Jack Dowell

Fri, 26 May 2017

Player to Watch: Alternative Team of the Season

As the dust settles on the Premier League campaign, our analysts cast their eyes on some of the players who have achieved great things this season, whilst not attracting as much of the media spotlight as we feel they deserve. This alternative Team of the Season sheds light on those who have dragged their team through a relegation battle, made a seamless transition from youth team to senior setup or enjoy an unlikely renaissance in an unfamiliar position.

Goalkeeper: Tom Heaton

Despite their downturn in fortunes over the last couple of months, few can argue that Burnley have surpassed their pre-season expectations and much of that has been thanks to their incredibly impressive goalkeeper. As part of an almost ever-present back five who only conceded 20 goals at Turf Moor all season, Tom Heaton has shone, boasting the highest number of saves in the Premier League this year with the pick of the bunch undoubtedly coming at Old Trafford against his former club, denying Zlatan with that starfish style of save that Schmeichel became so renowned for at the Stretford End.

At 31 years of age Heaton is one of the elder statesman in this XI, but that has not stopped interest from Crystal Palace and Newcastle flying his way, however the Cheshire-born stopper has committed his future to the Clarets which, if they wish to stay in the Premier League for a third consecutive season, may be the most important bit of business they do all summer. James Morgan-Snowley

Centre-back: Jack Stephens  

Jack Stephens made his Premier League debut for Southampton at the start of 2017, before that he had only managed appearances in League One and eleven minutes in the Championship during loan spells with Swindon Town, Middlesbrough and Coventry City. Stephens was tasked with replacing the talismanic Virgil Van Dijk after the Dutchman received a season ending ankle injury. Stephens was thrown in at the deep end as his second full game as a centre back for the Saints was away at Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final. Alongside Maya Yoshida they produced a fine display and ever since then they have forged a strong partnership.

Through his twenty-three games this season Stephens has shown composure on the ball and is comfortable defending out-wide due to his history as a full back. He has helped contribute to Southampton’s fourth consecutive top ten finish and first League Cup final since 1979. Stephens has an important summer ahead of him for England under 21’s and could play an even more important role for Southampton next season if the rumours that Van Dijk will leave are true. Niall Collins

Centre-back: Harry Maguire

Hull City’s Harry Maguire has progressed and developed into an accomplished central defender that will see him stay in the Premier League next season, unlike his current club side. Despite Hull’s disastrous defensive record, he has shone individually and deserves the opportunity to play in a more organised unit. This season he has been ever-present when not injured and has become Hull’s first choice centre-back. Maguire made a name for himself in Hull’s trip to future champions Chelsea. Completing more tackles than any other player (even N’Golo Kante) and dominating the back line that game, Maguire won the praise of many pundits despite being on the end of a 2-0 defeat.

Maguire’s trademark has been bringing the ball out of defence. While not particularly graceful, he gains territory by using his stamina and bullish approach to take opposition players out of the game and reduce pressure. His composure and confidence on the ball has grown this season as he has been happy to receive possession from the goalkeeper, even in tight areas, and build from the back. This will certainly be something that mid-table Premier League teams and above will take note off as they compete for his signature during the summer transfer window. Sam Langan

Centre-back: Alfie Mawson

Before arriving at Swansea for £5.5m in the summer,  the then 22 year old Alfie Mawson had just two full professional seasons under his belt, at League Two and League One level for Wycombe and Barnsley respectively. The step up to Premier League level, for a player who just a few years earlier was considering leaving football after failing to make the grade at Brentford, must have been daunting. Especially so after inheriting the number six shirt from departing club legend Ashley Williams.

However, after breaking into the team in late October, Mawson has taken to the league like a duck to water. He’s rightly never lost his place; the Swans have conceded 1.67 goals per game in his 27 appearances, compared to 2.26 in the eleven games without him. Mawson is an imposing physical presence, who is very strong in aerial duels, whilst being a natural leader. Moreover, his terrific volleyed goal against Leicester  and his numerous eye catching long passes show him to be a fine striker of a ball. If he can iron out the other facets of his game, sure to come with more experience, he can be a Premier League mainstay for years to come. Doug Johnson

Right wing:  Victor Moses

Were most football fans to have been told pre-season that Victor Moses would start 29 games for the eventual champions they would have found it hard to believe to say the least. Were they then to be told the majority of those appearances came while playing essentially as a defender almost all would surely have dismissed the notion out of hand. But here we are.

While, in fairness, wing-back Moses has been more wing than back this season, his contribution to a defence which has conceded just 33 goals this season cannot go unnoticed. The 26-year-old slotted seamlessly into Antonio Conte’s rejigged Chelsea lineup following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal that he watched from the bench back in September and hasn’t looked back since – unless it’s to cleverly track the run of his opposing winger, of course. He has started every game he has been available for since that Arsenal defeat, aside from last week’s dead rubber against Watford, and shown a level of defensive nous that all but Conte seemed to have not thought him capable of. Allied to his obvious physical gifts going forward in his pace, strength, knack for an incisive dribble, and a sure touch to boot, it really has been a season of biblical levels of revelation for Moses. Jack Johnson

Defensive Midfield: Idrissa Gueye

Idrissa Gueye endured a torrid introduction to English football, spending an underwhelming debut season struggling to have an impact on Aston Villa’s inevitable plight as they slipped into the Championship. The Senegalese midfielder did manage to catch the eye of Ronald Koeman however, and the Dutchman extended Gueye’s stay in the Premier League by triggering his release cause to bring him to Goodison Park for little over £7m.

Slotting into the Toffees’ midfield in a holding role, Gueye has excelled as the protective barrier in front of Everton’s defence. Robust in the tackle and possessing an excellent reading of the game to intercept passes and nullify attacks, the former Lille player has proved to be a cut-price equivalent to N’Golo Kante. Gueye, with his ability to look after the ball in difficult situations, has provided consistent solidity in the heart of midfield, enabling Koeman to build a side which is difficult to beat yet has the ability to play attractive football. Jack Dowell

Defensive Midfield: Oriel Romeu

Southampton’s season started with the familiar feeling of losing a prized asset in Victor Wanyama; a midfield destroyer pivotal to allowing Southampton’s creative players to shine. However, another familiar feeling, another prized asset was ready to fill the void: no-nonsense Spaniard Oriel Romeu.

The 25 year old’s education at Valencia and Chelsea has provided Romeu with a unique blend of elegant technical ability and strong defensive capabilities. 35 Premier League appearances this season highlights his importance, and though he offers little creativity to Southampton, his simple passing game can’t be underestimated. With an 84.2% pass success rate and making the third most interceptions or tackles in the league, there’s no doubt of his tactical importance in winning and distributing the ball with minimal error.

What Romeu lacks in flair he makes up for in providing stability, and has to be considered amongst the best defensive midfielders in the league. Could Romeu be the next prized asset snatched from Southampton? Rumours of interest from Barcelona suggest it’s possible. It’s certain Claude Puel will have no intention of losing his lynchpin, but performances suggest Romeu is destined for greater pastures. Joe Worf

Centre Midfield:  Tom Davies

With his matted hair, blonde beard and socks that barely make it over his ankles, Tom Davies is hard to miss on the pitch, however it has not only been his aesthetic features that have made him stand out this season, turning in performance after performance with a youthful exuberance that has lit up the Premier League. Having been restricted to 40 minutes of game time before Christmas, this product of the Toffees’ Academy may have been forgiven for thinking his season would not have turned out the way it has.

However, since Boxing Day, Davies has featured in every game notching two goals and three assists, the most impressive of which coming in Everton’s 4-0 drubbing of Manchester City back in January. Picking the ball up in his own half, Davies drove towards the City backline before skilfully evading the oncoming Gael Clichy and  Yaya Toure, playing a give-and-go with Lukaku and finishing the move off with a sublime dink over Claudio Bravo to open his account for his boyhood club. Given the speculation surrounding Ross Barkley’s future, there may be a space in the hole that opens up this summer, it would not be surprising to see this young talent fill it for years to come. James Morgan-Snowley

Left Wing: Wilfried Zaha

Blistering pace, dazzling footwork and an almost uncontainable dribbling ability are all playing characteristics we can associate with Wilfried Zaha. A very rare and potentially game-deciding skill set. No other than Sir Alex Ferguson has recently voiced his disappointment over Zaha’s unsuccessful spell at Manchester United, further adding that he still possess great admiration for his talents and believes he will eventually become a “top player”.

Zaha’s dribbling ability is extraordinary; he is able to beat defenders with a scary regularity in tight spaces and under increasing pressure. The more difficult the situation, the more impressive Zaha is able to respond. However, when situations require simpler decision-making, more patience and possibly composure Zaha can find himself forcing the issue.

Whilst his raw talent cannot be questioned, there has been criticism over the consistency of his performances before this year. Being able to directly contribute to the outcome of games has been a key area of development for Zaha, and this season he has shown greater maturity and application to do so, which is reflective in his performance statistics. With 16 direct goal contributions comprising of seven goals and nine assists, only Benteke has a greater direct goal contribution at Crystal Palace with 15 goals and two assists. His fruition as a key performer is set to be rewarded with a staggering pay-rise and should cool the interests from other Premier League clubs for at least the upcoming summer transfer window. Dan Thomas

Attacking Midfield: Gylfi Sigurdsson   

Even under a struggling Bob Bradley side in the build up to Christmas, Swansea City fans couldn’t fault the performances that Gylfi Sigurdsson was producing week in and week out.

The Icelandic international’s quality has never been in doubt, with exceptional technique, skill, and class, coupled with phenomenal work rate, he has established himself into one of the most a complete midfielders within the premier league. Sigurdsson finished the season contributing nine goals and 13 assists to his name. That equated to 53% of all goals scored by Swansea City, which is 6% more than the next nearest player, Alexis Sanchez. Also, finishing third in the overall top assists for the season, in a struggling Swansea City side, underlines his creativity in the final third and pinpoint set piece delivery.

Obviously, with playing such a key role in Swansea’s survival, he is being touted for a big money move to Everton. The uncertainty around Ross Barkley has forced Ronald Koeman’s hand to seek a potential replacement and he sees Sigurdsson as the ideal replacement. Sigurdsson fits perfectly within Koeman’s counter-attacking philosophy as he can provide the work rate and creativity to unlock the league’s most stubborn defences. Will Worthington

Centre Forward: Josh King

Josh King has blossomed as a central striker this season for Bournemouth, and with his impressive haul of 16 goals, has more than totalled the amount he had scored over his entire career to date. Plucked from Blackburn on a free transfer two seasons ago, King spent much of last season in and out of the team, mainly used on the wing. This season began much the same, but a long term injury to Callum Wilson allowed the Norwegian an extended run up front, a move which has reaped dividends for both player and club.

King’s goals on their own have won Bournemouth 12 points this season, the exact number that Bournemouth finished above the relegation zone, demonstrating his importance. His clever movement along the line combined with pace, and a somewhat surprising amount of strength to hold the ball up have seen defenders struggle to contain him, with King able to score off both feet as well as his head. After such a purple patch since the turn of the year, other clubs have been sniffing around the 25 year old, so Bournemouth would do well to hold on to a player who has unquestionably been their most important this season and is entering his prime years. Cort Robson 

 

All Player to Watch articles are formed on analyst’s opinion rather than in-house statistics.

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