We’re officially half way through the EPL season, and god has it been glorious or what! So many narratives in only such a short time. So much Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Loads of wacky results that depending on how you feel either illustrates parody or mediocrity. Arsene Wenger has gone from being the butt of Piers Morgan on Twitter to once again being a genius. PDO played a relatively huge part in the firings of Steve Clark and Andres Villas-Boas, and Newcastle has been the ultimate test case for the normalization of PDO. We said goodbye to Facism and said hello to a hilarious Asian owner who combines tucked Dockers with the patience of a rabid wolverine. NBC’s amazing work on the EPL has made America discover SACCER while Arlo White is at this moment the best EPL broadcaster. We also can’t forget Jose Mourinho, his dissension to parody like trolling, and his squabbling/feuding with Juan Mata. It’s all been glorious to watch, and truthfully, after such a boring season last yr, we as fans were owed this.
Usually around this time, you’ll see writers, pundits and even fans squabble about picking a All EPL side or Team of the Season. These type of things can range from entertaining to downright insufferable for some, and it’s perhaps the football equivalent of the MVP discussion in the Big 4 in North America. It’s pointless, meaningless and ultimately doesn’t amount to much, but damn is it an easy way to kill 1000 words or so when you’re in a funk. Stats used here are provided by WhoScored.
We’re going to go with this formation cause well, geez nearly everybody plays some sort of version of the 4-2-3-1. Whether it’s Arsenal or Man City and the 4-4-2, the homogenization of the 4-2-3-1 has been hilariously fun to see, so much so that teams that go 3 at the back or going 5-3-2 or something is still radical.
GK: David Marshall
Picking goalkeepers is really difficult to do because how much of it is due to talent, variance, luck, formation structure etc… SV% is in of itself very unreliable, and even if you wanted to simply use the eye test to go about this, you can really pick 5-6 goalkeepers and make great cases for them. Tim Krul has turned in amazing performances this yr, Simon Mignolet for the most part has been great, and Tim Howard has been Tim Howard with a snazzy beard to boot. I picked David Marshall because good god! Have you seen the amount of shots they give up??? I’ve made the comparison between Cardiff City and the Toronto Maple Leafs cause of their SV% and their poor shot metrics, and David Marshall is a big key why as to Cardiff are not in the relegation. His performance against Tottenham was magnificent and Cardiff until this weekend had the 4th highest SV% in the EPL. Will this regress? Probably. Will Cardiff get relegated? Quite possibly. With the Malky Mackay sacking and the team in total chaos, David Marshall has been the steady anchor for a team that’s currently the complete antithesis of steady.
LB: Patrice Evra
A close call for the LB spot, but consider that Baines has been injured and not displayed the same form as last yr, Luke Shaw is still only 18 and Gail Clichy in many ways is more a cog in the wheel than a true difference maker. With all the turmoil surrounding David Moyes tenure as Man United’s manager, he along with Rooney have been the dependable team selections Moyes has lean upon. He’s played the most amount of games at 18, is tied with Phil Jones for most tackles per game at 2.5, and has been key to a surprisingly stingy Man U defense who are tied with Arsenal at 5th in shots conceded per game. His work defensively has been underrated for some time now, and though he doesn’t possess the flair like a Baines or Shaw, he’s still been the best LB this season. When on form and healthy, Baines is the best LB in the Premier League, but it’s just not been the case this yr.
CB: Dejan Lovren
I covered Southampton and their defensive tactics just over a month ago, and though regression in their SV% has dropped them back to league average, Lovren has still been fantastic this season. Without Lovren’s passing and his mobility in their pressing, Southampton would not function the way they do. They’re 4th in Shots conceded per game, they’ve survived the injury to Artur Boruc, and the Lovren/Fonte CB partnership is still to me the best CB combination in the EPL (though the Mertesacker/Koscielny combo makes it a close battle). Their fixtures in Jan/Feb is lenient with fixtures against Arsenal and Chelsea at home the only ones that deserve much mentioning. Southampton are 10 points back from the CL spot, but with the schedule in front of them, don’t be surprised if their name is talked with Europe anytime soon.
CB: Phil Jaielka
Wonderful CB, has adapted brilliantly into Martinez’s philosophy of treasuring the ball and is helped by playing with one of the most underrated players in the EPL in Sylvain Distin. Everton is 4th in the EPL and are staring at a real possibility of playing in the CL for the first time in nearly a decade. 87% pass completion, top 10 in clearances, and part of an Everton side that are tied with Arsenal for least conceded goals in the Premier League.
RB: Pablo Zabaleta
Easily can make a case for Bacary Sagna getting this spot. His crosses against Man U were honestly the best I’ve seen out of anyone this yr. He looks like he’s finally recovered from his previous leg breaks that made his form decrease dramatically. Zabaleta has been integral for Man City and even though they gutted out a win vs Fulham at Craven Cottage, his absence was very noticeable. Clichy was moved to RB for the match, and with the conditions on the field, Clichy was victimized by Adel Taarabt on the flanks and famously slipped on the Kieran Richardson goal. Zabaleta is tied for 6th in the EPL in Assists and though Assists shouldn’t be used as the de facto metric for playmaking, his link up play along the flanks is perhaps the best out of any full back in the EPL.
DM: Yaya Toure
God has this man been spectacular this season or what. 9 goals in 18 games this season, a 90.6% pass completion percentage despite averaging 75.8 passes per game. He’s been outstanding and the addition of Fernandinho has allowed him to go forward much more than last yr when he was flanked with Gareth Barry. His FK’s are downright devastating, he’s such an athletic marvel with his strength and his ability to cover so much ground, and the passing he exhibits with Silva/Nasri/Fernandinho is fantastic to watch. There are problems with Man City, the amount of space they can give up on counter attacks is very concerning and Arsenal despite the 6-3 score line found holes that they capitalized on, but they’re the most talented team in the Premier League, and winning a 2nd EPL title is well within reach
DM: Aaron Ramsey
The NHL has the Masterton trophy, the NFL has the Comeback Player of the Year award, the NBA has the MIP, and well… baseball doesn’t have anything of this type, but if we did one for the Premier League, Aaron Ramsey would win this type of award. I realize that I’m cheating a bit with Ramsey cause he’s not necessarily a Defensive midfield and more of a box-to-box midfielder a la Lampard/Gerrard in their primes, but there’s possibly no way I can leave him off this list. It’s amazing to remember that’s he’s still only 23, but he’s been in the public eye since signing with Cardiff at the age of 16. A double leg fracture suffered stunted his growth, but with full credit to Arsene for showing the ultimate patience that some didn’t *Cough Piers Morgan Cough*, Ramsey’s rewarded Arsenal. His stamina in covering the pitch and his tackling are perhaps his greatest attributes as a footballer. 8 goals, 6 assists, 3.7 tackles per game, the famous GW vs Borussia Dortmund, where Jamie Redknapp couldn’t stop salivating at Arsenal’s defensive performance. In a team filled with quality midfielders, Ramsey’s name is the one you can count on to be on the starting lineup. His best football is yet to come and he might have the chance to become the Welsh version of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard for this generation.
AM: Wayne Rooney
Remember at the beginning of the season where Wayne Rooney was all but stamping his way out of Old Trafford, and Jose teased at the possibility of signing Rooney? Me neither, cause this has been a vintage Rooney season. With RVP’s health deteriorating back to pre 2011-13 levels, Rooney’s picked up the slack and reinvigorated his career. He’s tied for fourth in the EPL with a host of other strikers, but Rooney gets the nod for producing vintage Rooney performances despite the team’s middling TSR metrics, the dearth in world class players, and for the most part keeping his mouth shut.
AM: Sergio Aguerro:
Producing at a near goal per game rate, which in a 38 game season would shatter his 23 goals scored in 2011-12. His volleys in the box are a trademark in dominant Man City performances. 29 chances created this season with a 61% shot accuracy. He’s out for the foreseeable future with a calf injury, and though Negredo has been great so far this yr, missing Aguero will hurt Man City. He was integral in Man City’s destruction of Man United in the Manchester Derby earlier this season, and the partnership with Negredo rivals the SAS Liverpool faction.
AM: Eden Hazard
I still remember where I was during the Liverpool-Chelsea matchup yesterday. I was sitting on the couch eating some Lays Ketchup chips (Only in Canada cause god only knows why). Liverpool took the lead as Martin Skirtel scored on a tap in 3 mins into the match. I leaped out of my seat but fear set in. The same script happened vs Man City and we lost, and I felt I was on borrowed time. Soon enough, Hazard scored a glorious goal that Mignonlet had no shot at stopping. I wasn’t mad nor was I depressed by the goal, I simply nodded in acknowledgment and the moment moved on. There are only a few players in the EPL who can score a goal against Liverpool and not elicit a reaction from me, and Eden Hazard is one of them.
FW: Luis Suarez
He’s the best player in the EPL, the best player I’ve ever seen in a Liverpool shirt. He’s the ultimate definition of a difference maker, and I am lucky to have him wear the Liverpool Red. I’m going to cherish every match I can watch him play and just like the Liverpool-Chelsea matchup, I may just be living on borrowed time with Luis Suarez playing in the Liverpool Red.
There’s simply too many players in the EPL these days, and you can truthfully make numerous variations of a Premier League XI that would make loads of sense. Sadly, these players have been relegated to the Honourable Mentions but that’s a product of so many talented players playing the EPL with the new TV deal and income flowing into teams:
A phenomenal tackler for a player who plays the #10 role. He’s probably Jose’s favorite player, and if we had a Selke trophy like we do for the NHL, he’d be on the ballot
Laurent Koscielny/Per Mertesacker/Bacary Sagna:
You truthfully could make 3/4th’s of the Starting XI defense full of Arsenal player’s and I wouldn’t disagree to be honest. They have been great this yr and deserve extra points for staying as healthy as they have with little back up if otherwise. Arsenal are top of the table and whether you attribute their best win of the season at BVB to luck or a defensive performance for the ages after the Ramsey goal, they’ve been solid and more than done the job.
Noticing a trend here? He’s been as advertized; a world class player, perhaps the best playmaker in the world today. His signing reinvigorated an Arsenal club who previously were mocked for being a selling club. His play has dropped off in these last stretch of games, but he’s done what he’s paid to do, which is to make everyone a better player
He is older, he isn’t the same player physically that he was in 2005-06, at times, his running reminds you of Frank Lampard, but he still has worked really well for Liverpool this yr in a deeper position. Most assists on Liverpool at 6, and he’s still great in delivering the final ball to the likes of Suarez/Sturridge
Has carried Victor Wanyama this yr, his passing is fantastic. Tactially aware and fits in the high pressing game Southampton employ.
Romelu Lukaku> Jose Mourinho.
Have a Happy New Years Everyone!
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