After speaking about the best eleven for the top teams, let’s discuss how some players in the lower half of the table are doing, and making an eleven of their best players.
Nick Pope (Burnley)
There isn’t much of a competition here. While I think Jordan Pickford has been very good, Pope has been head and shoulders above his competition. He had came into a very organised Burnley side after Heaton’s injury, and not even looked out of place. He’s been averaging 3.3 saves per game this season, which betters Courtois’s 2 saves per game. While Burnley themselves have been a brilliant defensive unit, they have relied at times on Pope to bail them out. Some that come to mind would be against United and City, where he made some brilliant saves to win his team some valuable points. I’ll be very impressed if Heaton will be able to get back into this team, with Pope being this good
Aaron Wan Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
It might be a bit odd to put a player who has only played 7 games in the premier league this season as the best right back, but for a 20 year old, he has been absolutely brilliant. Against Man United he was incredible in keeping Sanchez quiet. He was tight on him and blocked any pass that was attempted. He’s averaged 5.9 tackles and interceptions this season. Which is just absolutely unbelievable. Every time he has played he has not looked out of place, and could become a key player for Palace next season.
Christopher Schindler (Huddersfield)
Huddersfield in a defensive sense have actually been relatively good this season. For a team with a minus goal difference last season, to concede only 8 goals more than Arsenal is pretty impressive. They also top the table in tackles, ahead of champions league finalists Liverpool. It says a lot about how Huddersfield have been playing this season. They have been playing very risky football, which has given many defeats, but because of that, their defensive players have a lot of responsibility in ensuring that the opposition does not get past. He has been averaging 4.2 tackles and interceptions per game, and also 7.2 clearances. It shows that playing this open system has not affected the German. His defensive numbers are at a real high because of the responsibility he has. He’s been excellent in this system and deserves so much more credit than he gets.
James Tarkowski (Burnley)
Michael Keane was excellent last season. He completed the most passes for Burnley in the final third and showed himself to be a strong, intelligent and capable player. But systems are important in football and his move to Everton shows it. He has been exposed more this season because of style changes to the way Everton play. I bring this up to make a certain point, that playing in a certain system brings out your best qualities. Tarkowski might be in this similar mold as we speak. He has replaced Keane perfectly. It’s a another decision from Dyche that deserves as much credit as it is getting. A player no one heard of twelve months ago is now getting England caps. He’s shown himself to be a perfectly capable defender, who is able to keep the shape and do his job. I cannot call him a great defender by any means, because he plays in a system that favours a more pragmatic approach. The credit he is getting here is because of how flawless he has been, and anyone who does their job that good deserves my credit.
Patrick Van Aanholt (Crystal Palace)
Maybe a strange pick. Usually the Southampton fullbacks cover these positions. But because of their off season, other players have to be considered. Van Aanholt had always been an odd player to me. No matter how good he is going forward, the defensive frailties have always showed themselves. His positional sense had always been very off, having the possibility of getting caught out. This season has been different however. He has been averaging 3.4 tackles and interceptions per 90, and most impressively for me he only gets dribbled past 0.6 times per game. He’s a very difficult player to beat in a one on one. His passing numbers might not be great, but that can be explained by Palace themselves. Much of their game comes on the right side, with Zaha especially effective in this regard. It gives the Dutchman the chances to get in dangerous areas. He has scored 5 goals for palace this season, and some of them being very important. He have his inconsistencies, but has been an important player for palace.
Doucouré has been a very consistent player in Watford’s team selection, and for justified reasons. He’s averaged 3.6 tackles and interceptions per game, while also completing 85% of is passes. He’s showing signs of a very well rounded midfielder. Not only has he been capable of playing in a deeper position, he also can play in a midfield 3. It shows him to be a very flexible player for any team who is thinking about adding depth in that area. He has been a towering figure in that Watford side. Most importantly he has scored 7 goals and assisted 3 for a team that hasn’t been too great in front of goal. In a season that started so brightly, and slowed down after the sacking of Marco Silva. Doucouré has been the only player to get constant praise.
Luka Milivojević (Crystal Palace)
Milivojevic has showed himself again to be the best midfielder in this side, and most reliable. He has been relied on for taking the teams penalties, which he has gladly repaid them for their trust, out of the 10 goals he has scored, 9 of them have been from the spot. He’s also completed 4.5 tackles and interceptions per game. Not only is he scoring goals, but his defensive work has been absolutely superb. With a midfielder like Cabaye next to him, he will be relied on for the defensive work. The Serbian has been brilliant again, and continues to be a key player for Palace.
Pascal Gros (Brighton)
Gros has been the signing of the season for me. Many will simply say it is Mohammed Salah. I disagree here simply based on the fact that premier league survival is worth so much to a club that has just been promoted, than any trophy Liverpool can win. Not only that, Gros costed nearly 10% of what Liverpool paid for Salah. For a player who has contributed to more than half of Brighton’s goals this season, it is clear to see why he should be considered the signing of the season. It wasn’t as if this wasn’t expected. He created the most chances in the Bundesliga last season, and Brighton clearly saw that and knew he was worth the small amount of money they paid. He has a relatively low pass accuracy for a creator, at only 76%. But that can be explained on his role. Gros’s role is to create, and seeing as he averages 1.8 crosses and 1.8 long balls per game, that is perfectly understandable. Crosses and Long balls are types of passes that usually aren’t common to complete. It’s pretty incredible that he was able to that, while also making 2.2 key passes per 90. He’s contributed to 8 goals and 8 assists. He’s been Brighton’s best player by a mile, and it’s clear to understand why.
Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace)
I’ve never been much of a fan of Zaha. He’s always had the talent, but his final product was always something to desire. This season however, Roy has clearly gotten the best out of him. He’s been the key player for Palace in an attacking sense. Because of the terrible form of Christian Benteke, Zaha has mainly been played as a striker, alongside Townsend. He’s scored 9 and assisted 3. Even though he has definitely improved, there is still more to improve on. He averages 2.2 shots per game, 1.8 key passes per game and most impressively, dribbles past his opponent 4.1 times per game. It’s clear to see that going wide is his speciality, with his incredible ability to take on players. His threat to the opposition can clearly be seen, based on him being fouled 2.6 times per game. He is winning the ball in good positions for his team. On a talent basis, he is one of the most talented out of the lower teams in the table, and while there are more areas for him to improve on, mainly his conversion rate, he has still been very good for Palace this season.
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
I think Mahrez has been absolutely brilliant this season. Leicester themselves have been very on and off this season. At points they have reminded us why they won a league title, and others remind us why they were so poor last season. Leicester themselves haven’t been ruthless enough with their squad. It’s clear to see that there are players who shouldn’t be at the club. Players such as Morgan, Fuchs, and Simpson all need to be moved on. Their fragility as they begin to show their age is getting more and more clear. Mahrez is another example, but in an opposite situation. Mahrez has been brilliant this season for the foxes, and continued to be their main creator. He’s scored 12 and assisted 10. Thosr are very very good numbers for a wide player. Not only that, he has 2 shots per game, makes 1.6 key passes per game and also completed 2.3 of his dribbles. He’s quite similar to Zaha. The only difference being the strikers they play with. Vardy has scored 20 goals, which has put less pressure on Mahrez, but he has still been excellent. Zaha’s numbers have been much higher, yet he has scored and assisted less than the Algerian. It shows the difference in quality, and which player is ready for the transition to an elite club. With Arsenal looking for wide talent, this summer could be the only where Mahrez finally makes the big move.
Kenedy (Newcastle United)
While many would be including Vardy in this XI, I decided to be a bit different, and choose a player who decided the fate for a certain Northern club. Before the Brazilian signed, Newcastle were in a mess. They were struggling with scoring goals and defending. Rafa made two loan signings that changed both. Dupravka in goal, and Kenedy on the left side. While Matt Ritchie had that right side locked down, the left side was still much for debate. Atsu was very inconsistent, and Jacob Murphy seems to have been a mistake before he even played. Kennedy arrived and instantly showed what they were missing. He’s a player who wants to try things, and isn’t afraid to get involved. Kenedy has been averaging 1.8 shots per game. In a Newcastle side that overall hasn’t been too attacking, that is showing how much he is willing to attack. What I find most impressive is his defensive work. He’s been averaging 3.3 tackles and interceptions per game. For a wide player who is also taking plenty of shots, it’s unbelievable he’s able to do both. If he doesn’t sign for Newcastle, he would be perfect for a team with an intention to press. His ability to work the left side and contribute in front of goal is very valuable.
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