Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2018

4 players who've surpassed expectations this season

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Some players have forced sceptics to change their opinions this season. Here, theScore picks out some of the most prominent footballers surpassing expectations in the 2017-18 Premier League term.

Davinson Sanchez, Tottenham

Fourteen months before Tottenham Hotspur paid £40 million for Sanchez, he was a €5-million gamble for Ajax. The Colombian’s nascent skills were undeniable based on his performances for Atletico Nacional, but he was incredibly raw and began life in Amsterdam turning out for Ajax’s reserves.

Although Sanchez quickly broke into Peter Bosz’s side, how much he still had to learn was evident during Ajax’s Europa League final defeat to Manchester United last May. He had a cocksure manner when he strode upfield with the ball – until it was habitually ruined by wayward distribution.

A few errors aside, Sanchez’s mature outings for Spurs this season have belied his 21 years. He’s seamlessly slotted into Mauricio Pochettino’s ever-changing formations, and the mountainous task of potentially replacing Toby Alderweireld can now be scaled.

He’s also been dispossessed fewer times than any of his teammates per 90 minutes.

Marko Arnautovic, West Ham

When Arnautovic was dismissed for swinging an elbow at Southampton‘s Jack Stephens in August, nature seemed to be taking its course. The Austrian’s career has been blighted by inconsistency and indiscipline, and £25 million looked like a rip-off for his summer capture.

But Arnautovic has grown up.

The Twente product was phenomenal in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Watford after three matches out, echoing form that saw him score four times and count three assists in his previous five league matches.

“A mazy dribble where he beat four Watford defenders on the 10 minute mark showed he wasn’t struggling with rustiness after injury. Chased absolutely everything down. Poached his seventh goal of the season after the break and was a menace all afternoon. It was like he’d never been away,” reflected Sam Inkersole of Football London, who rewarded the forward with a nine-out-of-10 rating.

Glenn Murray, Brighton & Hove Albion

Murray could have just felt sorry for himself. Amid a reported investigation for suspected tax fraud and after seeing Jurgen Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa arrive in January to challenge for his place at Brighton & Hove Albion, the veteran striker’s third attempt to make waves in the top tier was ebbing away.

But now, try taking him out of Chris Hughton’s starting XI. Murray has as many goals across all competitions (five) as Mohamed Salah since the turn of the year, and helped stretch Stoke City‘s defence for Jose Izquierdo‘s imaginative opener on Saturday.

Murray first had to graft in the USL Pro Soccer League and for then-sixth-tier Barrow before he was afforded an opportunity in his native land’s professional game. Now, at 34, his bulk and industry make him one of the hardest frontmen to silence in English football.

Steven Defour, Burnley

Defour is out for the rest of the season, and Burnley hasn’t won any of the three matches he’s missed so far. That’s not to say the Belgian’s absence is solely responsible – the Clarets hadn’t won the eight matches preceding Defour’s injury – but the midfielder, along with Jack Cork, had been critical in polishing Burnley’s approach.

At the end of last season, Defour was unsettled. He didn’t feature as much as would be expected for one of the most expensive players in the club’s history, and was disenchanted with the defensive, long-ball system at Turf Moor. To encourage Defour to stay, Sean Dyche promised the Clarets would change their style, according to Kristof Terreur.

Dyche was good to his word, and Defour was central to a new approach that’s easier on the eye. Aside from the first-choice back-four, Defour is Burnley’s best at not being robbed of possession (he was dispossessed just seven times in 24 appearances) and only wingers Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady have laid on more key passes from afar than the 29-year-old per 90 minutes.

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