The best XI of the season in the EPL
MAY 22 — The English Premier League (EPL) season has ended and we all know it was the best as proven by the statistics. Not to mention, it was given such an accolade by the organisation behind the EPL, the FA Premier League, in the recent 20th anniversary celebrations for the EPL.
Even the final day of the season provided a most fitting finale too, with Manchester City winning their first title in 44 years in Fergie time and only by goal difference at that.
Also, the European club champion comes from England — and by that virtue, England have four spots in the group stages of next season’s UEFA Champions League competition.
And finally, Roy Hodgson is now England manager.
The above reflects quite a few changes compared with what many had expected since the beginning of the year.
Pundits touted Manchester City to win the title quite comfortably, Chelsea were in danger of making an exit from the Champions League after losing 3-1 to Napoli in the first leg of the last-16 knock-out round (a result which also contributed to Andre Villas-Boas getting the sack) and Harry Redknapp was declared favourite to land the England manager job after Fabio Capello quit.
Similarly, the mid-season best XI of the EPL that I picked too has changed.
In the space of months, football can change and so can individual performances.
Here is a recap of “The best XI in the Premiership so far”, as published on this site six months ago.Let’s move on to my end-of-season best XI now.
Firstly, for the crucial role between the posts, I had picked Michel Vorm of Swansea City then but Manchester City’s Joe Hart proved to be more consistent under pressure and with 17 clean sheets is the best across the whole season now.
In defence, while Hart’s team-mate Micah Richards had a great first half of the season, it was another City boy, Pablo Zabaleta, who was preferred when the crunch came for Manchester City and Roberto Mancini.
However, Zabaleta gets into my team at left-back for his versatility and dynamic performances.
For the right-back, I am going to admit that it was a biased decision to select Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur because he was always at his best when the Spurs were shambolic during the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Man City’s central defensive duo of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott retained their positions and selection simply because there were no other centre-backs who were as solid as they were throughout the season.
Over in the middle of the pitch, where I had picked a central midfield comprising Yaya Toure (Man City) and Scott Parker (Spurs) six months ago, sees Parker dropped and Yaya played in a more attacking role.
Yes, I prefer the 4-2-3-1 this time. For the players under the “2” role, I pick Leon Britton and Joe Allen, both of Swansea — or “Swanselona”, as I prefer to call this bright Welsh side after the Brendan Rodgers-led team continued to prove why football is the beautiful game in the usually route-one football-filled game in England.
The two diminutive midfielders held their own against all-comers this season and will not embarrass anyone in my team selection with their slick passing and movement. They are the nearest I have witnessed to the originals, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta of Barcelona.
The front four pick themselves with Sergio “Kun” Aguero and David Silva either side of Yaya Toure, pushing and prodding behind the season’s Golden Boot winner, Robin van Persie.
Maybe, just maybe, David Silva suffered a little while Toure was away at the African Cup of Nations. The physical strain took its toll and Silva struggled a little but he soon found his feet again and was back to his twinkly best.
The word inspirational is reserved for Toure. His contributions were colossal and for heaven’s sake, he is a better all-rounder than Patrick Vieira ever was.
When you score the dramatic winning goal that wins your team the Premiership title in the dying seconds of the last game of the season, and your father-in-law, who just happens to be Diego Maradona, is watching in the stands, then Aguero can claim to be a true assassin.
Speaking of truly becoming an assassin, the goal-scoring exploits of van Persie almost single-handedly won The Gunners a place in the Champions League, killing the hopes of Spurs fans everywhere.
There is no doubt in my mind that he has been the most influential player this season. His selection by his peers as well as the football writers in the United Kingdom as the player of the season confirms this too.
So, with five changes from the mid-season best XI, here is my team of the EPL season 2011-12, playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation: Hart — Walker, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta — Britton, Allen — Aguero, Toure, Silva — Van Persie.
Enjoy the short break in the football folks because a big summer is coming our way in a matter of two weeks as the European Championships 2012 kick off in Warsaw, Poland, on the evening of Friday, June 8, with co-hosts Poland taking on 2004 champions Greece.
See you again next month.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.