May 16, 2018

FREE KICKS: Our Premier League Best XI + more

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

The marathon that began last August has reached its conclusion and, while we’ve know the victor for a while, the final week of the season offered some intrigue.

We saw Arsene Wenger say goodbye to the team that he has managed for a generation, three Premier League mainstays get relegated and last year’s champion slump into a place in Europa League.

GK – David De Gea, Man United

DDG was unquestionably the best keeper in the league this season and might just be the best in the world right now. He kept 18 clean sheets and could’ve had another if not for being rested on Sunday.

DEF – Kyle Walker, Man City

The former Spurs fullback proved to be worth his big transfer fee. The speedster added even more attacking threat to the champions and played the second-most minutes of City defenders, behind only the next man on this list.

DEF – Nicolas Otamendi, Man City

He was the rock in the centre of City’s back four with a steady rotation of partners beside him. The Argentine defender steadied the line and helped City to the best defensive record in the league, allowing just 27 goals.

DEF – Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea

The champions certainly had a title defence to forget, but the man they call Dave was solid at the centre their back line. Azpilicueta even played some time in his old position at right back and provided some offence, too.

DEF – Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham

Shared the league lead for clean sheets by a defender this season and was the rock at the back for Spurs. Injuries and some changes to their system led to some lapses, but Vertonghen maintained his spot among the league’s best defenders.

MID – Fernandinho, Man City

It could be argued that the Brazilian is actually City’s most important player. Thanks to Fernandinho’s hard work in front of the back four, City’s attackers have more leeway to get forward while knowing that he is there to cover the holes and clean up any messes.

MID – Kevin De Bruyne, Man City

Despite often being dropped deeper into City’s midfield, the Belgian playmaker still pulled the strings in attack with his incisive passing. His 18 assists to lead the league is evidence enough of that.

MID – Christian Eriksen, Tottenham

Had an off season by his standards, with 11 goals and 10 assists, but it can’t be stated how often he provides the pass-before-the-pass to get Spurs’ attack going.

FWD – Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

Is he the Egyptian Messi, or is the Barca star the Argentine Salah? The former Chelsea castoff proved he belonged in the Premier League and more, setting the record for most goals in a season with 32 and added 12 assists for good measure.

FWD – Harry Kane, Tottenham

Scored 29 goals this season to equal his career-high, but it wasn’t good enough for a third-straight golden boot. With 104 goals in his past four seasons, Kane is quickly climbing the all-time charts.

FWD – Raheem Sterling, Man City

The oft-criticized Englishman doesn’t deserve the flak he gets. His numbers speak for themselves: An 18-goal, 17-assist campaign while also sitting a few games due to rotation.


Nick Pope, Burnley – Did an excellent job as a fill-in for injured Tom Heaton.

Antonio Valencia, Man United – The veteran remains one of the league’s most consistent players.

Marcos Alonso, Chelsea – Continues to bring attacking returns on the wing.

David Silva, Man City – The only thing keeping him out of Best XI is the time he missed.

N’Golo Kante, Chelsea – Not as excellent as last year, but still great.

Leroy Sane, Man City – Keeps on getting better and is just 22 years old.

Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City – Will he finally get his move this summer?

Roberto Firmino, Liverpool – It wasn’t all just Salah for the Reds.

Nemanja Matic, Man United – Its best Nemanja since Vidic.

Sergio Aguero, Man City – If not for missed time and rotations, could’ve been in Best XI.

Romelu Lukaku, Man United – Scoring record against top teams hasn’t improved.


Sure, it’s not quite as prestigious as getting into the Best XI, but player of the week is nothing to shake a stick at. For the final gameweek of the season, which saw a couple of big scorelines, we’re actually going with a defender.

Philip van Aanholt ended the season on a three-game scoring streak for Crystal Palace and was a big part of its rise to safety from looking sure to be relegated.

And on Sunday, he did it one better, adding an assist and doing his part to keep a clean sheet against Championship-bound West Brom.

After missing a large stretch in the middle of the season, it might not be too much of stretch to see van Aanholt on the fringes of next year’s Best XI if he can consistently play like this.


Manchester City didn’t just run away with the title, it did so in record-breaking fashion. The Sky Blues set records for most wins in a season, most goals and the highest goal differential. The biggest question for City next season will be if it can find more success in Champions League … West Brom’s Darren Moore won manager of the month on the same day he gets relegated. How’s that for irony? … There wasn’t much funnier than watching Walker simply stand and point at the Premier League trophy on the ground after it was accidently knocked over by Oleksander Zinchenko … Of outfield players, only five played the entire season, 3,420 minutes: Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, Huddersfield’s Zanka, Leicester City’s Harry Maguire, Swansea’s Alfie Mawson and Burnley’s Jack Cork – the only midfielder on the list. Five keepers also played the entire campaign … Jamie Vardy played the most minutes for a forward with 3,248 … What is Burnley going to do about its goalkeeping situation next season? Nick Pope is good enough to start in the Premier League, but Tom Heaton will be healthy again and is even better … Oriol Romeu was the naughtiest player in the Premier League, picking up 11 yellow cards. Jonjo Shelvey and Wilfred Ndidi were the only players to get two reds this season … Spurs yet again finished in the Champions League despite having the lowest payroll of the Big 6 teams. And Tottenham’s 127-milliion pound wage bill is 72 million behind Arsenal, the next lowest … Philippe Coutinho lost his first game of the season on the weekend … Manchester United was the only team in Europe’s top five leagues that didn’t concede more than two goals in a game this season in all competitions … You probably already thought that Salah’s season was pretty amazing, but consider this: He missed the most clear-cut chances in the league with 21. If he even scored half of those, it would’ve brought his total over 40.


If you’re at all worried about missing the beautiful game over the summer now that the season is over, there is no need to fret. While we’re surely not going to gloss over the FA Cup final, the League Championship playoff final and the Champions League and Europa League finals, we’re also just a month away from the World Cup in Russia.

Yes, all (well, most of) your favourites will be on the line in the biggest tournament in sports. While it is sometimes sloppy considering these national teams don’t get the same sort of practice time as clubs, the national pride more than makes up it.

And with the Premier League changing its transfer window and having it open on Thursday, we’re in for plenty of rumours and reports starting even earlier than usual.

It’s going to be one hell of a summer.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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