Redbrick Sport’s writers offer an alternative Team of the Year, comprised of Premier League players left out of the official PFA Team of the Year 2017
Courtois takes it in goal, not only because he won the golden glove, but because he deserves some recognition for his solid season in a team praised more for tactical prowess than individuals. Strangely the back four is made up of the remaining Chelsea and Spurs defenders that did not make the actual team of the season; the full back of Chelsea and the centre back pairing of Spurs.
Kevin De Bruyne has had a fantastic season at City. The midfielders has contributed to 24 goals in 33 Prem appearances (18 assists) – an immense contribution that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Similarly, Christian Eriksen, who although is not exactly an ‘unsung hero’, has contributed more to Spurs’ remarkable season more than people might think (8 goals and 15 assists). Despite a ridiculous end for Kane, a lot of Spurs fans will credit much of their success to the Dane.
Subs: Jordan Pickford, Idrissa Gueye, Joshua King, Victor Wanyama, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
To complete the midfield assist machine in this team, Gylfi Sigurdsson has been involved in 21 goals in a Swansea team that struggled for much of the season (9 goals and 13 assists).
It is a mystery to many why Alexis Sanchez did not get into the actual team of the year. The Chiléan has scored 24 goals and got 10 assists this year; an incredible record that will probably see him leave Arsenal in the summer.
Finally, it’s perhaps necessary to justify Sergio Agüero’s place in the team. The City legend has never been in the Premier League team of the year, which seems crazy when you think about how much an impact he has had since his first season. Although Agüero may not have been at his best this season, 20 goals in the Prem, and five in Champions League is by no means a bad effort, especially when considering he was sporadically demoted to the bench. In regards to this, the fact Agüero did not express any resentment or complaint demonstrates his refreshing attitude, which not many world-class footballers share. For this reason, Sergio makes my team of the year.
For my alternate TOTY, the goalkeeper choice is obvious. Lloris, the man between the sticks for the team with the best defensive record has to make it in there. I decided not to include Alderweireld and Vertonghen in the team however as a matter of protest against the fact they obviously should have made the actual TOTY. Instead, I’ve opted for Azpilicueta and Van Dijk at centre back, the latter proving so imperious he is on the verge of a move to the top 4, and Azpilicueta displaying such a high level of consistency in a position he is not accustomed to. For the full backs I have opted for Valencia, whose marauding runs down the right hand side provided many chances for a low scoring United, with Marcos Alonso on the left. Alonso, whilst not possessing the best career in the PL before this season looked well worth the £23m price tag, chipping in with goals, assists and work rate in an all-conquering Chelsea side.
Subs: Tom Heaton, Michael Keane, Kevin De Bruyne, Tom Davies, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In midfield, I’ve opted for the underappreciated Mousa Dembele with his sheer strength and eye for a pass. Alongside him, Nemanja Matic takes up another spot. Matic, who looked one of the poorest amongst a shocking Chelsea side last year, showed why Chelsea can afford to only play two central midfielders in him and N’Golo Kanté. His defensive solidity plus ability to work in tandem with Kanté means that he deserves a spot. In attacking midfield, Coutinho gets the nod. In the past I have criticised Coutinho for a lack of end product in goals and assists and his general inconsistency. This season he has been a different prospect, scoring 13 in the league to guide Liverpool back to the promised land of the Champions League.
Opting for three upfront, I swooped for Heung-min Son, Alexis Sanchez and Joshua King. Son has chipped in with plenty of goals and assists for Spurs this year, helping them to go to the next level. Also he proved a valuable makeshift striker in the absence of Harry Kane. Sanchez undoubtedly should have made the actual TOTY, scoring an amazing 24 league goals with 10 assists. Obviously I am biased as an Arsenal fan, but without Sanchez this season Arsenal may have found themselves nearer to the team which possess my final pick, Bournemouth. Joshua King, who signed on a free from Blackburn two years ago has had an absolutely fantastic season. In this case we have to bear in mind that in his three years at Blackburn, he only scored three league goals, in the Championship. Fast forward to this season and King has lit up the South Coast side with a host of impressive displays, scoring 16 in the league – 30% of Bournemouth’s total league goals this season. At only 25, I can see King moving to a more prestigious side such as Everton or Spurs, subsequently proving his class in the long run.
The choice for the goalkeeping position was always going to come down between Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford and Burnley’s Tom Heaton who both earned their teams valuable points during the season. Having said this, and despite his team’s relegation and a knee injury that ruled him out for several months, I’ve gone with Pickford. At just 23 years of age Pickford showed how much potential he has this season with 135 saves, many of which were top class including an unbelievable reaction save to deny Romelu Lukaku in September. How Toby Alderweireld failed to get into the actual Premier League team of the season I will never know. The Belgian made 39 appearances for Spurs this season and once again proved just how good he is at the heart of their defence, serving as their last line of defence in many situations. Alderweireld was a large contributing factor towards Spurs conceding the fewest amount of goals in the league this term.
Subs: Tom Heaton, Antonio Valencia, Victor Wanyama, Adam Lallana, Jermain Defoe.
Mousa Dembele provided the steel and energy within the heart of the Spurs midfield this season. Dembele provided the key link in Pochettino’s 3-4-2-1 system, the cog that won possession back before working his way forward and distributing to turn defence into attack in an instant. It is for this reason that I believe Dembele went under the radar this season as a hugely influential player. Where would Swansea be without Gylfi Sigurdsson? One would suggest they would have been relegated without his goals and assists, with Gylfi certainly Swansea’s most influential player this term; everything good went through him. His ten total goals in league and cup, alongside 13 assists, put him heads and shoulders above the rest of the Swansea squad in terms of involvement in goals, illustrating his key role in keeping the Swans up. Sigurdsson is arguably the league’s most underrated player, consistently putting in impressive performances.
Christian Eriksen was the creative spark behind Spurs this season, feeding Harry Kane and Dele Alli whilst also contributing with key goals himself. With 112, Eriksen created the most chances of anyone this season whilst he obtained 15 assists and scored eight goals. Eriksen’s contributions often go under the radar with Kane and Alli in the team but Eriksen proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s best playmakers this season.
Tom Heaton – For Burnley and Sean Dyche it was a case of mission very much accomplished this season. The goal was to stay up and, though their 16th placed finish paints an unflattering final picture, they did so with ease. Burnley built their success on strong home form and a good defence. As a Liverpool fan who watched his side lose at Turf Moor despite enjoying 80% possession, I am acutely aware of the strong backbone to the Burnley side. At the base of this defence was Heaton. In a season where Claudio Bravo was derided for frankly not making saves, Heaton made loads, more than any other shot stopper in the league. With Heaton and Burnley still far from a glamorous entity, and many even critical of Heaton being one of the four (!) goalkeepers in the latest England squad, I feel it is only right I try to remind people how good he has been this year. Anybody who disagrees may want to watch highlights from his performance away at Old Trafford…
Cesar Azpilicueta – In my view Azpilicueta is the most controversial pick in my side, not because he scraped in, but because he belongs in the actual PFA Team of the Year. A seeming victim of the fact he is so versatile and people could be forgiven for not knowing if he is a centre-half or a full-back, Azpilicueta was overlooked in favour of his Chelsea team mates David Luiz and Gary Cahill in the team of the year. When people are asked to pinpoint where the league was won or lost, the move from Antonio Conte to a back three is the obvious choice. The reason he was afforded this luxury was due massively to Azpilicueta’s ability to cover two positions at once. The bizarre rise of Victor Moses from constant loanee to flying wing-back needs to acknowledge who was tucked in behind him all year. Azpilicueta will rarely steal the headlines, yet I am not sure Chelsea could keep their formation for long without him – I hope that is a sufficient complement.
Subs: Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Adam Lallana, Joshua King, Son Heung-min.
Victor Wanyama – In other people’s view this may actually be the most controversial pick in my side. Central-defensive midfielders are in fashion. The exploits of N’Golo Kante have helped to gain Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton to name just two, the credit they deserve. It is Victor Wanyama however who steals the spot in my alternative team. Alongside Moussa Dembele, Tottenham’s midfield pair can dominate a game as though they are playing a youth team (please see the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea if you disagree). By displacing Eric Dier in midfield and even gaining a new helpful knack of scoring goals, Wanyama’s move to London must be regarded as a huge success. With Spurs adding more and more power and quality to the core of their side, many pundits will quite reasonably have them as title favourites for next year.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Playing for a Swansea side that seemed pretty much destined for the drop until the very last couple of weeks of the year can’t have been the easiest experience at times for Sigurdsson. Despite this he still ended the year with nine goals and 13 assists. Sigurdsson’s reputation took a hit with a largely unsuccessful move to Spurs, however a return to the Liberty Stadium has enabled him to remind people of his class. Seemingly comfortable in the role of talisman, Sigurdsson is now increasingly influencing big games, with his late free-kick equaliser against Manchester United towards the end of the year a key example of this. Indeed, Sigurdsson’s form has been so good that Mauricio Pochettino is rumoured to be interested in bringing him back to London, with the argument apparently being he is a “better and cheaper alternative to Ross Barkley” – who am I to disagree?
With Lloris and Courtois neck and neck behind De Gea, it was down to consistency and reliability as for which one was benched, though who’s to complain if either is on the pitch. An unintentionally English bias in the defensive quarters, Keane’s youth being paired with the sometimes-adventurous but ever-impressive Jan Vertonghen; solid contributions to good seasons for both Liverpool and Southampton respectively hand Clyne and Bertrand their places. Henderson brings leadership and some big-game contributions this season, and Herrera, whilst not possessing the flair I would like from the second CDM, has the combination of attacking and defensive abilities that are a benefit to any side. I chose Eriksen over the superior statistics of De Bruyne for his consistency; he is at the heart of so much that they do, and where he conducts, the Spurs orchestra have delivered veritable symphonies at times this season. Firmino and Sanchez bring a wonderful joga bonito to the game, and finally, Diego Costa. Fluctuations in form and attention from China have detracted from his season, however he has still delivered of his best on many occasions on the path to Chelsea storming to the title.
Subs: Thibaut Courtois, Virgil Van Dijk, Idrissa Gueye, Joshua King, Zlatan Ibrahimović
A word on the subs bench: Ibra’s irrepressible talent matched with the game-time he brings to the dressing room are valuable assets to a side. I’m willing to give any Thunderbirds name-sake the time of day, but Virgil Van-Dijk’s selection really does speak for itself. Josh King is, I feel, adaptable to provide goals both from central midfield and up top so adds a little muscle that the starting XI currently lacks, perhaps to sure-up in times where resilience is needed. Idrissa Gueye somewhat makes up my numbers, but his stats for Everton this season are undeniably impressive from a player who few predicted to act as a stalwart as Goodison’s anchor-man.
It seems like I’m taking the easy road by simply picking the Chelsea and Tottenham defenders (Hugo Lloris falls into this discussion too) that didn’t make the PFA Team of the Season, but it’s hard to look past both teams’ remarkable defensive records this season. Marcos Alonso has been especially incredible this season and got involved in the Chelsea attacks in a big way, scoring some important goals. Antonio Valencia is the only defender not from the top two teams that I have chosen, but he has been arguably the one constant at Manchester United in what has ultimately been a decent season after the result against Ajax. He has been by far and away United’s best player this season, and is a leader on the pitch.
Christian Eriksen has had another great season, even if he has once again been overshadowed by the English lads hogging all of the limelight, bagging 15 assists and eight goals from midfield. Victor Wanyama provided the perfect contrast to Eriksen in the same Tottenham side, and was another player who played a vital role in their defensive success. He’s physical and dominates the midfield areas. Kevin De Bruyne registered 18 assists in the league this season and remains one of the best players in the league. He may not have added many goals this year but he was instrumental in City’s bid to reach the top four. Philippe Coutinho was one of a few bright sparks In a Liverpool side that was electric going forwards at times this season. While the goals and assists were largely shared amongst four players in the side, Coutinho still managed 13 goals and seven assists in the league, as well as providing some great highlight reel moments.
Subs: Son Heung-min, Joshua King, Tom Heaton, Michael Keane, Gylfi Sigurdsson
Even Alexis Sanchez couldn’t drag Arsenal into the top four this season, and he has been brilliant. 24 goals and ten assists have come as a result of the Chilean moving to the striker role, and I think he has been undervalued somewhat because of Arsenal’s poor season. Diego Costa also managed a 20 goal season for the PL champions and, given Chelsea’s affinity for grinding out results, these goals were vital ones.
Most of my benched players are from smaller PL clubs but are players who have had remarkable seasons regardless. Heung-min Son is the exception, but the way he ended the season simply couldn’t be ignored, and 14 goals and six assists is nothing to be sniffed at. Joshua King scored as many goals as Eden Hazard this season for Bournemouth in almost 300 less minutes, and helped Bournemouth to an exceptional 9th place finish. Tom Heaton further justified his England selection this season with ten clean sheets and a league-leading 143 saves which certainly helped keep a distinctly average Burnley side in the league for next season. The same is true of his teammate Michael Keane, a stalwart in the Burnley defence and another addition to the England squad that seems to have been justified by PL performances this year. My final player is Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose nine goals and 13 assists were just about enough to help Swansea stay up. He’ll be at Everton next season and that looks to be an excellent purchase as the Iceland international has established himself as a hugely impressive PL midfielder.
My defensive and goalkeeper choices speak for themselves although Bertrand is an alternative pick – I really think he’s stepped it up this season and probably won’t be at St Mary’s much longer if we’re all honest. Bertrand has been one of the reasons the team put in the most crosses in the Prem this season (it’s just a shame there wasn’t anyone on the end of them most of the time) and he’s reliable defensively too. In midfield, Eriksen, Sanchez and De Bruyne can feel pretty hard done by that they didn’t make the PFA team of the year so seem pretty obvious choices.
Subs: Tom Heaton, Marcos Alonso, Adam Lallana, Victor Wanyama, Son Heung-min.
I’ve also squeezed in another Saints player with Romeu, who has been fantastic at breaking down play and shielding the defence this season. Defoe and Llorente are in ahead of Costa or Aguero purely because of how important they have been to their clubs – Sunderland would probably have been relegated in December and there’s no way Swansea would have pulled off the great escape without them.
Despite the fact that all footballing logic is screaming for Lallana and Wanyama to start in this team, I’ve benched them purely out of bitterness for selling their souls for Champions League football. When they reflect on 2016-17, I’ll bet they regret missing Saints’ 2-1 win over Inter Milan in the Europa League group stage in November, but they’ll be even more disappointed to not make my starting eleven. Who knew having the last laugh would feel this good.