It’s January, which means, besides the opening of the winter transfer window, the halfway point in the 2013/14 Premier League season is here. This is where we can look back and evaluate how the campaign has gone thus far.
With 20 games played by each team, we’ve witnessed a scintillating title race and an intriguing battle for the European places, while the permutations towards the bottom of the table mean that the relegation fight will only intensify in the months to come.
Given the quality that has been on show in England’s top flight this season, it’s one of the toughest mid-season tasks in recent years to pick a team of the season 20 games in—but we’ll do it all the same.
Here’s our Premier League team of the 2013/14 season so far, in a 4-3-1-2 formation and complete with a seven-man bench. Enjoy and let us know your picks in the comments below.
All statistics have come from Premierleague.com, unless otherwise stated.
Simon Mignolet, Liverpool: With 65 saves made all season and having won his team valuable points courtesy of his brilliant shot-stopping, Mignolet has been an inspired capture for Liverpool.
Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal: Alongside Per Mertesacker, Koscielny has been outstanding in an impressive overall season for Arsenal.
Curtis Davies, Hull City: Our only pick outside of the Premier League top nine (yes, that’s a thing now). Davies’ form and leadership of the Hull City defence will see him go down as one of the best signings of the 2013/14 campaign.
Fernandinho, Manchester City: The other half of Manchester City’s central midfield, Fernandinho has been an unsung hero. But with his recent flurry of goals, he’s slowly becoming quite the big deal himself.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea: Is this the season Eden Hazard finally realizes his massive potential and becomes a major player on the European stage? If he can keep up his recent fine form, Chelsea could have a world star on their hands.
Oscar, Chelsea: This man has single-handedly kept Juan Mata out of the Chelsea first team. Week in, week out, he continues to show why he has Jose Mourinho’s complete faith. That should suffice.
Olivier Giroud, Arsenal: His goal-scoring run might have dried up, but Giroud beats off competition from Loic Remy and Romelu Lukaku due to his status as an integral part, both as creator and finisher, of Arsenal’s brilliant attacking football. A complete forward.
With 39 goals scored and 18 conceded, Arsenal are the third-highest scoring team in the Premier League and boast the meanest defensive record in the top flight. It’s no wonder that Arsenal will approach round 21 in top spot, with 45 points on board.
A key part of their season has been Wojciech Szczesny, who has rediscovered his precocious form with a series of outstanding performances in the Arsenal goal.
A total of 61 saves this season has been augmented by nine clean sheets—the league’s highest tally—as Szczesny picked himself up from an inconsistent season last year to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s very finest goalkeepers.
Such has been the success and aesthetic pleasure of Roberto Martinez’s Everton side this season that we’ve opted for no fewer than three of his players in this Best XI.
Let's start with Seamus Coleman, who, lest we forget, was signed from Irish club Sligo Rovers in 2009 for just £60,000.
He’s been a key part of Martinez’s system at Goodison Park, bombing down the right flank with total joy and in the process becoming the best right-back in the league.
Coleman has already scored five league goals this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s entered double figures by the time May rolls around.
On the opposite flank at Everton is Leighton Baines, who has continued his impressive form from last season with an excellent six months so far and just shades Southampton’s Luke Shaw to this position.
Baines’ runs from the back and world-class deliveries from both his crosses and set pieces make him a threat to any opponent, and he has even usurped long-time fixture Ashley Cole in the England national setup.
He’s scored three goals so far, making it eight in total for both full-backs in just 20 league games. No wonder Everton are flying high.
If there’s ever a picture of composure, leadership, technique and anticipation at the Emirates Stadium, it’ll be of Per Mertesacker, who has been a rock in central defence for Arsene Wenger this season.
After an initial settling-in period, Mertesacker has grown into one of the finest defenders in the Premier League, striking up an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny and assuming the Gunners captaincy in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta.
A key component in Arsenal’s league-leading defence, Mertesacker has also scored two goals in the league this year and makes up for his lack of pace by an outstanding reading of the game and impeccable positioning.
Before Southampton’s season started unraveling, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were considered strong contenders for Europe and, at one point, even the top four.
Their brand of pressing, attacking football has attracted many a neutral observer and won plaudits for their impressive play, but equally noteworthy was their watertight backline, which until the end of November had conceded the fewest goals out of all 20 Premier League teams.
A towering young defender signed from Olympique Lyonnais in the summer, Dejan Lovren has been an ever-present in the Saints defence and has provided a classy blend of physicality, tackling, composure and technique.
There are few stories this Premier League season as heartwarming as Aaron Ramsey’s resurgence in the Arsenal midfield.
After a horrific leg injury in 2010, there were fears that Ramsey’s career would never reach the heights that his precocious talents had promised. This season, however, he has answered his critics in style.
With a barnstorming eight goals and six assists in just 18 league games, the 23-year-old has risen to the fold and become Arsenal’s midfield engine. His much improved passing, movement and finishing has been a joy to behold in a bewitching Gunners team capable of scintillating football.
Alongside the rejuvenated Aaron Ramsey, we’ll have perennial performer Yaya Toure, who surely now belongs in a class of his own as the complete midfielder.
We must also recognize the excellent work of Toure’s midfield colleague Fernandinho and credit his role in Toure’s consistently impressive form this season, but 10 goals in just 19 games speaks for itself. Toure, erstwhile known as a defensive midfielder, is now one of the league’s most devastating attacking forces from the middle.
An enviable concoction of power, pace, technique and finishing, Toure leads Manchester City from defence into attack in the blink of an eye, and has also added a deadly direct free kick to his dizzying arsenal of tricks. He already has four goals just from free kicks this season.
Our third and final Evertonian is Ross Barkley, who, at just 20 years of age, may just be England’s finest talent of his generation.
His precocious talents have been given center stage by Roberto Martinez, who has made him a key cog in a purring Blues machine. Barkley has responded in kind and has taken the opportunity to establish himself as a genuinely exciting prospect who has almost everything in his locker.
Barkley is power, pace, explosiveness, creativity and finishing rolled into one young package, and has the swagger on the pitch to become a possible Everton and England captain in the future. He has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top this season.
Ahead of Ross Barkley is his predecessor both in terms of club and stature, Wayne Rooney.
With strong rumors of a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and of a request to leave Manchester United towards the end of last season, Rooney was also strongly linked with a move to Chelsea over the summer.
Despite all the controversies and negative publicity before ultimately staying put at Old Trafford, Rooney has reinvented himself in an attacking midfield role this season, supporting United’s main strikers.
As a result, his goals tally has dipped—albeit not by much, as he’s still scored nine goals in 17 games—but his influence in the team has greatly increased. His nine assists tell just part of the story: Rooney is now the indispensable player that makes Manchester United tick.
Who’s the best player in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez?
The best part of picking a team of the (half-) season is that we can pick both and pair them up with each other, so our team will have the league’s two best players.
So let’s start with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, who has recaptured his form from their 2011/12 Premier League-winning campaign with 13 league goals and four assists in just 15 games thus far.
He’s been a constant in Manuel Pellegrini’s team as the Chilean manager has rotated to find the right partner for him. In Alvaro Negredo, Aguero has the perfect foil. Small wonder that they are now known as one of the league’s best strike partnerships.
A fit and firing Aguero at the tip of a peerless City machine makes for a wonderful spectacle. If Aguero and his colleagues continue their fine work this season, they might just go all the way.
Notice that we mentioned Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo as one of the Premier League’s best strike partnerships. The other? None other than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge misses out on our lineup (and bench) entirely due an injury that ruled him out in December, so we’ll round out our starting XI with the surely undisputed player of the half-season thus far, Luis Suarez.
And Suarez deserves all the plaudits. Anyone with 20 goals after 20 league games would be regarded as a striker on top of his game, but Suarez has scored that same amount despite missing the first five games of the season due to his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season.
His four-goal salvo against Norwich City in December showed us all just what this mercurial Uruguayan is all about: technique, finesse, unpredictability, finishing and a fondness for the outrageous.
Now that Suarez has seemed to buckle down and sort out his on-field attitude, he has matured into one of the very best in the world. Premier League fans are lucky to witness a master of his craft in his prime.