Yes it’s that time of the year again. The weather is warming up, the end of the football season is nigh so this (not very) discerning journalist has picked TLE’s team of the season. The PFA may have already chosen their team, but I know this is the selection you’ve really been waiting for, especially after I tipped Leicester for guaranteed relegation last August. It has been a fascinating season and whilst the riches of the Premier League continue to harm the national team’s prospects, it has made for a much more competitive domestic league. Here are the eleven who have caught my eye.
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Who else? After almost joining Real Madrid in August (don’t be surprised if it actually happens this summer), the Spanish stopper has been in supreme form. He has, at times, single-handedly kept his side in games and the fact that United could still grab fourth place is due in no small part to him. He is difficult to beat one-on-one (he uses a cricket long-barrier style technique pioneered by the late German goalkeeper Robert Enke), he has incredible reactions and he has dispelled his perceived weakness against crosses from his earlier days in the Premier League. United fans must dread to think where they would be without de Gea – it is imperative that they keep hold of him.
Right-back: Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker’s selection owes much to the fact Spurs have the stingiest defence in the league as much as his individual play. It hasn’t been a vintage season for full-backs and Walker, for me, has been the best of an average bunch. He is still a bit of a defensive liability but he constantly bombs forward with boundless energy and is part of the most promising Spurs team in a generation. Still only 25 too.
Left-back: Aaron Cresswell (West Ham United)
Ok, I know Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand have both had fantastic seasons but it staggers me that no-one is even mentioning the West Ham left back as a potential England starter. Cresswell reminds me of Leighton Baines: he has a left peg to die for and, like his Everton counterpart, his marauding forward runs are a feature of his play. The Hammers have had a wonderful season and Cresswell has been a key cog in a team that has only lost seven matches in the league. Impressive.
Centre-back: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
The Belgian has been a colossus at the back for the Lilywhites. They just ran out of steam towards the end of the season but Alderweireld and his fellow countryman, Jan Vertonghen, have been the standout central defensive partnership in the country. What impressed me the most was his positioning, particularly remarkable when you consider that he has played a significant amount of his career at full-back.
Centre-back: Wes Morgan (Leicester City)
If I’m honest, back in 2014/15, I thought Morgan was a bit of a laughing stock. He constantly made mistakes and it baffled me that the Foxes continued to persevere with their captain who seemed so out of his depth. Fast forward a year and the Jamaica international has marshalled a title-winning side that has only lost three matches all season and caught the imagination of not only the country but the entire sporting world. Morgan has played with total commitment, calmness and assurance and thoroughly deserves his moment in the spotlight.
Right Midfield: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
The PFA Player of the Year and who could argue? Mahrez has been a revelation and a big reason behind Leicester’s success this season. His control of the football is impeccable, his skills have mesmerised even the most seasoned of defenders and his speed on the counter attack has been lethal. The Algerian may have tailed off towards the end of the season but his performances away to Watford and Manchester City in particular were world class. 18 goals and 11 assists is a staggering contribution, particularly from midfield. An all-round brilliant footballer.
Left Midfield: Dimitri Payet (West Ham United)
The Frenchman has been one of the signings of the season and a big reason behind West Ham’s league position. A dead ball specialist, Payet has contributed significantly with 12 assists and 10 goals, and thoroughly deserved his position on the PFA Player of the Year shortlist. Payet has signed a new 5 year contract and with the Hammers moving to the Olympic Stadium next season and the prospect of European football, the future is looking bright in East London.
Centre Midfield: N’Golo Kanté (Leicester City)
Surely the bargain buy of the season? Kanté cost £7 million from Caen and has gone from total unknown (even I had never heard of him) to household name. The diminutive Frenchman is the workhorse of the Leicester team, breaking up the play, harassing the opposition and in doing so, enabling the likes of Mahrez and Vardy to thrive. He follows in the footsteps of other great enforcers such as Javier Mascherano and his fellow countryman Claude Makalele. He knows his job and does it exceptionally well.
Centre Midfield: Mesut Özil (Arsenal)
Controversial, I know, because like Mahrez his form has tailed off drastically towards the end of the season. However, you can’t argue with 18 assists, most of which he provided before Christmas. Up until then Özil was in scintillating form and renewed hope that Arsenal could end their long wait for another league title (will they get a better opportunity?). He has a wonderful eye for a pass and whilst he can frustrate by going missing in games, I feel he is under-appreciated by the Arsenal faithful.
Forward: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
When Kane started the season with only one goal in Spurs’ first nine games, many were wondering whether the England striker was a one season wonder. Well he certainly answered his critics, finding the net 24 times in the succeeding 28 matches, and in the process becoming the highest English Premier League goal scorer for the second season in succession. However impressive Kane’s scoring feats though, he is not simply a goal-hanger. His link up play this season, especially with Dele Alli, has been superb and, although you might not believe it from his interviews, he is a very intelligent footballer. He must be managed wisely to ensure both Spurs and England get the best out of him.
Forward: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
What?! No Jamie Vardy?! Unfortunately I’m not much of a football romantic and whilst I applaud Vardy’s feats this season of which breaking the Premier League scoring record for goals in consecutive matches is the most impressive, his persistent diving and reaction to his red card against West Ham have taken the gloss off his fantastic achievements this season. Agüero (alongside Joe Hart) has been the shining light in what has been a pretty woeful campaign for the Citizens. A solitary League Cup win is not really good enough for a club of City’s ambition and if the rest of their squad raised their games to Agüero’s level, they wouldn’t (probably) be playing in the Europa League next season. 29 goals is an amazing achievement for City’ talisman, given that he has been injured for a significant part of the season, and his goals per minutes ratio (95) is at least 30 fewer than his nearest rival Vardy. Simply world-class.