Premier League: Top 10 all-time individual performances

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ProSoccerTalk’s lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright and Rotoworld.com’s Neal Thurman have teamed up to select their top 10 individual Premier League performances in league history.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

From five goal hauls to dramatic comebacks and stunning moments of brilliance, this list has a little bit of everything.

Click play on the video above to watch the incredible solo displays once again, while below Prince-Wright and Thurman detail why they think these performances belong in the top 10.

Harry Kane (v. Chelsea, 2015)

Kane truly burst onto the scene as the young Tottenham team announced themselves as genuine title contenders under Mauricio Pochettino.
Kane tore apart the usually solid Chelsea defense at the old White Hart Lane on a chilly New Year’s Day, as he scored a screamer for his first and turned sumptuously before firing home a second. Tottenham were 4-1 up at one point as Kane ran John Terry and Gary Cahill ragged. This was the moment you knew he was the real deal. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea went on to win the title in 2014-15 but they knew their bitter London rivals, led by Kane, were on the up.
In his first full season in the Premier League he scored 31 goals in all competitions and the way he dropped deep to link up play, hammered home goals from distance and was a threat in the air and with both feet make him as close to the complete center forward as you can get.
Quality of opponent: 10/10; Importance of the match: 8/10 – JPW
Premier League performances
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Dennis Bergkamp (v. Leicester City, 1997)

I couldn’t possibly participate in an exercise like this without including my all-time favorite Premier League player. You could argue whether Bergkamp’s third in this match was his best-ever for the Gunners but you certainly can’t argue with it being his most dominant match when it comes to both process and end product.

His opener would be considered a career highlight for most as he came in from the top left corner of the box, took a couple steps toward the middle of the pitch and curled a shot with some power into the far top corner to open the scoring. His second saw him take a through ball and produce a looping carom off of the goalkeeper that stayed on target and dipped in time to go in rather than over the crossbar for a 2-0 Gunners lead. After the Foxes clawed both goals back, Bergkamp was at his sublime best taking down a lofted Robert Pires cross with his right in full stride, flicking the ball around the onrushing defender with his left without it touching the ground, and then calmly slotted past the goalkeeper.

A master class in calm, control, and skill that looks nearly impossible in slow motion let alone real time. Bergkamp had a career filled with jaw-dropping highlights but this match was his Premier League masterpiece. Oh, and Arsenal won the title by a point that season so the point won at Filbert Street was as massive as his goal scoring heroics.

Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – NT

Eric Cantona (v. Liverpool, 1995) 

Where do we even start with this!? Eric Cantona had been banned from playing for eight months after his infamous kung-fu kick on a fan away at Crystal Palace. It looked like he would never player again. Many said he should have been locked up after his violent reaction to being provoked by a Crystal Palace fan. Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson stood by ‘King Eric’ as the man who had been the final piece of Ferguson’s jigsaw had delivered trophies galore after arriving from Leeds.

The first game back for the flamboyant Frenchman was, of course, against Man United’s bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. The build up to the game was insane and Cantona delivered a stunning assist in the opening minutes. French flags, berets and chants of “Ohh, Ahhh, Cantona!” were all around Old Trafford and he kept his cool to score a late penalty to make it 2-2 and deny a resurgent Liverpool a big win.

Despite being 10 points behind Newcastle in December, Man United went on to win the Premier League and FA Cup double that season as Cantona scored the winner against Liverpool at Wembley and was their top goalscorer despite missing their first eight games of the season. These Premier League performances got United back on track after an okay start to the season and Cantona’s x-factor and swagger mean he will always be a legend at Old Trafford.

Quality of Opponent 7/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – JPW

Premier League performances
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Ayegbeni Yakubu (v. Middlesbrough 2004)

This one sticks out for me more for the fantasy implications than it being the platonic ideal of a 4-goal performance. The final day of the 2003-2004 season, I had a bet with a friend on the outcome of our season-long fantasy results. We were neck-and-neck all season and the outcome of the bet rested on our scores on the final day of the season.

Yakubu was a strong goal-scorer while at Pompey netting 29 in 65 appearances on the south coast. Not enough to make him a no-brainer fantasy standout but certainly good enough that, by the end of the season, there was an expectation of some quality. On 12 goals for the season heading into the finale, a goal or maybe two was a reasonable expectation but a no point did I expect the Nigerian’s 4-goal outburst.

None were works of art although the fourth was a rocket after some nice work to free himself for the shot. Sixteen years on and the guy who lost our season-long bet to me based on Yakubu’s exploits still brings it up from time to time when we talk over social media (Never forget, Kris!).

Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 3/10 – NT

Andy Cole (v. Ipswich Town, 1995) 

Andy Cole is a striker who often gets overlooked when Premier League greats are discussed but he shouldn’t be. After a slow start to his career, Cole moved from Bristol City to Newcastle and then to Man United and all the time he did one thing: score goals.

‘Andy Cole scores goals’ was the famous saying and he set a new Premier League record back in 1995, which still stands today. His five goals in Man United’s 9-0 demolition of Ipswich Town (which is also a record for the biggest win in PL history) saw him bag goals of all kinds. Flicks, powerful drives, calm finishes and predatory instincts summed up Cole’s game and his partnership with Dwight Yorke would eventually lead United to their famous treble in 1999.

Cole had a lot of pressure on his shoulders when he left Newcastle for Man United for $8.7 million in January 1995 but he delivered right away. He is the third-highest goalscorer in PL history with 187 goals as only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney sit ahead of him.

Quality of Opponent 2/10; Importance of Match 5/10 – JPW

Jermain Defoe (v. Wigan, 2009)

Speaking of all-time dominant Premier League performances, Spurs 9-1 whipping of Wigan in 2009 is an all-timer. Yes, Wigan shipped a TON of goals over the course of the 2009-2010 campaign, 79 in all, in a season where they barely managed to avoid relegation. Still, 9-1 losses are a rare display of dominance in the Premier League and five-goal performances by an individual player are nearly as rare.

That’s what Jermain Defoe produced in November of 2009 and there was a pretty special one in the mix. Let’s start by noting that none of Defoe’s five were cheapies. The first and fourth were both contested shots with some precision work required to beat the goalkeeper and one or more other defenders. The third was a challenging volley with Defoe moving toward the incoming cross and having to hit it on the move, not an easy skill.

The third and fifth were both sharp angle shots and while the first one was a nice example of that skill, the second one was outstanding due to the angle and the power of the shot. It was a virtuoso performance that also entirely overshadowed Aaron Lennon’s one goal, three assist performance which was outstanding in and of itself.

Quality of Opponent 4/10; Importance of Match 6/10 – NT

Jamie Vardy (v. Liverpool, 2016) 

In a magical season for little-known Jamie Vardy and relegation favorites Leicester City, Vardy’s double against Liverpool was the moment many Foxes fans thought the impossible was possible. The ‘Vardy Party’ was for real.

The 5000-1 title odds given to Leicester at the start of the season was probably seen as too generous by many as they barely survived relegation from the Premier League in the previous season. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez finished the 2014-15 season in fine fashion and new manager Claudio Ranieri masterminded an incredible defensive unit in 2015-16 which relied on the positioning of N’Golo Kante, the trickery of Mahrez and the pace of Vardy on the counter. Liverpool were undone by that as Mahrez unleashed Vardy and he hammered home an amazing volley from distance to send the King Power Stadium wild.

He added a second with a trademark clinical finish and Vardy’s 24 goals led Leicester to an amazing Premier League title success. Vardy’s display propelled them to the most improbable title in this history of the game and this performance was the moment which made Leicester truly believed they could write their names into the history books as they went away to Man City and won 3-1 a few days after this.

Quality of Opponent 8/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – JPW

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Andrey Arshavin (v. Liverpool, 2009)

2009 was a great year for big goal-scoring outbursts. Seven months before Defoe’s five, Andrey Arshavin exploded  for four goals at Anfield in a wild 4-4 drew between Arsenal and Liverpool. The Reds (2nd) and Gunners (4th) both finished in the top four in the 2008-2009 season with the Reds going undefeated at Anfield on the campaign. As such, it was no mean feat for the Gunners to get a result or for Arshavin to score four.

The Russian opened the scoring in the 36th minute, tapping in a Cesc Fabregas pull back from close range. The quality of Arshavin’s goals would improve in the second half after Liverpool scored twice to put the Gunners down. Arshavin equalized in the 67th minute with an absolute screamer from just outside the box. Three minutes later he was at it again putting Arsenal on top only to see Fernando Torres level the match again almost immediately. With time running down, Arshavin sprinted the length of the pitch as Arsenal countered a Liverpool attack with Theo Walcott feeding the Russian as he outran everyone down the attacking left side to slot past Pepe Reina.

It looked for all the world like Arshavin’s goal had won the match for the Gunners only to see future Gunner Yossi Benayoun rescue a point late in stoppage time. A breathless match highlighted by Ashavin’s brilliance.

Quality of Opponent 9/10; Importance of Match 9/10 – NT

Steven Gerrard (v. Everton, 2012) 

So many of Steven Gerrard’s displays have come in cup and European competitions but there are more than a few Premier League performances which stand out. Gerrard tore Man United apart on several occasions at Anfield and Old Trafford, especially with Fernando Torres in tandem, but his hat trick against Everton will forever be etched into the folklore of Merseyside derby history. Gerrard clipped home a delicious first and then linked up with Luis Suarez to score two more at the Kop End as he capped off a fine individual display.

Despite winning the League Cup, Liverpool struggled that season under Kenny Dalglish but Gerrard never stopped surging forward from midfield and this display was a perfect example of what he was so good at. Everything. The timing of his runs, the finishes, the passing and his leadership skills were all on show as the local lad gave Liverpool bragging rights over Everton once again. Captain fantastic put on a show at Anfield.

Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 8/10 – JPW

Sergio Aguero (v. Tottenham, 2014)

The dawning of the Pochettino era at Spurs contained some hiccups as he shook up the side and introduced his style. Only a few months into the Argentine’s tenure as manager at White Hart Land, Sergio Aguero and defending champions Manchester City showed Spurs exactly how much distance they had to make up to try to win an elusive Premier League title. Aguero scored all four goals for the hosts as City beat Spurs 4-1 at the Etihad as he added to his legacy of prolific matches that has included a five goal match, two four-goal performances, and a five-goal tour de force.

The quality of the opponent makes this impressive as does the fact that he actually saw a penalty saved during the match as well.  The goals weren’t of the absolute highest quality with two of them coming from the penalty spot and the two from open play being prototypical, if not spectacular, Aguero goals showcasing his poacher’s mentality and ability to pick corners and angles while slowing down the play while the action rages around him in the penalty box.

Consider this a combination of an excellent performance and a life-time achievement award for a man who has piled up big goal-scoring match after big goal-scoring match in the Premier League over an amazing career.

Quality of Opponent 7/10; Importance of Match 7/10 – NT

Premier League performances
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In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 3

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Wolves-Tottenham, Watford-Liverpool and Everton-Man United.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He also spoke exclusively with Eric Dier who for the first time revealed that he is keen to play in his natural position at center back under Jose Mourinho, rather than in midfield.

“I have always been very politically correct on the subject because of many different reasons but I’ve come to a… It’s been something that isn’t new for me. The old manager knew where I stood for a long time about position and centre-back is where I see my future and I think where I can be the best I can be. With Pochettino, I started to play there this season, in the two games before he left, and I’m happy I got the chance to play there under Mourinho,” Dier said.

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 3 in full.

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 2

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Southampton-Aston Villa, Chelsea-Tottenham and Man United-Watford, talks Champions League and previews Matchweek 28.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He also spoke exclusively with Will Smallbone, Southampton’s latest top academy product who made his PL debut in their win against Aston Villa.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special,” Smallbone said.

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 2 in full.

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Chelsea-Manchester United, Arsenal-Newcastle and Manchester City-West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside Premier League stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 1 in full.

What Tottenham reaching UCL final means

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From Rob Dauster, lead writer of College Basketball Talk

Let’s get this out of the way before I get rolling here: I am a Tottenham fan.

Die hard. I care more about Spurs than I do any other sports team.

[ VIDEO: Spurs stun Ajax ]

I assume we’ve all seen the video of Steve Nash losing his mind when Lucas Moura scored his last-second winner in Wednesday evening’s Champions League semifinal. He is a studio analyst for TNT’s Champions League and also a lifelong Spurs supporter with deep North London roots. He sprinted off the set, did two laps around the building and returned with tears in his eyes, all while he was live on the air.

My reaction was similar, only it was in my living room, I danced with my three-year old Boxer, I woke up a sleeping two-month old and I wiped out trying to take a corner in the dining room. My wife has the video. The blackmail has already started.

I say all that to say this: I don’t care if Spurs fall to Liverpool in the final on June 1. That’s the truth. I want them to win more than I’ve wanted any team to win any game since UConn won the 1999 college basketball national title, but if this is the end, if Jurgen Klopp‘s heavy-metal football overwhelms a worn down, banged up and, frankly, lesser Tottenham with a never-ending barrage energy, I’ll be fine.

More than fine, truthfully.

[ MORE: Pochettino hails Spurs heroes ]

The ‘Spurs have no trophies’ jokes will continue to be mildly annoying, but at this point that’s the same as saying ‘Rob, you’ve gotten fatter since college.’ Of course I have. If that’s the best you got, maybe leave the banter to someone a bit wittier.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

Because I don’t care about winning trophies just to win trophies.

I don’t think that’s what being a fan should be about. I want Harry Kane and Dele Alli and Mauricio Pochettino to win anything and everything they can, but the reality is that Spurs winning a domestic cup doesn’t impact my life in any meaningful way. Let’s say Spurs did win the Carabao Cup this year. I would have been happy for a few hours. I probably would have had a beer or three to celebrate. I’m sure I would have watched the highlights on twitter a couple times.

And then you know what would have happened?

I would have come home and my three-year old would be having a meltdown because I told him he has to wear socks, my wife would be asking me to change my two-month old daughter’s diaper because she won’t stop crying, my dog would be going absolute bonkers because Boxers are incapable of doing anything else and between all of that I’d have to find the time to mow the lawn, fix a dresser and patch up a couple of holes in my ceiling where the nails popped.

The same is true if they find a wait to beat Liverpool in three weeks. Or if they lose to Liverpool.

And despite wearing a lucky matchday jersey that was too tight 15 pounds ago, I’ll have absolutely no control over the result.

So if I have no control over it, and if my life will be exactly the same regardless of whether or not they win, why am I going to get torn up over a trophy?

That’s not what I believe sports should be about for fans.

Jimmy Greaves is Tottenham’s all-time leading goal-scorer. He played for the club for a decade in the 60s. He’s a legend in North London, and nine years ago, he said this to the Daily Mail:

“People are always coming up to me, ‘Jim, can you remember that goal against West Brom in 1968?’ and I say, ‘No.’ But that’s all right because they only want to tell you about what happened to them, anyway. ‘Well, you had the ball on the halfway line, and I remember that because I was with Charlie and we’d just got two pies…’ and it turns out the real story is about Charlie dropping his pie and what you did wasn’t all that important anyway.”

And he could not be more right.

Being a sports fan should be about the memories, about the moments, about the buildup leading to the biggest game in your club’s history. It should be about the experiences that come along the way. No matter what happens in Madrid on the first Saturday in June, nothing will ever be able to takeaway the experience of watching Wednesday night’s comeback, or the jubilation every Spurs fan mainlined when Moura scored the winner.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

And nothing will be able to takeaway the indescribable swing of emotions that occurred during the second leg of the quarterfinal tie against Manchester City, when Spurs gave up three goals to put themselves in a losing position only to retake the lead before Raheem Sterling‘s 93rd minute winner was disallowed through VAR.

And I’ll never forget the final matchday of the group stage, when that man Moura scored in the 86th minute in the Camp Nou to get a draw that sent Spurs to the knockout rounds, or watching on a second screen as PSV Eindhoven found a way to make some miraculous saves that allowed them to draw Inter and keep Spurs in second place in the group.

And I’ll always remember Christian Eriksen‘s 79th minute winner over Inter on matchday five that kept Spurs’ chances of advancing alive, just like I’ll always remember the two goals Harry Kane scored in the final 12 minutes to give Tottenham a come-from-behind win on matchday four, when they were dead in the water after mustering just a single point from the first three group stage games.

And I will make sure to remind everyone I come in contact with that this all happened as Spurs played without a home until April, played without a midfield for the second half of the season, dealt with more injuries than Jon Snow’s army of the living in the Battle of Winterfell.

This run should not have been possible. And yet, here we are.

That’s the beauty of sports and sports fandom.

That is literally all that I can ask out of the club that I support. Give me a reason to spend day and night looking forward to the next time they set foot on the pitch. Give me an escape from reality for a couple of hours a week. Give me a reason to feel alive in the leadup. Give me heart palpitations for 90 minutes.

A win on top of that is nothing but icing on the cake.