On the surface, the Premier League has gone pretty much as expected this season. Manchester City are top – barely – with Liverpool the main challengers to Pep Guardiola’s side’s crown. The relegation zone features three sides – Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield – who were promoted in either 2017 or 2018.
However, there have been a number of surprise statistical stars throughout the campaign.
Here, with the help of the Football Whispers Lab, we highlight some of the players who have exceeded or fallen short of expectations.
Wolves have been this season’s surprise package. Last season’s Championship winners have quickly cemented their place in the top flight, currently sitting seventh in the table.
And one of their most consistent performers has been Matt Doherty, their longest-serving player. The right-sided defender has started all but one of Wolves’ 25 Premier League games and has accumulated some seriously impressive numbers on his return to the top tier (he made one appearance during 2011/12 campaign when the club were relegated).
And while Doherty was a standout during Wolves’ promotion bid last term, nobody would have expected that, with 13 games to go, he would rank highest among defenders in open-play xContribution (expected goals plus expected goals assisted), with 7.05. The Republic of Ireland international has scored three times and contributed four assists, so he has more or less matched his expected output.
No wonder he’s emerged as a Tottenham Hotspur transfer target.
Fraser the creator
Ryan Fraser is enjoying a brilliant season with Bournemouth. The pint-sized Scot, who’s been at the club since 2013, has created more big chances in total and per 90 minutes than any other player, with 17 and 0.75 respectively.
Thankfully, Fraser’s creativity has not been in vain. He has notched nine assists, meaning his teammates have been fairly adept at converting the openings he’s fashioned.
Fraser is reaping the benefits of a stricter diet and a more rigorous approach to training – and it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Bournemouth’s resolve is tested with a couple of bids for his services in the summer.
Kane’s underwhelming open-play xG
Harry Kane was having another productive season before injury derailed things. Tottenham’s main man had reached 14 goals and looked as though he was going to run Mohamed Salah, Sergio Agüero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang close for the Golden Boot.
Given Kane’s output, it’s surprising to see his open-play expected goals per 90 mins down at 0.44, almost half of Agüero’s 0.85, ranking the 25-year-old down in 13th, behind the likes of Ashley Barnes, Danny Ings and Olivier Giroud.
For context, Kane’s average for the 2017/18 season was 0.74 per 90, which topped the rankings.
Leicester City spent £20million to sign Ricardo Pereira from Porto last summer. As the weeks have gone by, it’s looked like money well spent. The Portugal international scored a spectacular winner against Manchester City and has been a consistent menace down the right flank for Claude Puel’s Foxes.
An attack-minded full-back by nature, to see Pereira influencing games in the final third isn’t all that shocking but his ruthlessness in the tackle certainly is. The 25-year-old lands on average 4.09 tackles per game, bettered only by Everton enforcer Idrissa Gueye.
Able to offer Leicester quality both in attack and defence, Pereira has been a big hit at the King Power Stadium this season.
Son Heung-min is finally starting to get the recognition of being one of the division’s finest players and that’s thanks in no small part to the South Korean’s excellent goalscoring prowess from open play.
The 26-year-old has scored ten goals this term, all of which have come from open play. That’s just one off Kane’s open-play haul of 11 having played 1265 minutes to the England captain’s 1887.
Son is well on course to eclipse his career-best haul of 14 Premier League goals, which he achieved in the 2016/17 season.
Özil’s powers are fading
Mesut Özil has fallen out of favour under Unai Emery, with the German’s future at Arsenal shroud in uncertainty.
And the 30-year-old, widely regarded as one of the most gifted creators of his generation, has not pulled up many trees with his output in the open play key passes category, averaging 1.53, which ranks him in 20th, below Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus, to whom you wouldn’t normally attribute creativity.
Özil may not Emery’s trust for the big games but the former Real Madrid star is far from being completely out of the picture yet, having started the recent win over Cardiff City. His last Premier League assist was back in October, though, so it will be interesting to see how he fares between now and the summer.
Auba passing up chances
Nobody can accuse Aubameyang of under-performing at Arsenal. The Gabonese striker has scored 25 goals in 38 league appearances since joining the Gunners from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.
The 29-year-old hasn’t been quite as ruthless in front of goal as you may think, though. This season, he has missed 17 big chances, four more than the next man (Callum Wilson).
Of course, this is partially down to Aubameyang’s ability to constantly sniff out chances but 17 is a surprising haul for a player regularly hailed as one of world football’s most accomplished finishers. This doesn’t change that – but that doesn’t stop it from being surprising.