The second half of the Premier League is now underway. There have been some standout performances via the primary 19 video games, from Erling Haaland’s much-heralded goal-scoring feats to the resurgence of Marcus Rashford and a Newcastle defence that has laid the foundations of their Champions League cost.
A few of The Athletic’s Premier League writers wrestled with the troublesome query of who makes the Crew of the Season (So Far) — the number of responses is large, with solely Kieran Trippier making each certainly one of their XIs.
Tell us within the feedback who would make yours.
I’ll be completely trustworthy with you; I spent means too lengthy choosing this group, modifying it, beginning once more after which being struck by extra second ideas. These are infuriating workouts — good enjoyable, but in addition fairly taxing — and when you requested me once more in a month’s time, I’m positive my line-up would look a bit totally different.
Nonetheless, in some unspecified time in the future, the prevaricating should finish, so right here we’re with this half a narrative. I discovered it very arduous to depart out Marcus Rashford, who has scored 10 targets in his final 12 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United, however I just like the make-up of my facet.
I’ve solely chosen gamers from the highest 5 groups. Maybe I might be accused of enjoying it secure as a result of there are some good candidates from elsewhere within the division — Moises Caicedo, the in-demand Brighton midfielder, has been wonderful — however my selections have all performed exceptionally.
It needs to be no shock that Arsenal and Newcastle United, each surprises in their very own means, characteristic closely. Arsenal have been unbelievable, the league’s excellent group, and they’re represented via the backbone of my facet in William Saliba, Martin Odegaard, and Bukayo Saka. There might have been others too, reminiscent of Grant Xhaka and Thomas Partey.
Newcastle have the tightest defence within the Premier League. Nick Pope has stored 10 clear sheets in a row in all competitions, so needs to be in objective. Kieran Trippier contributes vastly at each ends of the pitch. Left-back isn’t Dan Burn’s most well-liked place, however he’s made it his personal and deserves to be in there. It appears unfair to depart out their team-mate Sven Botman, however Saliba has been very good.
The spectacular Erling Haaland is a cert up entrance. I mentioned earlier than he signed for Metropolis that he’s able to getting 40 targets a season for them and he’s on schedule for greater than that. Possibly Metropolis are under-represented right here, however by their very own requirements they’ve under-achieved this season to this point.
If Bernd Leno’s superior shot-stopping numbers have been merely common as a substitute of third-best within the league — and if he weren’t as invaluable to his group’s passing recreation — no one could be speaking about Fulham proper now. OK, we’re not anyway, however we needs to be.
Aaron Cresswell leads West Ham in progressive passing by a wholesome margin, and he’s doing it as a part of a again line that enables the league’s fourth-fewest anticipated targets per recreation. That’s proper: West Ham are secretly respectable.
Luke Shaw is a full-back who’s rediscovering himself as a centre-back. Ben White is a centre-back operating the league as a full-back. Put them collectively and what do you get? Who is aware of, nevertheless it’s sure to be enjoyable.
Eighteen-year-old Rico Lewis isn’t simply one other Pep Guardiola inside full-back — he’s far more attention-grabbing than that. Tactically versatile defenders are so scorching proper now.
Tyler Adams’ league-leading counter-pressing is an enormous a part of why Leeds are higher this season regardless of promoting Kalvin Phillips in the summertime. Plus he’s bought a stable suburban-dad vinyl collection, which has to depend for one thing.
No one at Brighton breaks lines more than Moises Caicedo. No one at Brighton breaks up assaults greater than Moises Caicedo. Not unrelatedly, no one at Brighton breaks switch information greater than Moises Caicedo.
Youri Tielemans is Leicester Metropolis’s main passer, ball progressor, shot creator and ball-winner exterior their very own field. That appears good, proper?
Solely Jack Grealish provides extra ‘worth’ together with his carries per 90 minutes than Kaoru Mitoma, who’s the tenth most ‘invaluable’ participant within the league in accordance with the all-in-one stat Estimated Impact. No marvel the nerds at Brighton and Brentford fought over him.
Talking of the Brentford nerds, they have been good to grab Ivan Toney out of League One. Three seasons later, he’s bought extra non-penalty targets than anybody not named Erling Haaland or Harry Kane.
Kieran Trippier isn’t technically a winger. Who cares. He completes extra open-play passes into the field than any winger within the league whereas enjoying full-back for the group with the fewest targets conceded. He can slot in wherever he desires.
Pope notched up a tenth consecutive clear sheet within the first leg of Newcastle’s Carabao Cup semi-final final week, taking him to 16 in whole this season (from 25 video games). The closest keeper to him is Manchester United’s David de Gea, who has 13 in 29.
The defence is a Newcastle/Arsenal combo — unsurprising, given they’re the 2 groups who’ve conceded the fewest targets (Newcastle 11, Arsenal 16). On his return to the Premier League after two and a half years in Spain, Kieran Trippier has proven not solely his defensive high quality (which, allied to the spectacular type of summer time signing Sven Botman at centre-back, has helped give Newcastle the league’s meanest defence) but in addition the worth in his creativity from out large. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s tactical intelligence, boundless power and flexibility have been key to Arsenal’s enchancment this season following his transfer from Manchester Metropolis and Saliba has emerged because the ‘rock on the again’ the north London facet have desperately wanted.
A midfield three of Martin Odegaard, Casemiro and Alexis Mac Allister brings a heady mixture of imaginative and prescient, tenacity and a World Cup winner who’s able to serving to to construct the play from deep and creating alternatives larger up the pitch.
Arsenal’s captain, Odegaard has proven a medical edge in assault (eight targets and 5 assists in 18 league appearances), however his dedication to the defensive trigger is equally spectacular, usually recovering possession deep of their half.
New Manchester United supervisor Erik ten Hag described Casemiro as “the cement between the stones” he had been searching for and the Brazilian summer time purchase has backed that up, bringing tactical data and powerful decision-making to their midfield. And Mac Allister? Properly, the Argentinian has change into an integral a part of Brighton’s midfield in current seasons and has proven there’s extra to his recreation than his traditional deep-lying function.
The entrance three want little by means of rationalization. High quality on the ball, arduous work off it. And so. Many. Targets.
By far the toughest a part of this train was the midfield. Different alternatives have been pretty simple, however how do you choose simply three from Casemiro, Rodri, Moises Caicedo, Granit Xhaka, Alexis Mac Allister, Bruno Guimaraes, Kevin De Bruyne and Martin Odegaard?
All 9 of them could be in my high 15 gamers of the season to this point, however solely three will make this line-up, so let’s say Guimaraes and Odegaard for sure and… Casemiro. Meaning leaving out Rodri, who’s at all times disgracefully neglected in these discussions. It’s fairly doable I’ll be again pushing for Rodri once more in every week however for now, it’s Casemiro. He’s made a big impact.
There are circumstances for Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Miguel Almiron and one or two others additional ahead, however I’m proud of a entrance three of Bukayo Saka, Erling Haaland and Gabriel Martinelli. I can’t see a lot trigger to quibble with Nick Pope in objective or Kieran Trippier and Oleksandr Zinchenko within the full-back positions.
Central defence was much less simple. There have been two excellent partnerships: Fabian Schar and Sven Botman at Newcastle United and William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes at Arsenal. I might simply have gone Botman/Saliba, however I’ll go Schar/Gabriel whereas giving a respectful nod to Ben Mee, the perfect of the remaining.
In order that’s 4 Newcastle, 5 Arsenal, one Manchester United and one Manchester Metropolis. Possibly that signifies what number of of Metropolis’s gamers have been performing beneath their traditional excessive requirements — even when, in comparison with most of Liverpool’s and Chelsea’s gamers, they’ve been impeccable.
I needed to squeeze Ivan Toney in, and solely a idiot would depart Erling Haaland out, so a 4-4-2 formation is the perfect match for my title-challenging group.
Toney’s performances have reached a brand new degree and he has already scored extra targets this season (13) than he did throughout 2021-22 (12). His capability to carry up the ball and thread passes in behind the opposition defence would neatly complement Haaland’s blistering tempo too.
Nick Pope has been phenomenal for Newcastle, however I choose my goalkeepers to have somewhat extra finesse. David Raya’s slick distribution and velocity off his line safe his spot. Earlier than I get accused of getting some type of unusual bias in the direction of Brentford, Raya has made probably the most saves (86) within the high flight as nicely.
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My centre-backs have a mixed age of 68, however Ben Mee and Tim Ream have carried out beautifully for Brentford and Fulham.
All people is aware of Mee as a rugged defender however towards Leeds United final weekend, he nutmegged Tyler Adams to show there’s way more to his recreation. For Fulham, Ream has been the heartbeat of a facet that has surpassed everybody’s expectations. If Chelsea have been barely larger within the desk, the indefatigable Thiago Silva would have been in.
Kieran Trippier is a no brainer at right-back and takes the captain’s armband too. Joao Cancelo is not any extra at Manchester Metropolis, but he was nonetheless probably the most proficient left-back within the division for the primary half of the season — although he clearly received’t make my group of the season in Could.
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Casemiro is unfortunate to overlook out in central midfield, nevertheless it needs to be Bruno Guimaraes and Martin Odegaard. The rejuvenated Marcus Rashford may cause havoc on the left wing and his England team-mate Bukayo Saka can dazzle on the precise.
This was a lot more durable an train than it appears. I overlooked gamers who I believe are having a greater season than ones within the line-up, however I wished to go along with a balanced group.
Let’s begin with the goalkeeper. Liverpool are simply ninth nevertheless it might have been a lot worse with out Alisson. Nick Pope runs him an in depth second.
In defence, there have been many choices in any respect 4 positions.
At right-back, I might have gone with Ben White, however Kieran Trippier’s overlapping risk and inch-perfect set items are one thing to not be missed. On the opposite facet, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s capability on the ball will get Arsenal out of sticky conditions when pressed and the left-side rotations with Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli are key to Arsenal’s assault this season. Oh and counter-pressing! Sorry, Luke Shaw.
At centre-back, it’s Lisandro Martinez and William Saliba. The 2 Premier League newcomers have elevated their sides’ defensive items with constantly spectacular performances. Shoutouts to Sven Botman, Fabian Schar, Raphael Varane and Gabriel Magalhaes, who weren’t that far off.
In midfield, it’s Kevin De Bruyne, Casemiro and Martin Odegaard. Two selfless creators who additionally put in defensive shifts once they don’t have the ball, and Casemiro, who will probably be surrounded by a group whose capability on the ball is one thing else. Bruno Guimaraes could be on the bench to sub in for Casemiro when enjoying towards high-pressing groups.
Up entrance is the place it will get messy. Two large gamers are wanted, and regardless of Harry Kane and Gabriel Jesus having good seasons, I’m choosing Miguel Almiron and Bukayo Saka because the wingers. A Newcastle connection on the precise and an Arsenal connection on the left. Between them is Erling ‘Cyborg’ Haaland.
OK, so there are plenty of Arsenal gamers in there however why shouldn’t there be? There in all probability aren’t sufficient Newcastle ones however then Pope’s typical 90 minutes have been very totally different from Alisson’s. One has had a perfectly organised and disciplined defence sat in entrance of him and, nicely, let’s simply say the opposite has not. You marvel how badly Liverpool’s season would have gone with out the perfect goalkeeper within the league.
In defence, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s missed a piece of his first Arsenal season via damage however the affect he has exerted on the league leaders on and off the pitch has been outstanding. William Saliba has earned all of the plaudits coming his means however Gabriel Magalhaes’ performances have been much more spectacular. John Stones has quietly proven the kind of consistency that makes you suppose, on his day, he is likely one of the most full centre-halves round. There merely could be no arguments over Kieran Trippier at right-back.
Casemiro edges out Bruno Guimaraes on the deepest level of my midfield. Enjoying them collectively was tempting however could be somewhat too conservative, so as a substitute, there’s a place for the rejuvenated Granit Xhaka.
Then there’s the participant of the season — it’s going to be a Norwegian.
Realistically, even when Manchester Metropolis don’t win their third straight title, Erling Haaland has marmalised defences to such an extent that he needs to be thought-about head and shoulders above everybody else when awards season comes round, however Martin Odegaard’s leap to changing into an elite expertise is powering this outstanding Arsenal cost and you’ll see narrative swinging his means whether it is sustained.
Bukayo Saka is on the identical trajectory. And if he can preserve this kind up, who is aware of what Marcus Rashford is able to?
Joao Palhinha has very a lot change into the apple of my eye and he’ll be my captain, my group’s beating coronary heart and, if vital, its Nasty Man too. Like a lumberjack swinging gleefully at a forest of redwoods, I don’t suppose I can keep in mind a participant relishing life in a Premier League midfield in fairly the identical means.
Palhinha and his axe have been chopping down ball-carriers all season. Put Moises Caicedo alongside him and that’s as regular and as rounded a base as you would ask for.
Erling Haaland will get in — clearly, boring — and so do the Arsenal trio of Martin Odegaard, William Saliba and Bukayo Saka.
Brighton’s Pervis Estupinan simply edges out Oleksandr Zinchenko, and solely as a result of I’m after a extra conventional left-back. Zinchenko has been a lot greater than that for Arsenal, whereas Estupinan presents extra regimented qualities: he’s skilful, good off the ball and at all times appears to be in precisely the precise place on the proper time.
His team-mate Kaoru Mitoma will get in too — Brighton’s left flank has been so good this season that I’m importing it wholesale. Mitoma is a marvel; he’s a pleasure to look at and a horrible hazard to opposition defences.
Sven Botman has been excellent and that’s regardless of the considerations about his lack of tempo. Credit score Eddie Howe for guaranteeing that hasn’t mattered, but in addition Botman for making as fast a defensive transition to English soccer as I can recall. Kieran Trippier is one other choose to salute simply how good Newcastle have been with out the ball. A document of 11 targets conceded in 20 video games is outstanding.
And David Raya. Is Brentford’s goalkeeper the perfect shot-stopper within the league now? If not, it’s shut.
Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope have loved tremendous seasons too nevertheless it feels as if we’re nonetheless discovering the vary of Raya’s skills — match-by-match — so he edges forward on novelty worth.
(High pictures: Getty Photos)
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