Is this the Premier League Team of the Season?
With the 2016-17 Premier League season entering its final act, it is now clear which players have been the shining stars of yet another highly-entertaining campaign. The official Team of the Year will soon be announced at the PFA Awards Ceremony, but here is a preliminary assessment of which players deserve to make the final cut.
There have been plenty of outstanding stars this term, but only 11 could make the grade. Here, we analyse and reason why the players chosen are worthy of being in the team of the year.
It’s difficult to select the best goalkeeper, seeing as there is only one vacant space. There have been some glittering performances from Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris and Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, who are leading the way for the Golden Glove with 12 and 13 clean sheets respectively. Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford has also emerged as someone who could be a future star, having made 112 saves in 22 appearances, which is a better ratio than any other shot stopper in the top flight.
In terms of overall contribution to his team, though, Tom Heaton has to be named the best keeper of the season. The Burnley captain has made more saves than any other player with 121, and has kept an impressive nine clean sheets for the newly-promoted side. It could be argued that the main reason the Clarets aren’t embroiled in a relegation battle along with fellow newcomers Middlesbrough and Hull City is down to their number one. Heaton has pulled off some heroic displays, especially during the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford (see video above) in which Manchester United peppered Burnley with 38 shots but couldn’t breach the 30-year-old’s goal.
With the top flight becoming even more intense each year, teams are finding it harder and harder to make the transition from the Championship and consolidate their Premier League status. The fact that Middlesbrough and Hull are flirting dangerously with relegation highlights that. Burnley have set the bar with their impressive season and have shown that resolute defending is key. That is why Michael Keane has to make this list alongside teammate Tom Heaton.
The Clarets have one of the most impeccable home records this term. After 16 matches they have kept six clean sheets, which is on a par with Arsenal, and only bettered by Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham. They are also ranked fifth in terms of goals conceded with 14, behind Everton, Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs. Keane has been the key figure in the heart of that defence, which is why the 24-year-old earned his first England call-up earlier this year. He has made 248 clearances, which is only bettered by teammate Ben Mee and Steve Cook of Bournemouth. Keane has won 64.4% of his aerial duels and 64.7% of his tackles. This is a superior record to both of the formidable Spurs pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. As such, Keane has attracted interest from Everton and Liverpool, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use the £30 free bet from William Hill to have a punt on the youngster joining one of the Merseyside clubs this summer.
Ever since Antonio Conte opted to switch to a 3-4-3 formation which totally transformed Chelsea’s title race, Gary Cahill has been the experienced rock at the back, has organised the team, and helped everyone to keep a level head. He has taken on John Terry’s role in a professional manner and applied his recent title-winning experience to help galvanise the Blues team.
Along with that, his defending stats are also pretty remarkable. He leads the way among teammates for aerial duels won (81), tackles won (68.1%), and clearances (153). There is no doubt that César Azpilicueta has also been a revelation since the manager moved him into a centre-back role in the back three, but Cahill just edged the Spaniard into our list due to his leadership qualities.
Kyle Walker has proven this season that he is the best full-back in the Premier League. He is able to belt forward and initiate attacks as well as rush back and help out with defending. In the last two seasons, the Englishman has become a key cog in this well-drilled Tottenham side who have managed to concede the fewest goals in the division so far this term, having been breached a mere 22 times. In addition to completing 60% of his tackles, Walker has imposing attacking stats. His pass completion rate in the final third is 85.8%, he has fired in 89 crosses and he creates a big chance every 70 minutes on average.
Because of these dazzling performances, reports suggest that the top clubs in Europe are circling the 26-year-old like vultures, with Bayern Munich and Barcelona said to be keen to prise the player away from White Hart Lane.
N’Golo Kanté is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year award this season, having been nominated for the accolade last year when he played for Leicester City. The non-stop Duracell bunny-like defensive midfielder has now been instrumental in two title charges with two separate teams in successive seasons. If Chelsea lift the title at the end of the campaign, the Frenchman will be the first player in Premier League history to win consecutive titles with different clubs.
This is a notable feat in itself, but the decoration must go to him for the sheer level of passion and intensity he brings to the Blues’ accomplishments week in, week out. His drive seems to raise the ambition and motivation of those around him, and the 26-year-old is one of the main reasons that the Stamford Bridge outfit have had such a drastic turnaround in fortune this time out.
Eden Hazard is the other frontrunner for the Player of the Year award, and the twinkle-toed Belgian has arguably been better in this campaign than he was the last time he secured the accolade two seasons ago. In Chelsea’s title triumph under José Mourinho, Hazard scored 14 goals and racked up 10 assists. He has only managed five assists this season, but has bagged 14 goals and is on track to smash his goalscoring record in England. His involvement in all of Chelsea’s attacks is astounding, and the 26-year-old has a touch of the ball every 1.2 minutes on average. He has an attempt on goal or creates a chance every 39 minutes too. In addition to that, one of his goals is an absolute goal-of-the-season contender (see video above).
It is hard to pick a standout star in Jürgen Klopp’s ferocious Liverpool attack, but it is clear that the addition of Sadio Mané over the summer has given the Reds a certain spark that they had missed last season. The former-Southampton player has forged a devastating alliance with the Brazilian pairing of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, and prior to his trip to the African Cup of Nations was the most productive of the three performers. At St Mary’s Stadium, Mané had always threatened brilliance, but under his new manager, he has been allowed to thrive. With 13 goals and five assists in 26 Premier League appearances, the 25-year-old could smash this record next season without international duty mid-season and providing he stays free from injury.
With so many exceptional players in Mauricio Pochettino’s highly-efficient Spurs side, it was hard to choose just one midfielder for this XI. Christian Eriksen, the maestro who pulls the strings for the Lilywhites, narrowly missed out. There is no denying that after his breakout season last year, Dele Alli is quickly asserting himself as one of the most-talented players in England. The youngster claimed 10 goals and nine assists during the 2015-16 campaign, and has smashed that this term with 16 goals and five assists with six games remaining. The 21-year-old struts around like he owns the pitch, and has an excellent eye for goal as well as for setting up teammates. Alli scored two goals against league leaders Chelsea in the January fixture which could prove vital as the title race moves towards its climax.
The last talent of this calibre to emerge from the Premier League was Gareth Bale, who is now a key component in a red-hot Real Madrid side. Spurs will not want to lose another budding prospect to the Spanish giants, and reports suggest they are seeking to improve Alli’s contract yet again to starve off interest from Los Blancos. It would be a real shame if Alli was to depart, as he is easily one of the most entertaining players to watch in English football.
Alexis Sánchez has been one of the few highlights for Arsenal in a bitterly disappointing season for Arsène Wenger’s side. The Frenchman opted to utilise the former-Barcelona man as a central striker to start with, and Sánchez excelled in his new role. But as the season progressed, Wenger chopped and changed his tactics, sometimes shifting the 28-year-old back onto the flank to make room for Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck at the spearhead. This lack of consistency was perhaps the stumbling block to the Chilean to halt him from fully finding his groove and letting loose. Alexis Sánchez has also had to contend with the fact that there are a number of underperforming players around him who lack the same levels of passion.
With little more than one year left on his contract and the Arsenal board refusing to pay him the kind of salary a player of his quality deserves, Sánchez will almost-certainly be sold to the highest bidder in the summer. Let’s just hope he continues to entertain us at another Premier League club.
Romelu Lukaku has emerged as one of the most ferocious strikers in the top flight, after threatening to do so for years. The powerful Belgian is in pole position to win the Golden Boot this term after breaking the 20-goal barrier for the first time in his career. In addition to that, he is one of the contenders for both the PFA Player of the Year and the PFA Young Player of the Year awards.
Unfortunately for Everton fans, the 23-year-old is well aware of his glowing potential, and recently turned down a new contract with a significant pay boost to stay at Goodison Park. There are plenty of teams that will scramble for the signature of the Belgium international over the summer, but it may be wise for the player to spend another year under Ronald Koeman and develop further. At Everton, Lukaku is without a shadow of a doubt the main man, but if he moved to Chelsea for example, he would have to jostle with Diego Costa for starts, or likewise at Manchester United with Zlatan Ibrahimović. Whatever path the marksman decides to take, he is sure to be one of the greatest strikers in the world in years to come.
Harry Kane has managed to extinguish any doubts that he may have been a flash in the pan by excelling for a third successive season. It is difficult to choose between the Spurs frontman and Romelu Lukaku when it comes to assessing who the most promising striker in the league is, but the Englishman arguably edges the Belgian in terms of goals per minutes played, with Kane scoring a goal every 100 minutes compared to Lukaku every 117 minutes. If the Spurs striker hadn’t missed so many games through injury, it is hard to doubt that he would have topped the scoring charts for a second successive season. Like his English teammate Dele Alli, Kane has attracted interest from top European clubs, but if the North London outfit can hold on to the 23-year-old, he could be a pivotal figure as they go forward and try to establish themselves as a top flight powerhouse.
Paul Merson believes that Kane will be Manchester United’s number one transfer target should Zlatan Ibrahimović leave the club this summer. The move doesn’t seem that likely though, as Spurs would be foolish to gift such a prolific marksman to a rival club.
Some other notable mentions for this team of the year are Ibrahimović, Philippe Coutinho, and Jermain Defoe, but unfortunately, there is only space for eleven players.