The Best XI: Premier League’s team of the season has a Manchester overload

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May 23, 2021 5:45 AM

In just 24 appearances, Kevin de Bruyne had 11 assists and five goals. He would be the first name on any team sheet.

And yet, the team of the season here would fall back on a 4-4-2 diamond, with a defensive midfielder at the base of it and a No. 10 at the tip, for that’s the best way to accommodate all the standout performers in the playing XI.And yet, the team of the season here would fall back on a 4-4-2 diamond, with a defensive midfielder at the base of it and a No. 10 at the tip, for that’s the best way to accommodate all the standout performers in the playing XI.

The interesting thing is that of late La Liga has adopted a predominantly English style as regards to team formation, while the Premier League has gradually gotten out of its 4-4-2 preference. Stats put out by betweentheposts.net last year showed 12 La Liga teams used a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation compared to eight Premier League sides. And while nine Spanish league teams played with a pair of strikers, just six English sides did that.

Top sides in the Premier League no longer play with a 4-4-2 formation. Manchester City under Pep Guardiola prefer 4-3-3 or its variants. In fact, Guardiola has made the use of a ‘false nine’ an art form, playing without any specialist striker. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, too, go with 4-3-3, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United diligently used a double pivot – two defensive midfielders in front of a back-four – this term.

And yet, the team of the season here would fall back on a 4-4-2 diamond, with a defensive midfielder at the base of it and a No. 10 at the tip, for that’s the best way to accommodate all the standout performers in the playing XI.

Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez: For the second season running, City’s Ederson has won the Golden Glove award for keeping most clean sheets. With the last round of fixtures to go, Ederson has kept 18 clean sheets from 35 appearances. Picking him would have been an easy choice, but the life of a ‘keeper playing for Europe’s best team and enjoying the protection from an expensively-assembled back-four is a lot smoother than someone who plays for Aston Villa. As per the Premier League stats, Emiliano Martinez has made 136 saves from 37 matches. He has kept 35 clean sheets. Villa narrowly survived the drop last season and this term they signed Martinez from Arsenal for £17 million. The 28-year-old Argentine is the reason why they have had a very creditable season. Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy with 16 clean sheets from 30 games deserves an honourable mention.

Right-back – Kyle Walker: United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an old-school right-back, whose defending is top-class. Going forward, however, he doesn’t look very potent, although Wan-Bissaka has steadily improved over the season. In terms of stats, he trumps City’s Kyle Walker, but he has played 11 more games than his nearest rival. Walker’s forte is his versatility. He carries an x-factor. He is an automatic choice.

Centre-halves – Ruben Dias, Harry Maguire: After finishing second last term, 18 points adrift of Liverpool, Guardiola strengthened his defence. Ruben Dias came from Benfica for £65 million. Finally, City had a replacement for Vincent Kompany and as it turned out, the 24-year-old Portugal international has been the signing of the season. A Rolls-Royce of a centre-half, Dias became the first defender in the Premier League era to win the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year award.

The way Harry Maguire bounced back from the Mykonos incident at the start of the season spoke volumes for his strength of character. He played a remarkable 73 games in succession in the Premier League before suffering an ankle injury. The United captain leads from the front, he puts his body on the line. A total of 23 blocks, 60 interceptions, 29 successful tackles, 122 clearances and 86 headed clearances (Premier League stats) showcases his quality. Maguire would be the captain of the team of the season.

Left-back – Luke Shaw: The most improved player of the season, Luke Shaw has thrived on Solskjaer’s excellent man-management. He is a shoo-in for the left-back position.

Defensive midfielder – Declan Rice: The West Ham United man trumps his nearest rivals, N’Golo Kante and Wilfred Ndidi in terms of stats and impact. West Ham are on the verge of securing Europa League football next season. For a long while, they were in contention for a Champions League spot. Rice has had been immense.

Right-sided midfielder – Kevin de Bruyne: The Premier League’s royalty, injuries restricted Kevin de Bruyne’s playing time this season. And yet, in just 24 appearances, he had 11 assists and five goals. He would be the first name on any team sheet.

Left-sided midfielder – Bruno Fernandes: The Portuguese has been central to United’ positive turnaround. Going beyond his 18 goals and 12 assists, Bruno Fernandes has made an Eric Cantona-like impact.

No. 10 – Ilkay Gundogan: City had a slow start to the season and then they lost de Bruyne to an injury. Following David Silva’s exit, the team had a massive void to fill. The 30-year-old German stood up to be counted. A sequence that saw Ilkay Gundogan score six goals in the six matches, turned City’s season on its head.

Forwards – Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane: Cynics suggested that Marcus Rashford’s off-the-pitch charity work affected his performance on the pitch. Ignore the truckload of rubbish. Eleven goals and nine assists in 37 Premier League games, and often playing with niggles, Rashford’s football is upwardly mobile.

Harry Kane walks in. The Tottenham Hotspur goal-machine, brilliantly adapted to a slight deeper role under Jose Mourinho. A tally of 13 assists on top of his 22 goals from 34 matches further attested Kane’s class.

Manager – Pep Guardiola: No words needed.

PL team of the season: Martinez (GK), Walker, Dias, Maguire (C), Shaw, Rice, De Bruyne, Fernandes, Gundogan, Rashford, Kane; Manager: Guardiola

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