Henry, Salah, Kane, Cantona: What is the greatest individual performance in PL history?

Manchester United v Leeds United - Premier League

What is the greatest individual performance the Premier League has ever seen?

It could be a goalkeeper being unbeatable. It could be defender tackling and blocking everything. It could be a midfielder being absolutely everywhere. It could be a forward scoring goal after goal.

Football is very much a team sport but matches are often won by individuals.

In 30 years of Premier League football, we’ve seen some incredible Man of the Match performances.

But who has produced the best?

Well, that’s something The Athletic have been looking at this summer.

They’ve produced a ‘Golden Games’ series where they’ve ranked the 50 greatest individual performances in Premier League history.

To check out the full 50, click here.

But here is, what their writers believe, is the 20 greatest individual performances in the competition’s 30 years:

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20. Patrick Vieira for Arsenal v Tottenham (2003/04)

In the match where Arsenal won the Premier League title at White Hart Lane, Vieira put in a proper captain’s performance. The Frenchman scored the opener before assisting Robert Pires for the second.

Arsenal may have gone on to draw 2-2 but they knew a point was enough and, in that first half, Vieira made sure they were winning the league in their rivals’ back yard.

19. Chris Waddle for Sheff Wed v West Ham (1993/94)

“Walking in a Waddle Wonderland.”

The winger produced three assists and scored one for himself as Wednesday thrashed West Ham 5-0 at Hillsborough.

What a player. And what a performance.

Chris Waddle...

18. Dimitar Berbatov for Manchester United v Blackburn (2010/11)

Just the five goals for the silky Berbatov during Man Utd’s 7-1 victory over Blackburn during 2010/11.

But it wasn’t just the five goals that sees Berbatov rank in the top 20 individual performances in Premier League history.

If Berbatov had scored just once in this game, he probably would have still made the list given just how incredible his display was that afternoon.

He was a magician.

17. David de Gea for Manchester United v Arsenal (2017/18)

Arsenal had 33 shots, De Gea made 14 saves – a record-equalling tally – as Man Utd somehow came away from the Emirates with a 3-1 victory.

De Gea saving an underwhelming United performance? What’s changed?

Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League

16. Mohamed Salah for Liverpool v Manchester City (2022/23)

This was the game last season that Salah announced himself as the best player in world football in that moment.

His assist for Sadio Mane was sensational. His individual goal was unbelievable. Against possibly the greatest side in world football.

15. Yaya Toure for Manchester City v Newcastle (2011/12)

It’s easy to forget that, on the penultimate day of the season, City faced a tough trip to Newcastle just six days after beating Manchester United to go top.

“Everyone was nervous before the game,” said Nigel de Jong in a documentary City produced to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that season. “Yaya stood up and said, ‘Guys, everyone relax. I’ve got this. You’re with big Yaya’.”

Toure scored twice in the second half to give City a 2-0 lead.

The easy task of beating QPR at home on the final day of the season was all that was left…

Newcastle United v Manchester City - Premier League

14. Alan Shearer for Blackburn Rovers v Manchester United (1993/94)

Shearer scored twice as title rivals Blackburn and Man Utd clashed at Ewood Park, Rovers winning 2-0.

It was the game that made Shearer a household name and made fans realise that Blackburn could genuinely challenge Man Utd for the title.

The following season, they beat them to it.

13. Charles N’Zogbia for Wigan v West Ham (2010/11)

In the penultimate game of the 2010/11 season, Wigan and West Ham met in a proper relegation six-pointer.

If Wigan lost, they would be three points from safety with one game left. If West Ham lost, they would be relegated.

West Ham led 2-0 at half time but N’Zogbia inspired Wigan to an incredible comeback with two goals as they went on to win 3-2.

They stayed up thanks to a win against Stoke on the final day.

Wigan Athletic v West Ham United - Premier League

12. Paulo Wanchope for Derby v Manchester United (1996/97)

A 20-year-old. On their Premier League debut. Against Man Utd at Old Trafford.

Wanchope arrived on the scenes as a completely unknown Costa Rican. He left the Threatre of Dreams with his names in lights.

He bullied Phil Neville to allow Ashley Ward to open the scoring.

It left the legendary John Motson to produce a brilliant piece of commentary: “And he’s scored! Oh, what a fantastic goal by the Costa Rican! Would you believe that? On his debut! That is a staggering moment of individual expertise by the long-legged 20-year-old in the English game for the first time. What an impact by a fella who wasn’t heard of until he was on trial at Queens Park Rangers, then on trial at Derby. Well, he’s not on trial anymore, Paulo Wanchope.”

11. Harry Kane for Tottenham v Man City (2022/23)

The most recent entry in the list but fully deserving of its place.

In February, Spurs shocked City by beating them 3-2.

Kane scored twice but it was his all-around performance leading the line for Spurs that had fans calling it one of the best individual performances they’ve ever seen.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

10. Roy Keane for Manchester United v Manchester City (1993/94)

This was Keane’s first taste of the Manchester derby and United found themselves 2-0 down at half time.

Two Cantona goals brought it back to 2-2 but the man inspiring the comeback was Keane.

And the midfielder, then 21, popped up with a late winner.

He would go on to become a Man Utd legend.

9. Robbie Fowler for Liverpool v Arsenal (1994/95)

We really didn’t think Fowler’s four-minute and 33-second hat-trick against Arsenal would ever be beaten. Of course, it was by Sadio Mane.

But the 19-year-old’s performance during that 3-0 win against Arsenal and David Seaman was just electric.

“I had three chances and three of them seemed to go in,” Fowler said afterwards.

8. Diego Costa for Chelsea v Manchester City (2016/17)

Chelsea were 1-0 down to Man City at half time but Costa was at his very best in the second half.

He absolutely bullied Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones to equalise before rolling on the second for Willian. Eden Hazard added a third to round off a 3-1 win that was inspired by Costa.

7. Ludek Miklosko for West Ham v Manchester United (1994/95)

If Man Utd had beaten West Ham on the final day of the 1994/95 season, they would have won the league due to Blackburn’s loss to Liverpool.

But they could only draw 1-1 – largely because of the inspired performance by West Ham goalkeeper, Miklosko.

“I felt very sorry for them,” Miklosko said. “Man United had created lots of chances but couldn’t take them. Their heads were down and I didn’t speak to them. It was also the best game of my career for the number of saves I made.”

United fans will never forget his name…

6. Robert Huth for Leicester City v Manchester City (2015/16)

Leicester winning the 2015/16 Premier League title still feels like a dream. But it was their victory away to Man City in February when everyone realised it was actually possible.

Huth not only scored twice but produced an unbelievable defensive performance against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho.

Leicester won 3-1 and went on to do the impossible.

5. David Silva for Manchester City v Manchester United (2011/12)

These days, Man City winning 6-1 away to Man Utd isn’t a huge shock.

Back in 2011/12, it certainly was.

But that’s what happened – and Silva’s performance that day needs to be remembered.

His pass to Edin Dzeko for the sixth goal is just outrageously good, while he notched a goal himself during the rout.

But he made Old Trafford his playground that afternoon, floating around and causing all sorts of problems for Sir Alex Ferguson.

4. Dennis Bergkamp for Arsenal v Leicester City (1997/98)

Possibly the greatest hat-trick the Premier League has ever seen? Bergkamp wasn’t exactly a goalscorer but his three goals at Filbert Street were outrageously good.

Incredible.

3. Eric Cantona for Manchester United v Tottenham (1992/93)

Cantona once named his assist for Dennis Irwin against Spurs as his greatest moment in football.

He also scored during the 4-1 win at Old Trafford.

But his overall performance was so good that George Best wrote in his newspaper colum: “If he keeps doing it, this club is going to win the title. That’s how important he is to United. He has given this team a brain.”

Best wasn’t wrong.

2. Thierry Henry for Arsenal v Liverpool (2003/04)

One of the closest Arsenal came to losing their Invincible season was at home to Liverpool as they went 1-0 and 2-1 down in the first half.

But a hat-trick from Henry – as well as an assist for Pires – saw Arsenal triumph 4-2 and go on to win the Premer League without losing.

Vieira said afterwards: “We were expecting someone to do something magical and it happened. We wanted for him to do it. He was there for us. When you are struggling you expect him.”

1. Peter Schmeichel for Manchester United v Newcastle (1995/96)

The greatest individual performance ever?

Newcastle had led the title by 12 points but that lead was down to four when United arrived at St James’ Park.

The Toon Army battered United for large periods of the title clash but just couldn’t find a way past Schmeichel who produced wonder save after wonder save.

Fergie’s side came away with a 1-0 win before going on to win the title.

After the match, Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan couldn’t quite believe what he saw from the Great Dane.

“We played out of our skins but you could have chucked a handful of rice at Peter Schmeichel that night and he would have kept out every grain,” says Keegan. “It was the greatest goalkeeping performance I had ever witnessed.”

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