On one of my favoured football sites the other day (football365.com) I came across an interesting article which featured a Playing XI of what they believed were the best signings of the season. I decided to make a similar list, but I’m going with an overall team of the year rather than just the new signings. I might have missed a couple of names, but these are (at least I think so) the best Premier League XI from this season so far. Difference of opinion is always welcome. Here goes –
Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)
I decided not to go with any of the keepers from the Big 4 (6?) for this one. Mignolet’s performances have been superb this season, and it’s partly down to his fine shot-stopping that Sunderland have reached the dizzying (for them) heights of 8th place in the table. It was a toss-up between Mignolet and Jussi Jaaskelainen, but the latter is a seasoned performer in the Premier League. And this being just his first season in English football after moving from Belgium, the 22-year-old Mignolet surely has a promising future.
Right Back – Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
I’ll be honest here. Ivanovic is one of the only players at Chelsea I actually admire. But that’s not the only reason to have him on my list. He’s been ever present at right back for Chelsea, and has been equally important for them going forward as he has been defensively. He’s also chipped in with 3 league goals, including a vital late winner at Blackburn.
Centre Back – Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
The Belgian is one of the primary reasons City have been able to actually push for the title this season. He always goes about his job calmly, stifling the opposition’s attack well with some tough tackling. He is also able to play his way out of defence with relative ease, making him one of the more dependable Premier League centre-backs.
Centre Back – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Taking on the added responsibility of captaincy this season hasn’t affected Vidic’s no-nonsense style of play in the least. An absolute beast of a defender, he’s almost single-handedly kept an arguably mediocre United top of the table for much of this season, also chipping in with some valuable goals. Easily one of his finest performances came at White Hart Lane, where he repelled the Tottenham attack for 90 minutes with complete ease. Captain Fantastic, indeed.
Left Back – Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
When I started writing the list, I only had Bale in mind for the left-back role. He has been, without a doubt, the revelation of the season. Agreed, some of his best performances have been in the Champions League (THAT game against Inter) but 12 goals from a man who is primarily a winger/full back is no laughing matter. In September 2009, he held the dubious record of playing 24 league games for Spurs without being on the winning side. About a year and a half on, he’s playing in the Champions League quarter final. Brilliant stuff!
Right Wing – Nani (Manchester United)
At the beginning of 2010, it seemed as though Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha “Nani” was on his way out of Old Trafford after an alleged bust-up with Sir Alex Ferguson. About a year later, he is easily United’s most dangerous and important player, having his best season yet in a red shirt. Comparisons have been inevitably drawn with his predecessor (you-know-who) but very soon he’ll be spoken of without CR7 being mentioned in the same sentence. Sure, he whines and rolls around a lot and his hated by most non-United fans, but he has 9 goals and 16 assists. The stats and his performances speak for themselves.
Centre Midfield – Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham)
Yet another player who’s had a brilliant year and a half in just his first season in England. The Dutchman had to endure heartbreak at the World Cup, but started his time at Spurs strongly, scoring his first goal in a superb comeback victory over Wolves. He hasn’t looked back since, getting 9 more in the league as well as 7 assists. He’s put in some excellent performances in Europe too, and at the moment is looking like brilliant value for money at just 8 million.
Centre Midfield – Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
You can count on Fabregas making an appearance in almost any team of the year. Arsenal’s Captain Courageous, his commanding performances have kept Arsenal in the hunt. And it’s no surprise his recent absence from the team due to injury led to the Gunners losing the League Cup as well as crashing out of the F.A Cup. In spite of being openly courted by Barcelona for the last couple of seasons, Fabregas has stuck to his task and has very much become the heartbeat of the Arsenal side.
Left Wing – Ashley Young (Aston Villa)
This may seem an unusual choice considering Villa are currently struggling in 14th place. But for me, Ashley Young is one of the Premier League’s most potent attacking players, and has helped Villa stay afloat with his 8 goals and 8 assists so far. His electric pace has helped him become a Villa first-teamer just a few seasons after moving from relative Championship obscurity (Watford). It is hardly surprising that in the last 6 months, he’s become hot property, with Man United and Liverpool both vying for his signature. He has age on his side, and can surely only get better.
Striker – Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
It hurts to admit, but Tevez has done superbly well at City since defecting to my beloved Red Devils’ cross-town rivals. He had a stunning 29-goal season in 2009/10, and has followed that up with another 21 this time around. He was made captain back in August last year, and has appeared indispensable to City. His recent announcement that he wanted to retire from football must have haunted everyone at the club till the Argentine decided against it. City’s push for the title and a Champions League spot this season has been built largely around the performances of ‘El Apache’, and if they are to claim their first piece of silverware for more than 35 years (ahem), then he is the man to do it for them.
Striker – Javier Hernandez (Manchester United)
Dimitar Berbatov may well be top of the scoring charts, but 16 goals (and counting) in your first season of English football after moving from South America is no mean feat. ‘Chicharito’ is fast becoming an Old Trafford hero and it isn’t hard to see why. He’s scored some vital goals this season, which include late winners against Stoke, West Brom and Southampton in the F.A Cup as well an equaliser in a stunning comeback against Blackpool. Signed for just 6 million, he is arguably the bargain of the season. The mercurial Mexican has been likened to United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his deadly goal-poacher instinct, but the rate at which Hernandez is going, he seems on course to leave his very own legacy behind him.
Substitutes (Honourable Mentions) –
GK – Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United)
It really says quite something about a player’s ability, if even at 40, he manages to inject a “youthful exuberance” into his team! The Dutchman has been outstanding all season, and his impending retirement is surely giving Sir Alex Ferguson sleepless nights. There’s no replacing experience like the kind VDS has. His icy cool temperament (which has earned him the nickname “Ice Rabbit” by the way) has gone a long way in a season where United have had their fair share of bad luck with the back four. With United still in the running for silverware this season, winning a trophy for van der Sar would be the perfect send off.
DF – John Terry (Chelsea)
Much as I despise this man, it’s only fair that he is included in this list. Even during Chelsea’s diabolical run of games midway through the season, the England captain has been there to bring some semblance of order into the side. A beast of a man, he never shirks a tackle and is very handy in the air. And fortunately for the Stamford Bridge faithful, he’s got a few years in him still.
DF – William Gallas (Tottenham)
The Frenchman is another player who I will not hesitate to declare my hatred for. But I also have grudging respect for what he has achieved this season. Signed by ’Arry Redknapp on a free transfer from arch rivals Arsenal, he has been made captain of Spurs, and has certainly added a solidity to their backline. He has been instrumental in Tottenham’s push for the Champions League spot for the second season running, as well as sustaining their challenge in the current season’s European competition.
MF – Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
During captain Cesc Fabregas’ absences from the squad this season due to injuries, Nasri has been handed the armband as well as the responsibility to ‘carry the team’. And he quite honestly hasn’t disappointed. The diminutive French international has been an important cog in Arsenal’s well-oiled midfield machine this season, and has played his part with 14 goals in all competitions, as well as some important assists. And with Fabregas’ future with Arsenal now uncertain, they have a ready replacement, one who does not disappoint.
MF – Paul Scholes/Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
By this stage, I have seen these two veterans defy odds (and age) so many times, it’s no longer surprising. The Xavi-Inisesta of yesteryear, they can still terrorise the opposition (Giggs with his mazy runs and Scholes with his very dodgy tackling). The fact that they’ve each played 20 league games this season, shows how much Sir Alex will miss them once they retire. And in an otherwise mediocre and unstable United midfield this season, they’ve steadied the ship time and again. Hopefully they will for another couple of seasons.
MF – Charlie Adam (Blackpool)
A lot has been printed and said about this man over the past 8 months or so. He has been the mainstay in Ian Holloway’s Blackpool side as they got off a flying start to the campaign but have since been dragged into the relegation dogfight. However, Adam’s 9 goals and several strong performances should pretty much guarantee that even if Blackpool aren’t playing Premier League football next season, he will be.
ST – Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)
After 2 seasons of sulking and being weighed down by a 30 million price tag, the moody Bulgarian has finally come good this campaign. Detractors will argue that most of his goals have come at Old Trafford, but the fact remains, he has been scoring almost for fun for much of this season (ask Blackburn). He has recently been kept out of the side due to the blossoming partnership between Hernandez and Rooney the United attack, but as he showed against Bolton on Saturday, he’s still vital to Sir Alex’s plans and more goals like that will help him regain his place in the starting XI sooner rather than later.
Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson
No surprises here! Seeing as United’s squad has been called ‘crap’ and ‘below-par’ for much of the season, he’s still managed to keep them in the hunt for a treble. Just shows what a legend he is.