Taking a leaf out of Michael Cox’s book, I thought I would set myself a little challenge on my return to blogging.
Rather than picking a standard Premier League team of the year, I have attempted to find the best starting XI (plus seven substitutes) using no more than one player from any Premier League team.
Some might say this is a tougher task than in most years, considering the paucity of the entire bottom half of the table for much of the campaign, but you can judge that for yourself on the basis of the side I have picked.
Please use the comments section to lay into my choices and suggest a team of your own.
This season was never going to be easy for Birmingham. Alex McLeish’s team had the task of building on a return to the Premier League which – while ultimately impressive – was built on a great number of narrow victories. On top of that, many members of last season’s squad (Carr, Bowyer and Phillips to name but three) were coming towards the end of their careers, while star performer Joe Hart had returned to Manchester City. But Foster, a £4million-plus signing from Manchester United, has done everything expected of him and more, with a match-winning performance against Chelsea one of the highlights of a season which has brought Birmingham likely survival and a trophy to boot.
In their first five games of the season, Newcastle deployed £1million signing James Perch at right-back. The former Nottingham Forest man was so far from the required standard it was laughable: he picked up five yellow cards in as many games, scored an own goal against Stoke on his return from suspension, and even looked a liability in his side’s 6-0 win over Aston Villa. Thankfully for then-manager Chris Hughton and his successor Alan Pardew, former Manchester United man Simpson proved a more-than-able replacement. After returning from an ankle operation in October he has never looked back, making the position his own with a series of marauding runs and strong defensive work, helping his team guarantee another season of top-flight football with relative ease.
On February 19 at around 3:00pm, Everton were in a spot of bother. A 2-0 defeat at Bolton had left them just three points of the drop in the league, and an extra-time goal from Frank Lampard had them on the verge of elimination from the FA Cup. Then they were awarded a last-minute free-kick on the edge of the box – Leighton Baines stepped up, found the top corner, and an Ashley Cole miss helped David Moyes’ side advance on penalties. They may have later been eliminated from the cup by Reading, but that victory at Stamford Bridge gave Everton the momentum to push on, with Baines an integral part of their rise up the table. The England international shook off the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup squad, contributing six goals, 12 assists, and a constant threat from left-back.
It was not that long ago that Manchester United were still unbeaten in the league, despite a run of form which could at best be described as patchy. The ability to grind out results was thanks in no small part to a mean back line, and central to the concession of a mere 32 goals has been the form of Vidic, the one constant in an ever-changing defence. The Serbian has missed only two league games, yet has been paired with a whole host of centre-back partners, including Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and even Michael Carrick. Winning the league without performing well is one thing, but keeping one’s head amidst chaos and disorder at the back is another altogether.
Vidic is joined in the middle by another Serb and another player forced to content with a multitude of centre-back partners. A member of the official team of 2009/10 at right-back, Ivanovic has been forced inside by a combination of the return of regular incumbent Bosingwa and injuries to the likes of John Terry and Alex. The 27-year-old has proved equally adept in both positions, retaining the professionalism which has endeared him to the Stamford Bridge faithful but also providing an attacking threat, mostly from set pieces (five goals is a record haul for the defender) but also with the odd marauding run from the back. Imagine how much worse Chelsea’s mid-season slump might have been without his influence.
If West Ham stay up this season (and it is a big if), it will be in no small part due to the contribution of the man who is their captain in all but name. Lesser players would have baulked at the challenge of dragging a largely abysmal team out of the mire, particularly when displays of a similar standard last season merited nothing more than 17th place and a painful lack of international recognition. Cynics would say that recognition only truly came when he put in a match-winning performance against one of the ‘big boys’ (in a 3-1 win over Liverpool) but in truth Parker has shone all season. A record total of seven goals (as many as he scored for Chelsea and Newcastle combined) only tells part of the story: when Parker plays, West Ham have a chance; when he doesn’t, they are lost. A Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award is the least he deserves.
While team mate Raul Meireles has taken many of the plaudits (and a deserved Fans’ Player of the Year Award), Brazilian midfielder Lucas has been diligent, hard-working, and a vital cog as Liverpool have made the most of a worrying start to the campaign. It is strange to think that the man from Grêmio is just 24 years old, considering that this year saw him surpass the 100-appearance mark for his club, and after taking a bit of time to adjust to the rigours of the Premier League he has truly come of age when the pressure has been at its highest. What’s more, Lucas has been forced to do the work of two men, neither of them him: the departure of Javier Mascherano in August left a huge hole, which then-manager Roy Hodgson mistakenly believed Christian Poulsen capable of filling. But while the Dane has failed abysmally, Lucas has stepped up to the plate with class, skill, and a real connection to the club.
Injuries may have taken his toll since Christmas, and he may have gone off the boil a bit, but in the first half of the season Samir Nasri was entirely unplayable. The skill we saw in patches last season, most notably with his Goal of the Year nominee against Porto, was suddenly visible on a more regular basis and Arsenal reaped the rewards. While continuing to create chances for team-mates, the French international has also been far more productive in front of goal, more than doubling his previous best with a month of the season to spare. Perhaps spurred on by missing out on the World Cup last summer, Nasri has also not been subject to the criticism and alienation which greeted many of his international team-mates.
Gareth Bale may have been named PFA Player of the Year, but ask any Tottenham fan and they will tell you the Welshman was not even the best player at White Hart Lane this season. Sure, Bale starred in the Champions League group stage, and Rafael van der Vaart similarly impressed in the early part of the season, but Luka Modric has been consistently brilliant throughout. The Croatia star has flown under the radar at times, but only because we have come to expect the nimble-footedness and unbelievable close-control which has characterised his game since a £16.5m move from Dinamo Zagreb in 2008. That fee is looking more and more like a bargain every day, as Modric continues to embody the attacking flair which has won Spurs so many new admirers from across England and Europe this season.
If Scott Parker’s contribution to West Ham has been crucial, then I am lost for words when trying to describe how vital Blackpool captain Charlie Adam has been to what could yet end up the Tangerines’ maiden Premier League campaign. Many questioned what impact the former Rangers man would have, given his obvious lack of pace, but he has more than made up for that with his ability on the ball, helping bring team-mates into the game at every opportunity and making the 2010-11 season an enjoyable one in the most part for fans of Ian Holloway’s club. There are obvious parallels with Geovanni’s debut season with Hull City two years ago, not least due to the Scotsman’s dead-ball prowess, and if his team can stay the distance then the Bloomfield Road faithful will know who to thank for their survival.
Emmanuel Adebayor had a limited impact before his departure to Real Madrid, Edin Dzeko has struggled to find his feet since replacing the Togolese international, and Mario Balotelli has been in equal parts sublime and ridiculous. But amidst all that chaos, Carlos Tevez has once again been magnificent. Injuries have somewhat restricted the Argentine’s impact, but he has still managed better than a goal every other game, providing the one element of consistency in a Manchester City frontline affected by Roberto Mancini’s Ranieri-esque tinkering. The captain’s armband has seemed to invigorate Tevez, and – while his best performance arguably came back in August against Liverpool, he has continued to let his form on the pitch override any off-field rumours, however strong.
Simon Mignolet (Sunderland) A shrewd signing from Steve Bruce, the Belgian has outshone Craig Gordon in the fight for the goalkeeper’s jersey at the Stadium of Light.
Carlos Salcido (Fulham) The former PSV man has more than made up for the departure of Paul Konchesky at left-back, settling in at Craven Cottage immediately.
Christopher Samba (Blackburn Rovers) A rock at the back as always, Blackburn would be lost without the Congolese international .
Stilyan Petrov (Aston Villa) Providing some much-needed steel once he returned to the fray around the turn of the year, Villa’s captain has eventually helped them pull away from the relegation zone.
Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers) One of the stars of the campaign until suffering a horrific broken leg for the second season running, Holden’s absence has coincided with Bolton’s downturn in form.
Matthew Etherington (Stoke City) For all their physical strength and aerial prowess, Stoke have needed someone to provide a spark. Etherington has consistently been that man.
Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion) 12 league goals and counting have endeared the Russo-Nigerian striker to the Hawthorns faithful, and the scary thing is that Odemwingie is still improving.