Eden Hazard, Christian Eriksen and others in our Alternative PFA Team of the Year

Matt Jones - Editor 23:15 26/04/2019
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Manchester City and Liverpool dominate the 2018/19 PFA Team of the Year, but only three teams are represented – and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba is a bold addition that divides opinion.

Ederson, Aymeric Laporte, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero make up the six-strong City contingent, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane are the four Liverpool players to make the list.

It is the fewest number of teams to be represented in the end of season best XI in the Premier League era – in fact it is the only time since the Team of the Year was first introduced in 1973/74 that players from just three teams feature.

As good as the top two are and have been, this seems a pretty big oversight, considering promoted Wolves are seventh and Tottenham – who haven’t invested in their squad for the last two summers – are leading the chasing pack.

Not to mention Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang jointly leads the Premier League goalscoring charts with Aguero and Mohamed Salah (19), while Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (13) has the most assists, with Spurs schemer Christian Eriksen and blossoming Bournemouth midfielder Ryan Fraser just behind on 12.

So, with that in mind, how might the team of the year look if made up of players unlucky to miss out?

Here is our Alternative Team of the Year (formation: 4-3-3).

GOALKEEPER

Alisson. Age: 26

Liverpool

1221 Alisson

As good as Liverpool’s football was to watch last season, and as devastating and record-breaking as Salah was, Liverpool finished a mammoth 25 points off champions City.

Teams are rarely successful if the focus is all on one individual and Jurgen Klopp – who for all the attractive football his side are playing, is without a trophy in three-and-a-half seasons at Anfield – was acutely aware of that.

Van Dijk arrived last January and has been a colossus this term, while their added solidity at the back has also been delivered by a safe pair of hands between the posts – finally.

The Brazilian has two more clean sheets (18) than the man who beat him to the PFA No1 spot.

DEFENCE

Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Age: 21

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League

Not only has the Crystal Palace academy graduate inexplicably been left off the PFA Young Player of the Year list, but now out of the team of the year too – despite enjoying a breakout season.

The 21-year-old Croydon-born right-back has played 36 games for the Eagles and has somehow flown under the radar of his fellow players, who vote for the XI – despite the fact he’s provided a nightmare match-up for most of them.

Wilfried Zaha receives a lot of the plaudits at Palace but Wan-Bissaka has shone during a campaign in which he has made his England U-21 debut.

He features heavily among statistics leaders in the Premier League; he is second only to Everton’s Idrissa Gueye in tackles per game (3.8) and only Gueye and Wilfred Ndidi have made more tackles in total than his 123, and he’s only missed nine. He is seventh in interceptions per game (2.4) and has registered two assists.

Conor Coady. Age: 26

Wolves

Conor Coady

No-one has played more minutes at Molineux this season than the former Liverpool youth prospect Coady, whose 2,970 are bettered by only 11 players overall in the league – and six of them are goalkeepers.

There are stars aplenty in the Wolves’ pack this season as boss Nuno Espirito Santo has led his side to the cusp of the Europa League.

Wolves are seventh and a win over Watford this weekend – in a rematch of their thrilling FA Cup semi-final – coupled with a win for City in the final would guarantee the Midlands side European competition next season. Some feat for the promoted side.

Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez will get most of the plaudits but it is their ex-Liverpool centre-midfielder turned centre-back who is the heart and soul of their success.

Fellow back four stalwarts Willy Boly, Matt Doherty and Jonny may be the stats leaders, but Coady’s confidence and composed style of play, honed by being “twisted inside out” by Luis Suarez during his Reds’ days, have really stood out.

“I’ve had a lot of years between then and now to improve as a footballer,” Coady said earlier this season. That’s an understatement.

Jan Vertonghen. Age: 32

Tottenham

Vertonghen

Earned a second team of the year nomination last year and could quite easily have made it a hat-trick appearance this season. The 32-year-old has been a rock for Tottenham, during a season that was predicted to be troubled, but has instead been terrific.

Mr Versatile has once again excelled, whether it be as part of a back three, or featuring alongside a resurgent Toby Alderweireld in a back four – his fellow Belgian could claim to have legitimate cause to be in the XI too, after a summer full of questions and speculation.

Vertonghen, who possesses footballing skills that often make him look more like a midfielder, has also been used at left-back in Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-4-2 at times and was excellent as Borussia Dortmund were bundled out of the Champions League last 16 – the technically-gifted veteran was instrumental in the 3-0 first leg thrashing, side-footing in stylishly to make it 2-0.

Lucas Digne. Age: 25

Everton

digne

Andrew Robertson’s inclusion in the team of the year is perhaps one of the harder to disagree with, but there is perhaps no player more hard done by than Everton left-back Digne, who has been excellent.

A relentless willingness to run forward and track back has caught the eye, with Digne’s crossing a joy to watch and his 56 interceptions and 64 tackles placing him among the statistical leaders.

In a vastly inconsistent Toffees side that has endured several sticky patches, the contribution from the former Barcelona man cannot be overshadowed.

Two seasons in Catalonia yielded two goals in 46 appearances. The Frenchman left the comfort of the Camp Nou bench last summer for £18million and has registered four Premier League assists and four goals – the most eye-catching one his mesmerising volley in the recent 4-0 humiliation of Manchester United.

MIDFIELD

Eden Hazard. Age: 28

Chelsea

Eden-Hazard-Chelsea

A player who too often drifts in and out of form and seasons – yet there is much head-scratching from Blues fans and many outside Stamford Bridge for that matter over his omission from the team of the season.

And it’s easy to see why. For starters the brilliant Belgian is enjoying his best season to date for Chelsea with 16 goals and 13 assists – his best ever combination for the Blues; a shining light in an otherwise uninspiring campaign for Maurizio Sarri.

His 29 goals/assists puts him two ahead of Aguero and Raheem Sterling (27) and he needs one more to record his best league and overall goals tally for a campaign.

He also now has 85 goals in 240 Premier League games – surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo and drawing level with Fernando Torres.

Likely headed to Real Madrid this summer, we’ll miss his impact in England when he’s gone. Even when he’s not at his best he’s still better than most.

Christian Eriksen. Age: 27

Tottenham

Eriksen (1)

Like team-mate Son Heung-min, has served as another vital cog in the Tottenham machine that seem certain to secure third place in the Premier League.

At first glance it may seem the Great Dane is not enjoying as productive a season as previous years, yet seven league goals is still a pretty solid number for a midfielder, even if he’s on course for his worst league and overall tally since 2015/16.

But in terms of creating goals he’s still shining. His tally of 12 assists is only one fewer than Hazard and he already has two more than a year ago – as it stands his third best league tally in six seasons, which could yet be surpassed with four more.

His 2.2 average key passes per game places him joint fifth among his peers and the fact he remains coveted by Real Madrid tells you he remains one of the best passing carousel’s in the world.

Ryan Fraser. Age: 25

Bournemouth

Ryan Fraser

Narrowly edges out team-mate David Brooks for our vote, who is on the shortlist for PFA Young Player of the Year. Whether he goes under the radar because of his slight stature or the fact he plays for one of the league’s minnows, you really can’t ignore either the 5ft 4in ball of energy that Fraser is, or the stats.

He’s got the same amount of assists as Eriksen this season – only one fewer than Hazard. Considering he’s playing in an aesthetically pleasing attacking yet horribly erratic team that has netted 10 and 16 fewer goals than Chelsea and Spurs respectively, the diminutive Scot’s impact has been gargantuan.

Not only is his supply deadly, so too is his finishing. Seven goals this season in all competitions and six in the league are season bests for the 25-year-old Aberdeen-born attacker.

He’s lightning quick and his 2.2 passes per game is on par with Eriksen in joint fifth. The Cherries are certainly enjoying the fruits of his labour.

FORWARDS

Son Heung-Min. Age: 26

Tottenham

Son Heung-min

That Spurs haven’t significantly invested in their squad for two full summers, and yet are in the driving seat to finish third, is remarkable.

That’s without taking into account star striker Harry Kane missed a large portion of the 2018/19 season earlier in the year. Even when he has been fit, he hasn’t been anywhere near as ruthless as in recent seasons – 24 goals will be his poorest return in his five seasons as a regular.

His absence and patchy form have hardly been significant thanks to the performances of the club’s other favourite Son, Korean star Heung-min.

The forward has been phenomenal – delivering 12 league goals and six assists during a campaign in which he has also been missing. He has been sublime in the absence of Kane and was almost unplayable in Spurs’ historic march into a maiden Champions League final – scoring three goals over two legs against City in the last eight, not to mention scoring the first goal at the club’s new stadium.

What’s truly remarkable is, like Kane, he has also been absent. Not through injury admittedly, but he must be the most travelled footballer in the league, having helped his nation win the Asian Games in Indonesia in September – thereby earning military service exemption – while also featuring for the Taegeuk Warriors at the Asian Cup in the UAE in January.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Age: 29

Arsenal

Aubameyang

In a seismic season for Arsenal following the departure of legendary manager Arsene Wenger, it’s gone largely un-noticed how stellar the form of the Gabon striker has been.

The Gunners were firing under new coach Unai Emery after a sticky start in which they suffered back-to-back defeats to champions City and FA Cup winners Chelsea, although their old nemesis – inconsistency – has returned to haunt them in the second half of the campaign.

But as they chase a return to the Champions League, Aubameyang’s goals have been critical; 24 in 45 games in all competitions so far. The 29-year-old has carried on from where he left off following his January 2018 move from Borussia Dortmund, when he bagged 10 in 14.

Nineteen goals ties him with Aguero and Salah – which is no mean feat in a less talented team – while he’s also chipped in with five assists.

Mohamed Salah. Age: 26

Liverpool

Mohamed Salah

Yes, okay, he’s not having as good a season as last year. But that seems to totally deflect attention for most from the fact that the Egyptian is still enjoying a pretty breathtaking campaign.

Nineteen league goals puts him joint first with Aguero and Aubameyang – he notched a stunning 32 of course a year ago in 36 games to break the record for most in a 38-game league season.

His seven assists is just three shy of last term’s tally but it is Klopp’s moulding of him as a far more well-rounded player – which has seen the collective become the focus for the Reds and other players sharing the goalscoring burden – that has seen Salah improve overall.

He is far more of a team player for example, as his work-rate and defensive tracking have improved, while he has barely dipped in terms of attacking output.

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