Posted by: mdegeorge | May 16, 2012

English Premier League Team of the Year

It was going to take a lot to shake me out of my blogging drought, to chase me from my relaxed perch of just working “40” hours a week. I figured it would take a sizeable groundswell of emotion and desire to write about those sports I spend an absurd amount of hours each week watching to move me back to the keyboard again.

If Sunday didn’t do it, I’d need my pulse checked. The morning started with as emotional of a meaningless game in the standings could ever be with the farewell party at the San Siro. For someone who quite literally grew up as a soccer fan on the decade of excellence grown at Milan, seeing Pippo Inzaghi ends his red-and-black career with a quintessential poacher’s goal was outstanding. (Perhaps more on that later.)

Then there was the hysteria of the Premier League’s final day, one where the drama of the title fight was enough to overshadow exciting battles for Europe and survival. It was exhibit A of how exciting a sport can be (cheap plug alert!)  without a playoff to crown a true champion. From Sergio Aguero’s bare-chested sprint around the Etihad to Sir Alex’s sullen countenance, there was so much to cover that sitting on the sidelines just seemed silly.

With that Mancunian motivation in mind, I take to typing. And while I’ve maintained radio, er, blog, silence, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching. So what better way to get back into the swing of things than by putting together a team of the season for the Barclays Premier League. Let’s hope it contains a fraction of the excitement of the season it’s chronicling.

From left, Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero all have a place in the EPL’s Team of the Year. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart, Manchester City. The increased cohesiveness of the Citizens’ backline meant Hart wasn’t tested quite as much this year as last. But he was just as outstanding. His save total of 97 is one of the lower totals for an EPL full-timer, but the Citizens’ 29 goals allowed is the lowest in the league. His confidence showed through Sunday in the most subtle of ways: He was an important distributor, having the confidence to play near the halfway line to facilitate attack against Queens Park Rangers.

Honorable Mention: David De Gea, Manchester United (29 goals allowed in 29 starts have the Spaniard’s No. 1 job solidified; better things are to come); Simon Mignolet, Sunderland (Working around an injury, the 24-year-old showed enough promise to vault once-struggling Sunderland into the top-half conversation); Tim Krul, Newcastle (the Magpies keeper was a constant stalwart for a team improbably Europe-bound), Michel Vorm, Swansea (without the sought-after Dutchmen’s 136 saves, especially some early standouts performances, the Swans would be facing Championship football next year).

Defender: Vincent Kompany, Manchester City. The captain of the champions was stout all year. His partnership with Kolo Toure was short-circuited by the Ivorian’s drug suspension, and the Belgian had to often cover for the dodgy Joleon Lescott (see the error against QPR Sunday) or the ever-mercurial Micah Richards. His hands are as deserving as any to be the first on the league trophy.

Defender: Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal. The Frenchman’s goal Sunday was a fitting conclusion to a stellar season. Despite the revolving door of defenders around him and the years-long goaltending panic only assuaged by Wojciech Szczesny’s emergence, Koscielny was vital to the Gunners European cause with his play in the center and wing of defense.

Defender: Ashley Williams, Swansea. The Welshman provided a constant presence in the Swans backline, appearing in 37 league games and playing all but 90 minutes for the season. The stability the captain provided went a long way toward Swansea’s many high-profile scalps – including Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City – and their closer proximity to the top half of the table than the relegation zone.

Defender: Ashley Cole, Chelsea. David Luiz injured, Gary Cahill a midseason acquisition, John Terry, where to begin. It seemed we perhaps forgot that Cole was among the world’s elite left backs, but he reminded many of that this year. He was a defensive stalwart, a constant marauding threat going forward, and his performance against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals bordered on the iconic.

Honorable Mention: Patrice Evra, Manchester United (with injuries galore, the Frenchmen trotted out there 37 times as the only defensive sure thing Ferguson had to choose from); Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea (the young Serb solidified himself as a versatile defender and key part to the Blues); Leighton Baines, Everton (were it not for Cole, the omnipresent Toffee would be a viable choice as England’s top left back); Brede Hangeland, Fulham (there’s something to be said about one of only two players to play every minute in the Premier League this season, joining Wolves Steven Ward; even more praise is deserving of a guy whose played every minute of 53 games this term); Kyle Walker, Tottenham (the 21-year-old’s 37 appearances gave Spurs something they’ve long been lacking: A consistently healthy presence on the backline).

Midfielder: Yaya Toure, Manchester City. If there was any question of the Ivorian’s value to the champions, it was soundly debunked in the season’s last two games. After a strong showing against ManU, he was rampant in collecting a brace against Newcastle and assisted on Pablo Zabaleta’s opener against QPR before being withdrawn with an injury just before halftime. The lull the Citizens suffered through for most of the second half without the lanky Toure, who finished with six goals and six assists in the engine room of the Man City midfield, is no coincidence.

Midfielder: Juan Mata, Chelsea. Consistency was in short supply this year at Stamford Bridge (right, AVB?). Frank Lampard was in and out of the side, Daniel Sturridge’s early form quickly dried up, Didier Drogba managed just 24 league appearances and Fernando Torres, well, you know. Without the pacy Spaniard, the Blues would’ve been in trouble. He found the back of the next six times and assisted on 13 other goals, joint second in the league.

Midfielder: Clint Dempsey, Fulham. Maybe this is a little American bias, but there’s little denying that the Texan was among the Prem’s best this season. His 17 goals were by far tops among midfielders (next were Lampard and Rafael Van der Vaart with 11 each). He added six assists and took his goal tally to 23 in all competitions for the overachieving Cottagers. His omnipresence for Fulham – he started 37 league games and was substituted just three times, never before the 84th minute – will be missed if a big-money move to a Champions League side materializes.

Honorable Mention: Alexandre Song, Arsenal (the Cameroonian’s assist total (11) may be inflated by Robin van Persie’s finishing, but at age 24, he has developed into the best central midfielder in the league); Stephane Sessegnon, Sunderland (with seven goals and nine assists, Sessegnon was one of the few constants in an up-and-down season for the Black Cats); David Silva, Manchester City (his numbers hit a midseason lull, but there’s no doubt his six goals and league-high 15 assists place the Spanish winger’s acquisition among the Citizens’ most important); Gareth Bale, Tottenham (it may not have come with the fanfare of last term’s breakout performance, but the Welshman tallied nine times and added 10 helpers to keep Tottenham in Europe); Antonio Valencia, Manchester United (the injury-plagued mishmash of a midfield the Red Devils cobbled together would’ve been in trouble if not for the Ecuadorian’s 13 assists); Samir Nasri, Manchester City (ineffectual at times, the Frenchman came closer to realizing his lofty expectations in a five-goal nine-assist campaign); Victor Moses, Wigan (the 21-year-old’s six goals in 38 matches signal a realizing of the potential so many see in him); Ryan Giggs, Manchester United (whatever there is to say about Giggs has already been said; just wow).

Forward: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United. With the sophomore slump suffered by Javier Hernandez and the MIA Dimitar Berbatov, Rooney’s goal production is what kept the Red Devils in touch atop the Premier League. His 27 goals were second in the league, and so often it was Rooney who was leaned upon to finish for United.

Forward: Robin Van Persie, Arsenal. It was always more of a conversation topic in the past: “Hey, what if Van Persie could make 30 league appearances?” The result, it’s safe to say, exceeded even the wildest imaginations. The usually injury-plagued Dutchman, who played every minute in the Premier League this season save 46, was only the league’s leading scorer with 30 goals and finished fifth in assists with 10. In all, it was 36 goals in 46 matches for the runaway PFA Player of the Year. For the injury woes he’s endured, it’s hard-pressed to find a more deserved season.

Forward: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City. Sunday’s game-winner against QPR – though with perhaps more drama than anyone on the blue side of Manchester would’ve wanted –merely confirmed a fact many had suspected: Of all the big money acquisitions, it was the diminutive Argentine’s that put the Citizens over the top. He finished with 23 goals and eight assists in the Premier League and 30 in all competitions in his first season in a sky blue shirt. While Carlos Tevez sulked, Edin Dzeko slumped and Mario Balotelli did, well, whatever Mario Balotelli does, it was Aguero producing on the pitch.

Honorable Mention: Yakubu, Blackburn (the Nigerian’s 17 goals are the most for a relegated side since Andy Johnson’s 21 for Crystal Palace in 2004-05); Graham Holt, Norwich (speaking of Johnson, Holt’s 15 goals are the most for a promoted team since that 04-05 season and are a big part of Norwich’s top-half threatening season); Emmanuel Adebayor, Tottenham (all of Spurs midfield fluidity – and perhaps European aspirations – collapse without astute loan capture Adebayor finding the back of the net with such alarming frequency); Demba Ba, Newcastle (the Magpies reemergence and torrid first half were a direct result of Ba’s quick acclimation to the EPL and his 16 goals).

Manager: Roberto Mancini, Manchester City. The often forlorn-looking, scarf-clad Italian didn’t make it look easy by any stretch of the imagination. He was forced to juggle two of the more difficult personalities in Tevez and Balotelli, maintain the momentum of an outstanding start to the campaign and climb out of the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson all the while dodging sack rumors and shouldering the largest expectations in recent memory. Put that on a résumé .

Honorable Mention: Roberto Martinez, Wigan (it should be no surprise that the Spaniard is a hot name for new jobs after steering the team that won’t be relegated to another dodgy survival, but Martinez has laid the groundwork for the future with a bright young nucleus); David Moyes, Everton (the midseason buys of Steven Pienaar and Nikola Jelavic placed Moyes Toffees above Merseyside rivals Liverpool); Brendan Rogers, Swansea (the Northern Irishman was more likely to win the sack race than be a TOTY candidate, but his sterling job with Swans certainly deserved it); Paul Lambert, Norwich (see Rogers).

Quick Note: As isn’t always the case, this team would look a lot different were it based just on the second half of the season thanks to an unusually large influx of impact midseason additions. There was Nikica Jelavic at Everton, whose nine goals equaled the totals of Bale and Daren Bent. There was Newcastle’s unstoppable Papiss Cisse, who needed only 14 matches to tally 13 markers — including this ridiculous goal — equivalent to Balotelli’s total. And then there’s Swansea revelation and highly sought-after Gylfi Sigurdsson (seven goals, three assists). Plus that Paul Scholes guy came back. Who says there’s nothing in the January market?

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