Premier League 2011-12 Team of the Season
An extraordinary season came to an end yesterday, reasserting my belief that the English Premier League still provides the most exciting football in the world.
A magnificent season went all the way to the wire, with the title, Champions League places and relegation battle all decided on the final day; the twists, turns, and unpredictability leaving the whole season on a knife-edge until the final whistle was blown.
Now, with the season over, we can reflect on some of the incredible action and recognise those players who have given their all for the cause.
This is my 2011-12 Premier League team of the year.
Goalkeeper: Michel Vorm, Swansea City
Without question, Vorm was one of the best signings of the season, and he played a vital role in propelling Swansea to mid-table with some world-class saves.
He kept 14 clean sheets in the league this season, behind a defence which is without any established names, and on his debut made 11 saves against Man City; the most made in any Premiership game this season.
His athleticism led to some outstanding saves which will live long in the memory of Swans fans, and he rarely made an error to cost his team.
Vorm’s fantastic season has already seen him linked with some of the biggest clubs in English football, but Swansea will hope to keep hold of him. If he does depart, his value will have increased exponentially from the £1.5m they paid to sign him.
Right-Back: Branislav Ivanovic
The Premier League Young Player of the Year earned his spot in the team, and should have also earned the right-back spot for England at Euro 2012 based on his performances this year.
Calm and collected, Walker looks like a natural attacking full-back and still has plenty of time to improve his game.
His attacking instincts outshine his defensive talents, but then so did Ashley Cole’s when he was Walker’s age. How did that turn out?
Walker still had very solid season defensively, and impressed with a number of great crosses, even chipping in with two goals (the winner in the North London derby, and a terrific free-kick against Blackburn).
Centre-Back: Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
This one was never in doubt. A leader on and off the field, he conducted himself with class and integrity throughout the season, particularly in the face of former captain, Carlos Tevez, and his midseason madness.
On the field, his commanding presence guided City to the title; their major midseason blip was largely due to an injury to the Belgian.
Strong, powerful, hard to beat and unstoppable in the air, Kompany guided City to victory, and even had his own personal moment of glory, heading home the winning goal against their city rivals.
A very worthy title-winning captain.
Centre-Back: Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle
Strong, assured and confident in defence, the Argentine has helped Magpies fans finally forget about their chequered history at centre-back (Bramble, Boumsong et al.).
Coloccini was never afraid to put his body on the line for the Toon, and as captain, he led by example.
His distribution was also top class, and he helped keep the team going forward, even from the back.
His outstanding campaign deserved a top-four finish, and he was very unlucky to miss out. Even so, Newcastle can be proud of their captain and his teammates
Left-Back: Leighton Baines, Everton
It’s no surprise that Leighton Baines’ name has once again been bandied around as a potential target for top-four clubs, as he concludes another terrific campaign by helping Everton finish above their rivals Liverpool.
Solid defensively, with dangerous attacking talents and an excellent delivery, Baines was even Everton’s top scorer until the arrival of Nikita Jelavic, largely in thanks to his dead-ball prowess.
Everton will need to keep hold of Baines if they want to build on this season’s seventh position, and Baines will hope to secure his place at Euro 2012 to cap off a very impressive season on a personal note.
Right Midfield: Antonio Valencia, Manchester United
Signed from Wigan to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, very few expected Antonio Valencia to become a world-class winger for Manchester United, but he has done just that.
His direct running has caused no end of trouble for opponents, and his 14 assists in the league have come largely as a result of his explosive pace and improved crossing.
The Ecuadorian has also chipped in with four league goals, and may well win the club’s Player of the Year award later this month—a title that would be well-deserved.
Now, with Michael Owen likely to depart Old Trafford, what about that No. 7 shirt?
Central Midfield: Yaya Toure, Manchester City
Toure has proved his world-class ability this season with a masterclass at the heart of City’s midfield. His distribution is perfect, commitment unwavering, and his ability to go box-to-box is arguably the best in the game today.
His goals, most memorably against Newcastle, were vital to City’s success, and his non-stop engine kept them ticking through the entire season.
In his absence during the African Nations Cup, it was clear City were missing his talents, but he soon steadied the ship on his return.
Toure was dominant for City for the full season, while others, most noticeably David Silva, dropped off halfway through, and his impact deserves to be recognised.
Central Midfield: Stephane Sessegnon, Sunderland
Sunderland’s creative midfielder lit up the Stadium of Light on more than one occasion, scoring some fantastic goals and inspiring his team to improve under Martin O’Neill and secure a mid-table finish.
His creative influence cannot be understated, as he set up numerous chances for the Black Cats, and if their strikeforce was more clinical, they may have even challenged for the Europa League.
Nobody was more important for the team this year, and O’Neill will be desperate to hold onto the diminutive midfielder from Benin; unfortunately, he could be destined to play on a bigger scene.
Left Midfield: Clint Dempsey, Fulham
The American scored 17 goals for Fulham this season and had a hand in nearly half of his team’s goals as well. He also helped out with six assists.
His goal threat was always a danger, and it wasn’t just confined to his aerial ability, with a number of spectacular goals coming from free kicks and long range.
Dempsey carried Fulham to ninth place with his best season in English football to date, and his club will now be desperately trying to keep him at the Cottage next season.
When a player who is not a striker manages to score 17 goals in the Premier League, it is an incredible achievement, and it is difficult to think of a player more vital to his team’s success than Dempsey. In fact, there is only one other…
Forward: Robin Van Persie, Arsenal
Who else could it have been? Van Persie was dominant from start to finish this season, bagging 30 goals for Arsenal, and almost single-handedly earning them a spot in next season’s Champions League.
He helped Arsenal recover from an abysmal start to the season, and his goals were responsible for 24 points—the equivalent of eight wins.
Add to that his playmaking ability (13 assists), and you have the makings of a true great.
Arsenal’s captain led by example this season, but it remains to be seen if the Gunners can convince their prize asset to remain in North London next year.
Forward: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Deadly in front of goal, Rooney finished the campaign with 27 league goals, but his impact is so much more than that.
His ability to drop deep to collect the ball, his sideline-to-sideline range of passing and his deft first touch are all examples of what makes him the most naturally gifted player to come out of England since Paul Gascoigne.
The Englishman gives everything to the cause, and his strength, determination and work ethic cannot be ignored either. He deserved to be on a title-winning team.
Rooney’s impact at Old Trafford is unquestionable, and his goals helped them take the title race to the wire, but next season he’ll need to reproduce this form if he wants United to reclaim the title.
John Ruddy, (Goalkeeper, Norwich)
Ruddy had an outstanding season in goal for another newly promoted team. Ruddy’s impressive shot stopping should have put him in the running for the Euro 2012 squad. The former Everton keeper kept Norwich in a number of games, helping them easily secure their status in the Premier League.
Kyle Walker, (Full-Back, Tottenham)
It was very tough to leave Walker out of the team, as he had an outstanding campaign and deserved to win the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Walker was calm and collected defensively, was dangerous going forward, and also chipped in with two goals (the winner in the North London derby, and a fantastic curling free kick against Blackburn).
Ashley Williams (Centre-Back, Swansea)
The Swansea captain played a huge role in keeping the Welsh side out of trouble. He was a commanding presence at the back for the Swans, and his strength and aerial ability cannot be understated. Williams was willing to put himself about and mix it with the big target men in the league, a breed of forwards which some have difficulty with.
Yohan Cabaye (Midfield, Newcastle)
It cost just £5m to sign Cabaye from the French champions, Lille, and what a deal it turned out to be. The Frenchman quickly established himself as one of the top midfielders in the country and adapted quickly to the speed of the English game. He was tenacious, scored some great goals, and provided some memorable assists worthy of recognition (most memorably his glorious through ball for Papiss Cissé’s goal against Stoke).
Rafael van der Vaart (Midfield, Tottenham)
With 11 league goals this season, Rafael van der Vaart further enforced the opinion that he was one hell of a bargain at £10m last season. The Dutchman was creative and clinical in equal measures, adding eight assists to his goal haul. He’s always a threat in and around the area, and fits perfectly at Spurs.
Grant Holt (Forward, Norwich)
Holt epitomises the old English centre-forward, but he is more than just a battering ram. He scored 17 goals this campaign, which put him second to only Wayne Rooney in the English players’ scoring charts. He also delivered whenever the Canaries called on him.
Sergio Aguero (Forward, Manchester City)
Having written his name into City folklore this weekend, Aguero had an impressive debut campaign in England, which began with two goals on his debut. 37 games later, the Argentinean striker had scored 23 times in the league and made up for his AWOL compatriot for vast periods of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Howard (Everton), Tim Krul (Newcastle), Pablo Zabaleta (Man City), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham), Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Jonas Olsson (West Brom), Alex Song (Arsenal), Ramires (Chelsea), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham), Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Wigan), Danny Graham (Swansea), Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham), Nikita Jelavic (Everton), Papiss Cissé (Newcastle).
Manager: Alan Pardew, Newcastle United
Who would have thought that Newcastle would have narrowly missed out on ChampionsLeague football this season?
Alan Pardew worked wonders with the Toon, with his team playing some fantastic football. Coming so close to finishing fourth this season was an amazing achievement, considering the Magpies were playing Championship football not too long ago.
He kept his squad united, and his signings were astute and inspired. Cabaye (£5m), Demba Ba (free), and later, Papiss Cissé (£7m), all delivered for Newcastle, and Pardew got the best out of lesser-known names like Ryan Taylor and Danny Simpson.
He won the Premier League’s Manager of the Season award, and rightly so, having overseen a terrific season for the long suffering Geordie faithful.
Brendan Rodgers (Swansea) – Worked wonders with his newly promoted side, playing some sensational football and getting the best out of a team with no big names. His new signings helped contribute to defy the doubters and keep Swansea in the league with ease. The loan signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson was a master stroke.
Paul Lambert (Norwich) – Like Rodgers, Lambert worked wonders with Norwich to easily keep them in the top tier of English football. The Glaswegian might have even won the award were it not for a late season slip, but Lambert impressed from the start. Aston Villa might come calling soon, and Norwich will try to hold on to their manager at all costs.
Roberto Martinez (Wigan) – Again Wigan defied their critics to stay in the Premiership, despite looking dead and buried midway through the season. Martinez continues to get the best out of his players when their backs are against the wall, and recorded sensational wins over Liverpool (home and away), Manchester United and Arsenal (at the Emirates) to secure survival.