The 2015-16 Barclay's Premier League season is halfway over, so now is an excellent time to take stock of Tottenham Hotspur's season and give out a few awards. Yesterday, we had a round-table post about who was Spurs' most valuable player (MVP). Today, we look at the most improved player. And like before, it's not always so easy to choose.
Erik Lamela (GN Punk)
Back in August, all of us watched Erik Lamela take the pitch against Stoke City and proceed to have arguably the worst 20 minutes of his Spurs career. It was especially painful to see such terrible regression after he looked exciting and comfortable at the end of the 2014/2015 season. For some of us, this was incredibly disappointing due to the improvement that we saw in the Argentine in the second half of last season. For others, it was the straw that broke the camel's back and it was time to cash in our chips on what was being labeled just another bust in the "Bale Seven." Spurs came incredibly close to loaning Lamela to Marseille with a probable option to buy, but Mauricio Pochettino blocked it at the eleventh hour, and both of the aforementioned groups are now glad that he did.
Lamela has turned the corner, and whether or not it was just simply getting that vote of confidence in Poch is irrelevant at this point. He has been one of our best players, constantly pressing, cutting up back lines, and finding ways to create chances. Lamela has picked up 8 goals and across all competitions and is a major catalyst for the attack. Just five months ago, Lamela was an enigma that confused everyone. Now, he's virtually undroppable in a suffocating press that has us all excited to see just what Lamela's ceiling really is. Just this past Monday, we saw what makes Lamela special in this attack. After Spurs forced a turnover, Lamela immediately bursts forward as if he was shot out of a cannon, taking the ball and head faking Heurelho Gomes to the point where he simply stood in place and watched Lamela slot the ball in the far corner. Against Manchester City, he put the final dagger into the Citizens' hearts as he made Caballero and DeMichelis look like academy players flopping around, trying desperately to stop the inevitable. These are just a couple of examples of what the Argentine brings to this team, and it's exciting to think about what the future holds for him.
Eric Dier (Kevin McCauley)
No one saw Eric Dier's move to midfield coming. He hadn't gotten much run at the position at all during his time with Sporting, Spurs or England Under-21. He'd played a lot of right back poorly, a bit of center back very well, and appeared to have a pretty bright future at defense, albeit with some major question marks.
And then he started playing midfield in preseason, seemingly out of necessity due to injuries, sales, and purchases not yet completed. He was good. It stayed a thing. Spurs never actually bought anyone to play midfield. A lot of people were terrified.
Now we're halfway through the season and Dier is one of the most important players in the Tottenham Hotspur squad. Given the lack of a like-for-like backup, he might be the second-most vital player in the team after Harry Kane. And he's been so good, looking so natural in his position, that he started for England against France and looks to be a lock for a Euro 2016 place.
We're not exactly sure how this happened, but Mauricio Pochettino saw something in Dier that his other coaches didn't. He's gone from a talented, but flawed defender to one of the Premier League's top midfielders in just half a season. Improvements don't get any more dramatic than that.
Dele Alli (Dustin Menno)
Last season at this time, Dele Alli and MK Dons had just suffered through a home loss to Walsall and was preparing for a trip to Crawley Town. This season he's cracked the starting lineup of a top four Premier League club and has scored for the senior England team. I'd be shocked if he's not on the short list for Premier League Young Player of the Year.
We all knew Dele Alli was good. He was a monster in League One last season, scoring 16 goals and notching 11 assists... as a central midfielder. The question wasn't whether Alli was good, it was whether he could make the huge leap from the English third division to the Premier League. Well, he's done that, and more. Alli's taken the opportunity to play at the highest level of English football with both hands and throttled it into submission. Alli is progressive, both in passing and creativity, but he's also tall, and has a combative streak that can serve him well when he's tasked with pressing opposition midfielders or breaking up play, but can sometimes get him in trouble.
Dele Alli deserves the title of Most Improved Player not because he was bad last year, but because he was good... and has improved drastically beyond any Tottenham fan's wildest expectations. He's practically undroppable at this point after a series of good-to-excellent performances in Spurs' midfield, and his growth trajectory is massive, enough that it will eventually be tough for Spurs to keep ahold of him. He's only 19. If he keeps improving at this rate, how good do you think he'll be at 24?
Kyle Walker (Skipjack)
At first blush this might seem an odd choice. When you think of a player who is most improved, you usually think of a player who is rebounding from a year of bad performances or took his game to a new level. Kyle Walker had an atrocious 2014-2015 season and it wasn't really his fault. A groin injury ruined his season, keeping him off the pitch for most of it. What performances we did see were not impressive. For a player who's game relies so much on pace, the glimpses of him that we saw were terribly concerning.
Coming into this year, Walker represented a huge question mark for Spurs. Not only was his health in doubt, but he'd largely missed the first year under Pochettino, a year that much of the team needed to learn his system. And as a fullback he played one of the more important roles in that system. Despite being on the unfortunate end of an own goal in the opening game of the season, Walker has alleviated those concerns in the current campaign. He has been excellent at right back this year, bringing back the attacking flair for which he is known while also putting in some of the most assured defensive performances of his career, regularly keeping players like Alexis Sanchez in his pocket. At the same time, his fitness has hardly been a concern. He's been so healthy that Kieran Trippier has barely gotten any minutes this year. Last year couldn't have gone much worse for Kyle Walker, but this season couldn't have gone much better.
Tom Carroll (Rob Usry)
Tom Carroll is the most improved player in the Tottenham Hotspur squad. It isn't even debatable. In fact, he's probably the most improved player in the Premier League and all of world soccer for that matter. All the way from consistent loan fodder for Tottenham to the next Lionel Messi in a few months. It's been a remarkable journey for the 23-year-old.
His impact on Spurs this season has been like a Justin Timberlake album. He only comes around once in a blue moon, but when he's on the field he's been glorious. Two spectacular goals this season that would make Gareth Bale jealous have his name on the tips of everyone's tongues. The best is yet to come for the young Carroll. If he continues at his current rate of improvement, they'll need to rename the trophy the Balltom d'Or.