Sadly, the end of the Premier League season is now upon us, and writers everywhere are picking their teams of the season, so I thought I’d do the same.
The problem I have with many of these teams is that, most of the time, it’s obvious who will be in them and as a result, they don’t vary much from writer to writer. That’s not very interesting to me; I’m sure none of you reading this needs me to tell you how good a season Gareth Bale’s had, how Robin van Persie made a seamless transition to Manchester United, or how great a player Juan Mata is for Chelsea.
So, I try and do things a little differently. I pick my team solely out of players who had never played a single Premier League game before this season. It is known that the Premier League can be a particularly tough league for players to adapt to, and many excellent players have tried and failed to do so in the past. I think this makes it all the more impressive when a player can come into a new league and produces their best in their first season.
As this is a team of the season, I don’t include players who arrived in January, as they have not played a full season. So, there is no room in my team for Philippe Coutinho or Roger Espinoza, despite their excellent play since their arrival.
So here’s my Premier League newcomers team of the season 2012/13! (4-2-3-1 formation, stats by OPTA)
GK: Julio Cesar (QPR): Julio Cesar just beats Hugo Lloris to make this team. QPR have had a dismal season and, not completely unfairly, a lot of the blame has fallen on the signings Mark Hughes made last summer. However one of those signings, Julio Cesar, who was seen as a bit of an unnecessary signing when he arrived (most people considered Robert Green to be good enough), has ensured that this season was not even worse. Julio Cesar and Lloris have pretty similar goalkeeping stats, but the fact that Julio Cesar has had to make a whopping 97 saves, proving he plays behind a very weak defence, puts him over the top in my opinion.
LB: Ben Davies (Swansea City): Last season, Swansea’s Neil Taylor, without much fanfare, was one of the Premier League’s best left-backs. Taylor was ruled out for the season quite early on, so Ben Davies, who hadn’t played a first-team game prior to this season, was thrown in at the deep end. Davies has developed into a full-back who is strong in the tackle, good on the ball and capable of starting and joining in attacks. Southampton’s Luke Shaw also had a very good debut season and is an exciting prospect.
CB: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham): Vertonghen was very highly rated when Spurs won the race to sign him ahead of several other clubs, and this season he has shown what all the fuss was about. Vertonghen’s biggest strength is the way he reads the game and often steps up at just the right time to make an interception. Vertonghen is also one of the Premier League’s best ball-playing centre-backs and an excellent passer. Vertonghen has also managed to score 4 goals this season.
CB: Matija Nastasic (Manchester City): Last season, the central defensive partnership of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott was instrumental in City winning the league. That partnership has now been broken up by Nastasic, who has supplanted Lescott and become an integral part of City’s defence, which is the best in the Premier League. Nastasic is an outstanding tackler, who has amassed an incredible tackle success rate of over 93% and is also great in the air.
RB: Sascha Riether (Fulham): It’s been a strong year for new right-backs in the Premier League. Cesar Azpilacueta’s been great for Chelsea this season, Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne’s adapted well to the Premier League and Matt Lowton’s been one of the bright spots in a largely terrible Aston Villa defence. However, my vote goes to Riether, who has been excellent in a pretty lacklustre Fulham side. Riether is good in the tackle, good at reading the game, very comfortable on the ball and a good attacking full-back. Riether joined Fulham on loan after Cologne were relegated from the Bundesliga, and Fulham have moved quickly to sign Riether on a permanent basis.
MF: Jonathan De Guzman (Swansea City): A few seasons ago whilst at Feyenoord, De Guzman had agreed terms with Manchester City only for the transfer to collapse after the clubs couldn’t agree on a fee. Michael Laudrup had singed De Guzman when he was manager of Mallorca, so when he became available again, he brought him to Swansea. De Guzman has scored 5 goals and made 6 assists this season and played a huge role in Swansea winning the Capital One Cup, scoring twice in the final.
MF: Claudio Yakob (West Bromwich Albion): Yakob has been one of the reasons behind West Brom’s strong season, where they have finished in the top half and been well away from any relegation worries. Yakob is a defensive midfielder who has shown himself to be an excellent tackler and while not a creative player, good at keeping possession in midfield. Alexander Tettey of Norwich was also a great midfield enforcer this season.
MF: Eden Hazard (Chelsea): At a transfer fee that was reported to be £32m, big things were expected of Hazard. He has not disappointed. Hazard is an exceptionally creative player with amazing technique, which, when coupled with his fast pace, makes him very hard to stop. Hazard is devastating in the final third of the pitch (he completes 82% of his passes there) and has 11 assists to go with the 9 goals he has scored.
FW: Michu (Swansea City): Last season, Michu was the top scorer from midfield in La Liga, with 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano. Despite this, he seemingly went unnoticed by most clubs, which allowed Swansea to take advantage of Vallecano’s financial problems to sign Michu for a low fee, believed to be less than £2m, which makes him one of the greatest bargains in Premier League history. Michu has scored 18 goals this season and has one of the best chance conversion rates in the Premier League at 21%. Sadly, Michu was somehow overlooked for the end of season awards both by his fellow players and football writers.
FW: Santi Cazorla (Arsenal): Another player who was somehow overlooked for the end of season awards, Cazorla has been one of the Premier League’s best, and most consistent, performers this season. Cazorla has been involved (meaning either a goal or an assist) in over a third of Arsenal’s goals this season, scoring 12 and assisting 11. Cazorla is not just an exquisite passer of the ball in all areas of the pitch; he also has a willingness to help his team out in defensive situations that is rare in creative players.
FW: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa): To put it simply, Villa would have been relegated without Benteke this season. Benteke has scored 19 goals and has one of the best chance conversion rates in the league at 26%. Benteke’s play this season has been so good that Darren Bent, who has been a consistent scorer in the Premier League for years now, has barely played. Rumours have it that Benteke’s performances this season has attracted the attention of other clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal are interested, so Benteke may not be a Villa player for much longer unless they can give him a big pay rise.
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham): It was a bit of a surprise when Spurs signed Lloris on transfer deadline day, as Brad Friedel was not only entrenched as Spurs’ first choice, he was also still a very capable keeper doing a very good job. It took Lloris a while to settle in, but he’s shown this season that he can not only do the same things Friedel could, but he can do a lot of the things Friedel could not. Lloris is far more comfortable coming off his line than Friedel, which is important because Andre Villas-Boas favours playing with a high defensive line. Lloris commands his area better, distributes the ball better, and seems to inspire more confidence in his defence than Friedel did.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea): Considering just how strong a squad Chelsea have had the past few seasons and their ability since Abramovich arrived to get almost any player they want, it’s amazing how they’ve never quite managed to solve their problems at right-back. They’ve spent large sums of money of players like Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa, but nobody’s ever quite been right. That seems to have changed following the arrival of Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta (or ‘Dave’ as his teammates, who’ve given up on pronouncing his name call him!) has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent players all season and looks to have made the right-back spot his own.
Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa): Generally, Villa’s defence has been terrible this season, largely due to injuries, which meant that a lot of inexperienced players have had to come into the first team before they were ready. Vlaar, who is an experienced player, has done a good job in helping those young players through matches, and ensuring that things weren’t even worse for Villa this season. Vlaar isn’t a quick player but makes up for that with great positional sense and the way he reads the game.
Kevin Mirallas (Everton): Mirallas would’ve made my starting XI if not for the fact that he struggled with injury in the first half of the season. Mirallas is a very quick, very skilful player who is at his best when running at opponents and is capable of scoring some spectacular goals. He’s also versatile, being comfortable playing on both flanks or as a second striker. He has struggled with the physicality of the Premier League a bit, and often has to be substituted due to picking up minor injuries.
Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City): For the past few years Snodgrass had been regarded as one of the best players in England outside the Premier League and it was a mystery why no Premier League club had signed him before Norwich did last summer. Snodgrass has been the solution to Norwich’s wing problems of last season, and the prospect of new signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel benefitting from Snodgrass’ crosses next season should be an exciting one for Norwich fans.
Arouna Kone (Wigan Athletic): Another contender for ‘bargain of the season’ at a reported cost of £2.7m, Kone has scored 11 goals for Wigan this season, which is the same as Carlos Tevez, Jermain Defoe and Olivier Giroud. Sadly, Kone’s goals weren’t enough to keep Wigan in the Premier League, but I think it’s very likely Kone will be wanted by several clubs this summer.
Rickie Lambert (Southampton): I’ll confess to having a bit of a soft spot for Lambert as he grew up quite close to me and a few of my friends used to play in the same youth teams as him, but he does deserve a place in this team. Lambert made it to the Premier League the hard way, having spent years in the lower leagues. Lambert this season joined a small group of player who’ve scored in all 4 divisions of English league football, and went on to score 14 goals this season, the most by any English striker and is being talked of as a possible England international. Lambert has proved that he can score goals with his head, feet and from free-kicks.