The Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) have once again sparked debate amongst supporters by announcing their team of the year. As usual, some players have been unfortunate to miss out, and fans from most clubs argue a point that their teams’ prized assets should have definitely been included.
In the majority of those circumstances, it is a case of sour grapes, fans taking it to heart that their rivals have been more heavily represented, and that their own side can’t make up the entire XI. Of course, there is also a huge amount of bias, which is probably why the team is voted for by the professionals themselves, to avoid a situation where the teams with the most vote-hungry supporters inevitably come out on top.
Players voting for their counterparts only increases the prestige of the yearly awards. This version of ‘Team of the Year’ is generally regarded as the most important, as the opinions of those playing alongside or up against the league’s best players on a weekly basis carry more weight than that of fans or even respected journalists.
Despite this, complaints always arise, and, due to the nature of the award, some of them should certainly be looked at. Here are two of the stand-out ‘issues’ with this years’ team.
No Tottenham centre-backs
Tottenham Hotspur have a joint high (with Chelsea) four players in the PFA team of the year, yet their fans and those of other clubs have been stunned by the inclusion of both Gary Cahill and David Luiz at the expense of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
Spurs’ may have filled both full-back positions with Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, who have proven fundamental to the success of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, but have not received recognition for a centre-back pairing that has helped Tottenham have the tightest defence in England’s top-flight.
Admittedly, due to Pochettino’s tactical decisions, the duo have sometimes been part of a back-three, and both have missed games with injuries. However, Alderweireld’s exclusion, in particular, came as a surprise. The 28-year-old has been frequently touted as the best defender in the league, but when comparing his stats directly with Cahill’s, the Englishman holds his own.
Cahill has made eight more appearances and amassed over 800 minutes more game-time than Alderweireld this season, but has won more than double the number of aerial duels (with a higher percentage of success) and has over two and a half the number of interceptions to his name (49 to 17). The Englishman makes fewer tackles and blocks per game and has made two errors leading to goals compared to the Belgian’s one.
Luiz’s inclusion is the greater surprise, despite the centre-back showing greater defensive resolve than in his first spell at the club. He has made more interceptions and fewer errors than the other three, but it remains difficult to argue a case for his place in the side over either of the Spurs duo, with Vertonghen proving vastly superior than the others in the air.
No Arsenal or Manchester City Players
Another damning indictment of Arsenal’s performance this season is the complete absence of their players in the team of the year. This is the first time since the 13/14 season that the Gunners have been unrepresented in the side, although they have provided only a single player to the previous two selections.
Manchester Cty, meanwhile, have been overlooked for the third successive year, with their players having failed to impress enough since Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure made the XI in 2014.
Arsenal’s best chance of being represented was undoubtedly Alexis Sanchez, who, despite the ongoing contract mess, has been the side’s top performer this year. The Chilean has scored 19 times this campaign, whilst chipping in with nine assists so far. Whilst competition in the attacking positions is particularly tough, Eden Hazard, for example, was bound to be included, it is difficult to see what more the 28-year-old could have done to earn a place.
Chosen ahead of him was Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, who, despite being impressive and crucial to his own side, comes second to Sanchez in most key stats. He has scored 13 and assisted five, less than the Chilean on both counts. The Senegalese winger has also attempted fewer take-ons, with a lower success rate.
Manchester City, despite performing better than Arsenal in the league, have lacked stand-out performers, partly due to Pep Guardiola’s tinkering, whether for tactical reasons or due to injuries. It is no surprise their defence and goalkeeper options have received few plaudits, but Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have both has solid seasons once again. That said, does a solid season warrant a place in the league’s best XI? The Argentine forward is arguably the best of example that it is not, having failed to make the team six years in a row, despite scoring 119 goals in that period.
The PFA team of the year is by no means the most important award of the year, and fans who feel hard done by now will soon forget regardless of their team’s success at the end of the season, but it is always interesting to see how the Premier League’s stars rate one another. Chelsea and Tottenham’s dominance this time round highlights the gulf in quality between them and the rest of the league, who have all struggled in periods this campaign.
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