Premier League: Top 10 all-time individual performances
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
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
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
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