Premier League Team of the Season (so far)

 

Premier League Team of the Season (so far)

As the clock ticks down, the end of the January transfer window is upon us. This day has been synonymous with Harry Redknapp, Jim White and crazy signings that don’t make sense. Unfortunately, we’ve not had that excitement this year. Premier League clubs, wary of breaching FFP rules and actually being punished, have stayed away from glamour signings and today has been a quiet affair. Perhaps somewhere Peter Odemwingie is in his car waiting outside a stadium?

A quieter January window and a mini winter break has meant I’ve had the opportunity to take stock of the Premier League season so far. So without further ado, my Premier League team of the season so far.


Goalkeeper: Vicario

I’m not quite sure we knew what to expect from Spurs’ summer signing. Not many of us had heard of the Italian and so perhaps the spotlight wasn’t on him as much as it was on others like Onana. Well, Vicario has barely put a foot wrong since replacing Hugo Lloris and has been one of the signings of the season. Playing as a sweeper keeper in a Postecoglou team isn’t for everyone, yet Vicario has shone with his goalkeeping abilities as well as his distribution, making him the perfect “modern-day” keeper. He’s a calming influence on the Spurs defence and a key reason why they sit in fourth as it stands.


Right Back: Trent-Alexander Arnold.

Is he a right back? Is he a midfielder? A half-back? Whatever he is, he’s fantastic and has been in top form for Liverpool this season. I described Vicario as the “modern-day” goalkeeper about 30 seconds earlier and when you speak about Alexander-Arnold you’re looking at the “modern-day” fullback. One that doesn’t bomb up and down the byline, overlapping a winger, instead he comes inside and inverts, acting as a deep quarterback. In his new role, he dictates play from deep with his fabulous array of passing and is 2nd in the Premier League for big chances created with 12. Pretty good for someone occupying a deeper central role of the pitch. A revelation for Klopp and perhaps a solution for Gareth Southgate? No team in world football would boast a better midfield three than Rice, Bellingham and Alexander-Arnold. Walker at right-back, Alexander Arnold given free rein to play his game? A mouth-watering prospect.


Centre Back: Virgil Van Dijk

The first centre-half in this team is the irrepressible Virgil Van Dijk. The consensus was that he hadn’t been the same player since he suffered his ACL injury in 2020, however last season he showed glimpses he was nearing his best in a sub-par Liverpool team. The dutchman is certainly back to his commanding best this season as the lynchpin in the Premier League’s meanest defence.  Out of the 181 Premier League players to have been involved in 100+ duels across the Premier League has won as high a proportion as Van Dijk (78.3%). Both Konate and Van Dijk have been dominant aerially this season and Van Dijk leads the rest of the League for aerial duels won with a percentage of 81.8%. He’s Liverpool’s most important player and it’s that’s some bar. Such is Liverpool’s dominance when Van Dijk is anywhere near his best, he has only lost game at Anfield in the Premier League since joining the club in January 2018. The winning manager? A rare shout out to Jesse Marsch.


Centre Back: William Saliba

The second centre-half position was a tricky one and could easily have gone to any of Konate, Gabriel or Pau Torres. However, partnering Van Dijk is Mr cool, calm and collected, William Saliba of Arsenal. The Frenchman is a rolls Royce of a centre half and has been at his best this season as Arsenal attempt to sustain a title challenge. Before their recent wobble, Arsenal had been praised for being meaner this season and Saliba’s calmness and class in defence is key to that. He’s strong, quick and adept on the ball and since his introduction into the Arsenal team, their defensive organisation has been much improved. France look sorted for the best part of a decade with him and Konate in defence.


Left Back: Destiny Udogie

This man’s inclusion in this team shows just how impressive his debut season has been. Since Danny Rose, could you name a mainstay Spurs left back? Ben Davies? Sergio Reguilon? Ivan Perisic? With Destiny Udogie, Spurs have finally struck gold. The young Italian has been a revelation in the Ange Postecoglou revolution. He’s inverted into midfield, driven to the byline getting assists and has seamlessly slotted in Spurs’ high defensive line. His and Van de Ven’s recovery pace allows Spurs to press high and implement “Ange-ball” and his rise to stardom has been one of the success stories of the season. Whilst he’s shown glimpse of inexperience, including rash moments and naiveness, his potential has excited the Spurs fans. I remember watching Alphonso Davies in his breakthrough season in Champions League games and Udogie reminds me of him. His future is very bright.


Centre Midfield: Declan Rice

One of the biggest transfers of the summer was Declan Rice’s mammoth move across the capital to Arsenal. Leaving West Ham, having just hoisted a trophy, the hope was that he could be the catalyst for more success at Arsenal. 6 months in and he’s made a very good start in the heart of the midfield. Vital late goals against Manchester United, Chelsea and Luton have shown a different side to his game but have also gone a long way to showing the winning mentality he brings. Playing, predominantly as the holding midfielder for Mikel Arteta’s men, he has evidenced what he is good at, protecting the back four, breaking down play and also building attacks with an ever-improving passing range. Arsenal have yet to find the perfect companion in midfield with Xhaka’s departure in the summer and once they get that right Rice’s presence will only continue to grow. Despite his hefty price tag, he’s been one of the signings of the season.

 

Centre Midfield: Rodri

If you’re unfamiliar with what a metronome is, it’s a device that produces a steady beat at regular time intervals and helps musicians play rhythms accurately. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Without the metronome, a musician’s performance can fall apart. That’s Rodri in this Manchester City team. The metronome. Perhaps you notice him on the pitch, perhaps you don’t. One thing’s for sure, you notice when he isn’t on the pitch. For all of City’s jewels, it’s not De Bruyne or Haaland they miss the most, it’s Rodri. In 2023, with Rodri in their starting XI, City won 75% of their games. Without him, they won 50%. Fresh from his Champions League winning goal in May, Rodri’s importance on this City team has increased. With the ball, Rodri has completed the most passes in the opposition half this season despite missing a handful of games. Without the ball only Brentford’s Christian Norgaard has won possession more times per 90 minutes than Rodri. Throw in four goals and four assists this season and Rodri has proven himself to be the complete midfielder.

 

Centre Midfield: Bernardo Silva

Next to Rodri in this team is his teammate, Bernardo Silva. If there’s one player who I feel is underappreciated in the City team, it’s Bernardo Silva. My theory for this is his lack of a definitive position. Close your eyes and point to where Haaland, De Bruyne or Rodri play and you could. Where’s Silva? Watch City’s games and he’s everywhere. Left back, anywhere across the midfield and front-line. Simultaneously one of the first names on the team sheet and yet one of the least when you’re asked to name City’s starting XI. Silva? Errr…. We’ll stick him there. With 6 goals and 4 assists this season he’s well on his way to his highest number of goal contributions since joining City. And yet, the goal contributions are a bonus. What he brings to this City team in terms of flair, tenaciousness and flexibility is unquantifiable. He’s been one of the players of the season and is key for City’s trophy ambitions.

 

Right Wing: Mohammed Salah

Another player who I don’t think gets the credit he fully deserves. Or maybe I am just being biased? Mohamed Salah has been in excellent form this season. Salah being at the top of the Premier League scoring charts has become so routine we don’t appreciate it as much as we should do. Liverpool’s talisman is joint top scorer, alongside Erling Haaland, but perhaps more impressive has been his remarkable improvement in the creative side of his game. Salah not only has the most goals but also tops the charts for assists in the league. On top of that, Salah has also created the most “big chances” out of anyone in the League, pipping his Liverpool teammate, Trent Alexander Arnold. Liverpool’s forwards have fired, and misfired, and fired this season. Nunez, Diaz and Jota have all shown glimpses however Salah has been the one constant on the Liverpool scoresheet. How Arsenal could do with someone of the Egyptian’s reliability and ruthlessness in front of goal. It’s currently unknown when he will return from his injury but Liverpool will be hoping it’s soon with City’s shadow looming behind them. With Salah fit and firing, Liverpool have as good a chance as anyone to win the Premier League. 


 

Left Wing: Heung-Min Son

The worry before the start of this season was that the Heung-Min Son of old was gone. Having had a poor season for his high standards and seeing the man who assisted so many of his goals, Harry Kane, leave, the signs weren’t too promising. However, in this new-look Spurs under Ange Postecoglou, Son has thrived in attack, predominantly playing through the middle. The Spurs forward currently has 12 goals in 20 matches which is already higher than his tally of 10 in the entirety of last season. Son’s finishing from tight angles, on either foot, has always been exceptional and this season he has been back to his electric best. No doubt, he’ll be eyeing up the golden boot and a top four finish with Spurs which would mark a sensational season for the South Korean international.

 

Striker: Ollie Watkins

One of the revelations of this season so far has been Ollie Watkins who has been shining in the premier league’s surprise package, Aston Villa. Just over a year ago and Watkins looked a shadow of the player he is today under Steven Gerrard’s management. The improvement from working under Unai Emery has been staggering. Watkins confirmed in an interview Emery instructed him to stay more central, specifically in the width of the 18-yard box, and Watkins tally of 9 goals so far this season pays testament to that work. Even more impressive than this is his tally of 10 assists which shows the strength of his all-round game. Watkins’s movement is exceptional and is central to Villa’s chances of getting into Europe this season. He’ll no doubt be hoping to make an impact at the Euros for England this summer too.

 

Manager: Unai Emery

Unai Emery’s transformation of Villa last season was very impressive, inheriting a side that was threatened with relegation and leading them to a 7th position. This season, Villa have built on that and have been the surprise package and currently sit in 5th position, only behind 4th place Tottenham on goal difference. They’ve played on the front foot and have implemented the most effective offside trap in Europe having caught opponents offside 95 times this season, as of 29th December 2023, which is 34 more times than second-ranked Tottenham. Their win over Manchester City wasn’t the usual one you see against City. Villa steamrolled the Citizens racking up 22 shots to City’s 2 and thoroughly deserved their 1-0 win, a scoreline which flattered City. The fact that Emery has made all of this a reality and has his Villa side ahead of Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle is testament to his body of work. Can they qualify for the Champions League? I’m not so sure but certainly a top 6 finish is very realistic and would be a fantastic achievement.

 

Special mentions:

Cristian Romero: Romero has cemented himself as a very good Premier League centre half this season and his partnership with Van de Ven has been formidable.

Douglas Luiz: Unlucky not to be in this team, Douglas Luiz has been the heartbeat of Villa’s midfield. Unfortunately for Villa fans, a summer move looks likely.

Jarrod Bowen: Bowen has impressed this season both on the right-wing and as the central striker for West Ham this season.

Erling Haaland: A victim of his own success, Haaland is currently the joint top scorer in the League and still he doesn’t make it into my team this season. A return to full fitness in the second half of the season should see him rival Salah for the golden boot and as well as the title.

Dominic Solanke: Solanke’s rise this season has been remarkable. Labelled as a player who may be too good for the Championship but not quite Premier League level, Solanke has proven his doubters wrong and sits a very respectable third in the golden boot race with 12 goals.


*Stats used throughout provided by Opta.

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