One City, Two Teams, United in Dominance: Manchester XI vs EPL XI: Part 2
Just to recap, this is the All Manchester XI which will be facing up to the Rest Of England XI:
Starting XI: Joe Hart, Rafael Da Silva, Vincent Kompany, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Nani, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko, Wayne Rooney
Subs: David De Gea, Micah Richards, Javier Hernandez, Sergio 'Kun' Aguero, Antonio Valencia, Rio Ferdinand, Nigel De Jong
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Now we can start examining the best of the Rest of the England:
Rest of EPL XI Goalkeeper: Jose Manuel Reina
This is by far the most difficult position for which to pick one player. The competition is high amongst Liverpool's Jose Manuel Reina, Chelsea's Petr Cech and Tottenham's Brad Freidel. Both Reina and Cech can rightfully claim to be among the best goalkeepers in the world, let alone England, so it came down to very fine lines when choosing the best of these players over the past several years.
Looking at the respective defensive records of Liverpool and Chelsea over the past years, we see that while Cech has conceded just 83 goals over the past three seasons, Pepe Reina has let in 103. A 20-goal difference might seem quite large but there are reasons for this. The first is that Cech has had a few injury problems over the three-year period being considered and therefore has played fewer games than Reina (105 and 118, respectively). Further, Cech has had a much better defence and manager alongside him during the same time.
Considering all factors, including the eccentricity of Reina and the vulnerability Cech shows gathering aerial balls, I would have to pick the Liverpool keeper. He has shown more consistency in his performance and even during a period of turmoil and injuries within his defence has managed to maintain a rate of conceding less then one goal per game.
Rest of EPL XI Right Back: Bakary Sagna
Much has been made of how poor Arsenal's defence has been. Compared to the days of Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon and Winterburn, the defence these days seems to be a disgrace. Little blame for the porous defence goes into the hands of their right back Bakary Sagna, though, and for good reason.
Even with his defenders conceding poor goals around him, Sagna has still managed to go through season after season with consistently good performances, making him by far the best right back in England.
When he first came to England, much of the praise was put towards his performances in attack but over the years, like every good player, he has developed his defensive game, meaning that he can cover himself in glory on both ends of the pitch.
Rest of EPL Xi Center Back: John Terry
An obvious choice. Mr. Chelsea, "Brave" John Terry, whatever you want to call him, John Terry has been a leader like few others in the league. Besides the leadership shown since he became captain in 2004 at the age of 23, his quality is above all others except a worthy few.
As explained above when talking about Petr Cech and his record for Chelsea, the Blues have had a tremendous defensive record with the former England captain at the back. Seventy-eight goals in 104 appearances over the past three seasons, to be precise.
Virtually unbeatable in the air and stronger then most strikers in the challenge, Terry's weakness over the years has been his ever decreasing speed, but considering that Chelsea have still managed one of the best defensive records in the league for the past three seasons, it can only be said that Terry is still managing quite well.
Rest of EPL XI Center Back: Brende Hangeland
The position alongside Terry was always going to be a contentious one. While Liverpool's Daniel Agger and Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen seem to have the quality above the other contenders, their persistent injury problems over the past seasons means they cannot be considered starters, in similar vein to Rio Ferdinand not being in the starting lineup for the All Manchester XI despite being arguably the best defender in England when he plays.
Therefore, the position goes to Fulham's Brende Hangeland, who has quite clearly shown in recent seasons that he belongs at a much better club than Fulham. Interest from Arsenal has been profound, but Fulham have remained vigilant in their effort to keep the Nordic defender amongst their ranks.
Hangeland has been an ever present rock in Fulham's very impressive defence, especially during the years of Roy Hodgson where Fulham were notoriously difficult to break down (84 goals conceded in 84 matches). Similar in playing style to John Terry, Hangeland presents a powerful opponent in defence and a goal-scoring threat at set-pieces, as his six goals scored last season indicate.
A winner over Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba, Martin Skrtel and Phil Jageilka.
Rest of EPL XI Left Back: Ashley Cole
Another member of Chelsea's defensive juggernaut, Ashley Cole might've been pipped by Everton's Leighton Baines for the title of "best left-back in the EPL," but Cole's performances in seasons past have been unparalleled. Not only in consistency, but in quality, as seen by his being regularly given the title of "best left-back in the world." In effect, it's not difficult to decide to put him in this squad.
Rest of EPL XI Right Winger: Dirk Kuyt
In a superfluous footballing world, it's easy not to appreciate the players like Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt has suffered from this mentality from football neutrals over years of fantastic productivity. Thirty-eight goals and 20 assists over the past three seasons is a record few can match and with the added effort Kuyt brings towards the defensive side of Liverpool's game, his impact in matches becomes even greater.
It's not surprising, then, when you think that throughout the three years of turmoil and change within Liverpool, Kuyt has been one of the few players, alongside Gerrard and Reina, who are rated as the best within the club, to be consistently starting and performing.
Rest of EPL XI Defensive Midfielder: Scott Parker
It's often difficult for a player from a mediocre club to be given the recognition he truly deserves; it usually takes a move to a big club challenging for titles for that to happen. Scott Parker broke those boundaries after his tremendous performances for West Ham last season, albeit performances that failed to keep his side in the Premier League.
A player constantly one move away from being considered one of the best in the league, Parker's career took a nose dive after his failed move to Chelsea early in his career and since then has embarked on a trek to reach the heights he was never given the opportunity to reach.
A player shunned by England managers time and time again in favour of the partnership of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield, Parker has recently been inducted into the side and his performances leave one to wonder how different England's fortunes would've been had he be given a greater role. At 30, Parker is arguably at his peak and his move to Tottenham could resurrect his sides chances of a top-four finish.
Rest of EPL XI Central Midfielder: Luka Modric
Scott Parker's partner at Tottenham will also be by his side for this team as Luka Modric joins Terry and Cole as the automatic selections in this side. Coming into England, much was made about his short stature and whether he'd pass the old cliche question of whether he was strong enough for the league, a question even more ridiculous when considering the impact of past players like Juninho, Zola and Scholes.
Modric settled into the league quickly but as a left midfielder rather than the playmaker he was made out to be. After starting as a central attacking midfielder and working his way to left midfielder, Modric's fantastic passing ability now finds him as arguably the Premier League's best, and most sought after, central midfielder.
Fitting perfectly in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation, Modric was the key player in Tottenham's surge towards the No. 4 spot in 2009/10. After failing to get his transfer wish to Chelsea this season, one would wonder how Modric's mentality will be coming into the new season but whatever the case, his quality is not to be doubted.
Rest of EPL XI Left Winger: Juan Mata
In the Manchester XI, we had two signings from Spain as part of the starting lineup while Aguero was part of the bench. Juan Mata is another big signing from Spain and like the others mentioned, has shown no problems in settling into his new team, Chelsea, and has looked to add a lot of pace and creativity to an old, slow and lethargic attack.
A very versatile player capable of playing on either wing, in the center of midfield or as a striker, Mata would fit into any formation Villas Boas will look to settle on. Playing as a left winger mostly for Valencia, Mata's main strengths were his explosive speed, technique and scoring ability (46 goals in 176 matches). Though he is new to the Premier League, he already looks strong and his performances for the past seasons with Valencia warrant his place in the squad.
Rest of EPL XI Striker: Robin Van Persie
He came as a relative unknown, shot to fame, had the expectations to be the new "Denis Bergkamp" but now with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri gone from Arsenal, Robin Van Perise has by far the most pressure on his shoulders to succeed.
Even though it is expected that Arsenal will have a tough time getting into the top four this season, that doesn't mean that the pressure to get into the Champions League is of their shoulders, especially that of Van Persie, who is now the captain and offensive linchpin of the side.
Injuries have been a dark side to his game but there is no doubting his immense quality as one of the most gifted strikers on the ball. His finishing ability is up there with the best, be it inside or outside the box.
Rest of EPL XI Striker: Didier Drogba
One look at Drogba sends shivers down the spines of many strikers. Standing at 6'3", he might be shorter then Peter Crouch but his pure physique is what sets him apart from other tall strikers. Drogba came into the league with a reputation as a dominant center forward but it was clear that he needed to bulk up. And bulk up he did over the years, even after initially struggling with the expectations due to his price tag and the pace of the league.
Drogba solidified his status as one of the England's best strikers in 2006 but it wasn't until 2009 that he upgraded that title to one of the world's best with an amazing season that included not only 29 EPL goals but 10 assists as well. Drogba has evolved his game as his Chelsea career has gone on. Once a goal-scoring target man, Drogba has improved his technical game and is now much more involved with creating goals as he is in scoring them.
Rest of EPL XI: Bench
Bench: Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Leighton Baines, Charles N'Zogbia, Frank Lampard, Darren Bent, Luis Suarez.
Rest of EPL XI Manager: David Moyes
Even though there is only one Everton player in the squad who is on the bench, David Moyes is undoubtedly the best manager in the league outside Manchester. Arsene Wenger might seem a dead-on choice but the fact that he has failed to win a trophy since 2005 and the continued deterioration of his squad since then means that he can not be placed on the same pedestal he was three-to-four years back.
David Moyes, on the other hand, has worked wonders with one of the smallest budgets in the league, especially given that Everton have not permanently signed a player for over a year (two years if you do not include free signings). Still, he has managed to not only keep them afloat in the league but also maintain their status as a top-eight team.
Rest of EPL XI Tactics
Similar to the Manchester XI, the Rest of England XI will have a 4-2-2-2. With Terry and Hangeland's both lack of speed, playing a high line would be highly discouraged. That being said, the defending ability of both should not be doubted and therefore with the protection of Parker in front of them and the wing backs, there should be a problem if a slightly deep back line is adopted. Ashley Cole and Bakary Sagna would provide width with their attack forays as both Mata and Kuyt would have tendencies to cut in and get on the score sheet.
With the deep line and the firepower up front, there has to be a link between the two and Modric is the perfect man for that role. Playing as a deep playmaker, he can collect the ball from the defenders and distribute it to the flanks with accuracy and with pace in order to set counter attacks. Parker will sit alongside him in a deeper position to protect the back four.
Mata and Kuyt, both comfortable either on the wings or in central positions, will be wingers on paper but will have the license to cut in as needed to increase goal-scoring chances. The switching of positions would need to be done in uni-sense with Van Persie occupying one of the flank roles. Drogba will maintain a central position to be in position to finish any crosses or passes that come through into the box. With Van Persie, Modric and Mata all great at creating chances, the number of chances shouldn't be a problem.
Coming Up in Part 3!
In the final part of this series a comparison will be made between the players of each team and the tactics with a final mark that will decide which team, in my opinion, is the strongest.
Van Persie vs. Rooney, Vidic vs. Terry, Juan Mata vs. Samir Nasri? Which players do you think are stronger from each team? Please leave a comment.
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