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Half-term Report On The Premiership The most outstanding player of each team

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Chelsea: Joe Cole


Once he was singled out for criticism by Jose Mourinho; now he is exempted from it. Such is the improvement in Joe Cole in little over a year.


The only player at the top of his game recently - according to his manager, anyway - has exceeded expectations.


With four wingers to pick from Cole started the season on the bench. Now his status as an automatic pick is unquestioned.


And that happy knack of scoring important goals - displayed again at Highbury - is only one reason why.


Manchester United: Wayne Rooney


Ruud van Nistelrooy apart, it couldn't have been anyone else. He is much more than a goalscorer, but already figures on the top scorers' list.


And that is only one element of his contribution; Rooney has seamlessly become United's inspiration and had a suitably catalytic impact at Birmingham that, without touching the ball, his side led 36 seconds after his introduction.


Thoughts have turned to the subject of Sir Alex Ferguson's legacy; if it takes the shape of the barrel-chested Scouser, his successor will be a fortunate manager.


Liverpool: Jamie Carragher


Steven Gerrard would win the popular vote. Xabi Alonso would be the connoisseur's choice. But for unflinching commitment and a series of near-flawless performances, Jamie Carragher's consistency should not go unnoticed.


The epitome of reliability, he has conclusively proved he is no one-season wonder and his reinvention as a centre back, more even than the signing of Alonso, looks like Rafa Benitez's masterstroke.


Tottenham: Edgar Davids


There are few more evocative nicknames than 'the pitbull', and few more apt. Premiership midfields have become accustomed to the dogged determination of the Dutchman, referees to taking his name.


And while much of the focus on Martin Jol's Tottenham team is on their youth, the old head has been just as influential, combining well with Michael Carrick and, after a slow start, Jermaine Jenas.


Bolton: Abdoulaye Faye

Sam Allardyce has long had a weakness for defensive midfielders; Bolton's collection are notable for their variety and versatility. But Fernando Hierro's replacement has emerged in the shape of the man-mountain from Senegal.


Allardyce is hardly one to gush, but his comments after the Arsenal match verged on a eulogy to Abdoulaye Faye. At ?1 million, he is one of the bargains of the season and, in his manager's opinion, Vieira-esque.


Wigan: Pascal Chimbonda


Candidates abounded but the surprise package of the season's surprise packages is the marauding right back. Pascal Chimbonda combined a place in what was an impenetrable defence with instinctive, adventurous attacking.


Late goals against Fulham and Portsmouth were an indication of his impact; indeed no full back scores as many late goals, and few have played with as much panache.


Manchester City: Joey Barton


His pre-season antics meant Joey Barton started the season in the last-chance saloon; such has been his impact that City will be reluctant to eject their talented, if wayward, midfielder at all.


Under Stuart Pearce, he has been integral to City, his trademark competitiveness allied with the eye for goal more associated with attacking midfielders.


His new-found seniority was evident when partnering the teenager Stephen Ireland in the centre of midfield and the rehabilitation of Barton counts among Pearce's major achievements.


Arsenal: Robin van Persie


Too many Arsenal players have had so-so seasons. For Robin van Persie, however, it has been a breakthrough year.


One of the oddities of Thierry Henry's first six seasons at Arsenal was that only one forward - Dennis Bergkamp - appeared fully at ease in a partnership with the Frenchman. Until now.


Van Persie, blessed with a ferocious shot from a forensic left foot, is hardly a clone of his fellow Dutchman, but his run of seven goals in as many games has made him an automatic choice and given Arsenal a vision of life after Dennis.


West Ham: Danny Gabbidon


The Ewood Park advertising hoardings have much to answer for. West Ham, rarely a byword for fine defending, were quietly establishing a reputation for defensive excellence when Gabbidon collided with the perimeter fencing at Blackburn. Since then, they have shipped eight goals in two-and-a-half games.


It is an indication of the seamless transition that Gabbidon has made from Championship to Premiership football. He was reportedly scouted by many top-flight teams; they must now be reflecting that West Ham got a bargain.


Newcastle: Shay Given


Sometimes a statistic can baffle; sometimes it highlights an extraordinary individual contribution.


And the sight of Newcastle United with the joint seventh best defence in the Premiership does both. Shay Given, a man who should be driven to distraction by the scenes he witnesses on a weekly basis, quietly gets on with the business of saving Newcastle United.


His agility and consistency means that, among the overworked shot-stoppers, his is the strongest case to challenge Messrs Cech and Reina for the title of the Premiership's best goalkeeper and why, with apologies to the excellent Scott Parker, he is the outstanding Newcastle player.


Charlton: Darren Bent


As compliments go, 'Benty kept going' hardly had Alan Curbishley reaching for the superlatives.


It was, however, revealing, the nearest the Charlton manager came to finding a positive in a thrashing at Wigan and a belief that his inexperienced striker, stranded alone up front, never gave up.


He has been unable to maintain his remarkable scoring rate but, while others have let their performances slip and lost their places, Bent continues to keep going.


Blackburn: Tugay


Those who said they didn't need Roy Keane appeared in the minority in recent weeks. Mark Hughes, well-placed to know of his former team-mate's attributes, did just that, however. His rationale? He had Tugay, an older, slower and perhaps less mobile midfielder.


But the Turk still has a wonderful passing range, and there is a timeless quality to his play. Blackburn's strong-arm tactics meet with little approval outside Ewood Park, but they are also capable of some excellent football - and Tugay is at the heart of the latter.

Middlesbrough: Yakubu Ayegbeni


In three seasons in the Premiership, only Thierry Henry has outscored Yakubu Ayegbeni. It is all the more impressive as the Nigerian has been confined to the lower half of the league for the vast majority of his time in England.


He has wasted little time in justifying his ?7.5 million fee at the Riverside; without attracting much attention outside Teesside, he already has 10 Premiership goals, despite lacking a settled partner.


Indeed, while Middlesbrough make inconsistency their forte, the availability of their dependable striker - who will not be going to the African Nations Cup - is the best news Steve McClaren has received for quite some time.


Fulham: Steed Malbranque


By prime ministerial endorsement, Steed Malbranque is the most exciting talent at Craven Cottage.


After an undistinguished season last year, he has recaptured the form he showed upon arrival in England, allying those jinking solo runs with an eye for goal.


Manchester City inquired about Malbranque in the summer; others, too, should have been alerted to the talent of the Franco-Belgian.


Aston Villa: Steven Davis


Back in the days when David O'Leary was regarded as a progressive force and a champion of youth, his sentences were laced with mentions of 'my babies'. Times have changed, but the two causes of optimism at Villa Park are the inexperienced pair of James Milner and Steven Davis.


The Ulsterman's progression has been particularly rapid, fuelling reports that Arsenal and Manchester United have taken an interest in the goalscoring midfielder and prompting Doug Ellis to give him an improved contract.


Everton: Phil Neville


Despite fleeting glimpses of Andy van der Meyde's ability, the early verdicts on David Moyes' summer spending have hardly been adulatory. The exception is Phil Neville, whose quiet consistency has been a feature of a miserable season.


He has made a merit of doing the simple things well while, overshadowed by bigger personalities at Old Trafford, his latent leadership qualities have come to the fore.


With David Weir nearing the end of his career, the younger Neville must be pencilled in as the next Everton captain.


West Bromwich Albion: Chris Kirkland


Bryan Robson has made loan signings his speciality. This season's Kieran Richardson, therefore, is Chris Kirkland.


He has not fully managed to end his injury jinx but, when fit, has provided evidence of why his brief career has brought a host of high-profile admirers.


And perhaps the individual goalkeeping display of the season was Kirkland's performance when West Brom beat Arsenal.


Portsmouth: Gary O'Neil


The season he has come of age. At times O'Neil has been a more regular sight in the England Under-21 team than the Portsmouth side; while a remnant of Harry Redknapp's first spell at Fratton Park, he was no stranger to loan spells.


But the exodus - verging on asset-stripping - that followed Redknapp's departure benefited the energetic midfielder.


He filled a variety of roles in Alain Perrin's baffling 3-3-3-1 formation and cemented his status as a Premiership regular.

Birmingham: David Dunn


If Birmingham's season could be described as a tragedy, David Dunn has been, at best, a guest star, an irregular presence, more discussed than seen.


Indeed, he was only on show for 36 minutes at Manchester City on Saturday, so his nomination is a reflection of his team-mates' efforts as much as anything else.


Yet, amid myriad underachievers, Dunn's hunger has been apparent. His quick footwork and creative instincts mean that, if fit, a pivotal role in Birmingham's relegation battle awaits.


Sunderland: Dean Whitehead


Selected from a shortlist that was very short indeed. Mick McCarthy's policy of signing lower league players has been much maligned, and not without justification, but Dean Whitehead, plucked from Oxford, has made a rare success of the adjustment to Premiership football.


His free kick at White Hart Lane provided rare quality in a miserable season and the midfielder, also Sunderland's penalty taker, appears to relish all the responsibility he is given.

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