It has been a year of change in the Premier League, with Manchester City and Chelsea faltering and Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur fighting it out for the title.
It is little surprise that stars from the latter two clubs dominate CaughtOffside’s list of the 10 most improved players of the season, but who else has raised their game?
Note – the criteria for inclusion is the improvement on last year’s Premier League performances. Those players who were not in the 2014-15 Premier League are not eligible.
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10. Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
It has been a disappointing season at Old Trafford, but at least their fans can fall back on some hugely promising performances from a group of youngsters who will outlive Louis van Gaal’s reign of terror.
Marcus Rashford may have stolen the headlines recently, but Jesse Lingard has quietly made himself a regular for the Red Devils with his combination of speed, direct running and defensive discipline.
9. Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
There are plenty of exciting names in Mark Hughes’s Stoke City squad these days, but Arnautovic has outperformed every single one this season with a career-best return of 10 goals and five assists.
The Austrian had previously been a maverick talent with a sketchy track record when it came to end product, but he has really stepped up this term to play a leading role in another year of Stoke progress.
8. Wes Morgan (Leicester City)
Last season, Morgan was a part of the Premier League’s third leakiest defence as Leicester miraculously escaped relegation. This season, he has captained them towards the most unlikely of title triumphs.
The Foxes were fluent during the first half of the season, but it appears as though the key to them getting over the line might be Morgan’s partnership with Robert Huth, which has kept five straight clean sheets.
7. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Mauricio Pochettino can take credit for bringing on a couple of handfuls of players at White Hart Lane. Mousa Dembele has been honed outstandingly, and he has taken Harry Kane to another level still.
But the progress of Danny Rose has gone slightly under the radar. The dynamic and brave left-back has been fabulous since the turn of the year, and might well be England’s first choice come Euro 2016.
6. Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
The Belgian underwhelmed somewhat in his first season as a full-time Everton player, scoring just 10 goals in 32 starts. He already has 18 this term. Who knows where the Toffees would be without him.
And Lukaku, still only 22, has also improved his combination play, bringing the likes of Ross Barkley or Aaron Lennon into the game with six assists. He now looks every inch a Champions League striker.
5. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
A striker who has arguably made an ever greater improvement than Lukaku is one-time non-league forward Vardy, who has completed a fairytale rise to become the top scorer for the potential champions.
The 29-year-old managed only five goals last season compared to 21 this year, including strikes in 11 successive games for a Premier League record. He is one of the most feared frontmen in the division.
4. Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur)
Lamela might not have performed as well as some of the names below him on this list, but his personal improvement is nearly as significant as anyone, because he had been so awful before this campaign!
The £30m Argentine – fee reported by The Telegraph – looked to be a massive waste of money based on his first two seasons at Spurs, but Pochettino persisted with him and he has turned his career around.
His 10 goals in all competitions this term is twice as many as he managed last season, and Lamela has absolutely mastered Pochettino’s counter-pressing tactics to establish himself as an important figure.
3. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Coutinho was already a fine player, but he has taken his game to another level over the past 12 months to become the match-winner that Liverpool so desperately needed after the departure of Steven Gerrard.
The Brazilian is one of the best players in the Premier League on his day and still has plenty of room to improve on his return of seven goals and five assists. Liverpool’s problem may be keeping hold of him.
2. Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Dier enjoyed a decent debut season at Tottenham, but did not have a role in the team as he was switched around from centre-back to right-back. That has all changed with his move into midfield this season.
The England star has adapted superbly to make the position his own for club and country, showing excellent maturity to protect Tottenham’s defence and give them a steel they have previously missed.
1. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
The Premier League’s most improved player of the season has arguably been the best player of the season – Leicester winger Mahrez, who has an unbeatable combined total of 27 league goals and assists.
Last campaign he scored four goals and supplied three assists, and was not always a guaranteed starter. The points difference of Leicester’s that Mahrez is responsible for is almost immeasurable, and so is his improvement as he threatens to become one of the hottest commodities in football come the summer.
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