With the season drawing to a close, I’ve compiled a team of the best new players to the Premier League this season. My main criteria are: that they have never played in the Premier League before and that they have played more than a handful of games. Also, I’ve tried not to include players signed in January, as I’m going to judge them by a whole season.
There are some big name signings conspicuous by their absence. Alberto Aquilani and Yuri Zhirkov were signed for large fees but they were both hampered by injury and never really got into their strides. Nikola Kalinic was another player signed for big money (by Blackburn’s standards) and hasn’t worked out.
So in a Rafa Benitez style 4-2-3-1 formation (though hopefully not as boring), here it is!
Goalkeeper: Nobody! Not off to a great start! I’m sure Brian Jensen previously played in the Premier League with West Brom so he’s not eligible. The only new keepers I could think of are Wolves’ Wayne Hennessey, who lost his starting job pretty early in the season so he hasn’t really played enough games to be considered or Wigan’s Vladimir Stojkovic who has been a disaster in the few appearances he’s made. Can you think of any?
Left Back: Stephen Ward (Wolves): To be honest, it’s not really been a vintage year for new full-backs, there really weren’t that many candidates to choose from. Ward has done a pretty solid, if not spectacular job for Wolves this season and is one of the reasons that Wolves should stay up. I’ve also been impressed by Burnley’s Danny Fox, but as he joined in January he’s not included.
Right Back: Ronald Zubar (Wolves): Can’t believe I’ve put two Wolves defenders in my team! Once again, there’s not too much to choose from. Zubar was a disaster waiting to happen when he first arrived, but has improved greatly as the season has worn on. Hopefully, his improvement will carry over into next season.
Centre Back: Roger Johnson (Birmingham): Just about edges out his equally excellent defensive partner, Scott Dann, to make it into my team. Birmingham have been the surprise package of this season. They are a bit anaemic in attack so have relied heavily on their strong defence to gain them points, which Johnson has been the heart of all season.
Centre Back: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal): When Vermaelen was signed people said he was too small and too expensive. Doubt anybody’s saying that now. Vermaelen is a mixture of aggression, technique and reads the game very well. He’s got 7 goals from Centre-Back, an astonishing return and was one of the best signings by any team last summer.
Midfield: Karl Henry (Wolves): Wolves have had to battle and scrap for every single point this season and they have relied on the midfield, anchored by Henry to keep them in games. Henry looks to be at home in the Premier League and should have a long career at this level.
Midfield: Johnny Heitinga (Everton): Was signed as a defender, but has carved out a role for himself as a holding midfielder. Heitinga took a while to adapt to the speed of the Premier League, but has played a vital part in Everton’s excellent 2010 form. He needs to work on his passing a bit and is a little undisciplined at times, but has been an excellent acquisition.
Midfield: Wade Elliott (Burnley): Elliott scored the goal that sent Burnley up in the playoff final and has continued his long journey up the divisions in style. Elliott and Chris Eagles (who played for Man United so doesn’t qualify) are Burnley’s creative players and Elliott has been impressive all season, playing nearly every game and chipping in with 3 goals. I think he’ll still be in this division next season even if Burnley go down.
LM: Matt Jarvis (Wolves): His natural position is on the left but Jarvis is equally comfortable on the right and can even play up front. Jarvis is extremely quick at has troubled defenders all season. He is a good crosser of the ball and is Wolves’ main creative force.
RM: Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton): The Blue Dragon! Nobody really knew what to make of this guy when he arrived but he’s made an impact. He reminds me a lot of when Luis Antonio Valencia first came to Wigan, though I think Lee is a bit more refined than he was. He’s scored a few goals and provided some assists but his pace and trickery is a constant threat to defenders. Bolton may have a fight on their hands to keep him this summer with rumoured interest from Liverpool.
FW: Stephen Fletcher (Burnley): Fletcher has mostly been deployed as a lone striker all season and has battled hard throughout. He can hold the ball up very well and does a good job of bringing other players around him into the game. A goal return of 8 isn’t exactly world beating but Burnley would be in a much worse position without him. I can’t see Burnley staying up sadly, but I do think that Fletcher will still be in this division next season, maybe with his old boss Owen Coyle at Bolton?
Scott Dann (Birmingham): Like his defensive partner Roger Johnson, Dann has been a rock in defence for Birmingham this season. Dann does the grunt work at the back, throwing himself into tackles and blocks and generally putting his body on the line for his team. If Birmingham can keep hold of both Dann and Johnson, they will have an excellent foundation on which to build their team.
Alessandro Diamanti (West Ham): A genuine impact player who makes West Ham look a far more threatening team whenever he comes on the pitch. He’s a goal threat, with 7 goals (so far) and is also one of the most creative players in the league. The problem with Diamanti is that he’s not very effective when he starts a game.
Lorik Cana (Sunderland): Much like Sunderland’s season, Cana got off to an amazing start, fell away in the middle of the season and finished strongly. Cana is one of the toughest tacklers in the league and is equally at home in defence or midfield
Graham Alexander (Burnley): At 38, Alexander is the oldest outfield player in the Premier League and has not shown his age at all this season. He’s played almost every game this season, scoring 7 goals in the process. He’s also probably the best penalty taker in English football, with a career record of 74 from 78.
Frederic Piquionne (Portsmouth): One of the few bright spots in Portsmouths horrible season is their loan signing Piquionne. He possesses great movement, dragging defenders all around the area and is one the only threats Portsmouth have. He’s not exactly been prolific, but has scored some vital goals including the wins over Liverpool and in thew FA C up semi-fianl against Spurs. Portsmouth won’t be able to keep him after this season but another club may well try and sign him for next season.
Keith Fahey (Birmingham): Fahey is a pacy, creative player who can play on the wing or in the middle and is a free-kick taker.
Ivan Klasnic (Bolton): Klasnic has had to overcome two kidney transplants in his career and has managed seven goals for Bolton. He does look a bit lazy at times, but has tremendous natural ability and has the knack of getting himself in the right place at the right time.
Just missing my team are David Meyler of Sunderland and Wigan’s holding midfielders Mohamed Diame and Hendry Thomas (the worlds oldest looking man). Their team mate James McCarthy has done well for Wigan, but has only really held a first team place down since the new year. Aruna Dindane of Portsmouth’s also done well but for a long time wasn’t able to play, as Pompey would have had to pay a fee for him if he’d made another appearance.
Do you agree/disagree or have any players you’d like to throw in the mix?