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James Lawton: Bale 'murders' his way to top of the Premier League's best performers

In the season of individual honours, three players have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and, if one of them – Robin van Persie – has suffered a certain loss of momentum, he can still claim to have been the Premier League's most influential player.

The Dutchman gave Manchester United a decisive impetus and, when Alex Ferguson is praised for the latest example of his unique power to motivate even one of his most moderate squads, he will surely offer a nod of thanks to his vital signing from Arsenal.

However, if the prize has to go to a season's outstanding performer, nobody surely can dispute the credentials of Tottenham's Gareth Bale.

If Van Persie shaped the season, Bale and Liverpool's Luis Suarez gave us new insights into the ability of some footballers to unerringly conjure extraordinary levels of natural ability.

Bale has scored dramatic goals with a stunning certainty, while Suarez has been indefatigable in the prosecution of his brimming skills. At their best they have been as irrepressible as the wind.

1 Gareth Bale

The measurement of Gareth Bale's impact has to be his inexorable rise to the status of the game's number one transfer target. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are all said to be contenders for a signature which will cost a minimum of £50m.

It is not only that the Welshman is incredibly quick, but his execution has become quite relentlessly stunning. "He murders teams," said the great Luis Figo a few years ago.

Now his homicidal tendencies have moved beyond such superior analysis. They have become wonders of the modern game. Spurs have the terrible choice between a huge financial coup and virtually dismantling their team.

2 Luis Suarez

It is hard not to believe that the Uruguayan's brief and often deeply complicated love affair on Merseyside will end in tears. He has already hinted broadly that Liverpool's failure to land Champions League football makes a close-season move hugely tempting.

Still, if some would see this as poor reward for the club's blind support of him during last season's racist furore, nobody can question the extraordinarily consistent brilliance of his contribution to the current campaign. A troubling, deeply enigmatic figure, his natural-born talent has rarely done less than glow.

3 Robin van Persie

Ferguson looked at Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, considered how it was that United let slide last season's title and was even more convinced that he had to splash out for the Arsenal man. It was the deal of this and many other seasons.

4 Juan Mata

In all the traumas at Chelsea, there was one enduring theme. It was the willingness of Juan Mata to produce the best of himself, despite the chaos and the bitter recriminations all around him.

When Rafa Benitez also picked the highly creative Eden Hazard and Oscar, Chelsea looked not only an engaging team, but one which, in the right circumstances, might one day enjoy playing the game. It has been a stupendous achievement and one hugely reflective of the Spaniard's competitive character.

5 Michu

Michael Laudrup is maybe the Premier League's most potentially upwardly mobile manager and there are plenty of reasons for this, not least his ability to move Swansea seamlessly beyond the impressively ambitious football of his predecessor Brendan Rodgers.

However, the Dane's crowning distinction was his understanding of how profitably his brilliant Spanish signing would plunder what passes for defence in so much of English football.

6 Rio Ferdinand

He has been a one-man army of contention for so much of the season, but also a hugely stabilising factor for Manchester United in their extraordinary grip on the title race. His calmness and still immaculate touch have been sources of both authority and timeless quality. The effect, remarkably, has been to soothe away some of the most crass of his internet eruptions.

7 Marouane Fellaini

A momentum-robbing suspension was a critical blow to Everton manager David Moyes' hopes for a surge towards a place in the Champions League but he was still immensely indebted to the big and frequently ferocious Belgian.

Powerful in the air, deceptively adroit on the ground, Fellaini gave Everton a new level of gravitas as they opened the season with a dramatic victory over Manchester United. Whatever his club's destiny, there is no question that Fellaini is surely moving up in the world.

8 Santi Cazorla

With Jack Wilshere's injury problems, Arsenal had a nagging worry at the heart of their team.

Who would provide the evidence that the days when Arsenal had players of both creativity and genuine influence might just be revived?

Cazorla, the fire-sale buy from Malaga, entered the vacuum with a persuasive argument that Arsene Wenger's touch in the football marketplace had not disappeared entirely.

As Arsenal revived hopes that their long presence in the Champions League might not be over, Cazorla produced vital craft and some agreeable swagger. If Arsenal had a future, the chunky Spaniard was the most likely explanation.

9 Michael Carrick

There have been too many seasons when Michael Carrick has promised much more than he has achieved, but this one has not been among them.

United's faith in the unformed Tom Cleverly and continuing dependence on the superannuated Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, has at times spoken with desperate eloquence of the midfield shortcomings of the champions-elect.

Carrick, though, has been enduring in his coherence. His natural intelligence and passing skill has continued to often make him look much more than the sum of his parts.

10 Sergio Aguero

By his own and, indeed, anybody's standards, Sergio Aguero had a disappointing season, given the initial aura of the new champions Manchester City and his vital role in their progress.

However, there is something about Aguero which persuades you that, in even the most discouraging circumstances, his good-hearted brilliance can always be relied upon. This emerged, consummately, when he came off the bench to deliver the killer stroke against United at the start of this week.

It was more than a sensational goal. It was a morality tale illuminating the waste of City's disgraceful season.

Irish Independent