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Best XI from the Premier League's Bottom Half

Frank WagnerCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2013

Best XI from the Premier League's Bottom Half

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    With just over two-thirds of the Premier League season gone and the race to the finish line well and truly here, clubs have all but staked a claim to their general positions in the league.

    After all, it is very unlikely that any side will be able to move too far up or down the table in just 12 matches.

    While much of the talk surrounding the run-in is about the clubs positioned higher in the league as they chase the title or the four Champions League berths, there are quite a few juicy subplots in the bottom of the league.

    What clubs will suffer relegation and play in the Championship next season? How will this affect the transfer season this summer?

    With so much riding on these teams' performances over the next several matches, the bottom of the league clearly deserves some attention.

    So what players in the lower part of the league should one keep an eye on as they look to help their clubs?

    Here is the best XI of the bottom half of the Premier League.

Substitutes

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    First, let's go through a few who just missed out on the starting XI.

     

    GK: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)

    American goalkeeper Brad Guzan has had a good year at struggling Aston Villa.

    Yes, his concession rate is quite high, but Guzan was not to blame for many of those.

    In fact, Brad has kept his side in a lot of matches with solid performances.

     

    GK: Julio Cesar (QPR)

    Despite playing for Queens Park Rangers, who sit dead last in the Premier League, Julio Cesar has been quite good this season.

    The Brazilian keeper moved to QPR from Inter Milan back in August and has been the shining light of a club that has been struggling mightily.

    It's hard to imagine that a 33-year-old keeper who won a Champions League not three years ago might be playing in the Championship next year, but this could become a reality if QPR don't have a massive turnaround over the final part of the season.

     

    LB: John Arne Riise (Fulham)

    In his second season at Fulham, John Arne Riise's play on the left has earned him a spot in this team.

    Despite a few off days around Christmas, Riise has been generally solid at full-back.

    It hasn't been a spectacular season for the Norwegian, but the 32-year-old continues to put in respectable performances.

     

    CB: Winston Reid (West Ham)

    Reid has done quite well for the Hammers this season, but the 24-year-old New Zealand international hasn't been quite as consistent as the starters.

    He can still contribute off the bench, though.

     

    CB: Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

    Like Reid, Hangeland's inconsistency has relegated him to the bench here.

    However, if he keeps up the form he's had over the past few matches, Brede could be in the starting XI before the end of the season.

     

    LM: Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle)

    Gutierrez' goal and general play against Chelsea a few weeks ago were amazing, but he's been too up and down, especially against the top clubs, to make the starting XI here.

     

    CM: Mohamed Diame (West Ham)

    West Ham's Mohamed Diame deserves quite a bit of praise for his fine play in the center of midfield.

    The Senegalese man just missed out on the lineup, but fell just short due to the fact that he missed time with injury.

     

    CM: Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)

    It's hard to overstress how important Morgan Schneiderlin has been to Southampton this season.

    Schneiderlin is the lynchpin of the Saints' success, providing cover for a vulnerable defense and support to the front.

    With three goals, building play and some fine defensive work, the 23-year-old Frenchman is a great option for the side.

     

    RM: Jimmy Kebe (Reading)

    The Reading winger has had a great season, but just missed out on the starting XI.

     

    CAM: Shaun Maloney (Wigan)

    Maloney has been a big threat for a struggling Wigan this season.

    The Scot has four goals and five assists through 22 matches.

    However, he will need to do even better to help Wigan dig out of their hole and survive the relegation battle one more time. 


    FW: Adam Le Fondre (Reading)

    Reading's Adam Le Fondre has defined "super-sub" this season.

    Through three matches in January, Le Fondre scored five goals off the bench and rescued seven points for his club.

    Reading may be in danger of the drop, but that's not for Le Fondre's lack of trying.

     

    FW: Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)

    Throughout the season, Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov has provided his creativity to the Fulham attack and is a huge reason the club looks safe from the drop.

    In just 20 league appearances, Berba has eight goals and three assists.

    It was surprising to see the Bulgarian go to Fulham last summer, but Dimitar looks happy there.

GK: Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)

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    It is quite possible that Sunderland's Simon Mignolet has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season.

    The 24-year-old Belgian has his club in the middle of the table, six points clear of the bottom three, despite being 17th in goals scored.

    With Mignolet starting every match, Sunderland have the lowest percentage of opponent shots that become goals.

    With an impressive season like this, expect Simon Mignolet to be on the move this summer.

LB: Nicky Shorey (Reading)

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    Reading's Nicky Shorey earned his spot in this starting XI despite only playing in about half of his club's matches.

    With four assists in just four matches, Shorey provides Reading with a great attacking threat down the wings.

    His performance against Manchester United in his side's thrilling 4-3 loss back in December was sparkling.

    As Shorey is just returning from injury, expect him to spark a revival for Reading as they look to get out of the drop zone.

CB: Michael Williamson (Newcastle)

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    Michael Williamson has been huge for Newcastle this season and a huge reason they are clear of the relegation zone despite their injuries.

    The Englishman has played solid defense in almost every league match.

    While he offers less goal-scoring threat on set pieces than other center-halves, Williamson is a very valuable asset for any side.

CB: Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland)

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    Carlos Cuellar has been the model of consistency for Sunderland this season, playing solid defense through almost every one of his league appearances.

    The Spaniard's highlight came at Craven Cottage against Fulham in November, when he scored a goal in his side's 3-1 victory.

    Cuellar's great play has obviously been a big part of Sunderland's fine defensive record this season.

RB: Craig Gardner (Sunderland)

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    Craig Gardner's play for Sunderland this season has been quite amazing.

    Gardner has been awesome going forward, with four goals and two assists through 24 league matches.

    However, his most telling contribution has been to a stingy defense that has proved its grit.

    The Englishman has the ability to play all over the field, including in the midfield, but the majority of his contribution at Sunderland this season has been at full-back.

    No matter where he played, Gardner would be a useful addition to this XI.

LM: Damien Duff (Fulham)

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    The 33-year-old Damien Duff has had somewhat a revival this year at Craven Cottage.

    The Irishman has seven assists in the Premier League this season, one off his total for the last three seasons combined.

    While he generally plays on the right, Damien has proved able to move to the left. Hence, he'll start there to fit into this side.

    Duff has had a great career, but maybe there are still bright days ahead.

CDM: Mark Noble (West Ham)

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    Mark Noble has been a key to West Ham's great form this season, as the Hammers look set to survive their first season back in the Premier League and even challenge for the top half.

    Noble has provided some good cover for his side, yet has also lent his side four goals.

    With two assists over his last three league matches, the 25-year-old is finding a way to contribute to his side in every match.

CAM: Adel Taarabt (QPR)

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    For a side last in the Premier League with an amazingly low goal output, it doesn't make a lot of sense to praise an attacking player.

    However, Adel Taarabt has been a ray of sunshine for QPR's woeful attacking force.

    The Moroccan has netted four goals and provided four assists through 21 matches, often giving his side their only real attacking threat.

    Clubs should take notice, as the 23-year-old might be looking for a new club at the end of the season.

RM: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich)

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    Robert Snodgrass has been far and away Norwich City's most consistent performer this season.

    The 25-year-old has provided the threat on the wings in almost every match, scoring four goals and three assists in addition to aiding the building play.

    In Norwich's thrilling 4-3 win at Swansea in December, Snodgrass scored one of the goals and assisted two more in one of the best performances by any Premier League player this season.

    It's hard to imagine someone better suited to play on the right wing for this XI than Robert Snodgrass.

FW: Rickie Lambert (Southampton)

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    Just as he has been for the past four years, Rickie Lambert has been a huge part of Southampton's season.

    After three fantastic seasons leading the Saints up from League One to the Premier League through two promotions, Lambert has proved his abilities in his first season in the Premier League.

    At 31, Rickie is a sentimental pick, as he has worked hard to get where he is and has made the most of it.

    With 11 goals in 24 matches, he deserves some recognition.

FW: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)

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    Aston Villa's 22-year-old striker Christian Benteke has been the breakout star of the Premier League season.

    The Belgian has lent his side a much-needed attacking threat, scoring nearly half of the club's goals this season.

    After Villa brought Benteke in from Genk last summer, their investment rides on their survival in the Premier League. After all, if they go down, Villa will lose all leverage and probably have to part with the striker for less than he's worth.

     

     

    Agree? Disagree? Did I miss someone? Let me know in the comments below.


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