We are past midway through the current EPL season – a season that has refused to play by the script. Teams have proven their relative positions in the league table barely matter in one-on-one clashes, be it at home or away.
The top 5 clubs from the end of last season find their claims to those spots are still intact. Chelsea, who started the season in a ruthless manner, were outplayed at home by Sunderland and had a horrifying run of 9 games where they picked up just 7 points. Arsenal, who have been fabulous away from home, have lost 3 home games to sides that they are expected to beat – West Brom, Newcastle and arch-rivals Tottenham. Wealthy Manchester City, having the second best away record, have managed to lose to the likes of Wolves, Everton and more-recently Aston Villa. Spurs, still finding their feet in the Champions League have also had their share of upsets losing to Wigan, West Ham and Bolton.
Manchester United are the only unbeaten team in the league, but in no way have stamped their authority on the league yet. Woeful away from home, they have collected only 17 points out of 11 games on the road. The fact that they’re now seated comfortably at the top, is a statement of how poor the rest of the title contenders have performed. It is not just the inconsistency of the top 5 has made the league interesting. Teams like Bolton and Sunderland have improved on their last season’s showing and have managed to shave points off the top 5. Also, the three newcomers in Newcastle, Blackpool and West Brom have been a treat to watch. None of them are currently in the relegation zone and it looks like none of them would be making the trip back to the Championship either.
All the above has been possible mostly due to presence of at least one match winner in each team. From Charlie Adam of Blackpool to Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal, from Didier Drogba of Chelsea to Andy Carroll of Newcastle, each team has in its arsenal (pardon the pun), at least one top quality player who can turn the game on its head. Teams with stars like them have begun to realize their weaknesses on paper against much more celebrated opposition counts for nothing if these players bring their A-game.
Picking the team of the season(thus far) might be a moot point with still plenty of action to come but it provides us with the list of players who have made a difference. And unless, someone outside of this group has an extra-ordinary second half of the season or someone from this group suffers a big dip in form (as was the case with most of the Chelsea and Bolton players], these will be the players who will be fighting out for the EPL Player of the Season’s award.
If the year-end sounds like a good time to take stock of your personal lives, it should be good enough for the most exciting football league in the world.
Petr Cech [Chelsea].
Stats:19 starts. 9 clean sheets.
Some might argue Joe Hart’s case here, but I have to go with the tall Czech Republic star. He has made one save less than Hart (55 as compared to 56), but it’s worth noting the defense in front of Cech has been awful, especially once Chelsea’s injury list started blossoming. Like a wall in front of the goal, he is the only reason that Chelsea still have an outside chance at successfully defending their title.
Honorable mention: Joe Hart [Manchester City]. Stats: 20 starts. 9 clean sheets
Leighton Baines [Everton].
Stats: 19 starts. 2 goals, 6 assists.
A close call between him and Assou-Ekotto, Baines won it due to the sheer numbers mentioned above. His performances, along with those of Seamus Coleman, have been one of the few bright lights of Everton’s otherwise dismal campaign so far.
Honorable mention: Benoit Assou-Ekotto [Tottenham Hostpur]. Stats: 17 starts.
Bacary Sagna [Arsenal].
Stats: 17 starts. 1 goal, 2 assists.
Mr. Consistent as far as Arsenal are concerned, there is not a better right back in the world who is as good defensively as he is going forward. One of the few players whose reputation remained unscathed after France’s abysmal World Cup campaign, he has improved his crossing from last year. Quick and good in the air, he is a rock at the back and he will be kicking himself for getting the unnecessary red card which forces him out of the home leg against Barcelona.
Honorable mention: Seamus Coleman [Everton]. Stats: 12 starts, 4 substitute appearances. 2 goals, 1 assist.
Nemanja Vidic [Manchester United].
Stats: 18 starts. 9 clean sheets. 1 goal.
If you have to name one man responsible for United’s unbeaten run till now, few would mention someone other than Nemanja Vidic. No matter who he has partnered in central defense and no matter whom he has faced, he has been a rock at the back clearing everything that has been thrown at United. He has been the difference between United converting defeats to draws and draws to victories. And the one goal he scored was against Villa, where he equalized to keep the unbeaten run going.
Vincent Kompany [Manchester City].
Stats: 20 starts. 9 clean sheets.
He might be protected by 3 defense minded players in front of him and brilliant goalkeeper behind him, but that can take nothing away from the performances that Kompany has been putting in for City this season. His tackles and his blocks have been as important as Tevez’s goals and he is now a fixture in the City first team. Starting 20 EPL games, he has overcome his past injury problems and justified the cash that was spent on him. Solid and reliable, Kompany’s ability to play as a defensive midfielder or a centre back makes him a valuable asset to City.
Honorable mention: Gary Cahill [Bolton Wanderers]. Stats: 18 starts, 2 clean sheets.
Alex Song [Arsenal].
Stats: 17 starts. 4 goals, 1 assist.
One of the most improved players from last season, he has added goals to his game this time around. Versatile, with the ability to play centre back, he has been defensively solid in front of a nervy Arsenal defense in the first half of the season .To add to that, his partnership with Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere in the middle of the park is probably the reason that Arsenal are the top goal scorers in the league.
Honorable mention: Cheikh Tiote [Newcastle United]. Stats: 13 starts.
Charlie Adam [Blackpool].
Stats: 15 starts, 1 substitute appearance. 3 goals, 4 assists.
Dubbed as a poor man’s Fabregas due to his passing range, the Blackpool captain has been the best player outside the top 5. A brilliant left foot, he is as comfortable making a 50 yard pass as he is making a 5 yard one. His week-in week-out performances has seen the likes of Spurs, Pool, Villa and United take notice, many of them also making various bids. Priced at 12 million or so by Holloway, he would be a steal in a transfer market which sees Carroll going for 35.
Samir Nasri [Arsenal].
Stats: 14 starts, 2 substitute appearances. 8 goals, 1 assist.
Dubbed the next Zidane due to his Algerian roots and style of play during his time at Marseille, Nasri has had a wonderful season and is the main contender for the player of the year along with Vidic and Nani. He started the season in the centre when Fabregas was unavailable but Wenger always preferred him out wide. His crisp passing, silky dribbling and accurate finishing has seen him score some beautiful goals and carry the creative burden of the team in place of Fabregas and RVP.
Honorable Mention: Rafael van der Vaart [Tottenham Hotspurs]. Stats: 13 starts. 8 goals, 4 assists.
Nani [Manchester United].
Stats: 14 starts, 2 substitute appearances. 5 goals, 8 assist.
The player who was supposed to be Cristiano’s left flank avatar has taken a huge step this season in replacing the Real Madrid man. Shifted to the right when Valencia got injured, he has continued his good form from the end of last season and has helped Berbatov top the goal scoring charts. Like Ronaldo, he has the knack of coming up with the goods even when he is not having a good game. His pin-point crosses have seen him collect the most number of assists in the league making him one of the first names on the team sheet.
Carlos Tevez [Manchester City].
Stats: 17 starts. 12 goals, 5 assists.
When your manager plays 3 defensive minded midfielders in the team, it puts a lot of burden on the player playing as the target man; but this hasn’t stopped Tevez from adding to his already impressive tally of EPL goals. Captain of the side, he has kept on going in spite of his problems with the club owners and has taken City to second position where they finished the year. His work-rate, ruthless finishing and his ability to hold the ball make him an apt target man, but his speed and his ability to provide for others enables him to play wide in a 3-up-front formation, something that also enables me to accommodate him in this side.
Honorable Mention: Florent Malouda [Chelsea]. Stats: 18 starts. 8 goals, 1 assists.
Andy Carroll [Newcastle United].
Stats: 18 starts. 11 goals, 3 assists.
It was hard to keep Drogba and Berbatov out, who as I write just scored his 3rd hat-trick of this season, but the all-round capability of Carroll wins this race. A monster in the air, and good with both feet, Carroll is the typical English centre forward that his countrymen have been longing for. Along with the goals he brings, he is dangerous when it comes to knock-downs and flick-ons, and has the ability to hold the ball long enough to bring his teammates into play. His partnership with Nolan has seen the Toon captain score 10 goals. To add to his attacking prowess, he is very useful at defending set pieces; why wouldn’t you be when you are over 6′ 5?
Honorable Mention: Dimitar Berbatov [Manchester United]. Stats: 14 starts. 14 goals, 2 assists.
Team Formation (4-3-3):
Note: Statistics as on 31st December, 2010.
– Vikram Singh Negi