So this week Manchester City have metaphorically lifted the EPL trophy while Vladimir Putin is rolling out the red carpet to various paid up members of FIFA – along with prepping his own rent-a-hooligan squad who are polishing up their knuckle-dusters and readying for an influx of brave/stupid souls from across the world for the 2018 World Cup. Shake me up a cocktail and I will happily watch from a beach thousands of miles away. But I digress. With the season coming to a close, the PFA Players team of the year has already been announced.
By Matty Lawrence
The way it works is that every member of the PFA is balloted and those players who can read and write fill out their forms like dutiful souls, picking a 4-3-3 team to represent the best XI players in the EPL. Now, as I’ve alluded to, us footballers (past and present) aren’t the sharpest tacks in the drawer. I’ve seen the squiggles and crosses on ballot papers up and down the land that allegedly represented words and names on the page. Half the time the player sat next to you copies your form, like a slightly dim pupil in the maths test. Quite often players will vote for their mates, or players in the same agents stable as them.
But this year, goddammit, I think the players have cracked it. In fact I find it quite difficult to argue with any of their selections, but of course I will have a little nibble My only real gripe is that the team couldn’t possibly go out and play an actual game of football, as there are only three players in that line up with a defensive bone in their body. So if we had to put that team out on the field we would probably have to remove Christian Eriksen to make way for a defensive midfielder. And, this season, the stand out player in that role has been Fernandinho by a country mile.
Saying that, the PFA team is not really about formations but more about the XI best players. Let’s be honest, the forward thinking players tend to catch our eye and get all the plaudits, so on this topic, the players, for once, cannot be blamed. When push comes to shove there are possibly four selections I could argue with.
The PFA Team Of The Year
Goalkeeper David de Gea has once again been in scintillating form for Manchester United and he has been included in the PFA team four times in the previous five seasons. Yes, de Gea really is that dominant in the No.1 position. This season, for instance, he has the highest save percentage at 80% of the shots he faced.
This season, though, the boy from the blue half of Manchester has rightfully made a claim for the goalkeeper of the year. Granted, Ederson is not as accomplished an all round goalkeeper as de Gea (I am talking solely in the hands area here), but boy does his distribution make up for it. Whether it is off the floor with his feet, or attacks instigated with a swift, incisive throw, Ederson has really taken the EPL by storm. We can’t forget that it took de Gea well over a season to acclimatise to the EPL where as Ederson has slipped right into the Manchester City starting line-up and been sensational.
At right back Kyle Walker got the nod from his peers and while it is tough to debate that selection, Trent Alexander Arnold must get an honourable mention. Not only has he taken the EPL by storm, but he has fared equally well in the pressure cooker situation of the Champions League. This kid has a fantastic future ahead of him, and it is great to see that his appearances this season have already triggered a new contract: richly deserved that it is.
Vertonghen A Must
Jan Vertonghen is an absolute must at the heart of the defence, but I would make a solid case for Virgil van Dijk being included instead of Nicolas Otamendi.
Yes, Otamendi has flourished this season under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola while completing 2665 passes to date. That’s 300 more than any other player, but VVD has had such a positive, calming influence on the previously jittery Liverpool backline that his presence shouldn’t be ignored. Unfortunately his protracted move from Southampton has rightly had a negative effect on his chances at the ballot box.
Marcus Alonso has slotted into the left back berth, and here I have a little bit of a problem. Technically, Alonso plays left wing back for Chelsea, but I think it is much easier to consider him a left midfielder in their 3-4-3 formation. Alonso has chipped in with six goals this season and been a real positive for Chelsea, but a left back he ain’t.
With 20 appearances to date (possibly too few for consideration) Andrew Robertson had to have been in with a shout. The £8m signing from Hull City has been an absolute bargain and settled into the massive football club that Liverpool is with consummate ease. Poor old Alberto Moreno has hardly had a sniff after the first few games of the season.
The rest of the PFA XI is fine by me:
David Silva has an 89% pass completion and 11 assists to date.
Christian Eriksen has made Spurs tick and stepped up to the plate with Dele Alli’s slight dip in form. 10 goals and nine assists speak volumes about the quality of the little, Danish playmaker this season.
Kevin De Bruyne has hands down been the best player in the EPL this season. Not only is his talent unmatched, but he has produced 11 goals and 15 assists and becomes the first player to deliver 15+ assists in consecutive seasons.
As we progress to the forward line we just have to tip our caps in respect. Sergio Aguero has 21 goals and counting. Harry Kane has 26 goals and at last glance was trying to claim he was the driving force behind the Berlin Wall falling.
Let’s save the best forward until last and just admire the majesty that has been Mo Salah in the 2017/18 EPL season: 30 EPL goals and nine assists. Add to that the 40 goals in all competitions (a feat last completed by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2007/08 season) and LFC find themselves with a world-class talent. For once, the members of the PFA have come up with a starting XI to be proud of, so it really doesn’t matter how many “homework’s” were copied, or how many spelling mistakes occurred, I think that this is a team the EPL can be proud of.