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Gary Lim's EPL hot shots and flops
Our writer picks the best and worst players of the EPL from the first half of the season
THE HOT SHOTS
The Premier League hotshot's rise to the top from football's backwaters is a truly remarkable story.
From putting in 12-hour shifts in a factory that produces carbon-fibre splints, he is now reportedly on the radar of big clubs, from Manchester United to Man City to Chelsea.
He is the surprise late-bloomer no one saw coming, and one whom defenders are still coming to terms with.
Combining industry with opportunism, the 28-year-old striker has knocked in 15 goals to take joint-top spot in the goal-scorers' chart.
His Premiership record of scoring in 11 consecutive games shows how consistent he has been.
The Algerian winger was plucked from French Ligue 2 obscurity for a mere 450,000 euros ($946,000) in 2014.
Blossoming this season, his attacking repertoire has caught out the most seasoned of defenders.
Intelligent and quick, the 24-year-old is excellent at finding teammates in space, as his seven assists attest to.
Add to that his keen eye for goal - he has scored 13 league goals - and you have the launchpad for Leicester's unexpected title challenge.
Like his teammate Jamie Vardy, he is already attracting attention from Europe's big boys, with Arsenal rumoured to be one of them.
Along with Vardy's, his form will determine if Leicester can continue to defy the odds so spectacularly for the remainder of the season.
Making a successful switch from the heat of Nigeria to the cold of Norway, Ighalo made it pretty clear at the tender age of 18 that he is a survivor.
His previous stints with Lyn FC, then Udinese (Italy), Cesena (Italy) and Granada (Spain) armed him with the experience to significantly cut down the time he needed to adapt to the English game.
The 26-year-old began his maiden Premiership campaign with a bang.
With Troy Deeney acting as the foil, he has scored 14 goals, including strikes against Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs.
The German playmaker is not known as the assist king for nothing. After setting up 16 goals for his teammates, he now has Thierry Henry's EPL assist record of 20 firmly in his sights.
His speed of thought and intelligence put him streets ahead of most of his peers. Previous criticism of the 27-year-old player include a frustrating tendency to go missing when it mattered. Not anymore.
By sheer quantity alone, he has proven his consistency. Through setting up goals in crucial matches, he has shown his big-match temperament.
The 26-year-old centre back has been a beacon of light for the frustrated Old Trafford faithful.
From being ridiculed for his error-prone performances, he has become one of United's best players of this season.
The athletic defender has developed into a leader at the back. His decision-making, tackling and clever use of the ball make him one of United's most valuable assets.
They have been so bad this season that the entire Chelsea team could have made this list.
But none of them has experienced a dip in performance level as dramatic as Hazard, 24, last term's FWA and PFA Player of the Year.
The silky attacker ended the last campaign with 14 league goals and nine assists to guide Chelsea to the Premiership title. This season, the Belgium international has registered just two assists so far, and has yet to score a league goal.
For several years, few fullbacks could hold a candle to the Serbia international. He was the epitome of consistency and reliability, and also often popped up with vital goals to rescue his team.
This season has been one to forget though. He has been guilty of glaring individual errors and amateurish play, making him look like a huge liability.
Ivanovic, who turns 32 in less than two months' time, has half a season left to resurrect his Chelsea career.
His drastic dip in form began much earlier. By January of the 2014/15 campaign, he looked a shoo-in to break Thierry Henry's all-time Premiership assists record of 20, having already notched 15.
Then the tap suddenly dried up. He was to set up just three more league goals in the following four months.
The 28-year-old hasn't fared much better this term either, chalking up just two assists in the league and was often an anonymous figure as Chelsea floundered on the pitch.
His Chelsea days seem to be over too, after some of the fans accused him of intentionally holding back under former manager Jose Mourinho.
He arrived as somewhat of a coup, what with him being touted as one of the best young players in the world.
Depay's start at Man United was a promising one. Then it all fell apart.
Some blamed manager Louis van Gaal for playing him out of position, and for a defensive strategy that couldn't draw the best out of Depay.
But he isn't helping with his disinterested performances. The 21-year-old has scored just twice in the league.
Rooney is going through what every footballer dreads: A sudden and inexplicable loss of form.
United manager Louis van Gaal, somewhat surprisingly, has largely stuck by his captain. He has played the 30-year-old Rooney in different positions, but without much success.
The skipper is increasingly looking like a burden drowning in his own mediocrity. The energetic displays that characterised his game have been replaced by laborious shifts.
Once a prodigy of English football, he is in danger of following in the footsteps of one of Spain's - Fernando Torres.
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Neil Humphreys' five likely FA Cup upsets
Surprises are in store for this weekend's FA Cup third-round matches
Manchester City have got more holes than Donald Trump's hairline and Aston Villa are about as imbalanced as a one-legged juggler on a tightrope.
So FA Cup third-round upsets are surely on the cards.
Here are my contenders for a possible early exit and eternal humiliation.
If you put your house on this lot, I hope you've got somewhere to stay on Monday morning…
1 Norwich v Man City
This is an all-Premier League clash, obviously, but City are the overwhelming favourites to progress.
Indeed the dead man walking, Manuel Pellegrini, hopes that he might leave with an FA Cup included in his City obituary.
However, the bumpkin billionaires played like paupers in midweek. Their defeat by Everton showcased the side's underlying problems.
Last summer, Martin Demichelis had his bags packed after enduring the sort of season that suggested he'd wandered onto the Etihad pitch in a City jersey to win a bet and no one noticed.
Now, the 35-year-old veteran is a tube of silicone, ready to be squirted into the latest defensive gap.
He failed against Everton, losing Romelu Lukaku for the winning goal, but he'll be fielded against Norwich nonetheless.
With Eliaquim Mangala and Vincent Kompany both injured, Demichelis will line up with former Argentina teammate Nicolas Otamendi in a bid to silence the Canaries.
Sergio Aguero lacks match fitness and Yaya Toure sleepwalks through contests like a bad audition for the Walking Dead.
The odds still favour City, but Norwich will never get a better opportunity to rip open Manchester's moneybags.
2 Wycombe v Aston Villa
Villa manager Remi Garde has pulled off a feat in taking over a relegation-threatened side. He's made them even more wretched than before.
Villa might still beat the drop, just as American Republicans might agree to greater gun control. But it's highly unlikely.
Garde still hasn't won a game. He took over on Nov 2 and engineered four draws and five losses in his nine games in charge.
So he faces a tricky dilemma. Save face or save Villa's season.
Victory breaks the personal losing streak, but he'll need to err on the side of caution and field his strongest 11. Should he encounter any first-team injuries, on the other hand, then he can kiss away any remaining hopes of staying up.
EPL survival is the priority, but pride must be messing with his head.
A win against Wycombe buys him time, but he must also focus on the Crystal Palace game on Tuesday.
The Wanderers are comfortably ensconced in the League Two play-off spots and will enjoy home advantage and a rowdy atmosphere.
In the UK, this fixture was picked as a live TV game with good reason. Villa are mortally wounded souls heading into the long goodnight.
The threat of further humiliation hangs in the air.
3 Birmingham v Bournemouth
Birmingham have a point to prove. Back in October 2014, high-flying Bournemouth turned up at St Andrew's and left with three points, eight goals scored and none conceded.
With clubs going in opposite directions at the time, they met at a crossroads. Eddie Howe's men were on a march to the Premier League. Birmingham were a mess.
Current manager Gary Rowett seeks to downplay the significance of that harrowing defeat, but the fans aren't buying it. They demand revenge.
The Cherries are without key forward Joshua King and, like Norwich, have different priorities.
A fixture against West Ham on Tuesday is swiftly following by a proverbial six-pointer against the Canaries.
He'll say otherwise, but Howe won't be unduly concerned by the outcome of this third-round clash. Expect him to rest players.
Birmingham can have their vengeance, if it means the Cherries survive at the end of the season.
4 West Ham v Wolves
The Hammers are sixth in the table and in fine form.
The Hammers are at home. The Hammers are the overwhelming favourites. So, obviously, the Hammers must lose.
West Ham struggle with the "favourites" tag, explaining their dreadful cup record in the last, ooh, 100 years or so.
Heavy lies the burden of expectation at Upton Park. They only sing when they're shocking.
Wolves are quietly progressing under Kenny Jackett, winning three on the spin since Christmas.
Ironically, West Ham's traditional Achilles' heel, their defence, has been tightened under Slaven Bilic, a former centre-back of course.
But the loss of injured trio Manuel Lanzini, Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho reduces their attacking options, leaving West Ham reliant upon Andy Carroll.
As his manager alluded to this week, the pony-tailed totem pole is either inspired or anonymous.
If the latter shows up, Wolves may smell the blood of erratic Englishmen.
5 Tottenham v Leicester
Pedantic readers will argue that this fixture hardly constitutes an upset either way, but Leicester have dominated discussion all season long.
They are still, lest we forget, only two points off the summit and legitimate top-four contenders.
However, they do not quite boast the leading contender for manager of the season.
Despite his reserved demeanour, Mauricio Pochettino quietly impresses with each game as Spurs stealthily climb the table.
Operating on a fraction of the resources available to clubs in Manchester and West London, Tottenham are perhaps the easiest on the eye and the most unerring in front of goal.
Dele Alli has made himself a contender for both Young Player and Player of the Year honours and Harry Kane is being fashioned into the most accomplished English centre-forward since Alan Shearer.
In the shadows, Pochettino pulls at the strings, getting more from Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, while handing playmaking duties to a 19-year-old Alli.
Leicester, who are without injured top scorer Jamie Vardy tonight, have picked up the plaudits, but Tottenham will pick out a path to the fourth round.