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English Premier League Team of the Season

May 19, 2011

Alas the 2010-11 Premier League season is drawing to a close. Manchester United have claimed the league, Manchester City the FA Cup, and Birmingham City ran out surprise winners of the League Cup. On the European front, United contest the Champions League final with Barcelona next weekend. As seems de regueur for those associated with footballing journalism these days, here’s our Team of the Season for the 2010-11 campaign. The only rules we have tried to stick to are that we favour consistent performance across the entire season, promote domestic achievements over European ones, and that each player selected in a position actually plays there! Feel free to add your own thoughts below obviously. Hope you all enjoy…

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(Manager) Sir Alex FERGUSON

What Ian Holloway has achieved on such a modest budget with Blackpool is undoubtedly a fine achievement, and like the majority of folk associated with English top flight football we sure hope the Seasiders are in the Premier League next season. However, as far as Manager of the Year goes, it is mighty hard to look past the man who has just guided United to their nineteenth League title; a title achieved without the powers of Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tévez, with Wayne Rooney unsettled and seemingly out-of-form for the first half of the season, and with injuries to the likes of Antonio Valencia and Rio Ferdinand to contend with throughout. For Ferguson to win the League with such a seemingly modest side compared to previous seasons’ is testament partly to the comparative weakness of the teams at the top, but more so to the prowess of United’s fine manager. In fact, there’s a strong argument that had Sir Alex been in charge of any of United’s rivals (Chelsea, City, Arsenal) then they would have been lifting the trophy this weekend instead. That, surely, is statement enough…

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It has been another consistently solid season for the Dutchman, with fourteen league clean sheets and countless important saves for United throughout the campaign. His ability to stay fit and, crucially, remain on top of his game despite his advancing years has been vital for United this season, especially with Rio Ferdinand’s comparative struggles. The age-defying reaction double-save against Fulham and triple-save against Chelsea stand out (see below for both), whilst a fourth League title and a CL final appearance tell its own story. Retiring whilst on a high is indeed commendable and richly deserved, but you just know Fergie wishes he could get another campaign out of the Dutchman…

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(RB) Bacary SAGNA

Our selection for the right-back position has been a right humdinger. In short, there have been no stand out candidates, and only a few decent ones. United won the title but flitted between Rafael da Silva and John O’Shea at RB, with neither transcending the crowd in the position, whilst Chelsea, Man City, Spurs and Liverpool have all used more right-backs than bears thinking about! Having been solid but not spectacular, Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna got the nod at RB in this year’s PFA Team of the Year, but it seems a soft selection – almost entirely down to a paucity of decent alternatives. Since the turn of the year Chris Baird has earned consistent selection in the position for Fulham and has eight clean sheets to go with the up-turn in Fulham’s fortunes, but the less said about the first half of their (and his) season the better. Kyle Walker has impressed at Villa since arriving on loan in January, whilst Phil Neville has been an exponent of dependability for Everton. Seamus Coleman has been immense for the Toffees, but has played right midfield for the campaign, so including him feels like cheating. Robert Huth came close, having featured at RB for Stoke the season previous and having had a stormer this time out, but selecting a CB at RB again feels like cheating. And so we return to Arsenal’s right-back [and no, not Emmanuel Eboué, the man Garth Crooks once hailed as ‘a prodigious talent, audacious in attack and uncompromising in defence’]; perhaps Sagna’s secret is being quietly effective – twelve clean sheets, a goal, three assists and (importantly) few errors means the Frenchman just gets the nod. But not for the want of looking elsewhere…

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(CB) Vincent KOMPANY

The Belgian colossus has been quietly impressive for Manchester City this season, having kept the most clean sheets in the League in the process. An FA Cup triumph and Champions League qualification have been the reward for City’s sizeable investments, although it has been the understated performances of £6m Kompany at the back which have helped them achieve their success. Six clean sheets in ten games against their top six rivals is impressive on its own, more so when you consider Kompany has helped achieve this despite enduring a rolling support-cast of defenders alongside him (Kolo Touré, Micah Richards, Jerome Boateng, Dedryck Boyata, Micah Richards and even some chap called Ben Mee). Martin Keown – himself an accomplished defender and astute judge – recently called Kompany ‘the finest [central defender] in the Premier League,’ citing his ability to read the game, deceptive pace, an ideally versatile physique and how comfortable he has shown himself to be on the ball this season, so perhaps it is little wonder the Belgian is reportedly the ‘favourite to be named the Blues’ player of the season.’ A fine campaign for Kompany – he looks like being key to City’s plans for footballing domination over coming seasons…

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(CB) Nemanja VIDIĆ (c)

With his usual partner Rio Ferdinand frequently absent through injury, Vidić has been nothing short of immense for United. The Serbian has marshalled the back four superbly, frequently giving United a solid platform upon which to build their victories. Vidić has even contributed five goals this campaign, including the crucial 85th-minute draw-earning diving header away to Aston Villa back in November. Perhaps unfortunate not to claim either the PFA or Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, it was David Pleat who commented after his commanding performance in the near title-confirming victory over Chelsea earlier this month that ‘perhaps if the Football Writers’ Association voted for their player of the year by AV, the defender would have got the recognition he deserves.’ The fact he captains our Team of the Season paints its own picture…

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(LB) Leighton BAINES

Whilst Everton once again started inauspiciously before dramatic second-half-of-the-season improvements, Leighton Baines has been a source of effective and measured reliability throughout. With clean sheets proving harder to attain this season (that goes for all), he has helped contribute to a respectable eight for the Toffees as they look to finish in seventh place. Furthermore, Baines has been one of only two ever-present outfield players in the League, and has achieved this with a remarkably impressive disciplinary record (just three yellow cards). What has set him apart from the likes of Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra however, has been his phenomenal performance in attack. Offensively, Baines has been nothing short of prolific for the Toffees. Not only has he bagged five League goals, but he has the same amount of assists on his own (eleven) as the first choice left-backs of the top six combined this season (Evra, A Cole, Kolarov, Clichy, G Johnson, Assou-Ekotto). No mean feat…

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(RM) Luís NANI

Nine goals and a whopping eighteen assists (the most in the League) for the supposed heir to Ronaldo’s throne has proved quite a productive return for the Portuguese starlet. With Antonio Valencia cruelly sidelined for the majority of the campaign and with Rooney off-form for the season’s early months, Nani stepped up to the plate offering United both a creativity and an output that continued throughout the season. This has been a real break-through season for Nani, having previously flattered to deceive, and whilst he might still have a few detractors [who doesn’t?], there have been no better players at right midfield in the Premier League this season. The real test for him now is whether he can continue in the same vein for 2011-12…

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The Football Writers’ Player of the Year, it is testament to Scott Parker that he picked up this award and made our team in spite of West Ham finishing bottom of the Premier League; without him, this would have been one messy campaign for the Hammers. Parker has carried West Ham throughout the season, regularly their best player, and has earned a successful return to the England fold as a result. He delivered an inspirational half-time speech with the Hammers 0-3 down to West Brom in February, with his club staging a stunning second-half recovery to draw 3-3, before turning in another man-of-the-match performance a week later in the 3-1 triumph over Liverpool, despite requiring a pain-killing injection for a shoulder injury in the build up and being unable to ‘walk or move his arms’ prior to the game. Parker also played through bereavement, shining in the draw at White Hart Lane against Spurs in March despite having suffered the loss of his father the evening before the game. The Englishman has been an inspirational figure for West Ham despite their predicament this season, and as a consequence has been a great role model for aspiring footballers. Must surely be a key target for Arsenal this summer too…?

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Whilst this position could easily have gone to Charlie Adam, the Blackpool star has been heavily reliant on David Vaughan alongside him and has faded somewhat after January transfer rumours. By contrast, Luka Modrić has remained consistently impressive throughout and undeniably less reliant on teammates in the process. Indeed, we praised the diminutive Croat earlier this season after a number of eye-catching performances in the heart of the Spurs midfield, and whilst the perhaps more prolific duo of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart have blown somewhat hot-and-cold, Modrić’s good form has continued for the duration. The string-puller for Tottenham, his calmness and unerring efficiency on the ball enabled Modrić to dominate and dictate against Inter Milan on the European stage and shine against Manchester United (amongst others) on the domestic front, with Fergie recently admitting that the Croat was his pick for Player of the Year. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp suggested Modrić was good enough for ‘any team in the world,’ and with rumours linking him with a move to United this summer, Tottenham fans will be desperately hoping Modrić isn’t given the chance to prove Harry correct and that they can keep hold of arguably their most important player for next season…

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Most would expect Maicon’s tormenter-in-chief, Gareth Bale, to have taken up this slot – certainly with the PFA Player of the Year award to his name some might agree. However, Bale’s best performances this season have been reserved for the European stage, whilst domestically he has been relatively quiet; seven goals and three assists (only one of which came against top six rivals) testify to as much. By contrast however, the elder statesman of Welsh wing play, Ryan Giggs, has performed with a measured consistency throughout a campaign that has taken United to their 19th League title. Giggs started with a goal and two assists before two months off with injury, which were followed by a return to fitness and form, with two goals and eight assists in total, including output against Chelsea, City and Liverpool. Although the legs might be going, his touch and weight of pass (and accuracy) have allowed him to be just as effective as when he used to do what Bale now does so well (running, very quickly). With Park Ji-Sung and Valencia missing for large parts, United have needed Giggs to deliver, and invariably he has. Perhaps none more explicitly than this sublime touch to set up Wayne Rooney for a goal against Chelsea in Europe…

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(ST) Carlos TÉVEZ

With twenty-one goals (and six assists) to his name, Carlos Tévez looks set to beat Dimitar Berbatov to the Golden Boot this season – perhaps reason enough alone to merit his selection in this team. However, there are few superlatives that do Tévez’s performances justice, for bar injury-induced absences he has been in prolific goal-scoring form for the season’s duration (by contrast Robin van Persie only returned in January, Didier Drogba’s malaria ensured he went missing in the middle, and Berbatov has barely featured of late). Tévez has allowed his on-pitch football to transcend private issues surrounding being away from his family, a mid-season transfer request and a reportedly less-than-amicable relationship with manager Roberto Mancini, and has single-handedly taken apart defences in a majestic fashion on numerous occasions this season. The superb solo goal which gave City victory over Chelsea back in September stands out, if only to demonstrate how important Tévez is to City’s ambitions. They should be doing their damned best to hold on to the Argentinean this summer…

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Whilst Lokomotiv Moscow fans seemed delighted to be rid of the Nigerian striker last summer, it is the West Brom fans who have surely had the last laugh, with fifteen goals and nine assists going a long way towards securing their survival this season (along with Woy’s appointment of course). Unlike many other strikers in the league, Odemwingie has performed consistently well throughout the campaign, with only injury-enforced absences leaving October as the only month in which he failed to net. Furthermore, the goals have not just come against the league’s weaker sides, with the £1.5m man proving his quality with notches against Arsenal (twice), Chelsea and Spurs. As a consequence of his impressive scoring exploits, the Nigerian is ‘the only person this season to have won the Premier League’s Player of the Month award more than once,’ and can look back on his debut season with significant satisfaction. West Brom fans would undoubtedly agree too…

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Close, but no cigar:

Yaya Touré (power and performance in the middle for City), Charlie Adam (Blackpool’s headline-grabber with eleven goals and nine assists), Gareth Bale (“taxi for Maicon”), Clint Dempsey (twelve goals for the American), Jack Wilshere (showed maturity beyond his years), José Enrique (endless energy and a fine crosser of the ball), Robert Huth (six League goals and an FA Cup final appearance), Johan Djourou (when things went well for Arsenal defensively, he was a part of it, 11 clean sheets in 20 starts), and Brede Hangeland (thirteen clean sheets and six goals).

Half a cigar…

Samir Nasri, Andy Carroll, Tim Cahill, Rafael van der Vaart all sparkled for the first half of the season but faded after Christmas. Chelsea’s Lampard / Malouda / Drogba trio all went missing in the middle of their campaign despite starting and ending well, and whilst Robin van Persie, Javier Hernández and Luis Suárez have been prolific and prominent in the second half of their campaigns, respectively they were injured, relatively quiet and with a different club prior to the turn of the year. Sadly for these folk, this was a team of the season compilation…

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Obviously, as with all subjective Team of the Season selections, views can and do differ, so feel free to add your thoughts, selections, or honourable mentions if you see fit below. Thanks for reading folks…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2011 9:15 pm

    With hindsight we’d like to add David Silva to the Half-Cigar list. A slow start whilst he settled into life and football in the UK, but a vast improvement as the season developed and certainly one to watch for next season…

  2. May 21, 2011 3:33 am

    Surely Suarez in there for half (or even quarter) a cigar…and for another segment (maybe a tenth) how about King Kennys rejuvenation of the supremely average looking Maxi Rodriguez…..
    Clearly biased as a liverpool fan but there we go.
    Think you’ve got the first XI spot on though, Id maybe go Adam instead of modric despite everything. Just be nice to get a blackpool guy in there, what a season, what a team, pray for them this sunday. You’re right tho another classic example with modric, playing incredible but still somewhat under the radar to less in-the-know fans, hopefully we’ll keep him in the prem, think we will with ‘Arry. Hope he doesnt go to Man U.

  3. May 21, 2011 8:07 pm

    Thanks for your observations, Nick.

    Luis Suárez was a totally inadvertent omission! His name should have appeared alongside RvP and Hernández’s… slight error on our behalf there [duly amended, see above]. A great piece of business for Liverpool, he’ll be a very important player next season for sure…

    Also hoping for Blackpool’s survival this weekend – they’ve certainly entertained this season!

    Thanks for your thoughts…

  4. May 22, 2011 3:00 pm

    Few arguments with that selection, I’m not sure where your allegiances lie in terms of your favourite team, but no one could accuse you of being biased! All the players you’ve selected deserve to be in there.
    The reason I left my blog to a vote was because i didn’t trust myself to be so diplomatic!

    I’m really pleased the Peter Odemwingie got in. Seeing as West Brom were supposed to go down this year, his goals have been vital and ensured they are well safe come the final day.

    Nice work once again, keep the articles coming!

    • June 2, 2011 11:35 pm

      Thanks BTB, appr. the kind words.

      Since you ask, I’m Fulhamish in my persuasion. So luckily there weren’t too many folk other than Dempsey and Baird(!) to give me much trouble over objectivity this time around… got a sneaky that had Zamora been fit all season he might have come close. Alas, we’ll never know…


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