As the Premier League season is drawing to a close, many people are compiling their teams of the season. I’m going to do one too, but I do it a little differently; my team of the season consists solely of players that had never played a game in the Premier League before the start of the season. I tend not to include January transfers as I prefer players who’ve made an impact the entire season, but one January signing had such a big impact, I’ve had to include him.
As always with these teams, there’s bound to be some inclusions you disagree with, but that’s what makes these lists fun. My choice of striker is maybe controversial (I’ve changed my mind a few times about who to pick), but I’ll try to justify every selection as best as I can.
Fans of the EPL know that it is one of the fastest, most physical leagues in the world and it’s difficult to come in and make a good impression in your first season. Here are some players that have made it look easy.
This team’s in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
GK: Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal): Not really a vintage year for new goalkeepers in the Premier League (the two in my team are the only two I can really think of), but Szczesny has been excellent in his performances so far. He started off as third-choice at the start of the season, but got his chance thanks to injuries to Almunia and Fabianski and took it. He established himself as Arsenal’s number one and may have Arsene Wenger rethinking any possible summer plans to buy a goalkeeper as in Szczesny, Arsenal may already have the answer to their goalkeeping problems.
LB: Carlos Salcido (Fulham): Salcido was impressive in last year’s World Cup and has continued his impressive form this season. In his early games he was maybe a little too attack-minded, leaving space open behind him too often, but has settled into a more disciplined and controlled way of playing where he can utilise his attacking talents and crossing without leaving his team too exposed at the back. There are reports that he wants to go back to Mexico next season and it would be a big shame for Fulham and the Premier League to lose him.
RB: Neal Eardley (Blackpool): It’s not unfair to say that Blackpool’s defending this season has been at times disastrous. However, Eardley has been pretty solid all season and looks as though he will develop into a dependable, if not spectacular, Premier League right-back.
CB: Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan Athletic): Roberto Martinez likes his team to get the ball down and play, even from the back, so Alcaraz fits the bill as a ball-playing centre-back. He’s had a few ‘moments’ where he’s got himself into trouble trying to dribble the ball out of defence or misplacing passes but his defending has been pretty solid all season long. I’ve been under the impression he doesn’t fully trust his fellow defenders at times this season and that’s why Wigan have struggled so much defensively. He was another player who had a very good World Cup and carried his form into the season.
CB: Mike Williamson (Newcastle United): Williamson looks like the kind of player that’s going to get destroyed every game, but apart from a few occasions, that just hasn’t happened. He seems to have grown in confidence as the season’s progressed and has been a rock at the back for Newcastle. He seems to be in competition with Steven Taylor for a starting place, and while he’s not as talented as Taylor, Newcastle’s defence looks better when he plays instead of Taylor.
DM: Yaya Toure (Manchester City): Many people thought that City were crazy for paying such a large transfer fee and an unbelievable salary for a player who wasn’t first-choice at Barcelona. Nobody’s questioning this transfer now as Toure has been terrific. He can play at a high level of intensity for the full ninety minutes, is good in the tackle, is technically very good and looks difficult to stop at times. He’s also become a legitimate goal-threat, something that wasn’t really expected of him at the start of the season.
DM: Charlie Adam (Blackpool): There have been plenty of players who have starred in the Scottish Premier League but didn’t quite cut it in England. Against all odds Adam’s done the opposite. At the time of writing, he’s got 11 goals and 8 assists, which is superb for a midfielder, and is the main reason that Blackpool are still in with a chance of avoiding relegation, which is in itself a feat, whatever happens at Old Trafford. A few clubs wanted to sign Adam in January, and if Spurs had acted sooner, he’d be their player. I’m sure there will be many clubs looking to sign him in the summer but the question about Adam is, can he improve on this season, or even repeat it?
AM: David Silva (Manchester City): Silva arrived with a big reputation and with a World Cup winners medal and he hasn’t disappointed. Roberto Mancini did the right thing by easing him into the side initially and he quickly found his feet. His first-touch, vision and movement off the ball are arguably the best in the league. He always seems to find space for himself and is capable of playing the killer pass to set up a teammate any time he wants.
AM: Luis Suarez (Liverpool): As I said earlier, I tend not to put January signings into this list, but Suarez has been sensational since arriving at Liverpool and one of the main reasons for Liverpool’s strong second half of the season. His reputation had taken a hammering in 2010, with his handball against Ghana and his choice of Otman Bakkal’s shoulder as a snack, but he is redeeming himself at Liverpool. At his best, he’s seemingly unstoppable; he’s made some of the Premier League’s best defenders look foolish with his pace, movement, directness and trickery. His importance to Liverpool is such that when he plays well, Liverpool play well, when he doesn’t, Liverpool don’t. He’s had an effect on the players around him too, as they know that if they get into space around the box, he’ll find them. Teams are already trying to stop him by marking him tightly all over the pitch and winding him up, but he’s a good enough player to find a way around that. Suarez is an excellent player and I can’t wait to see what he can do next season. Plus he hasn’t bitten anybody. Yet.
AM: Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur): Probably the best buy of last summer’s transfer window.Van der Vaart has always been recognised as an extremely gifted player but he’d never quite fulfilled his potential at his other clubs since leaving Ajax. Part of the reason may be that he likes to be the main man in a team and is flourishing in that role for Spurs. He got off to an amazing start for Spurs, scoring 5 goals in his first 8 games and has more or less kept that form up all season. He’d be an absolute bargain at £8m even without the 13 goals and 9 assists he’s got in the Premier League.
FW: Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion): What! No Hernandez! I’ve had trouble making my mind up between these two players to pick one for my team. Both have been outstanding in the league this season but Odemwingie shades it for me as he’s scored more goals in an inferior team, plus he has far more assists. Odemwingie possesses a great deal of pace but what’s really impressed me is his composure. There have been a number of occasions where it looks as though a chance has gone, and a different striker would just take a hopeful stab towards goal but Odemwingie seems to keep his cool and wait for an opportunity to present itself or look to play someone else in. Odemwingie hasn’t enjoyed the stellar service Hernandez has but has achieved some amazing results regardless. When Odemwingie left Lokomotiv Moscow, some racist idiots unfurled a banner with a banana and the words ‘thanks West Brom’. It should be West Brom thanking those morons for driving him out of that club and into the Hawthorns.
GK: Matthew Gilks (Blackpool): Gilks was doing very well at the start of the season for Blackpool before he broke his kneecap. It’s not a coincidence that Blackpool’s defence has looked more stable since Gilks has
DF: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal): Koscielny at time looks like a very solid, dependable player, but then undoes all his good work by making a stupid, elementary mistake. He’s not as bad as some Arsenal fans would have you think (I think that’s called damning with faint praise!) and has definitely done better than Sebastien Squillaci, but Arsenal will probably need a better defender than him to avoid the mistakes that have blighted their campaign, from hampering them in the future.
DM: Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United): Tiote has been excellent this season and is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. He’s more than just a ball winner, his passing is very good and he always seems to choose the right option. He’s struck up a good partnership with Kevin Nolan, as Nolan can make the forward runs he loves knowing Tiote is covering the space behind him. One note of caution is he’s picked up too many cards, so Newcastle will have to help him dial it down a bit, but he looks as though he’ll be a big part of Newcastle’s efforts to firmly re-establish themselves in the EPL.
DM: David Vaughan (Blackpool): Blackpool’s players recently voted for their player of the season and it was Vaughan who won it, which given how well Charlie Adam has done, says a lot. Vaughan is a player with great awareness, accurate passing and the ability to receive and retain the ball in tight areas. Vaughan has been the unsung hero of Blackpool’s season. His contract’s up at the end of this season and I’m sure many EPL clubs will be interested in signing him.
AM: Tom Cleverley (Wigan Athletic, on loan from Manchester United): Cleverley has been really impressive this season in a horribly inconsistent Wigan side. He’s quick, skilful and can cross the ball very well. I’d be very surprised if Cleverley doesn’t make it into the Man United first team next season as he looks like he’s ready and will fit in well.
FW: Javier Hernandez (Manchester United): Hernandez has been excellent and has progressed quicker than most people would’ve thought. I doubt anyone would have expected him to go above Berbatov in the United pecking order this season, but he’s done it and done it deservedly. He’s scored 13 and has done it with a good shots/goals ratio. He plays with intelligence and looks like he’ll be a great player for United for years to come.
FW: Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland): Another player who has been excellent all season. He’s quick, with great movement that makes him difficult for defenders to track. Gyan took his time to settle down and seemed to suffer a bit after Darren Bent left but Sunderland will be very happy with his contribution this season.