The English Premier League came to an enthralling end on Sunday, as relegation and European qualification were all decided on the final day of the season. But, now that the last ball has been kicked (until September), I want to assemble an XI of the best performing players this season, outside of the top four. So, I present to you: The Alternative Premier League Team of the Season.
Goalkeeper – Nick Pope (Burnley)
28-year-old ‘keeper Nick Pope joined Burnley from Charlton Athletic back in 2016. Since his move to the Premier League, Pope’s stature in the game has risen to biblical heights.
He played every minute of this season between the sticks for The Clarets and managed to keep 15 clean sheets, narrowly missing out on the Golden Glove (Ederson of Man City won the award with 16 clean sheets).
Pope caught the eye with his impressive shot-stopping, acrobatic saves and confident command of his area. Many are calling for Pope to add to his two international caps for England, with pundits and fans alike suggesting that he should be The Three Lions number one for next year’s European Championships.
The inclusion Pope in net was a no brainer for me, as he’s a keeper who has proven he can do it all.
Honourable mentions: Dean Henderson (Sheffield United) & Martin Dubravka (Newcastle United).
Right-Back – Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)
Arriving at Leicester City in 2018 from Portuguese side FC Porto for just shy of £20 million, 26-year-old Ricardo Pereira encapsulates the role of the modern-day full back.
Equally adept at both attacking and defending, Ricardo makes my XI despite only playing 28 games this season due to a season-ending injury.
But in those 28 games, at times he was unplayable. Scoring three goals and assisting two going forward, Ricardo also kept 10 clean sheets as part of the Leicester City back line.
Individually, Ricardo ranked first in the league for tackles per game, averaging 4.3 (also the highest in Europe). If he hadn’t suffered knee ligament damage with 10 games to play, his numbers would arguably be even more impressive – and The Foxes may well have qualified for the Champions League.
Honourable mentions – Max Aarons (Norwich City) & Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Centre Back – John Egan (Sheffield United)
John Egan’s road to Premier League football has been arduous, but judging by his first playing season in the division, it’s been worth it.
The 27-year-old Irish international joined Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United in 2018 from Brentford, after loan spells in the lower leagues of the English game with the likes of Gillingham Town and Southend United.
The Blades have been a breath of fresh air this season, and Egan has been an integral part of their defence. Primarily operating in the middle of a back three, he managed to help his side obtain 12 clean sheets.
Post lockdown, Egan even added a couple of goals to his impressive maiden top-flight season – including a 93rd minute winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Watching Egan this season, you wonder why he’s not been playing at this level for the entirety of his career. But now that he’s here, he’s here to stay.
Centre Back – James Tarkowski (Burnley)
The second Burnley player to feature in my Alternative Team of the Season pays testament to the organisation of their side.
James Tarkowski has been impressive for a number of seasons now, earning two England caps in 2018, but this year has arguably been his finest in the Premier League.
Tarkowski is an old-fashioned defender, he’s no nonsense and he loves putting his body on the line. He leads the league in stats for headed clearances (111) and finished second for blocks (47) which just goes to show the type of player he is.
Impressive individual stats and performances mean that surely another England call up isn’t too far away for the 27-year-old, if he’s able to replicate this seasons form he may even be an outside bet to go to the European Championships.
Honourable mentions – Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United) & Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City).
Left-Back – Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Enda Stevens is another player who’s rise to the Premier League has been all but straightforward. He started his career playing in his native Ireland, turning out for UCD, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers before moving to Aston Villa in 2012.
However, he only made seven Premier League appearances for Villa and was shipped off on loans to Notts County, Doncaster Rovers (twice) and Northampton Town before joining Portsmouth permanently in 2015. He stayed at Pompey for two years before joining The Blades.
He helped Sheffield United earn promotion to the Premier League and this season the Irish International has looked a completely different player to the one who made a handful of Premier League appearances for Aston Villa.
Operating as a Left Wing-back in Chris Wilder’s system, Stevens has recorded four assists, created nine big chances and scored two goals. He’s also been crucial to helping United keep 12 clean sheets.
Stevens is a perfect example of how hard work can pay off, and he’s likely got at least two more high performing seasons in his locker.
Honourable mentions: Ben Chilwell (Leicester City) & Jonny Otto (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Central Midfield – Joao Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Joao Moutinho is by far the most individually decorated player in this lineup, and I believe it often goes under the radar just how good a signing he was for Wolves back in 2018.
The Portuguese playmaker has been capped 121 times for his national side – winning the 2016 European Championships and the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019. At club level he’s won the Primeira Liga three times, the Europa League and Ligue 1, as well as racking up a host of Champions League appearances.
At 33-years-old, Moutinho has shown this season that his ability shows no signs of waning with age. Operating in a Wolves midfield alongside Ruben Neves (Moutinho’s Portuguese international heir), he’s been a pivotal part of another successful season for the West Midlands side.
His stats for this season are good, but don’t come close to illuminating how Moutinho dictates the tempo of every game he plays. Six assists, nine big chances created and scoring a solitary goal aren’t even bad numbers. But to appreciate his class, you need to watch Moutinho over 90 minutes.
Central Midfield – Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Nigerian midfielder Wilfred Ndidi has been impressive for Leicester City ever since he joined from Belgian side Genk back in 2016. The season just gone has arguably been his finest.
Ndidi is pivotal in allowing the more creative players in Brendan Rogers system to flourish. His role – similar to that of Ngolo Kante when Leicester miraculously won the league in 2015/16 – is to hunt the ball down and win back possession for his side.
He finished second in the league for number of tackles completed (128), proving just how good he is at his task. He even managed to score two and assist one from his defensive role.
When picking a defensive midfielder, there aren’t many better in world football than the 23-year-old.
Central Midfield – Stuart Armstrong (Southampton)
Signed from Celtic by former Southampton boss Mark Hughes, Stuart Armstrong’s Saints career didn’t get off to a spectacular start.
The Scottish international did enjoy a productive spell at The Hoops before making the switch to the South Coast, winning the Scottish Premiership four times in a row.
But this season under new coach Ralph Hassenhuttl, Armstrong has shown he’s more than capable of holding his own at this level.
Southampton’s embarrassing 9-0 loss to Leicester seemed to be a turning point in their season. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and downing tools, the Saints players produce an extraordinary turn around – in no small part due to Armstrong’s dynamic midfield performances.
Scoring five goals and setting up three, Armstrong has stats that compliment his complete performances. A firm believer in implementing Hassenhuttl’s pressing game, Armstrong has a successful tackle percentage of 59% (even better than Ndidi’s!) and has recovered the ball no fewer than 106 times.
I’m tipping Southampton for a successful season next year, breaking into the top half and pushing for the Europa League places and I firmly believe Armstrong’s performances will be integral to their form.
Honourable mentions: John Lundstram (Sheffield United), Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) & Youri Tielemans (Leicester City).
Right Wing – Adama Traore (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
I imagine there isn’t a scarier prospect in football than having Adama Traore running directly at you.
The ex-Barcelona product always showed glimpses of potential. A raw talent accompanied by electrifying pace, question marks were raised at his ability in the final third when he flattered to deceive at both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
However, since the Herculean winger joined Wolves it’s been a different story.
This season the 24-year-old Spaniard has been frighteningly fast, stupidly strong and damn-right delightful to watch. Often surrounded by four or five defenders, seeing Traore triumphantly emerge from the ball among a sea of outmuscled opposition is akin to a scene from a Marvel blockbuster, and a sight I doubt many will tire from seeing.
Adama leads the league for dribbles per game, averaging five – the second highest in Europe to Lionel Messi’s 5.5.
The elusive end product has been added to his game, too. Scoring four goals and assisting nine (seven of which were directly setting up Mexican striker Raul Jimenez – making them the deadliest assist to goalscorer combination in the league).
Adama continues to go from strength to strength (quite literally), and I can see him reaching the very upper echelons of world football.
Honourable mentions: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) & Leandro Trossard (Brighton & Hove Albion).
Left Wing – Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United)
Allan Saint-Maximin arrived at Newcastle United from OGC Nice at the beginning of the season.
The Gucci-headband-wearing winger was known in his native France for his trickery and direct running, and ASM brought that seamlessly to his first season in the Premier League.
It’s hard to watch Saint-Maximin in full-flight without a smile on your face. His numbers for his debut season are impressive, similar to Adama, ASM is second in the Premier League for dribbles per game with 4.7 (making him third in Europe behind Messi and Traore).
He only made 26 appearances, but still scored three goals and assisted four. Arguably in a team with more attacking threat these numbers would be higher – but I expect the Frenchman to improve upon these initial figures year on year.
The Newcastle fans have grown to love ASM this season, and he’s direct attacking style of play is a throwback to the nearly title-winning Kevin Keegan era. Finally the Geordies have a hero again, although he’s got a lot of work to do if he wants to be the most adored Alan/Allan in Newcastle.
Honourable mentions: Emi Buendia (Norwich City) & Richarlison (Everton)
Striker – Danny Ings (Southampton)
There’s no sugar-coating it, Danny Ings has been world class this season.
The Southampton striker has suffered a career unreflective of his undeniable ability. Bagging in goals for fun at Burnley, he earned a dream move to Liverpool. But it ended up a nightmare spell, two long term knee injuries ruined what promised to be some of the most fruitful seasons of his career, and threatened to put an end to his involvement in the game.
But the Englishman has come back swinging, scoring an incredible 22 goals this season, one goal off winning the Golden Boot (23 – Jamie Vardy).
Ings has been an assassin in front of goal, give him a chance and he will score. Hard work and ability epitomise the forwards style of play, bustling defenders and a possessing a predatory instinct that simply cannot be taught.
The frustration for Ings, and England, is that the European Championships were postponed until next summer. It’s unquestionable that Ings would’ve made the squad, but it’s entirely possible he would’ve started – his form was that good.
Now, Ings’ aim is to keep his red hot from going into next season. I don’t doubt that he will, as I’ve previously mentioned Ings’ eye for goal is rare and you either have it or you don’t. The difficulty will be keeping fit, and I hope and pray for his sake he manages it – he deserves it.
Honourable mentions: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) & Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
So, there it is. My Alternative Premier League Team of the Season (picture below). Let me know your thoughts, who did I miss? And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to the Vendetta Sports Media YouTube channel!