We’re approaching the half-way point of the Premier League season with the campaign hotting up at both ends of the division, just seven points currently separating the entire top half to spark hopes of a tantalising title race.
At the opposite end winless Sheffield United look in danger of being cut adrift, though each of the sides in the bottom six will be nervously hoping for a run of results to carry themselves away from danger.
As we head into a New Year that promises a fascinating end to the 2020/21 campaign, we’ve picked out some stars who could prove the difference-makers for their sides over the second half of the season.
Here are six Premier League players with the chance to make themselves a hero between now and the end of the season:
Paul Pogba’s career at Manchester United has largely been one of frustration and controversies, the midfielder having failed to live up to his world-record price-tag and often appearing in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.
The France international’s outspoken agent, Mino Raiola, has been an unwelcome presence and has continually hinted at an exit for his client, with many believing that next summer is perhaps the right time for Pogba to move on after an underwhelming five-year spell at Old Trafford.
Pogba has struggled to cement himself as a key figure under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and questions remain over the 27-year-old’s best position and role, the signing of the superb Bruno Fernandes having further emphasised his teammate’s lack of impact.
Raiola declared that his client’s career with the club was ‘over’ in an untimely interview last month, though the Frenchman has since responded with an encouraging run of form during a positive period for Solskjaer’s side who sit level with league leaders Liverpool with a game-in-hand.
Few expected the Red Devils to challenge for the title in pre-season and fewer still following a difficult start to the campaign, but the most competitive Premier League season in recent memory could yet offer a tightly-contested title race.
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 1, 2021
Pogba won a League Cup and Europa League double during his debut season after signing from Juventus for a record-breaking £89m fee, though United have now gone three seasons without silverware since those triumphs.
If the midfielder can play a pivotal part in an unlikely title triumph for Manchester United this season, he can perhaps ride off into the sunset with the best wishes of a fanbase who have struggled to warm to the club-record buy.
James Maddison has found himself somewhat of a forgotten figure when it comes to discussing England’s creative midfield options, the Leicester star having failed to add to his sole international cap won more than a year ago.
Injuries have hindered the progress of a player brimming with talent and technique, though he has returned in fine form in recent weeks with five goal involvements in his past six Premier League appearances.
Maddison starred during Leicester’s run into the Champions League places last season and his injury during the run-in arguably cost the Foxes a place amongst Europe’s elite, Brendan Rodgers’ side dropping out of the top four following defeat to Manchester United on the final day of the season.
The 24-year-old’s creativity and threat from set-pieces is invaluable to Leicester and his impressive displays in recent weeks have represented a massive boost, the Foxes currently third in the division and just one point adrift of both Liverpool and Manchester United.
29 – James Maddison has been directly involved in 29 goals in the Premier League for Leicester (17 goals and 12 assists); since the start of the 2018-19 season, this is the most by any English midfielder in the competition. Bullseye. pic.twitter.com/Zg0M5ZJ6Sl
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 3, 2021
Maddison has spoken recently over Leicester’s belief that they can secure Champions League football this season and keeping the midfielder fit and firing could be key, whilst the star will no doubt be looking to compete with the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount for a place in the England squad this summer.
Fulham’s fortunes over the opening weeks of the season saw the critics out in full force, the newly-promoted side looking firmly out of their depth and threatening to finish bottom of the pile.
Scott Parker quickly addressed his side needed an injection of quality and some late window recruitment has revived their fortunes, the signings of Joachim Andersen, Tosin Adarabioyo and Ruben Loftus-Cheek having strengthened the spine of the side.
Perhaps the key addition, however, has been the loan arrival of Ademola Lookman from RB Leipzig, with the former Everton winger having provided a much-needed attacking spark to the side.
The 23-year-old – who has scored twice and provided a further two assists – possesses pace and trickery on the flanks, whilst his willingness to press intently sets the tone for the west Londoners who have lost just once in their past six league fixtures.
Four of those clashes have been draws, however, and Fulham must start turning those into victories if they are to avoid an instant return to the second tier, sitting three points behind 17th-placed Brighton at present with two games-in-hand.
Few expect Lookman to remain with Fulham beyond the end of the season, but he could be the difference in keeping his loan side at Premier League level.
The promise and potential of Phil Foden has been no secret with the Manchester City midfielder having long been lauded as a potential star of English football, and the current campaign could be the year that the 20-year-old establishes himself as a key figure in the club’s plans.
David Silva’s departure after a decade at the Etihad had largely been viewed as the next step in Foden’s progress, with the youngster set to be handed increased responsibility in Pep Guardiola’s side.
Foden started each of City’s opening four league fixtures of the season but has found himself in and out of the side since, starting just twice in their past 11 in the Premier League.
The midfielder’s absence has come despite the clear lack creativity and intensity from City’s play this season, their swashbuckling attacking play of recent campaigns replaced by a more methodical approach.
Guardiola has improved his side defensively with the summer signing of Ruben Dias key to City boasting the division’s best defensive record this term, and finding the balance could prove the difference between reclaiming the Premier League title or falling short.
🗣"I just have to keep doing well each time"
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 3, 2021
Foden has proven he has the invention and ability to decide games and his performance in the 3-1 win at Chelsea last weekend was yet another glimpse of a player whose potential seemingly has little limits.
The Stockport-born starlet has now scored 21 goals and provided 16 assists in just 45 starts in all competitions for City and it is time he is given a regular opportunity to shine and fulfil his talent.
Tottenham’s season so far has been one of positivity with the north London side in contention at the top of the Premier League and through to a major final as they bid to end their silverware drought.
Jose Mourinho has largely extracted the best from the players available to him but the minimal impact of Gareth Bale has been a disappointment, the Welsh international returning to the club on loan during the summer seven years after a world-record move to Real Madrid.
Bale’s latter years in the Spanish capital proved frustrating with the 31-year-old firmly out-of-favour, but he has failed to take the chance of revitalising his career since returning to the Premier League.
Bale has started just once in the Premier League and has scored just three times in all competitions, the star yet to win Mourinho’s trust with the Portuguese having largely favoured the greater industry of Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura.
Whilst both players have their merits they have struggled for goals with just one between them, the goalscoring burden having largely fallen squarely on the shoulders of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
The talismanic duo have been in sensational form this season but will need assistance if Spurs are to challenge, and Bale has the talent and match-winning pedigree to perfectly compliment the star strikers.
The Welshman will need to show he can provide Mourinho with more than he has done to date, however, and will hope a second half of the season can bring a personal renaissance and long-awaited silverware for the north Londoners.
Liverpool have wobbled over the festive period and have taken just two points from their past three Premier League fixtures, the Reds remaining top of the division on goal difference but handing the title initiative to the in-form Manchester clubs who have games-in-hand.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have looked short of imagination in recent fixtures with their first-choice front three far from their best, struggling to break down the likes of West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton in a worrying sequence of performances.
The champions are in need of a boost as they bid to regain the title and that could come from summer signing Diogo Jota, the forward having been in scintillating form before an exciting debut season was temporarily halted through injury.
Jota scored nine goals in his first 10 starts for the Reds before being ruled out in early December, and whilst no fixed date has yet been set for his return the club will be hoping to have the former Wolves forward available in the coming weeks.
Liverpool since losing Diogo Jota to injury:
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 4, 2021
The Portugal alternative offers a dynamic alternative or addition to Liverpool’s attacking compliment, Klopp having utilised the star alongside Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on occasion this season.
If Jota can recapture his early season form swiftly he could provide the injury-hit champions with the spark their title challenge desperately needs.