Mo Salah has rightly taken all the plaudits this season after winning the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year awards, but as the campaign comes to a close he is not the only one enjoying a lap of honour and the adulation of his fans.
When it comes to football, love is very much in the eye of the beholder and there are plenty of players who didn’t get near the PFA 11 who are nevertheless worshiped by Premier League supporters – who are often left fuming at big-club bias when their heroes are overlooked in awards season.
Chris Hatherall has channelled his inner football geek, and studied the Premier League’s official stats, to produce an alternative ‘best 11’ from players who were ignored by the PFA; and we’ve also suggested one or two extra awards which really ought to be introduced...
1 Jordan Pickford (Everton)
In a season which has been rather a let-down for Everton fans, who expected great things after new investment, former Sunderland keeper Pickford has been the one to cheer up fans in the Gladys Street End. He has made 120 saves, placing him third in the rankings, kept 10 clean sheets and officially made no errors which led to a goal.
2 Antonio Valencia (Man United)
There are plenty of players at Old Trafford who have under-performed this season and who have deserved criticism - Paul Pogba included. But lack of consistency is something you could never level at Valencia. With none of the ego or social media shenanigans of many of his teammates, the dependable fullback just gets on with the game, bombs down the right flank and delivers dangerous crosses - and 8 out of 10 performances - week in, week out.
3 James Tarkowski (Burnley)
The former Brentford defender is the perfect modern centre-half, combining technique, passing and reading of the game with a physical presence too – he was in the top four for blocks (42) and headed clearances (142). It’s no surprise that he is finally being noticed.
4 Harry Maguire (Leicester City)
Every team needs a ‘stopper’ in the back four, even in these days of beautiful football. Maguire is that kind of player - but with modern attributes of technique and passing ability added. At Leicester this season he has shown leadership qualities too, willing to use his drive and physical presence to make an impact at both ends of the field (including two goals and four assists).
5 Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
The Scotsman may have started the season late but has been hugely influential ever since at left-back for Liverpool, not just in terms of his defending but also his contribution going forward. His crossing and the way he has coped with a higher grade of football after leaving Hull is impressive.
6 Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)
A midfielder in the Patrick Vieira mould, Doucoure looks like he has everything needed to play for one of the big six – so it’s no surprise his name has been linked with most of them. Powerful, influential and seemingly just as good at defending as he is attacking, Doucoure has made 77 tackles and scored eight valuable goals this season.
7 Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
The Crystal Palace winger moved his game to a new level this season and is so influential at Selhurst Park that Palace simply don’t win if he doesn’t play. His pace, skill and increasingly ruthless finishing (eight goals this season) have been impressive. Few players can produce the trickery he delivers at the same pace and intensity.
8 Lewis Cook (Bournemouth)
At the age of just 21, midfielder Cook, who won the FIFA U20 World Cup with England, made 33 appearances for Bournemouth in his breakthrough season and is a real prospect. It’s rare to find a midfielder who is so comfortable and creative on the ball but still tenacious in the tackle (he made 67 across the season).
9 Ashley Barnes (Burnley)
The Burnley striker has been a revelation, not because of his hard work, hold up play and ability to link with those around him - those are the attributes we knew he had. But the sheer quality of his finishing has come as a surprise and helped Burnley to a top-seven finish. He has nine Premier League goals, including an acrobatic overhead kick against West Brom.
10 Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
You could hardly say the Anfield striker has been overlooked, but living in the shadow of Mo Salah perhaps his contribution hasn’t always received the plaudits it deserves. He has 15 goals and seven assists this season but that only tells half the story. The Brazilian is the unselfish player who knits Liverpool’s attack together.
11 Pascal Gross (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Playing behind Glenn Murray he has scored seven goals and made eight assists. He also delivered 231 crosses, and only Kevin de Bruyne can beat that…
Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle United) - leadership qualities in a tough season; Nacho Monreal (Arsenal) - a rare consistent performer for the Gunners; Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion) - made more clearances (317) than any defender in the league; Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – still pure quality despite his team’s stuttering season; Ederson (Man City) – only 25 goals conceded all season; Charlie Daniels (Bournemouth) – underrated at left-back.
Manager: Chris Hughton
The most under-appreciated manager in the Premier League, the Republic and Tottenham legend misses out on headlines because he is so calm and understated. But that is hardly a fault in a top manager. Look at his record and Hughton deserves better. Having guided Brighton to promotion he has kept them up this season and that’s a big achievement. Pep Guardiola and Shaun Dyche have taken all the headlines but Hughton deserves to manage our alternative team of the year.
Biggest cult hero - Zanka (Huddersfield)
This is a man who offered to buy every Huddersfield fan who travelled to Southampton at Christmas a pint to thank them for their support. “I hope you like the gift. Zanka Claus is coming to Town!” he Tweeted. Fans who turned up were handed a voucher for a free drink at the next home game, costing the defender thousands of pounds. But what do you expect for a man whose nickname derives from a character in the film Cool Runnings?
Best young talent - Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
The Liverpool right-back has made 18 appearances, scored one goal, made one assist and delivered 95 crosses at the age of just 19 this season. As well as defending with pace and concentration he has also shown an eye for a defence-splitting pass, linking superbly with Salah and performing well in the Champions League too. He looks to have a big future.
Best header of a ball - Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
Seven of the Spaniard’s 11 goals for Chelsea in the Premier League this season have come with his head – and almost all of them have been spectacular. His telepathic link-up with Cesar Azpilicueta has been a feature of Chelsea’s season and although Morata has disappointed in some aspects, nobody could doubt his prowess in the air. He tops the list of headed goals, with Harry Kane second.
Best veteran - Glenn Murray (Brighton)
At the age of 34, Murray has had a remarkable impact for Brighton in the Premier League despite playing in a team in the bottom half of the table, and one which has struggled at times to create chances. He has scored 12 goals so far, leaving him ninth in the goalscoring charts – and officially England’s fourth highest- scoring striker behind Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy.
Best shot-stopper - Jack Butland (Stoke City)
It would be easy to name Man United’s David De Gea in this category because he makes saves no other keeper can make. But in terms of the total number of saves made, Stoke’s Butland leads the way on 133 for the season (that’s 25 more than de Gea). His reaction saves have made him a real contender for England despite Stoke’s miserable season.
Penalty king - Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace)
The Serbian has scored seven penalties, two more than nearest rival Jamie Vardy. And it would have been eight if he hadn’t allowed Cristian Benteke to grab the ball off him against Bournemouth. The Belgian famously missed in stoppage time.
Calamity king - Petr Cech (Arsenal)
A surprise this one. Cech, who John Terry once said was worth 10 extra points a season, made six errors which led to goals during the campaign. That’s more than any other goalkeeper or defender.
Bad boy - Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Two red cards, against Crystal Palace and Brighton, and six yellows make tough-tackling Ndidi the Premier League’s bad boy, even if most of those bookings were down to his energetic style and high tackle rate rather than a nasty intent. He has made 138 tackles in the season and won 64 per cent of them. But there have also been 60 fouls.
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