Picking a Premier League XI Outside of the Recognised Top 4
The Premier League is home to some of the biggest talents in world football, but that isn’t just to say it’s the division’s upper echelon who boast the biggest players.
With more teams than ever likely to compete for the title this coming season, English honours will be fought for among more than your conventional top four: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Based on the performances of last season, this dream lineup takes into account all the statistics amassed over the 2012-13 season.
In actuality, there’s far more individual greatness lying lower down in the division than some might suggest, a best XI of which has been bundled into a 4-3-3 formation ahead.
Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar
Julio Cesar will consider his Queens Park Rangers tenure—potentially coming to its end in the coming days—as much of an anomaly as anyone else.
The Brazilian international stopper came to Loftus Road last season hoping to lend a helping hand in the club’s ambitious dreams of featuring in Europe, but in the end simply rode that rollercoaster to the Championship along with the rest of the Hoops’ squad.
Despite this, Cesar has managed to maintain an impressive individual reputation, evidently far above the standard of England’s second tier.
According to Goal.com, the 33-year-old is edging closer to a move to Rafa Benitez’s project with Napoli, set to ignore interest from Arsenal.
Although Cesar managed to keep just six clean sheets last season, an average of 3.5 saves per game is one of the highest in the division and speaks volumes of just how often the No. 1 would help in bailing out what was otherwise a pretty shambolic defence.
Right-Back: Glen Johnson
Despite Liverpool’s drop in standards over the last four seasons or so, Glen Johnson has managed to retain his spot as England’s first-choice right-back, and for good reason.
While the Reds’ standards may have dropped as a unit, Johnson is still one of most dangerous attacking full-backs in the Premier League, evidenced by his five assists during the last campaign.
It’s not just the attacking areas that Johnson excels in either, improving his defensive game by some margins.
According to Squawka, the former Portsmouth star managed to complete more than 80 percent of his tackles last term and made just one defensive error which led to an opponent having a chance on goal.
Centre-Back: Phil Jagielka
For some years now, Phil Jagielka has been the subject of massive speculation linking the centre-back with a move to one of the English top flight’s bigger club. However, the 30-year-old has stuck around at Goodison Park, much to the benefit of his reputation as a top-class defender.
Only Sylvain Distin managed to complete more defensive actions per game on average for Everton last season, and Squawka stats show us that Seamus Coleman, also of Everton, was the only player to boast a higher defensive performance score among Premier League defenders.
While Jagielka may not have the same presence in attack as some of his centre-back competitors, the former Sheffield United talisman is a rock at the back for the Toffees, and one of the most consistent among England’s elite.
Centre-Back: Jan Vertonghen
Despite it being his first season as a Premier League player, the 2012-13 campaign bore great fruit to Jan Vertonghen, picked up by Andre Villas-Boas from Ajax last summer.
Playing a great deal of his season shifting between centre-back and left-back, the ex-Godenzonen captain showed himself to be a superb athlete with incredibly rounded ability both in attack and defence.
Last term saw the Tottenham utility average 12 defensive actions per game, joint-highest among regular first-team members alongside Michael Dawson.
What’s more, Vertonghen was successful in 84 of his 14 tackling attempts and managed to maintain a passing accuracy of 87 percent, featuring in 34 of the club’s Premier League fixtures.
Left-Back: Leighton Baines
Having created more scoring chances in the Premier League than any other player last season, Leighton Baines is certainly a player of top-four quality.
In recent seasons, the former Wigan Athletic defender has been one of the only factors keeping Everton at their current standards, threatening to break into the top four on numerous occasions.
Although Baines’ contribution in attack might indicate a player lacking in defensive skills, the England international is incredibly well-versed at both aspects of his position.
An ongoing saga this summer has been whether Baines will follow David Moyes to Manchester United or not, but the player could certainly cut it at that level.
Centre-Midfield: Mousa Dembele
One of the two anchors in our three-man midfield, Mousa Dembele was unfortunate to miss out on a top-four finish with Tottenham this season and was a major driving force behind the team’s bid for Champions League football.
One of the more established stars in the Premier League’s rising Belgian contingent, Dembele’s willingness to fill in wherever Andre Villas-Boas might need him is one of the key attributes.
Able to thrive in defensive midfield, a deep-lying playmaker, attacking midfield and even up front on occasion, the 26-year-old’s versatility appears to know no bounds.
Providing a key catalyst between midfield and attack, Dembele’s no-frills style makes him one of the more inconspicuous stars of the Spurs lineup, and yet one of its most effective.
Centre-Midfield: Steven Gerrard
A Premier League servant of nearly 15 years, Steven Gerrard continues to have a substantial say on Liverpool matters at the age of 33.
Gerrard recently put pen to paper on a two-year Anfield extension, a deal that will see the player continue to highlight the Premier League until he’s 35.
In our midfield, Gerrard sits slightly more advanced than his partners, pulling the majority of the creative strings.
However, that isn’t to say the playmaker’s defensive contributions count for naught, as the veteran was successful in 66 of his 88 attempted tackles last term.
Centre-Midfield: Marouane Fellaini
Last season saw Marouane Fellaini have without a doubt his best season playing in the English top flight, playing in a plethora of roles and responsibilities.
Whether playing as a holding anchor or supporting striker, Fellaini was a standout performer for Everton throughout the course of the 2012-13 campaign.
However, the player has stated himself that his preferred position is as a defensive midfielder, and he takes up roots just ahead of said position in this lineup.
As well as providing a massive physical and aerial presence in the middle of the park, Fellaini’s creative talents are of a pedigree that could easily fit in amongst a Champions League outfit.
Right Wing: Steven Pienaar
Although his Tottenham stint may not have panned out like some would have hoped, Steven Pienaar has a spooky affinity with Goodison Park, a location and system that really seems to bring the best out of him.
Having moved back to the Toffees last summer, the South African is once again proving what an asset he can be and is easily one of the more understated players of the division.
In 35 league matches for Everton last season, Pienaar managed to craft a remarkable total of 79 scoring chances for his side, one of the highest tallies in the Premier League for a midfielder.
More productive than the likes of Aaron Lennon, Stewart Downing, Pablo Hernandez and Robert Snodgrass, the versatile speedster is once again back to his best at Everton, something the Merseyside club can only hope continues under Robert Martinez.
Left Wing: Gareth Bale
One player in the Premier League most certainly capable of playing at the height of European football is PFA Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year, Gareth Bale.
Were it not for Bale’s incredible antics in Tottenham’s attack, the North London outfit would simply not have been challenging for a top-four finish in the same manner as they did last season.
With 21 Premier League goals and nine assists in 33 outings last term, it’s no wonder the Welshman finished the campaign raking in every award that was on offer.
Sticking out like a sore thumb at White Hart Lane, the speculation linking Bale with a move to Real Madrid has been fierce in the months gone by, but has simmered slightly of late.
However, with a lot of summer left to go, Bale may find that he’ll be ineligible for inclusion should this same article be written in a year’s time.
Striker: Luis Suarez
Ignoring any on-pitch controversies or personal qualms with the player, Luis Suarez is one of the best strikers in the Premier League, if not the world.
As a result, he’s relied upon by Liverpool to produce the goods on a match-by-match basis, something he lives up to for the large part.
In 33 Premier League starts last term, the Uruguayan managed to amass a total of 23 goals and 11 assists, but also picked up no less than 10 yellow cards, not to mention the suspension caused by his infamous biting incident with Branislav Ivanovic.
Only David Silva and the aforementioned Baines created more scoring opportunities in the Premier League last season, which is admirable considering that’s not one of his main priorities.
Despite his tenacious manner, it’s Suarez’s positioning and knack for being in the right time at the right place that often leads to his impressive goalscoring record.
Similar to the system in which he plays under Brendan Rodgers, Suarez would appear to enjoy being fed by his wingers, just as Bale and Pienaar would undoubtedly do were they to line up either side of the striker.
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