The long international break has left some time to assess the current state of the Premier League, and reflect on best performers so far. There have certainly been some surprising teams (Southampton), as well as teams that have started slowly but now seem to be back on track (Manchester United).
These surprises are partly attributed to new managers and changes in tactical or psychological mentality, but they mainly have to do with individual performances. Certain players have come to separate themselves over the first 11 games, either in the form of a drastic improvement on their 2012-2013 performance in some way, or a significant increase in team production.
Now that there is a significant sample size, it’s time to take a look at the top performers early in this Premier League season. Keep in mind that these performers are not just players who have stood out in specific games -- or have proved to be exceptional in prior seasons. For example, with all due respect to a player like Wayne Rooney, his numbers happen to be down across the board this season; though his five goals and four assists suggest that he is one of the top attacking players so far, he is taking fewer touches, attempting fewer shots and creating fewer chances than last season, putting him just outside of our top group.
With that said, here are 11 of the Premier League’s top players, including standout offensive and defensive performers, after the first third of the season:
Best Defensive Players
Tim Krul (goalkeeper) -- Newcastle
Krul’s recent performance against Tottenham may have put him in the global spotlight, but Newcastle fans are already aware of how valuable the Dutch goalkeeper is to their team. The 6-foot-2 Krul has been forced into 25 diving saves, second most in the Premier League, while Newcastle has conceded 59 percent of its shots inside the penalty area. At times, Krul has even acted as a fifth defender, helping his own cause with a league-high 14 clearances for his shell-shocked team....