2007/2008 Premier League Team Of The Year: The Defense
Goalkeeper: David James (Portsmouth)
After being marred with the harshest of criticism from pundits for his errors in the past, both at the club and international level, Portsmouth shot-stopper David James has taken it upon himself to take his game to an entirely different level after producing a career year at Fratton Park this season.
And it's no coincidence that James' recent run of good form has come along with unprecedented success for Harry Redknapp's men. Combining a strong 8th place showing in the Premier League table and a FA Cup victory to show for their efforts, James' leadership qualities and calming presence at the heart of the Pompey defence has instilled confidence throughout a squad that now has their sights set on Europe.
James' shot stopping ability and remarkable reflexes are one of the many reasons why he was only player outside of the 'Big Four' to be nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award. While amassing a total of 232 saves in 41 appearances for the club, James also managed to break the Portsmouth club record for clean sheets in a season with 21 clean sheets, including both league play and the FA Cup.
The 38-year-old goalkeeper will look to build on undoubtedly his best season to date as he hopes to cement his place in Fabio Capello's long-term plans as England's number one with the 2010 World Cup Qualification Rounds getting ready to take place in the not-so-distant future.
In a year where Manchester United and Chelsea conceded the fewest goals, with 22 and 26 respectively, Edwin Van Der Sar (Manchester United) and Petr Cech (Chelsea) deserve their share of credit for what was an outstanding season for both world-class goalkeepers.
And while their performances were always consistent at the highest level, both Van der Sar and Cech benefited from playing in behind arguably the best back-lines that the world has to offer. That's also not mentioning the fact that both keepers have had injury struggles of their own to deal with as they both were out for several games with their respective injuries or rotation policies.
Pepe Reina (Liverpool) also turned in a fantastic season for a trophy-less Reds squad that has undergone one of their most turbulent season to date. Even while Liverpool were struggling in the league, Reina remained poised and consistent as he ultimately saved his club from losing any more points in the Premier League.
The same can also be said for two American goalkeepers, Brad Friedel (Blackburn) and Tim Howard (Everton).
Even as the North American soccer market continues to grow, Howard and Friedel provide their fellow countryman with the hope of making it big with their consistently consistent performances in the Premier League. Reliable as ever, both Howard and Friedel possess uncanny reflexes and the ability to make quality saves whenever called upon.
Right Back: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
Aside from his outrageously hideous haircut, there's not a whole lot of negative things to say about Arsene Wenger's bargain buy of the season: Bacary Sagna. Arriving from Auxerre for a modest £6.1 million, Sagna is just another gem in a long list of fantastic signings from the French manager.
Unseating Emmanuel Eboue as Arsenal's undisputed right-back, Sagna provides the London club with necessary pace to defend and attack from the right flank -- something the Ivory Coast international struggled with as a fullback.
His crossing ability and vision for making runs give opposing managers headaches as his abilities give the Gunners' a new dimension while in attack. Combined with alarming pace to run up and down the right flank, Sagna has the ability to track back whenever he is caught out of position as his sheer athleticism gives him an edge over opposing wingers in England.
Out of position defender Wes Brown (Manchester United) has played a key role in Sir Alex Ferguson's quest for completing the Double as the Red Devils get set to key in on both the Premier League and Champions League titles. With Gary Neville out of action for nearly the entire season, the United product has risen to stardom on the right hand side as one of the world's best right-backs. His versatility has proven to be extremely valuable as Brown's ability to play, in both positions, gives United even greater quality in terms of depth.
Center Backs: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) and Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea)
In a league where defensive quality is at an abundance, Rio Ferdinand and Ricardo Carvalho get the nod for their efforts at the heart of their respective defenses. Their performances have been nothing short of fantastic, as their efforts in both the Premier League and the Champions League, have resulted in glory at the finest level.
Aside from Ricardo Carvalho's uncharacteristic blunder against Manchester United in the Premier League, the Portuguese international has once again put forth a season of the utmost quality. Considering the fact that Carvalho was put in several uncomfortable situations throughout the season, having to play with three different defensive partners (Alex, Tal Ben Haim, John Terry) and the managerial changes going on at Chelsea, Carvalho's commanding presence should not go unheralded.
Chelsea's resurgence started and ended with Carvalho's strong play at the back, and with rumors circulating around about a possible exit from Stamford Bridge, Blues' fans can only hope that Carvalho will stay away from the lure of playing for in La Liga, presumably with Barcelona or Real Madrid reportedly interested in his services.
As for Rio Ferdinand, the occassional lapses in concentration and false judgement appear to be gone. It's no question that the potential England skipper has matured immensely since his time at Leeds and he has proven worth of the astounding amount of money that was invested in him by Sir Alex Ferguson a few years back.
With his consistent form and commanding presence as one of the many leaders for the Red Devils, Ferdinand's influential play has earned him praise around the world, as one of, if not the best center back in the world.
Even while John Terry (Chelsea) had his season ravaged by injuries, the Blues' skipper has once again put forth an impressive season as the unquestioned leader at the heart of the defense.
Ferdinand's defensive partner Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) has been every bit as consistent with his towering presence. Known for his ability to win nearly every ball in the air, he poses as a serious threat to opposition, both from a defensive and offensive standpoint.
Martin Laursen's (Aston Villa) play at the back and in attack has led Aston Villa to an impressive 6th place showing in the Premier League with 6 goals to his name.
Christopher Samba (Blackburn) continues to go unnoticed by the general public despite displaying consistent showings while closing down on opposing strikers at Ewood Park.
January signing Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham) appears to be a centerpiece in Juande Ramos' plans as his presence at the back led Tottenham to their Carling Cup victory over Chelsea.
Richard Dunne (Manchester City) has proven his quality, yet again, this time under new manager Sven Goran-Eriksson. The partnership of Micah Richards and Dunne will almost certainly be counted on if City are to succeed in fulfilling their domestic and European ambitions next season.
Joseph Yobo (Everton) has put in another good season under David Moyes and appears to be calmer with the ball in his feet -- something that wasn't the case when he initially joined Everton as Moyes' first signing.
His teammate Phil Jagielka (Everton) also deserves praise for his seemless transition to the Premier League, after leaving Championship outfit Sheffield United for £4 million, to play a pivotal role in Everton's fantastic 5th place showing.
Left Back: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
As Patrice Evra prepares himself for the upcoming Champions League final in Moscow and 2008 European Championships, there's not a whole lot to complain about when taking a look at the Manchester United left-back. He's as quick as they come in a league that demands pace, while still managing to track back and close down on the opposition.
Almost rarely will one witness Evra putting in a wrong foot, and with his attacking abilities, it's no wonder why Manchester United are playing the type of attractive football that they were playing this season. Pace, short passing ability, crossing ability, vision to move forward: it's impossible to ignore Evra's efforts -- despite career year's being produced by Joleon Lescott (Everton) and Gael Clichy (Arsenal).
There's no questioning the role that Joleon Lescott had as one of Everton's leading scorers, with ten goals on the season while playing at left-back. Normally considered to be a central defender, Lescott was pushed out to the left in order to utilize his bruising strength and crossing ability. His predatory instincts to close in on emerging corner and free kicks add to the potential dangers that opposing Premier League defenses face when taking on the bulky defender.
Like his teammate and fellow fullback Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy also has the ability to get forward while managing to track back in time to defend against pacey attackers. His pure speed, pace, and crossing abilities add to an already potent Arsenal attack that prides themselves in playing attractive football. His recovery ability is also another quality that led him to be selected in the PFA Team of the Year for 2007/2008.
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