Just as Sky begins to advertise for forthcoming pre-season friendlies Paul Morris and I finally complete our Team of the Season selection. Perhaps selection over email wasn't the best idea?
I’ve never been a massive fan of Schwarzer. He always appears a bit stiff and doesn’t generally contain the kind of athleticism I like to see in my keepers. And while I still have that opinion, I can’t argue with some of the displays he’s put in since his arrival at Craven Cottage. Having escaped relegation on goal difference last year, Fulham have taken points off all the top four this term with Schwarzer keeping clean sheets against three of them. His most notable all-action performance came in the 2-0 home victory over Man Utd that, momentarily, put Liverpool back in the title race. Integral to Fulham’s lofty European hopes.
Probably the hardest position to pick for considering it’s been a pretty lean year for standout right backs. Although Sagna was selected for 2008’s official team, he still receives minimal fanfare outside of the Emirates. Certainly one of Wenger’s more astute recent signings, Sagna is proving to be an excellent complement to the similarly energetic Clichy. Very competent defensively, he’s clearly not out of his depth going forward either. Fast, strong, committed, Arsene could do with a few more like him.
Bit of a no-brainer this choice as the Norwegian captain has really optimised the phrase “towering presence”. Hangeland reads the game well, is comfortable in possession, commanding in the air and, similarly to the much eulogised Nemanja Vidic, loves defending. Will doubtlessly be the subject of interest from many top clubs before the August transfer deadline, but will need to choose his destination carefully as to not fall foul of that “one season wonder” tag.
Nothing short of phenomenal this season, Jags has been an outstanding blend of composure, practicality, awareness and consistency. While England’s captain still flatters to deceive, the former Blade is routinely turning in weekly performances that certainly deserve more recognition. However it was his shackling displays of Fernando Torres that made people realise this was more than just another Northern utility player. Jags fittingly scored the winning penalty to take Everton to the FA Cup Final, only to tragically rupture his ACL a week later. A cruel blow but not one that should sour an exceptional campaign.
Initially chosen due to the unfortunate and underwhelming Gareth Bale, Assou-Ekotto has rapidly repaid Redknapp’s faith with some very competent displays. Established as first choice left-back, he has played a large part in Tottenham’s resurgence, underlined by his impressive performance opposite the people’s favourite Ronaldo in this year’s Carling Cup Final. Out of the same mould as compatriots Evra and Clichy, Assou-Ekotto gets up and the down with ease, comfortable in either defence or attack.
I’m not sure of the Opta stats, but I’d be surprised if there’s a more hardworking player in the Premier League. Having spent the first few years of his career filling in gaps, Milner has since carved himself out as a genuine winger. While he hasn’t received the same accolades as his quicker, flashier teammates, Milner’s success is in his simplicity. He doesn’t overcomplicate his play and the results mean he’ll be a more than useful player for a very long time. Furthermore, with over 40 Under-21 caps, what’s the brother got to do to get a senior one?
It’s no coincidence that Palacios’ departure from Wigan and arrival at Tottenham resulted in regression for the former and progression for the latter. He added much needed steel to a lightweight Spurs midfield while leaving a seemingly insurmountable void in Wigan’s. At his most impressive breaking up and launching attacks, the Honduras international appears to be a very good piece of business at £12 million (as ridiculous as that sounds). Passed over by Wenger two years back, the Arsenal manager would probably give all the berets and baguettes in the world for a time machine.
Who could have foretold that a man only known for novelty underwear and being the worst liar EVER would end up being one of the most exciting and dynamic footballers of the year. Despite looking like a greasy light bulb, Stephen Ireland has been a revelation for Man City this term. He has shown poise, creativity and an incisiveness that hasn’t been evident in seasons past. Clearly thrived playing alongside Robinho, it’ll be interesting to see if Ireland can remain such an influence following what is likely to be a tumultuous summer at Eastlands.
If a better 1.5 million has been spent in the last 10 years then I can’t think of it. Cahill is the perennial ‘impact’ player. His exploits are by now no secret, but Cahill continues to influence the game in the same way: the opposition’s 18 yard box. In tandem with the differently physical yet potentially as dangerous Fellaini, Cahill led Everton’s attack when they had none. Is as important to Everton as Lampard is to Chelsea, Gerrard is to Liverpool and Fabregas is to Arsenal.
A hardworking and versatile player, Taylor has really impressed in a wholly uninspiring Bolton team. He has always had an eye for goal but this season has seen his best return with a league tally entering double figures. Obviously enjoying playing further forward, Taylor has settled in very well as the left hand side of a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. His dangerously accurate left boot has not only paid dividends for him, but it serves battering rams Elmander and Davies quite nicely as well.
I’m not a fan of Sam Allardyce. That’s another rant for another day. But while he’s no longer associated with Bolton, his accomplishments and influence cannot be overlooked and are still very much evident. This is embodied by Kevin Davies; a no-nonsense centre forward who leads the line with strength and aggression. His limits as a player are obvious, but Davies’ years at Bolton have seen him adapt his game to be a consistently effective performer at the top level. Has had the best goalscoring season of his career, that saw him catch the eye of Fabio Capello (albeit briefly).
Kirkland’s constant injuries have regrettably robbed us of a genuinely international class goalkeeper. And while he may have individually underachieved throughout his career, his performances for Wigan mean they continue to overachieve. It’s a testament to Kirkland’s natural ability that he’s been able to help the smallest club in the league (probably 3 leagues) stay afloat the last few years. Similar to Ledley King, he only “does” match days. But this curbed training regiment is obviously working for the pair as they’ve both enjoyed their most successful season in a good while. Might be the way forward.
A complete unknown to most, Turner was a prominent figure in Hull’s magnificent start to the season. With eye-catching performances against Arsenal and Liverpool, Turner was mentioned for an England call up that few could have argued with. The turn of the year saw Hull plummet from Europe to relegation, but Turner has been the unmistakable bright spark of The Tigers retched 2009. Will no doubt incur the advances of many teams this summer.
Another relatively unfamiliar name, Ilunga was signed on a season-long loan by Alan Curbishley about 10 minutes before he was unceremoniously sacked. Under Gianfranco Zola Ilunga he has proven to be an excellent acquisition, acclimatising to the Premiership comfortably. Typical of modern day full backs, he is as capable in his own half as he is the oppositions. Ilunga’s consistent displays established him as regular in the first XI and culminated in him signing a permanent deal at Upton Park.
After two underwhelming seasons at Villa, Petrov finally started to justify the hype this year with a number of commanding performances alongside Gareth Barry. Playing a lot deeper than he (and we) were accustomed to, Petrov has flourished with this additional time and space in which to operate. Most surprisingly Petrov has shown added ‘bite’ to his game, assuming a great deal of defensive responsibility that was never previously associated with his game.
During his initial loan spell, Steven Pienaar visibly struggled with the strength and pace of the English Premiership. But David Moyes saw enough to make the diminutive South African’s move permanent (for a mere £2 million). Since then Pienaar has asserted himself as an integral member of the team, developing an almost telepathic understanding with Leighton Baines down Everton’s left. After the devastating injury to Mikel Arteta, Pienaar was looked to to provide much of the team’s creative impetus. He didn’t disappoint as Everton reached the FA Cup Final and cemented their league status as ‘best of the rest’.
Despite being one of the most high profile English strikers of the past 5 years, Crouch still gains more negative attention than positive. Crouch didn’t get off to the best of starts when he returned to Fratton Park as ‘Appy ‘Arry upped and left for Spurs and Tony Adams struggled to inspire as a manager the same way he did as a player. With the club disillusioned, Crouch unselfishly put himself before the team (unlike Defoe) and got to work trying to rejuvenate the FA Cup holders. His eventual tally of 11 went more than a long way to keeping Pompey afloat, but it was Crouch’s all round work ethic that was significantly more key to their survival.
In possessing the most physically imposing team in the top tier, Stoke are an illustration of what heart, determination and often brute force can achieve. Hidden inside these behemoths is Ricardo Fuller, a bit of a journeyman striker who has been unable to reproduce his Championship success at the highest level. But his talents are evident (particularly in an one-dimensional Stoke side) and winning goals against Aston Villa and Arsenal helped banish the Potters as an afterthought. Fuller’s injury, attitude and disciplinary problems are never far away, but when firing on all cylinders his pace, power and skill are a handful for anybody.
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