After a miserable first few months in the Premier League, De Gea now finally seems as if he has got to grips with the considerable requirements of life as number one at Old Trafford.
Monday night’s strong performance including magnificent stops from Junior Hoillett, Martin Olsson and Scott Dann provided further proof that the young Spaniard is starting to look something like being worth the large sum of money that United decided to splash out on securing his services last summer. Had he not been there to make the sort of reaction saves he had become renowned for at previous club Athletico Madrid then Monday’s hard-earned win against Blackburn could have ended up being a lot different and as such United’s prospects of winning the title could also have looked totally different. If De Gea can keep his current run of form going and continue to adapt to the huge level of awareness needed by a keeper at United then he may well end up being lauded for his contributions towards winning the title come May.
2. Mario Balotelli:
He is a total and utter liability, but he is a genius. A flawed genius but a genius nonetheless. We don’t know for sure how swiftly Sergio Aguero will recover from his now infamous “stupid injury” but if he is missing for any more of City’s run in then Balotelli’s form will be crucial for City in their pursuit of their rivals and current league leaders, United.
Edin Dzeko has struggled for form after an electric start to the season and Carlos Tevez is still not right back in the thick of it in terms of his match fitness and sharpness, so, in the absence of Aguero it could be argued that Balotelli is the key player for City in their run-in. If he can keep his head and produce the sort of ruthlessness we know he is capable of in and around the opposition’s goal then he could fire City right back into the title race.
3. Hatem Ben Arfa:
Newcastle’s ultimate mercurial talent. Ben Arfa has finally found the sort of form that at one time had him being spoken about as one of Europe’s finest young players and had the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid crawling over themselves to try and get him to sign for them.
His young career has been blighted with injury and has also been badly affected by the occasional period of indiscipline on and off the field but right now those troubles must seem a distant memory. His form off the back of an impressive performance when brought off the bench in the Tyne-Wear derby has been very impressive indeed and have drawn some fairly lofty comparisons with the likes of Lionel Messi (I think perhaps Alan Pardew was a little too euphoric when he said that) but, nevertheless, he has appeared as if he is back to the peak of his powers.
Newcastle have been superb this season and most neutrals will be willing them on to secure European football (and perhaps even Champions League football if miracles do really happen) and Ben Arfa will surely play a huge part in their charge to bring European nights back to St.James’.
A couple of goals at the weekend for Adebayor after something of a lean period for him on a personal level and for Spurs as a collective will have done him and them the world of good.
The three points earned by Adebayor’s brace of headed goals took them back onto level terms with their fierce North-London rivals Arsenal and ended a run of poor form and results for Tottenham in their pursuit of automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League.
Aside from Adebayor, Spurs look a little thin on the ground up top so it is crucial that he builds on his match-winning goals against Swansea and takes this goalscoring form into the rest on Spurs’ league campaign if they are to guarantee that Champions League football returns to the Lane next season.
We have all heard the negatives about Fernando Torres and the downwards spiral his career has seemed to be stuck in over the past couple of years but now there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of very important recent contributions in the role of assist-maker have been coupled with a few more goals in recent weeks and maybe, just maybe, Torres is something like back to his best.
If he has desires on securing a place in Spain’s squad for the Euros and on helping Chelsea find a way of securing Champions League qualification for next season then he will have to build on his recent improvements and keep the positive momentum building in his game.
6. Theo Walcott:
Walcott has recently been given a more free-roaming role by his manager Arsene Wenger and has revelled in it. While goal-machine Van Persie is currently enduring the goal drought to end all goal droughts, stretching back an enormous three whole games (how embarrassing…), Walcott has started to get his name back on the score-sheet more regularly and has emerged as perhaps Arsenal’s key figure heading into their run-in.
If they are to hold Spurs and Chelsea off and secure a top-three finish then Walcott will need to keep his current form levels going and will need to continue his more recent trend of contributing strongly on the goals front.
Whoever is charged with taking England to the Euros this summer would be well advised to take note of Walcott’s recent improvements which have been a consequence of his increasingly more flexible and central role for his club.
Hoilett’s continuing progress this season has attracted the interest of some very big clubs such as Liverpool and Spurs and while his current Blackburn side might be plying their trade in the Championship next season he could well be enjoying his first taste of Champions League football.
In a side bereft of genuine quality, Hoilett has stood out as a beacon of hope all season and I am in no doubt that he will be crucial to any hopes they have of avoiding the drop.
8. Adel Taarabt:
Garth Crooks described Taarabt as the Premier League’s “most frustrating player” at the weekend and as much as I think of Crooks as the most annoying pundit I have to admit that he makes a very fair point.
Sure, Mario Balotelli is stiff competition for this crown but Taarabt’s piece of match-winning brilliance against Arsenal at the weekend was one of the first real demonstrations of his considerable talents all season.
Quite why it has taken him so long to produce a moment of such quality this term is a bit of a mystery as he has everything a player needs to be a success in the Premier League.
He has decent pace, he’s big, he’s strong and he has extraordinary technical ability but unfortunately he seems to have some deficiencies when it comes to his attitude on and off the field and that has held him back in what should really have been another major developmental year in his young career.
Perhaps his brilliant strike at the weekend could spark a run of form that could help QPR stay up, as when he is at his best he really is that good.
9. Luis Antonio Valencia:
Valencia’s return to prominence in recent weeks has come at just the right time for United in their late season assault on the title. Monday night’s relentless efforts down his right wing at Ewood Park almost single-handedly won the game for United and when finally he opted to take the shot on rather than trying to create chances for others in the consistently overcrowded Blackburn penalty area he succeeded in thumping it past Paul Robinson.
In the absence of Nani who has been struggling with injury problems in recent weeks, Valencia has taken the responsibility of being United’s chief creator and if he manages to maintain his electric form then I find it hard to see United not winning the title. He and his creative abilities are, quite simply, that bigger a factor for United at the moment.
10. Victor Moses:
Like Junior Hoilett at Blackburn, Victor Moses provides Wigan with a real touch of quality. His ability to run hard and fast at opposition defenders provides the Latics with a real outlet up top and if they are to have any hope of staying up then the goals and creative abilities of Moses will surely have to lead the charge.
This season has seen Moses grow into a player of real Premier League class and the last few games of the season may well end up being something of a shop window period for the young forward as he continues to impress in spite of his club’s tricky campaign.
Whether Wigan stay up or go down their is a decent chance that suitors will gather for Moses come the end of what has been a breakthrough season at this level for Moses.