As you may very well, or not, have noticed, the key words here are ‘top six’. Yes, that means Arsenal and Tottenham are fair game for this best XI. But no, good lord no, don’t expect them to be flooding the teamsheet.
If it were the ‘Big Six’, then we’d be seeing a Leicester-heavy lineup, so in order to branch it out and make it more interesting, this seems like the best route to take.
While it appears we’re edging ever closer to the 2019/20 Premier League season resuming in supporter-less fashion, we’ve still been starved of English football for more than two months now and had plenty of time to reflect.
But just because there has been time to look back doesn’t mean you’ll agree. I’m sure there’ll be some clamour for Bukayo Saka to get a nod along with a few other outside hopefuls, but this is the way it goes, I’m afraid.
Anyway, let’s give this a bash.
GK – Nick Pope (Burnley)
‘WHERE IS DEAN HENDERSON???’
Those cries can be heard from across the north. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy choice, but Pope has made 19 more saves than his English compatriot and recorded (one) more clean sheets.
Both have made mistakes this season, Henderson against Liverpool and Pope against Chelsea, among others, but with both boasting great ability and both with minor flaws in their game, it probably has to come down to those dreaded stats.
It’s essentially a toss of a coin, this one.
RB – George Baldock (Sheffield United)
There are some issues with this inclusion as, no matter how bloody excellent Baldock has been this season, it’s been in a wing-back slot.
The defensive stability offered by the three central (sort of central, anyway) defenders at Sheffield United provides him with the freedom to bomb forward, either in an under-lapping or overlapping role. Something he’s done effortlessly all season.
But considering how superb his form has been, you’d like to think moving into a flat back four shouldn’t be too troublesome.
CB – Gary Cahill (Crystal Palace)
The ‘totally past it’, ‘nobody wants him’, ‘should retire’, ‘not even worth a free transfer’ central defender has taught all his doubters a rather valuable lesson upon being released by Chelsea: never underestimate 34-year-old centre-backs.
Boasting the second-best defensive record in the league outside the current top six, you’ve got to tilt your hat Cahill’s way for a fine individual campaign. His presence in that backline has been crucial to Palace’s season, who could very well have been out for the count by this point since they’re so bad at scoring goals.
CB – Chris Basham (Sheffield United)
Sheffield United have conceded the second fewest goals in the entire league this season. They probably deserve a few players in this lineup, don’t they?
You’re darn right they do, and while it’s tough to pick between any of the United back three, Basham gets the nod in what is his finest individual campaign to date. He loves a good overlap, as we’re well aware, is a beast in the air and positionally sound, but when forced into a low block (or when doing so willingly) he’s been an immovable object.
In the figurative sense, that is, since in literal terms that would make him a pretty crap defender.
LB – Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Yes, I know I touched on the whole ‘played as a wing-back’ thing already, but I’m bored of that and it’s just better to put someone in the team who is deserving of it. Furthermore, there aren’t many other candidates actually worthy.
Ryan Bertrand has been OK, but Southampton haven’t, meanwhile Charlie Taylor has enjoyed a decent season and Jetro Willems would have been in with a shout had it not been for his season-ending injury.
Stevens, on the other hand, has been ruddy brilliant throughout, netting twice like Baldock has done and also chipping in with a couple of assists.
RW – Heung-min Son
He’s managed to get himself sent off twice in the league already, which even by Richard Dunne standards isn’t great, so it’s fortunate, then, that his goal contributions have stacked up nicely.
It’ll have to be a positional change for Son out on the right, but with precious few options across the league – outside of the top six – to choose from, even fresh-off-of-four-weeks’-military-service Son gets in ahead of others.
Because, truth be told, without him this term in Harry Kane’s absence, you fear for where Spurs would be. The South Korean has once again been in superb form.
CM – John Fleck (Sheffield United)
Another one? A player who has flown under the Premier League radar this season (not at United, obviously) is Scotsman Fleck, who it’s genuinely tough to see any flaws with.
Granted, nobody is perfect, but Fleck has demonstrated he’s equally adept at the offensive and defensive sides of the game; not just this season, but throughout his Blades career.
Boundless energy and inspired tactical know-how, his five goals and two assists have at least earned him some of the credit he plainly deserves.
CM – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton)
Someone who looks set to leave club in the summer, the fact Spurs have been linked with the Dane suggests he’s not been all that bad this season.
A leader on the pitch who loves to get stuck in, his 66 tackles in 28 games and 41 interceptions paint an adequate picture of his qualities in the centre of the park.
He ain’t world class by any stretch of the imagination, but in the category of ‘players who give their sodding all’, Hojbjerg will always feature.
AM – Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
As many people have been doing, let’s forget about the off-field stuff for a moment and instead focus on just how brilliant Grealish as been this term. I’d love to say Aston Villa would be in a relegation dogfight if it weren’t for him, but sadly, they are.
So, instead, let’s say that Villa would be in 2007/08 Derby County levels of cack if it weren’t for him. Because, let’s be honest, he’s carried them a lot.
Seven goals and six assists in the league, oftentimes coming in an unfavoured left-wing role, tell you just how important he’s been this season. His shoulders must be killing him by now.
LW – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Is left-wing Aubameyang’s best position? No.
Has he been Arsenal’s best player this season? Yes, no Bernd Leno-shaped competition.
Despite being out of position and playing in a poor team, has he still managed to score regularly? Big time.
Would he walk straight into an ‘outside the top six Premier League XI’? You betcha.
Imagine Grealish setting up Aubameyang; that’d be a dreamy combination.
ST – Danny Ings (Southampton)
How cruel it was on Danny Ings for the Euros to be cancelled this year. Whether he’d have made the squad or not, the fact that there was such clamour from across the country to give him fair crack of the whip meant he was at least in with a shout.
Scoring more than 42% of the Saints’ goals this season, he’s helped keep them afloat as long as they have. Under the guidance of Ralph Hasenhuttl, who is starting to show his managerial acumen, he’s flourished on the south coast.
Keep it up, Danny.
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