Premier League quarter-season awards: Hazard, Lucas, Ramsey steal the show
One quarter of the way in, the 2018-19 Premier League season is shaping up to be among the division's best campaigns. There is a genuine title race -- Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea share first place after eight games -- plus plenty of competitive teams with, as I wrote in a recent column ranking styles of play, various managers reshaping their sides effectively to find a true identity.
Here are some awards, based on the best we have seen so far.
Best player: Eden Hazard
Hazard has been Chelsea's best player in two title-winning campaigns -- 2014-15 and 2016-17 -- and yet it still felt like he had room for improvement, particularly in terms of goal scoring. After an excellent World Cup, in which he won the Silver Ball for tournament's second-best player, he has reached new heights this season and been far ahead of every other player in the Premier League.
In almost every game, Hazard has wreaked havoc and been decisive. Left on the bench at Huddersfield on the opening day, he came on to assist Pedro after a mazy dribble. The following week against Arsenal, he was again a substitute and again provided an assist, this time for Alonso's winner.
In his first start, Hazard converted a penalty at Newcastle; the following weekend against Bournemouth, he and Alonso caused chaos down the left, including during the buildup to Hazard's goal. Hazard smashed a hat trick past Cardiff and was Chelsea's most dangerous player in the draw at West Ham, even if a couple of touches in the box could have been better.
Hazard opened the scoring against Liverpool by playing a quick passing combination on the halfway line before streaking in behind and finishing across Alisson. In Chelsea's last game before the October international break, the 27-year-old netted one and made another for Alvaro Morata at Southampton.
Best game: Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal
This London derby on the second weekend of the season felt like a new dawn; managers Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery were appointed at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively to overhaul each club's style of play. Both promised open, attacking football, and that is what we got in a five-goal thriller on a sweltering day at Stamford Bridge, with most of the action taking place before half-time with four well-worked goals.
Chelsea raced into a 2-0 lead after a clever attack down the left that resulted in Marcos Alonso squaring for Pedro Rodriguez, who had been lingering in an offside position but not interfering with play. Another all-Spanish combination doubled the advantage, when Cesar Azpilicueta assisted Alvaro Morata to break past Arsenal's poor offside trap.
But the away side hit back, creating a series of chances by playing cutbacks from wide positions. Henrikh Mkhitaryan rounded off a quick break to halve the deficit before a wonderful passing move, which justified Emery's faith in Petr Cech playing out from the back and flowed through 10 players, ended with Alex Iwobi's finish.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had several good chances to give Arsenal the lead, but the winner came from Alonso -- the left-back who constantly caused problems and who swept home Eden Hazard's low cross to cap a wonderful game.
Best goal: Aaron Ramsey vs. Fulham
Arsenal became renowned for two types of goals during the Arsene Wenger era: Quick, sweeping counterattacks from one end to the other, and intricate, edge-of-the-box combination play featuring flicks and tricks. This goal was a combination of both, and it suggests that Unai Emery has not discarded the best features of his predecessor's teams.
There were so many times when the move should have gone wrong! Ramsey's chip over an opponent in the Arsenal right-back zone was bold, considering it was his first touch after coming on as a substitute; while Alexandre Lacazette's volley to Hector Bellerin could have been overhit, and the right-back's acrobatic backheel was a spectacular way of finding the charging Ramsey.
From there, the Welsh international completed a rare doubleheader in the centre of midfield, after which Henrikh Mkhitaryan's weight of pass to the overlapping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was perfect. Ramsey's subsequent method of converting Aubemeyang's cross, flicking it behind his other leg and in off the far post, was perfectly judged.
The beauty of this goal was that none of the flicks as showboating; it was just various players offloading the ball with necessary, if completely unconventional, touches.
Best individual performance: Lucas Moura vs. Man United
Tottenham might not have bought a single player in the summer transfer window, but the arrival of Lucas Moura from Paris Saint-Germain in January felt like a signing for this season.
Lucas had long been regarded as a hugely talented attacker, but the surprising aspect of his good form this season is his positioning. Never previously considered anything other than an outside-right who outpaced opponents, he has been shifted centrally by Mauricio Pochettino, and his speed and directness have compensated for Harry Kane's sluggishness.
In Spurs' third game of the season, Lucas scored twice and was man of the match in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford. After Kane opened the scoring, the Brazilian international doubled the lead with a calm finish after Tottenham attacked down the right and Christian Eriksen played a neat pull-back.
His second was more typical: After a sudden burst of pace left Chris Smalling trailing in his wake, Lucas thumped a shot past David De Gea to complete a winning performance, which showed that Lucas had fully arrived in English football.
Best team performance: Man City vs. Fulham (3-0 win)
There is no shame in being thrashed by Man City -- Pep Guardiola's side have scored five versus Cardiff and put six past Huddersfield -- but their most dominant, ruthless display was at home to Fulham, a game in which they should have scored more than three and barely allowed their opponents a chance at the other end.
Fernandinho intercepted a misplaced Jean-Michael Seri pass in the buildup to Leroy Sane's opener after two minutes, and from there Fulham were guilty of chasing the game too much, allowing the champions space. David Silva scored a scrappy second after Bernardo Silva's work down the right flank, before Raheem Sterling completed the scoring with a typical City tap-in after Sergio Aguero's powerful dribble.
However, what summed up City's dominance was that Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli could have won man of the match, while Bernardo blazed hopelessly over the bar to slightly mar an otherwise wonderful performance. Guardiola's men were great, though Fulham are a very inviting side for pass-and-move specialist to play against.
Most improved player: Ryan Fraser
Fraser has always appeared a very likeable player; a diminutive, quick-footed playmaker who drifts inside into clever positions and gets passing combinations going. He is perhaps Bournemouth's most typically Bournemouth player.
The end product was not always there, however. But this season has seen Fraser get into more scoring positions, as evidenced by his goal in the first game of the season, a close-range finish following good work from strike duo Josh King and Callum Wilson.
The next weekend, Fraser assisted Steve Cook's winner at West Ham, and he also was bright in a loss at Chelsea, before his best performance saw him bag a brace in a 4-2 thrashing of Leicester. The first was a Thierry Henry-esque curler from the inside-left position and was followed by a cool finish from a through ball. He also was heavily involved in two of Bournemouth's four goals at Watford.
British football does not produce many players like Fraser, and while he was forced to withdraw from last week's Scotland squad through injury, he should be a key part of his national side's future.
Best rookie: Matt Doherty
With much of the focus upon Wolves' eye-catching summer recruitment, some of the promoted club's old guard have proved most impressive. Centre-backs Conor Coady and Willy Boly have been dependable, but Doherty's attack-minded displays down the right have been outstanding.
A holdover of the club's last top-flight experience -- although he only made one appearance as a youngster in the 2011-12 relegation season -- Doherty has played like a top-flight veteran. He created Raul Jimenez's winner against Burnley with a low cutback, overlapped dangerously at Southampton and scored the game's only goal last time out against Crystal Palace, combining with Jimenez to fire home at the near post.
A leaguewide shift away from 3-4-3 means there has not been much competition, but Doherty has probably been the Premier League's best wing-back this season.