Posted by: mdegeorge | May 28, 2011

Starting XI Points: English Premier League team of the season

A champion has been crowned, a trio of unfortunate clubs have been relegated. It’s all over by the crying, as they say, in the English Premier League this season. The crying, and the bestowing of team-of-the-year honors.

That brings us to my team of the year, the unspeakable honor that every player trains and sweats for. I’ll be going with a 3-4-3 formation (due mainly to a desire not to include the selection of Ashley Cole to the backline for the umpteenth time).

Nani. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Joe Hart: The incumbent England number 1 is perhaps the biggest reason why Manchester City will be playing Champions League football next season. He posted 18 clean sheets, three more than any other team, and helped Man City concede a co-league low 33 goals. He also kept a clean sheet in the team’s final four matches en route to an FA Cup victory. He’s a goalie on top of his game well before the age of 30, a stunning rarity, and he’ll be a major factor in the Citizens’ attempt to become a factor in Europe.

Leighton Baines: Five goals and 11 assists while taking part in all 38 matches isn’t a bad season for an attacking midfielder. It’s a ludicrous season for a left back like Baines. He fits in with David Moyes fluid style and is an excellent poacher at the edge of the box for a defender. He’s also a major contributor in Everton allowing just 45 goals despite a bumpy start. He’d be a shoo-in for England were it not for that omnipresent Cole guy

Vincent Kompany: When Kompany made the move to Manchester City from Hamburg, his position was rather up in the air. Several managers and a preponderance of exorbitantly-priced central midfielders later (Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong, Patrick Vieira, the departed Stephen Ireland), Kompany has been forced into a central defense role. It’s been a great move for all involved. He played all but one league match this season, anchoring a stellar defense with a revolving door of partners that included the disappointing Joleon Lescott, the now-suspended Kolo Toure, and the maddeningly inconsistent Micah Richards.

Brede Hangeland: The paucity of goals conceded by Fulham, a necessity given their offensive anemia this season, is thanks in large part to the defensive duo of Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. They combined to play all but 105 minutes this season (Hughes was removed after 75 minutes in a January match, Hangeland missed one match). Hangeland gets the ends thanks to his six goals on merely 20 shots; had teammate Clint Dempsey been that effective, he would have had 40 goals this season. The Norwegian aerial threat’s goal total ranks second on the team and is among the highest for a backliner in the league.

Nani: The depth of Manchester United’s midfield corps makes it difficult to establish oneself for extended periods of time. The fact that Nani was able to make 33 appearances, scoring nine goals and assisting on 14 others, is a testament to his ability. The Portuguese winger is the engine that drives the Red Devils creative machine; the three double-digit goalscorers on the Man U frontline owe a great deal of their totals to the pinpoint crosses delivered by the fleet-of-foot midfielder.

Charlie Adam: Had things turned out differently at Old Trafford, Adam would be hailed as the reason why Blackpool was able to avoid the drop. Despite the relegation, Adam deserves mention as one of the league’s outstanding performers. Sans Adam and his 12 goals and eight assists out of the midfield, the Tangerines would have been consigned to the Championship in February. Adam also provided bite in the midfield, doing his best to counter Ian Holloway’s “Quickiemart” defensive diagnosis with hard tackling and 11 yellow cards. He wants to play Premier League football next season, and as nice as it would be to see the Seasiders retain his services, Adam has earned a stage bigger than the Championship.

Yaya Toure: One of those aforementioned glut of Man City midfielders, the lanky Ivoirian emerged to the top this season, scoring eight goals and assisting on four others while holding down the fort in the center of the pitch. The former Barcelona player’s offensive intervention put him second on the team in that category behind Carlos Tevez (more on him in a minute). It was especially vital for a team beset by faltering strikers, none of whom other than Tevez made it onto the pitch more than 17 times all season.

Gareth Bale: Bale’s injury woes in the second half of the season coincided with the faltering of Tottenham down the stretch. He still managed seven goals in the 30 matches in which he appeared and was a constant attacking threat down the left flank, terrorizing opposing defenses. His performance at the San Siro remains one of the more dominating and terrifying I’ve ever seen on a football pitch. At 21, he’s still young enough to have room to grow into an even brighter future.

Peter Odemwingie: The Uzbekistan-born Nigerian international has floated through the European game in nations like France and Russia. After a horribly racist exist from Lokomotiv Moscow, Odemwingie found a home in the West Midlands, scoring 15 goals and adding seven assists in his debut season. The Baggies simply would not be the cusp of the top half of the table without Odemwingie, who was able to do what so many others failed to do: score consistently in his first season as the main offensive option with little help on a mid-table team.

Carlos Tevez: Tevez is a handful to deal with. But he was worth it, at least for this season for Man City. Tevez was the only consistent striking commodity in the lineup for the Citizens and the only one to log more than 17 matches. Edin Dzeko was often beset by injury, Mario Balotelli was in and out of the side, Emmanuel Adebayor’s biggest value was in shipping out of town, and Jo was merely an (expensive) stand-in. It makes Tevez’s 20 goals and six assists look even bigger.

Dimitar Berbatov: The co-league leader in scoring with Tevez, Berbatov’s production waned as the season came to a close. Of the Bulgarian’s 20 goals, only two came after Feb. 1. The concentration of his goals in the fall months actually accentuates his value to the champions: He carried this team for large stretches as Wayne Rooney awakened from his early-season funk and Javier Hernandez acclimated to life in the Prem. The late season resurgence of those two made Berbatov’s spring cooling less disastrous.

Bench:

Edwin Van Der Sar: A championship is no less than the retiring Dutchman deserves to cap a stellar career.

Nemanja Vidic: The mainstay of the Manchester United defense remains one of the most efficient defenders in the game, even with a variety of inexperienced partners in the consistent absence of Rio Ferdinand.

Clint Dempsey: Dempsey’s 12 goals account for almost a quarter Fulham’s 49 tallies. Without the American, the Cottagers would be looking at a season in the Championship.

Florent Malouda: Didier Drogba (11 goals, 13 assists) could easily have represented Chelsea on this list, but the honor goes to the Frenchman’s 13 goals and four assists in what is likely his last season in West London.

Johan Elmander: While Stuart Holden may be the club’s player of the year, the Swede’s accomplishments (10 goals, eight assists) are made even more impressive by the lackluster first two seasons he spent at Bolton.

Javier Hernandez: Producing in your first season in the Premier League is difficult; managing to bag 13 goals in the league and 20 in all competitions as a 22-year-old is an amazing feat for Chicharito.

Dirk Kuyt: Amidst all the tumult on Merseyside, the Dutchman is a stalwart. He reversed the recent trend of playing higher up on the pitch in recent years, regaining his scoring touch with team-highs in goals (13) and assists (7).

Robin Van Persie: See what happens when he can stay healthy? RVP had 19 goals and seven assists, still in just 25 matches, in a season slightly less blighted by injuries than his previous campaigns with the Gunners.

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