former manager Unai Emery.
After coming close to leaving the Gunners on more than one occasion, the 29-year-old is now enjoying arguably the best period of his career at the Emirates. Reinstated into Arsenal’s leadership group under Mikel Arteta, he captained the side in Martin Odegaard’s absence at Brentford and later thanked the travelling fans who serenaded him in song.
Granit Xhaka won the hearts of Arsenal fans back ✨ pic.twitter.com/6rfK0PG9Hl
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 18, 2022
A rosier relationship with the supporters has come alongside improved performances on the pitch, with a tweak in role bringing the best from Xhaka. Often used as a holding midfielder in past campaigns, Arteta has granted the Swiss star greater freedom this season and Arsenal are reaping the rewards.
Xhaka has created an average of two chances per game and has three assists in seven league games, just one less than the past two seasons combined. Operating in the inside left channel, it is a position that maximises Xhaka’s ability on the ball, while he has the tactical intelligence to cover the marauding runs of Oleksandr Zinchenko or Kieran Tierney from full-back.
Conor Coady’s exit from Wolves caught some by surprise during the summer, with the club captain allowed to leave on loan as Bruno Lage brought change to Molineux.
Coady had been an almost ever-present in the Wolves side for seven seasons, where he found a home in the centre of a three-man backline that contributed to the club’s consolidation at Premier League level.
Conor Coady, though.
Immense. 🔵 pic.twitter.com/6rcijyMTa9
— Everton (@Everton) September 18, 2022
The 29-year-old’s departure came amid accusations he struggles as part of a back four, with Lage keen to move to a new formation for the current campaign. Coady, however, is now impressing in exactly that system at Everton, who could prove rivals to Wolves this season if both teams end up dragged into a dogfight.
Both teams have struggled for goals and have just one win each, but Coady’s arrival at Everton has provided the Toffees with a solid base from which to build upon. The Liverpudlian has formed an excellent partnership with fellow recruit James Tarkowski, a duo which boasts the required leadership and nous to earn Everton points this season.
Manchester United’s need for a defensive midfielder was one of the stories of the summer transfer window, with the club’s much-maligned midfield earning increased criticism following back-to-back defeats to open the campaign.
The prayers of the club’s fanbase appeared to have been answered following the arrival of Casemiro from Real Madrid, a talent considered among the world’s best anchors and a statement signing from the Red Devils.
However, over a month has passed since Casemiro was paraded around the pitch at Old Trafford and the marquee man is yet to start a Premier League game. It’s not fitness that has kept the star signing out the side, but the impressive form of Scott McTominay.
Scott McTominay’s half by numbers vs. Sheriff Tiraspol:
5 Tackles won
5 ground duels won
3/3 aerial duels won
1 long ball completed
Breaking up play. 💥 pic.twitter.com/NY9KWJbGyr
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 15, 2022
The Scotland international has often been a scapegoat for the Red Devils’ poorer performances, with his partnership with Fred in midfield often labelled as emblematic of the club’s decline. McTominay, however, has raised his game to new levels amid the increased competition for a place and his role in the upturn of Erik ten Hag’s team has made him undroppable at present.
McTominay was brilliant in wins over Liverpool and Arsenal, where his physical presence and combative approach proved a fine compliment to Christian Eriksen in the engine room. Casmeiro’s time will likely come, but few envisaged McTominay performing to a level where he kept out the man signed to replace him. Largely written off in some sectors, the midfielder has shown the value he can bring to Ten Hag’s rebuild.
Aleksandar Mitrovic arrived into the Premier League with question marks this season, having been criticised for his past record at the top level.
The Serbian has proven too good for England’s second tier at Fulham, where he has scored 81 goals in 101 Championship appearances, including a record-breaking 43-goal campaign in 2021/22.
In comparison, Mitrovic had scored 14 times in 64 games at Premier League level for the Cottagers. His last visit to the top tier saw the 28-year-old score just three league goals as Fulham were relegated, with Mitrovic out of favour under former manager Scott Parker.
Revitalised since Marco Silva’s arrival in west London, he has silenced his doubters during the opening weeks of the campaign. Mitrovic scored twice as Fulham held Liverpool on the opening weekend, in a performance which saw him torment Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) September 4, 2022
Since then he’s added a further four goals in six games, with only Erling Haaland having netted more in the Premier League so far this season. Mitrovic is tied with Harry Kane on six goals, esteemed company to be in at the top of the goalscoring charts.
Powerful and predacious, Fulham have tailored their game to suit his strengths and it is a tactic that could yet lead to long-awaited consolidation after a yo-yo existence. No player has recorded more shots than Mitrovic, who is averaging a goal every 105 minutes so far this season.
Gabriel Jesus signed for Arsenal during the summer, having been forced out at Manchester City following the arrival of Erling Haaland.
Jesus boasted a fine goal record at the Etihad, though arrived at Arsenal with doubts over his suitability as an out-and-out number nine. Critics had questioned Jesus’ finishing ability and he admitted himself he had doubted his best role after being moved to a wide position for club and country.
“I ended up playing more at the winger in the Seleção and at City too. After the World Cup I thought that I couldn’t play as a No.9,” he told ESPN Brasil.
“I started playing much more on the wing at City and for Brazil. For a while I thought that. But I’ve changed my mentality, I believe much more in myself now. I’m smiling again playing football.”
🇧🇷 Gabriel Jesus now has 7 goal contributions (4G, 3A) in just 7 Premier League games for Arsenal 👏
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) September 20, 2022
The smile has returned following a brilliant start at Arsenal, one which has seen Jesus provide seven goal contributions in just seven games. He has scored four goals and laid on a further three assists, while his intelligent movement and work-rate has seen the Gunners evolve into one of the Premier League’s best pressing teams.
“I’m very blessed as I can play across all front three but I am a No.9,” Jesus added. “I am there to finish our chances. Not only that but to help the team as a whole. It’s normal to pick up and think that you can’t play with 9, that I’m a winger.
“I had this in my head for a long time. Now I have a different mind and I believe in myself much more.
“I went back to being the usual Gabriel, thinking that I’m 9, that I’m there to finish, to help, of course not just to score goals. I went back to being what I was before, a little like being a player on the floodplain. It is no longer that robot that used to be there.”
Surprisingly, he has been snubbed by Brazil for their latest squad ahead of the upcoming pre-World Cup friendlies against Ghana and Tunisia.
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