For the 2016/17 Team of the Season I have decided to go with a 4-3-1-2 formation that to an extent could actually play as a 4-3-3. This is as teams are season by season moving away from the traditional 4-4-2. The likes of Eden Hazard, Phillippe Coutinho and Romelu Lukaku did not make it, which will surprise some, but let’s look at the players that make the cut.
Tom Heaton (Burnley) – The 2016/17 season gave Heaton his second attempt to show us what he was about in the top division having been relegated with Burnley in the 2014/15 season. He certainly did not disappoint this time around. Heaton made the most saves of any keeper in the Premier League with 141. He time and time again came to the rescue, keeping Burnley in games with his heroics and he ended up keeping 10 clean sheets also. Burnley overachieved finishing the season in 16th, a position they only dropped to as they failed to win any of their last three games of the season. The likes of Thibaut Courtois, David De Gea and Hugo Lloris are better keepers, but they all play with more accomplished defences in front of them. Heaton deserves full credit for his season.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – The Spaniard played the majority of the season at right centre half after Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s formation change. This change was to move to 3 at the back following Chelsea’s crushing defeat to Arsenal in September. He is though still the best defensive full back in the league. Azpilicueta reads the game well, is solid, dependable and a great man marker. He uses the ball well also helping the team go from back to front with minimal risk, he had the most amount of completed passes of anyone in the league with 2,459. There are not many games he did not perform well in for Chelsea this season, he had a nightmare away at Tottenham, but nothing else immediately stands out to be quite honest. He had the most clean sheets of any defender in the league with 16 and is a prized asset for the Blues.
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur) – Easily could have picked his fellow countryman Jan Vertonghen, but Alderweireld gets the nod since Spurs dropped numerous points when he was out of the team through injury. Spurs only won twice out of their six league games when he was out between late October and early December. Another solid and efficient performer at the back, he makes the game look easy. Rarely caught out at the back, he just exudes calmness. He is comfortable on the ball and his good distribution meant he on occasion started attacks for the North Londoners from his centre half position. He actually completed the most long balls passes in the league with 196, (Squawka). Spurs had the best defence in the league only conceding 26 goals and Alderweireld just edged it as their star performer.
David Luiz (Chelsea) – Without doubt the surprise individual of the season. Many thought it was a joke that Chelsea were buying him back (for £34m) from Paris Saint Germain after somehow shipping him for a world record fee of £50m for a defender. Chelsea’s formation change protected him well at the back as he acclimatised. As the season went on he came into his own and you could see how much more disciplined he was than the former erratic defender we once witnessed. Money well spent; as his confidence grew he became an unexpected leader at the back. We all knew he was good on the ball like most Brazilians and that he could strike a mean dead ball, but he was now being reliable defensively. At the start there were rumours he was not whom Conte originally wanted, but regardless of that he has more than proved his worth.
Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) – A man who came for a decent amount of money considering he did not exactly set the world alight in his previous Premier League stints for Bolton & Sunderland. Those that watch Serie A though saw a man that was starting to blossom with some eye catching performances for Fiorentina which drew Conte in to splash the £23 million he did. The aforementioned formation change had him in his favoured left wing back position that he excelled in after having being out of the starting line up for all the previous league games. Accomplished defensively and you will rarely see a full back get into so many good goalscoring positions and then get back and still cover on the flank. He will be a major figure in Conte’s plans at left back/wing back with this level of consistency.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Took a few games to get into rhythm for his new club, but once he did he never looked back and the £32 million Chelsea gave Leicester City looked like a bargain. His contribution to the team was epitomised in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield, when he won the ball back 3 times by himself in less than a minute. A tireless runner who chases lost causes and breaks up play for fun. Kante was second in tackles won with 127 behind Everton’s Idrissa Gueye. He embraced playing next to Nemanja Matic and seemed to drive forward in some games, more so than he had done when he was at Leicester. Even if you do not support Chelsea, it’s hard not to like him; he makes the game easy for those around him and is imperative to Conte’s system.
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – For anyone who thought his first season was a flash in the pan, he showed it was far from that as De Bruyne led the league with 18 assists. Though Manchester City’s team is littered with talent on paper, they look a much more fluid outfit when the Belgian is on the pitch. His effortless strides through opposition defences are great on the eye and he is a constant threat. He was guilty of missing some sitters for instance at home to Liverpool and Chelsea, regardless of this his influence is undeniable. Even when he wasn’t scoring, his vicious strikes from outside the box caused teams problems. If he was not hitting the woodwork, he was forcing keepers into tricky saves and causing pandemonium in the box. City started the season well and it is no coincidence that the first game they lost in October away against Spurs De Bruyne was absent.
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) – The last spot in the three-man midfield was a coin toss between Alli and his teammate Christian Eriksen. Neither of the two players necessarily started brilliantly but as the season wore on, they both proved more than their worth. Despite Eriksen having more assists goals win games, therefore, Alli’s 18 league goals get him in. Alli’s driving runs into the box have proved problematic for opposing teams for 2 seasons now, a key part of Spurs’ team as he is the only player who really has a free role in their disciplined starting XI. His defining moments of the season were surely his intelligent runs capped by great headers to stop a 13 game Chelsea winning streak in January. The only criticism you would have is when he gets older he needs to be able to heavily influence games that he is not scoring in. Alli shows incredible potential hence his PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Sanchez started so well, then had an average couple of months when the New Year started, however he finished the season with a bang. The Chilean finished with 24 goals & 10 assists and was the only player in the Premier League to have double figures in both these categories. Arsenal finished outside of the Top 4 for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s tenure and who knows where they would have came without Sanchez’ brilliance for a huge portion of the season. He was deployed mainly as a ‘false 9’ by Wenger which happens to be a position he was not unfamiliar with by any means. When it worked, for instance in a 5-1 away win at West Ham in December, it was devastating. His industry, strength and pace caused real havoc and mesmerised teams. He now has one year left on his contract and Arsenal must try all they can to keep hold of him.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) – Kane missed eight games through injury but still finished the season with an outrageous eight goals in his last three games to claim the Golden Boot with 29 goals. This was his second successive Golden Boot, not bad for someone who was meant to be a one-season wonder. His movement is so crucial to Spurs’ system that there probably is not a better striker in the league for the way manager Mauricio Pochettino sets them up. He can finish with both feet, is great in the air and one wonders, if Spurs go trophyless again whether they will be able to hang on to him after next season. His next step is to transfer his consistent exploits in front of goal at club level over to the international scene in competitive games and then the sky’s the limit.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United) – Controversial maybe but Ibra gets the last spot in the team. I have rated this player highly for many years but it took him to come to this country and do well at 34 years old (he turned 35 during the season) to gain some undiluted respect from the British media. The high percentage of goals he accumulated this season for a low scoring United team is what gets him in ahead of Romelo Lukaku, Diego Costa & Sergio Aguero. The Swede finished with a much needed 17 of United’s 54 league goals. This tally was especially important as the team’s aggregate goals was the lowest total of any team in the top 9. Ibrahimovic did miss his share of chances but he won games away at the likes of West Ham by himself as well as scoring important late goals against Liverpool, Everton and Crystal Palace. He will not return next season and United will be spending big to replace him.
Azpilicueta Alderweireld David Luiz Alonso
De Bruyne Dele Alli
(*All stats are from premierleague.com unless stated)