With the PFA Player of the Year nominees announced and the finishing line of the 2014-15 Premier League in sight, it seems like a good time to put my neck on the block and concoct a team of the season. I’ve gone with a 3-4-3 formation, partly due to a prevalence of wonderful attacking players and the lack of truly outstanding defenders.
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
A nice, straightforward choice to begin with. The Spaniard was dismissed as too lightweight and flimsy in his debut season at Old Trafford three years ago but he has grown immeasurably into the role since then. Man United’s defence hasn’t been the sturdiest this term, albeit a defence that has been changed very frequently due to a spate of injuries, and de Gea has donned the Superman cape on many occasions. In fact, there was a case to be made for him being the world’s most in-form goalkeeper in 2014-15 and it’s very hard to imagine Louis van Gaal’s team sitting in the top three were it not for the heroics of the 24-year-old in goal.
Defence: Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Laurent Koscielny
No real surprise to see two Chelsea players making the cut for the back line. Ivanovic is not only a strong, versatile presence for Jose Mourinho’s champions-elect; he also has a startlingly good scoring ratio for a man in his position. Nor is he merely a headed goals specialist; he has finished to the net adeptly with his feet and is possibly more composed on the ball than any defender in the league.
His team-mate Terry has again been the epitome of leadership at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. In an era where top-class centre-backs are in frighteningly short supply, the veteran is an excellent blueprint for all practicers of the position, young and old, to follow. While he may not be universally popular, even his more ardent detractors would be hard pressed to pick holes in his defensive duties.
Arsenal and good defending have not been synonymous in the last few years, but at last they have a man at the back who offers security and peace of mind in an area where they have so often struggled. In his fifth season in north London, Koscielny has brought some much-needed consistency and confidence to the Gunners’ rearguard and his part in the team’s spring revival cannot be understated.
Midfield: Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, Philippe Coutinho, Alexis Sanchez
Anchoring the midfield is Matic, whose physicality in the engine room has been every bit as important to Chelsea as the goals of Diego Costa. Since rejoining the Blues, the Serbian has hardly set a foot wrong and his influence on the side has evolved massively.
While Matic does the dirty work, team-mate Hazard is the box of tricks who has simply been sensational this season. We all knew the Belgian had something about him when he came to the Premier League three years ago and he can now rightfully be considered among the world’s finest. Extremely skilful and with a very satisfactory goal tally, he is my Player of the Year for 2014/15.
Brendan Rodgers’ transfer record at Liverpool leaves a lot to be desired but he got it absolutely right when luring Coutinho to Anfield in 2013. The Brazilian isn’t always at the forefront of things, but he has been his club’s best player in a hugely disappointing season for the Reds and the goals he produced against Southampton and Man City a few weeks ago were just sublime. Never mind Raheem Sterling; this boy is the one Liverpool ought to treasure over any other.
The Merseysiders’ fortunes would surely have been better if they had managed to win the race to sign Sanchez last summer, but instead the Chilean maestro went to Arsenal and needed no time to bed into life in north London. A lethal finisher and an outstanding footballer, he is perhaps the chief reason for what looks set to be the Gunners’ best league finish since 2005.
Attack: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Harry Kane
For a player who has missed a sizeable amount of the season through injury, Aguero’s goal tally has been excellent and it highlights just how central he is to the Manchester City cause. No other player at the club even comes close to the finishing prowess that the Argentine has to offer and, had he been fully fit throughout the season, the champions would almost certainly have been at least battling to the finish for a second consecutive title.
Costa arrived at Chelsea on the back of a disappointing showing for Spain at the World Cup, but he wasn’t long dispelling the memories of that tough time in Brazil once he pitched his tent in west London. Right from the word go, he was banging them in and, combined with his spiky nature, he is a nightmare of an opponent for other teams. The Blues sorely missed a regular goalscorer last season; they have more than remedied the problem since then.
When Mauricio Pochettino took the Tottenham job last year, he was most likely counting on strikers Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor to come good. Although both of those have been anonymous this season, goalscoring hasn’t been a problem for Spurs, mainly thanks to the wonderful form of Kane, a sure-fire contender for the best English performer in the Premier League in 2014-15. If he can build on this debut season and not get overwhelmed by the hysteria surrounding him, he will go on to be a top-class striker for years.
In his first season as a Chelsea regular, Thibaut Courtois has been a commanding, error-free number one, picking up where he left off from his superb form with Atletico Madrid last year. An honourable mention, too, for Simon Mignolet, whose Liverpool career looked ominous in December but since a brief spell on the bench he has consistently worked wonders for the Reds.
As the team with the fewest goals conceded in the league, I really should at least give a hat tip to some Southampton defenders. Nathaniel Clyne has been magnificent at right-back, with Jose Fonte thriving at the heart of the Saints’ defence. Hector Bellerin has shown plenty of promise for Arsenal, while Cesar Azpilicueta can also look back on his year with satisfaction.
In terms of defensive-minded midfield protectors, Morgan Schneiderlin has again been on song for Southampton, who will do very well to hold on to him for another season. He has been linked with a switch to Arsenal, for whom Francis Coquelin has suddenly become an instrumental figure. At the outset of the campaign, not too many would have expected the young Frenchman to become so indispensable to the Gunners’ cause.
Further up the midfield area, David Silva and Christian Eriksen have been rare chinks of shining light in gloomy seasons for their respective clubs. Juan Mata hasn’t had the most straightforward of times at Man Utd, but when given a chance he has almost always been effective, as Liverpool will certainly testify. Cesc Fabregas‘ form has tailed in recent weeks, although he had been flying earlier in the campaign, while the vast 2015 improvement of Crystal Palace is in no small thanks to the all-action displays of Yannick Bolasie.
In attack, Olivier Giroud has developed into a hugely reliably goal-grabber for Arsenal, while even if QPR and Burnley don’t manage to beat the drop, they still have every chance of doing so because of the potency of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings. After both players performed so impressively in the Championship last season, they have taken to the demands of the top flight like ducks to water.