Premier League: Team of the Year 2011

by Willie Gannon

Who have been the best players in the English Premier League during 2011?

We all know there have been a number of outstanding individual displays over the past year ranging from Wayne Rooney’s wonderful performance against Manchester City last February to Yakubu’s four goal haul for Blackburn against Swansea in December, to any number of performances by Newcastle’s goalkeeper extraordinaire Tim Krul, who has been outstanding since the beginning of the current season.

However, when all is said and done the cream always rises to the top although picking a Premier League XI is no easy task. There are numerous factors to consider when putting together any list, particularly one as divisive as best team of the year, so in gathering together my XI I have considered consistency, general all around play, whether the player has improved over the last 12 months significantly and last but not least their skill level.

So without further adieu, the Premier League 2011 Team of the Year…

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart (Manchester City)

No other ‘keeper has impressed as much as Manchester City’s net-minder Joe Hart over the past 12 months. Since City made him first choice ahead of Shay Given, a move many pundits questioned the wisdom of, he has grown into being the definitive England No.1 as well as being the most consistently brilliant shot stopper in the Premier League.

Given, no pun intended, the level of maturity in Hart’s performances over the past 12 months it is hard to believe that the youngster is still only 24 and that he yet to hit his peak and that realistically he still has another 10 to 12 years left at the highest level.

It says much that at this very moment he is probably the most under rated player at the Eastlands. Admittedly, he does play behind one of the leagues best defences and is the beneficiary of having the outstanding Vincent Kompany organise his back four but Hart never shirks his duty and has developed into his country’s best ‘keeper since David Seaman

Runner-Up: Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan Athletic)

Right Back: Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)

Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur’s 21-year-old flying fullback, seems to have come from nowhere during the last 12 months. At the moment he is rightly regarded as one of Fabio Capello’s best options for the vacant right full position when England travel to Ukraine for Euro 2012 next June.

The youngster was initially signed for Spurs as part of a double deal for £10 million involving Kyle Naughton in July 2009 but was immediately sent back on loan to Sheffield United in the Championship. The following season he went back to the Championship again but this time it was to promotion chasing QPR where he quickly established himself as one of the best players in England’s second tier.

Such were the phenomenal level of his performances that as soon as the QPR deal ended Aston Villa took him on loan for the rest of last season and it is here that he really began to make people take notice. Walker’s impact at Villa Park was immediate as he offered attacking penetration and defensive positioning to such a high degree that he was called into the England squad in February and March to face Wales and Ghana respectively although he never made it onto the pitch.

This term his form has gone up another notch again and he has been instrumental in helping turn Spurs into outside bet title challengers. Harry Redknapp has brought the best out of Walker and has improved upon his player’s defensive duties to such an extent that Walker has played in England’s last two internationals against Spain and Sweden. Incidentally England won both games 1-0.

Runner-Up: Micah Richards (Manchester City)

Centre Half: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)

If there is any player, other than Wayne Rooney, that is an automatic choice for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford it is his captain Nemanja Vidic.

Vidic signed for United for just £7 million in 2006 and will surely go down as one of Ferguson’s best ever buys when the Scot does eventually retire. The giant Serbian defender has been the defensive rock that has provided all the foundations Manchester United have needed in recent years where they have won the Premier League four times, the FA Cup three times and have appeared in the Champions League final three times taking the trophy with the big ears home in 2008.

To say that Vidic is a great defender is to do the centre half a huge disservice. Since joining United he has featured in the EPL Team of the Season every year and has been named EPL Player of the Season twice.

Like Kompany, Vidic is a superb man marker, is brilliant in the air, reads the game beautifully and is also incredibly strong in the tackle. However, in terms of greatness, Vidic is a notch or two above his Manchester City counterpart when all is said and done.

Tragedy struck in Manchester United’s shock Champions League defeat to Basle in December when Vidic basically ruptured every ligament possible in his knee. He recently underwent an operation to repair the injury but he is expected to be sidelined until the start of next season at the earliest.

His absence in Ferguson’s defence will be a huge factor in where the title goes this season as not only is Vidic an incredible defender he also has an uncanny ability at bringing the very best out of his fellow defenders.

He will be badly missed…

Runner-Up: John Terry (Chelsea)

Centre Half: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

It is no exaggeration to say that Kompany is now probably the best defender plying his trade in the Premier League today.

Initially signed as a central midfielder in 2008 from Hamburg, Kompany has really developed into a top class defender over the last three years.

He is powerfully built, reads the game superbly, is a fantastic man marker and has become the leader that Manchester City needs as they look to become a super power of European football. Last season was without doubt Kompany’s best and him play 50 games in all competitions including 37 appearances in the Premier League and win his first trophy with City as they claimed the FA Cup in May with a 1-0 win over Stoke City.

He was then named in the PFA Team of the Season and was also named Manchester City’s Player of the Season.

This year he has started up where he left off in terms of level of performance with one significant difference. He is now club captain after Roberto Mancini stripped Carlos Tevez of the honour.

The Belgian international has become ultra important to the title chasing Citizens and marshal’s their defence brilliantly and is the true leader in the City team.

Runner-Up: Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Left Back: Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur)

Benoit Assou-Ekotto is without doubt the most interesting professional footballer plying his trade in the Premier League today. The candid left sided defender may not actually be the left sided defender in the EPL today but in terms of consistency and improvement over the last year no one comes near.

When Harry Redknapp took over Spurs in October 2008 the two players in most danger of being shipped out of White Hart Lane were Assou-Ekotto and Gareth Bale. Today, both are automatic choices for ‘Arry and have improved in leaps and bounds almost every single season since 2008.

Defensively, the Cameroonian international still has some way to go if he is to be regarded as one of the best defenders in his position. He is still prone to the odd lapse in concentration but where those lapses used to happen in every single game they now only happen in fits and bursts and he has gone from being regarded as a Premier League level player to a top six player such is his constant improvement.

Going forward, Assou-Ekotto offers an out ball every single time for his defensive colleagues and provides added width and back up that Gareth Bale welcomes every single week. If he can keep growing Spurs will have the two best full backs in the Premier League and in a game where fullbacks are more important than ever this will be of huge advantage to the Lilywhites.

Runner-Up: Jose Enrique (Liverpool)

Centre Midfield: Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur)

To say that Scott Parker has been a revelation for Spurs this season is something of an understatement.

The all-action midfielder is a throwback to the days of old where players in his position were expected to be jacks-of-all-trades and in the last 12 months he has shown an incredible level of performance and maturity that few other players are capable of.

The Football Writers Player of the Year last season was languishing in the Championship with West Ham following their relegation with no apparent suitors interested in obtaining his signature. In came Spurs with a miserly £5 million bid and all of a sudden Harry Redknapp had signed the most influential central midfielder in the country for a song.

This term Parker has been simply incredible but his greatest influence is probably seen off the pitch rather than on it. In every respect Parker is Spurs’ captain. He sets the tone on and off the field of play. He cajoles players in training, demands nothing but the very best in every situation, sets the tone with his high level of training and performances and has helped instil a healthy fear of defeat that has seen Spurs come from nowhere to being title challengers.

Runner-Up: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)

Centre Midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)

The little Spanish maestro is the epicentre of all that is good about Manchester City. He dictates Roberto Mancini’s style of play from defence to attack and shows up in virtually every single sector of the pitch to dictate the ebb and flow of virtually every single game he plays in.

Always a creative player with incredible vision, Silva’s game has gone up a level in the last year and it is no mere coincidence that the rise in his game has seen City go from top four contenders to title chasers in just on season.

Comfortable in virtually any position across midfield Silva has the uncanny ability to bring the very best out of his fellow players but most importantly he is unselfish in that he doesn’t mind them looking better than him.

While Silva may not score too many goals nor claim that many assists, his initial pass is usually the one that either starts off the move or that sets up the assist. He is now incredibly important for Roberto Mancini and it speaks volumes of how his game has improved that a superb player and international of the class of Samir Nasri has been reduced to little more than cover for the Spanish star this term.

Runner-Up: Charlie Adam (Liverpool)

Centre Midfield: Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur)

To put it simply, the little Croatian genius from Zadar is one of the best players in his position in the world today. He would grace any midfield from Barcelona to Real Madrid to Manchester United to Chelsea but for the moment Tottenham Hotspur’s fans are enjoying his every move.

As far as the Premier League is concerned Modric is unparallelled in terms of passing, vision, control and dictating a game. When he releases the ball it is always to a player in space and when he takes the ball in it is always with the confidence of a man who knows exactly where it is going to next. He is never afraid to take on responsibility in tight situations and as a result every single Spurs player knows he has an out-ball to Modric regardless of pressure.

Again, like many of his contemporaries in the final XI, Modric’s game has improved upon yet again. This despite interest, that upset Spurs preparations, from Chelsea at the start of the season. It says much about the man and the player that Modric has helped propel Spurs to such high levels this year.

The problems may come in the Summer though when Modric is expected to leave. With no shortage of suitors Spurs may be in a position to get themselves a trade which could elevate the club even higher.

Runner-Up: Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

Left Midfield: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

The flying Welshman has been one of the Premier Leagues most outstanding players over the past 24 months.

The converted left back has enjoyed being pushed into left midfield and with his incredible athleticism he has gone on to terrorise right backs right across Europe.

Without doubt, Bale is easily the best left sided player in the Premier League today. Physically and athletically he is virtually perfect and playing wise he is improving with every single game. So far this season he has even eclipsed Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of creating chances and with goals starting to come his way Spurs possess the most exciting 22-year-old in the Premier League today.

Runner-Up: Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)

Right Midfield: Luis Nani (Manchester United)

Many expected Luis Nani to fade into the shadows and move on from Old Trafford following Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million transfer to Real Madrid. But if anything, he has gone from strength to strength without his Portuguese compatriot.

Last season was Nani’s best ever in a red shirt. He waded in with nine goals and 18 assists and was many peoples Player of the Year ahead of Scott Parker. He was the one creative spark in a United midfield that has continued to struggle this term and has continued the same high level of performances so far.

He has pace to burn and is comfortable with the ball on either foot and his delivery from wide positions is improving all the time, but he really needs help from a static midfield.

With half the season gone he has scored a healthy six goals and has contributed with eight assists but he will never reach the levels he is capable of unless Sir Alex Ferguson adds a central midfielder of the highest calibre.

Runner-Up: Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur)

Centre Forward: Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)

As far as centre forward is concerned there can be only one and that is none other than Arsenal’s Robin van Persie.

The Arsenal hit-man has been in the form of his life over the past 12 months and has firmly established himself as the best striker in Britain today.

As a player, van Persie is technically superb, deceptively fast, positionally brilliant and has vision that most midfielders would die for. He has single-highhandedly guided Arsenal into the top four last season and into top four contention this season and without him one can only wonder at how far down the Gunners would finish.

Over the last year Robin van Persie has scored 44 goals in 54 matches across all competitions for club and country. With his injury problems of old seemingly behind him his game has shot to another level completely and comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not without merit.

The problem that Arsene Wenger faces with his mesmeric Dutchman is that he is out of contract next summer and has refused to enter negotiations with Arsenal until then…

Runner-Up: Demba Ba (Newcastle United)

21 Responses

  1. Jamie says:

    Alex Song for me. A good stab at an article obviously likely to polarise. Only one in there I’m astonished at their inclusion is Phil Jones as reserve.

    Also Assou-Ekotto has been solid, yes, but Baines has had a terrific year. Cole is still wonderful on his day, but probably wouldn’t make it for me this year either, has made some costly mistakes. The lack of Song is also a minor travesty, but some good competition in there.

    1. I don’t think any of the central midfielders picked had a better year then Song. Parker was lightyears ahead of him. A runner-up maybe, but doesn’t deserve a spot in the team.

      Agree on Baines.

    2. Hi Jamie,

      I never really considered Alex Song to be honest as I don’t consider his year better than any of the six players I named.

      Saying that, up until this season I always said he played within himself so I think it’s good for him and Arsenal that he has started to get involved more going forward. Definitely a good player but he just missed out for me.

      On Assou-Ekotto…I had a choice of Baines, Enrique and the Spurs man to choose from as the beat from the last 12-months.

      Ideally I would have gone for Evra or Cole but they haven’t been great to be honest so it came down to the toss of a coin really. Push comes to shove I’d have no problem with Enrique or Baines over the Spurs man.

  2. Jimmy says:

    Nani…?? not so sure, some good performances but some games where he was anonymous too.
    Joe Hart?? ..Is this a joke? vastly overrated keeper. Despite been protected by a superb defence he has been found out on occasion. He is just primed for a blunder in the England team and then all the English media that are currently hyping him up will slaughter him – wait and see.

    1. Not many had a more consistent year than Hart. And I don’t see how a future blunder in a game out of the Premier League should influence his inclusion.

      1. Jimmy says:

        Disagree on the consistency. I was just musing as to what may happen in the future. It ties into the hype that has him on the pedestal where he now resides.

        1. Hype? he’s been starting in the league for about 3 seasons now. Each as good as his last, and it debut season was phenomenal at Birmingham.

    2. Nani was outstanding last season Jimmy and has been one of United’s only decent players this year.

      As for Hart, he is by far the best ‘keeper in the league and stat wise he has the highest save percentage of the lot. He was easy.

      One thing to note on Hart is that he is unbeaten in 16 games for England since 2008. That’s pretty good in anyones book.

  3. Matt says:

    Charlie Adam ahead of Lucas!?!?

    1. Easily.

      While Lucas may be slightly ahead of Adam this term he was miles behind him last season.

  4. bensign says:

    No alex song n yaya toure is a runner up,u peeps most be a damn joke

    1. Parker was the Football Writers Player of the Year last season when he waged a one man war against relegation with West Ham and has outshone Toure so far this year for Spurs, in my book that puts him ahead at the moment.

      And Toure is well ahead of Song.

      1. Zara says:

        If you’re so concerned with awards why isn’t Jack Wilshere on this list? PFA Young Player of the Year surely deserves a mention over Etherington.

        1. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

          Putting a central midfielder in instead of a winger?

          Square peg, round hole.

  5. Sir Noze says:

    Bale “physically and athletically virtually perfect”? I guess you’ve never heard about his back and thigh problems, then.

    And that’s from a Spurs fan.

    Love Benny, though, best football player in the universe by eighteen billion miles which, incidentally, is the distance to the planet where he is from

    1. Ah he’s done pretty well so far, I’d put those down to growing pains more than anything. Bit like Steven Gerrard used to have.

      I like that planet.

  6. Zara says:

    I’m sorry is this the Spurs Team of the Year for 2011?

    1. Not quite, but you can’t deny that they haven’t been excellent.

  7. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

    Poor Willie and his ‘Spurs bias’ are getting a bigger roasting than two birds at a Premier League Christmas party.

  8. I do not think any of the center midfielders chosen had a better period then Track. Parker was light years before him. A runner-up maybe, but does not are eligible to a location in the team.

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