TEAMtalk's James Marshment presents his most-improved XI of the Premier League season, with a number of surprise candidates getting the nod.
We're almost a quarter of the way into 2012/13 Premier League season and a picture is emerging about how the rest of the campaign might unfold.
It's also been pretty apparent who the early contenders are for Player of the Season with Joe Hart, Santi Cazorla and Eden Hazard stealing the early limelight, while the latter two can also be quite rightly earmarked alongside Jan Vertonghen and Lukas Podolski as the most successful imports of the season so far.
But what about the players who have raised their game to another level this season? The players who were 'bottom of the class' last year, but now quite rightly, can consider themselves as first-team regulars and create those 'selection headaches' that managers so love to have.
Remember, we're not looking for the best players in the Premier League this season - but those who have significantly upped their game and raised their standards to a whole new level.
You can choose any formation and there's no limit on how many players you can pick from each team - so have a think, then get involved.
TEAMtalk's Most-Improved XI (4-4-2): Cech; Jenkinson, Evans, McAuley, Kolarov; Morrison, N'Zonzi, Johnson, Duff; Fletcher, Dzeko.
Subs: Hart, Rafael, Arteta, Shelvey, Pienaar, Di Santo, Defoe.
Petr Cech - Chelsea:: After a couple of seasons in which he fell below his own high standards, many felt Cech would be fazed out of the first-team picture at Stamford Bridge. However, the Czech keeper, now in his eighth season with the Blues, has been nothing short of sensational so far, letting in just six goals in eight league games to suggest Chelsea's number one-in-waiting Thibaut Courtois may have to wait a few seasons longer for top spot at the Bridge.
Carl Jenkinson - Arsenal Anyone who witnessed Jenkinson's performance in the Gunners' 8-2 destruction at Old Trafford in August 2011 would have raised some serious questions over his credentials as a Premier League footballer. Fast forward 12 months, it's almost hard to believe we're looking at the same player such has been the improvement in his tackling, reading of the game, and ability to get forward.
There's even talk of a possible England call-up, with the former Charlton man pinning his future to the Three Lions, as opposed to Finland, the birthplace of his mother.
Jonny Evans - Manchester United: Evans has got improved so much over the past 12 months that we're no longer debating the merits of his place in the United side, but moreso his credentials as a future captain of the club. Confident on the ball and assured in the tackle, Evans has been United's most consistent performer in their backline across both this and last season. Nemanja who?
Gareth McAuley - West Brom: Arguably the least glamorous name to make our Most-Improved XI, McAuley has struck up a surprisingly watertight partnership at the heart of the Albion defence with Jonas Olsson. One of the first names on Steve Clarke's teamsheet, McAuley has been one of the key performers in the Baggies' ascendancy into the top half of the table this season.
Aleksandar Kolarov - Manchester City: Took time to settle in the Premier League following his £16million switch from Lazio in 2010, but has now become one of the club's most consistent performers this term. Takes a deadly free-kick too, with his record of three goals in eight games so far this season proving that fact.
James Morrison - West Brom: The second Baggie to earn selection, Morrison has been the creative heartbeat for West Brom this season. A sublime crosser of the ball, such has been his improvement this term, the BBC's Garth Crooks demanded his inclusion in Roy Hodgson's latest England squad earlier this month, before sheepishly retracting the claim upon realisation that Morrison has, in fact, already earned 25 caps for Scotland. Pipe down, Crooks!
Steven N'Zonzi - Stoke: N'Zonzi won the fans' Player of the Year award in his first season at Blackburn, but he lost form along with the rest of the team following Steve Kean's appointment and endured a difficult campaign as Rovers were relegated from the Premier League last term.
He has looked back to his best since joining Stoke, though, and has arguably been their best player over the past month. He has added bite the Potters' midfield surprisingly lacked at times last season, but also provided them with greater composure on the ball as well as the aerial strength Tony Pulis traditionally likes in his players. Stoke and the 23-year-old look like a match made in heaven.
Bradley Johnson - Norwich: Leeds fans laughingly mocked the Canaries when they snapped up Johnson on a free transfer last summer at the start of their Premier League adventure. And it seemed their jibes were well placed with the former Arsenal trainee looking more than a little out of his depth in the top flight.
But as Norwich have defied the critics, so too has Johnson and the Hackney-born midfielder has played every minute of this Premier League season so far. Although he's still not getting widespread acclaim, Johnson has been their most consistent performer this term and was voted as the local newspaper's Man of the Match in Saturday's victory over Arsenal.
Damien Duff - Fulham: Now in the twilight years of his career, Duff has looked back to his best so far this season as three goals, and a number of Man of the Match performances, will testify. If you play Fantasy Football and don't have Duff in your midfield, amend that fact immediately as Duff is amongst the league's most productive points accumulators this season.
Steven Fletcher - Sunderland: If Sunderland fans were questioning Martin O'Neill's wisdom in paying £12million to prise Fletcher away from Wolves in the summer, they certainly aren't questioning his judgement now. Five goals in six games so far certainly make him worth every penny and he was quite rightly named as September's Barclays Player of the Month.
Edin Dzeko - Manchester City: Could quite easily have been sold off by City over the summer, Dzeko is now making it increasingly difficult for Roberto Mancini to leave him out of the side. Has dug City out of several holes this season and has finally looked like the player that we all remember in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.
Hart: Brilliant last season, but even better this.
Rafael: Has added positional sense and maturity to his game.
Arteta: Superb in his new deep-lying holding midfield role for the Gunners this term.
Shelvey: More than worthy of his recent England call-up and clearly has the full support of Reds boss Brendan Rodgers as viewers of C5's 'Being: Liverpool' will testify.
Pienaar: Back to his brilliant best after a woeful 12 months with Tottenham.
Di Santo: One of Latics' best players this season and unusually clinical in front of goal.
Defoe: Who says little men can't play as lone frontmen? Deadly in front of goal this term after a stop-start season last time out.
Post a Comment below to let us know your thoughts on our selection, and who you would select in your own Most-Improved team!
You can follow James on Twitter at @marshyleeds.