Who Should Have Been In The Premiership Team Of The Season?

Daniel picks the best of the rest from 2006/07, and tries to avoid Gary Neville.

Yes, the best teams are more likely to be represented in a ‘Team of the Season’ and Manchester United have played some great stuff in 2006-2007, but eight players in the PFA side, including the whole defence?

Come on! Was Manchester United and England PFA rep, Gary Neville, put in charge of counting the votes? The selection for the team below casts the net a little wider and seeks to include some players who have managed to shine in teams that don’t have pots of money and a squad of stars.

The two players who have gained the most plaudits last season were of course Ronaldo and Drogba and they gained those plaudits because they played at a level far above expectations. Last summer Ronaldo was the most hated man in England and was expected to flee to La Liga in terror, but just like David Beckham before him decided to stick it out and transformed his talent into end-product to such an extent that many people have talked about him being the best player in the world.

Prior to last season Drogba dived, whined, received treatment at least three times per match for imaginary injuries, kept fiddling with his hairband when he should have been playing football, and couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. This season Drogba has dived, whined, received treatment at least three times per match for imaginary injuries, kept fiddling with his hairband when he should have been playing football, but scored a shed-load of goals, helping Chelsea keep winning games even when they have been playing well below their best.

In the interests of casting the selection net a little wider and making the team a little less predictable, I haven’t chosen Ronaldo or Drogba in the team, but in honour of their achievements, my choices have followed a loose theme of players whose performances have in some way been above people’s expectations. So here is the Defies Expectations XI, and if you have your own nominations just pop them in the comments.

(first one to make the comment, “The only thing that defies expectations is how sh*t your team is” is a Bramble).

Goalkeeper – Brad Friedel (Honourable mentions: David James, Scott Carson)

You can keep Ronaldo, no player has provided more potential match-winning moments this season than Brad Friedel. It defies expectations how he can keep getting better each season and how he has been overlooked for awards again. PFA team goalkeeper Van der Saar is solid; Friedl is spectacular. To earn an eight out of ten performance rating represents just an average day at work for a keeper who pulls off a series of out-of-the-seat saves every time I see him. Even better, he looks like my local butcher. There is no creosote tan or earring on Brad (if there was, he’d look more like Pat Butcher), just the look of a man who has played his nuts off for his team again.

Right back – Steve Finnan (Honourable mention: Liam Rosenior)

The case of the full back not rated by his manager part 1: At the start and mid-point of the season, speculation was high that Benitez was about to buy a right back and Steve Finnan was on his way out of Liverpool. Benitez clearly wants to replace Finnan, but each time he tries the little fella knuckles down, doesn’t complain and outperforms his rival. Rafa had bought Josemi in his first season and Kromkamp in his second, but both had failed to oust Finnan. Frustrated at not being able to lure Alves in the summer of 2006, Benitez’s long-running problems in buying a right back then worsened in the January transfer window when Lucas Bloody Neill was turning Liverpool down for West Ham (he backed Arsenal for the treble too apparently). So Benitez turned to his tried and tested policy of spending about ₤2.5m on someone from the Spanish league that nobody had heard of. Only this time it seemed to have worked. Alvaro Arbeloa was initially surprisingly good for Liverpool in both full back positions, shackling Lionel Messi and scoring and creating goals. Then he began to look more like the dodgy import we expected him to be, Finnan recovered from injury, returned to the team and played his best football of the season. In a poor season for right backs, Finnan’s dependable performances in the face of competition and an unimpressed boss, win him the vote.

Left Back – Wayne Bridge (Honourable mentions: Patrice Evra, Stephen Warnock, Nicky Shorey)

The case of the full back not rated by his manager part 2: Move! Go to another club where you will be picked for the first team. Mourinho clearly doesn’t rate you. Which is a mystery, as every time I saw Bridge for Chelsea last season – i.e. when Ashley Cole was injured/suspended/rested – he has played well: solid defending, endless supporting runs and good crosses. And you can’t imagine Bridge ever coming up with the line, “₤55,000, I nearly swerved off the road.”

Centre Back (Right) – Jonathan Woodgate (Honourable mentions: Michael Dawson, Ricardo Carvalho, Kolo Toure, Jamie Carragher)

It’s not that I expected Woodgate to play badly last season; I just didn’t expect him to play. But surprisingly he has not broken down with injury and consequently has consistently shown that he is a quality defender, particularly in terms of his positioning and anticipation. Which is just as well for Middlesborough, as a lot of his team-mates often look like they can’t be arsed.

Centre Back (left) – Nemanja Vidic (Honourable mention: Daniel Agger)

Now that he has settled into English football, Vidic is the no-nonsense centre back Man U have needed for years, and they missed him more than any of their other injured players late in the season. What I like most about him though is not that he wins everything in the air, is strong in the tackle, or that he never seems to have a bad game. No, what I really appreciate about him is that he plays at centre back for Man U and yet at no point last season did he manage to (1) throw a tantrum about an innocuous decision going against his team and protested by booting the ball into the face of one of his own fans, (2) call referees “ignorant” for not conversing enough with players to explain their decisions (and let’s face it football fans, the reason we watch football is to see refs have a good old chinwag with the players) and (3) score an hilarious own goal, all in the space of one week. He doesn’t have a face like a duck either.

Right Midfield –Michael Essien (Honourable mentions: David Bentley, Aaron Lennon)

Whereas Ronaldo has gained a lot of praise for his eye-catching performances on the right wing last season, I am going to give this place in the team to a man who has been head and shoulders above his peers in doing the ugly stuff. I have picked Essien on the right of midfield, but he also played in centre midfield, holding midfield, right back and centre back last season – and that was just in the second half of the first FA Cup game against Spurs. In his first season at the Blues Essien didn’t look worth half of the big fee Chelsea paid for him, but now his ball-winning efforts around Lampard and Ballack’s regular weekend strolls are vital to the team. His attacking play has proved important too: he led the team in their comeback against Man U at Old Trafford, scored a belter of an equalizer against Arsenal, and netted the winner against Valencia. Whether you like to call him ‘The Train’ or ‘The Bison’ or another moniker for a large, unstoppable force (‘The Lampard in the lunch queue’), there can be no denying he has been immense this season.

Left Midfield – Stephen Hunt (Honourable mention: Matt Taylor)

Woooooaah there, Chelsea fans, this is not a sick anti-Chelsea selection. I wanted to include a previously unknown player who had been a big contributor to his team against the odds. Hunt came to Reading by way of a free transfer from Brentford. Last season, when Reading were playing in the Championship, Hunt was understudy to Bobby Convey and not rated by the Reading fans. But Convey’s injury this season has given Hunt his chance. Facing death threats after the Cech incident, Hunt’s form could easily have plummeted but instead he has played like a man inspired. He has scored and created goals and his work-rate and enthusiasm typifies Reading this season. There are far more talented players than Hunt in the Premiership, but he has overshadowed many of them through sheer force of will.

Centre Midfield – Mikel Arteta (Honourable mention: Gilberto)

Everton are strong defensively, work hard and play as a team. In terms of creativity though, they rely a lot on Arteta. His composure and passing are vital to Everton (and his nine goals have been handy too). Were he playing for a club that received more media attention he would be a regular in the Spain squad. As it is, he keeps doing the business quietly and effectively in a less fashionable team.

Centre Midfield – Cesc Fabregas (Honourable mentions: Paul Scholes)

Thierry Henry is no longer Arsenal’s most important player; Fabregas is. No other team is so dependent on one player to conduct the play for them. Almost all of Arsenal’s possession is channeled through him because he constantly makes himself available and chooses the right pass. In a very fast tempo game against Man U at Highbury, he never seemed rushed and was the best player on the pitch. If he was at Barcelona he would be rated among the top few players in the world, but Arsenal need to do whatever it takes to ensure he doesn’t go to the Nou Camp any time soon.

Striker – Carlos Tevez (Honourable mention: Dimitar Berbatov)

When a team looks doomed to relegation, the one thing that can save them is for a striker to get on a roll and inspire them out of the reaches Gabriel Clarke and some late, late night ITV Championship highlights. Throughout the season, Tevez looked like the only man capable of rescuing West Ham. This despite moving to a new country, playing in a new league, his buddy, Maschrano, leaving, his new manager dropping him, his team being slated by the media its own fans, and being at the centre of a controversial transfer enquiry. At the end of the season, Tevez scored the crucial goals that kept West Ham up, but it says a lot about his character that he was still there at the end of the season, giving his all for the team despite everything that was going on around him.

Striker – Robin van Persie (Honourable mentions: Kevin Doyle, Benni McCarthy)

You would have got long odds on van Persie being Arsenal’s top scorer last season, but when Thierry Henry was injured/rested/sulking, the Dutchman finally came into his own. He beat opponents regularly and scored some great goals in a tally of 13 goals from 25 starts. It is no coincidence that Arsenal’s form slumped since he picked up an injury when scoring against Man U. Maybe Arsenal should have accepted ₤50m for Henry last summer after all.