Many pints have been bought/drunk/spilled while friends/strangers/adversaries debate the Premier League’s best players. In my list, I’ve tried to avoid hype and reputation… but that’s not to say it’s all about the stats. I’ve also been liberal with the positions, using a 4-1-3-2 but frankly putting players in to fit. For example, Steven Gerrard was praised for his reinvention as a defensive midfielder, but let’s face it, he mostly played the same as he always has… he just had farther to run.
Here then are my Starting XI:
Vito Mannone (SUN) – There was a reason for Vito Mannone’s switch from the bright lights of the Emirates to the ironically-named Stadium of Light. Like almost every other professional athlete, he probably expected to start. So it must have been disappointing when Paolo di Canio went with Keiran Westwood, a man who had spent most of his career in the lower leagues. The Black Cats’ start to the season was dismal — going 2-1-6 — with Westwood letting in almost one out of every two shots on goal. Mannone got his chance when Westwood got injured, and the Mackems improved, finishing a stronger 10-7-11 with 11 of those games finishing in a clean sheet for Sunderland. In fact, Mannone faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league, despite missing a quarter of the season. Quite rightly, he was named Sunderland’s Player of the Season.
Bench: Petr Cech (CHE), Tim Howard (EVE)
(LB) Leighton Baines, (RB) Seamus Coleman (EVE) – The Toffees seem to have an embarrassment of riches at the fullback position. Under Roberto Martinez, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman act as virtual wingers in an already offence-friendly side. The pair fly in with crosses, complementing the Mirallas/Barkley/Osman contingent on the wings. That leaves the two centre backs, along with a resurgent Gareth Barry and GK Tim Howard, to worry about any defensive issues. It seemed to work: Everton had the third-best defensive record in the Prem, while the Scouser and the Irishman both scored as many goals as their colleagues in midfield.
Bench – Patrice Evra (LB), Bacary Sagna (RB)
Martin Skrtel (LIV), Laurent Koscielny (ARS) – I can hear the howls of protests already. Why not players from Chelsea or City or even Everton? How can you pick one player who set a record for own goals in a season, and another with a propensity to self-destruct? Because the game-in, game-out stats tell a different story. In a league where goals are up across the board, both players were on sides built to throw everything forward in attractive — but dangerous — football. Martin Skrtel led the league in clearances and was tied for fourth in block shots. Think back to the images of him racing back to clear the ball, because Brendan Rodgers had his team playing such a high line. (Don’t forget Skrtel scored seven goals… he’s a centre back!). Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny was in the league’s top ten for both interceptions and offsides won, and he was in the top 20 for blocked shots.
Bench – John Terry (CHE), Per Mertesacker (ARS)
Mile Jedinak (CRY) – Crikey! Mile Jedinak has maintained the fearsome reputation of Aussie footballers in the Premier League — Messrs. Emerton, Neill and Cahill come to mind (like a prog-rock band! Ha!). The Palace player led the league in interceptions per game, and was 2nd in tackles per game. That’s all the more impressive when you realize he started every single game. A big reason why the Eagles had the league’s sixth-best Goals-Against.
On the bench – Gareth Barry (EVE)
Aaron Ramsey (ARS) – Mr. Arsenal this season, Aaron Ramsey set the league on fire in the season’s first half, before he was twice sidelined by injury. He was Arsenal’s second-biggest goal-scorer in the league, and tied for third in assists, despite playing in only 60% of the Gunners’ matches.
On the bench – David Silva (MNC)
Yaya Touré (MNC) – What hasn’t already been said about Yaya Touré’s season? The first midfielder since Frank Lampard to score 20 goals in a season, tied for fifth in assists, the Ivorian was Citeh’s talisman (an overused cliché, but in this case, true) and led the Citizens to their second title in three years.
On the bench – Steven Gerrard (LIV)
Eden Hazard (CHE) – José Mourinho had a rough relationship with his forwards this season, and sometimes played without a striker. Enter the Belgian, Eden Hazard. The attacking midfielder led his team in goals and assists, and was one of the league’s best passers. An incredible player to watch (unless you’re a ball boy), Hazard will be a key part of Marc Wilmot’s plans in Brazil.
On the bench – Adam Lallana (SOU)
Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge (LIV) – The picking of these two players was almost a no-brainer… almost. Luis Suarez tied the Premier League record for goals in a 38-game season, despite missing the first five matches. He was also second in the league for assists — just behind team mate Steven Gerrard — so it’s not like he was being selfish. Love him or hate him, he had a brilliant season and propelled Liverpool into the most exciting title run in almost two decades.
Sergio Agüero was almost equally brilliant, scoring 17 in 23 appearances. But injuries hampered an otherwise brilliant season, and young(ish) Daniel Sturridge found his own touch, scoring 21 of his own. That’s why he would start in my XI.
On the bench – Sergio Aguero (MNC), Wayne Rooney (MNU)
Player of the Season: Luis Suarez