Premier League Under-23 Team of the Season: Alli, Martial and Kane Star

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 17, 2016

Premier League Under-23 Team of the Season: Alli, Martial and Kane Star

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    Bar one spare fixture involving Manchester United and Bournemouth, the Premier League season is in the books.

    You don't need to be told for the umpteenth time how remarkable, exhilarating, surprising and wild it was, so let's switch the focus to something else.

    Who were the best young players across the 2015-16 Premier League season? We've picked them out and slotted them into an XI—a good old English 4-4-2, to be precise.

    To be eligible the player had to be 22 or younger at the commencement of the season; players who turned 23 during the season are allowed in.

    Disagree with our selections? Start the conversation in the comments section below.

    All statistics are via WhoScored.com.

GK: Jack Butland, Stoke City

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    Jack Butland injured his ankle during England's victory over Germany in March, curtailing what had been a mightily impressive season up until that point; he had made the most saves in the Premier League of any goalkeeper, stepping into Asmir Begovic's shoes between the sticks for Stoke City and filling them aptly.

    Butland has established himself as a top all-round 'keeper, with shot-stopping ability, superb reflexes and command of his area jumping to the fore as key strengths. 

    In what has essentially been his "breakout" season—his first as a starter in England's top tier—he's shown that there really aren't many issues for Mark Hughes and his staff to correct in his game.

RB: Hector Bellerin, Arsenal

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    Hector Bellerin (3,240) came second only to Nacho Monreal (3,248) in minutes played for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, highlighting his near-ever-presence in the XI.

    For a 21-year-old to command such dominance over a position in Arsene Wenger's team is not uncommon, but Bellerin has certainly made the most of his manager's trust, introducing a consistency to his game that was lacking during his breakout season in 2014-15.

    The Spaniard is fast, aggressive, improving defensively all the time and rapier-like in attack when allowed to burst forward.

CB: John Stones, Everton

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    The list of centre-backs who excelled in the Premier League this season is not a long one, which makes picking two who started the season under the age of 23 a difficult task.

    John Stones' Everton have been leaky in defence and hapless in their co-ordination at times, but he has at least established his own strengths and imprinted them on team performances.

    His confidence on the ball under pressure is distinctly un-English, and Roy Hodgson has kept him in the England squad on account of the "different" option he offers at the back.

CB: Kurt Zouma, Chelsea

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    Kurt Zouma was having a cracking season up until his horrid knee injury. One of the few bright sparks in Chelsea's campaign, the news that he'd miss at least six months was tough to take for fans.

    He'd made the most league starts (21) of his short career to date and had essentially nailed down a firm starting spot. His aerial dominance, ability to tussle with big target men and remarkable recovery pace had supporters enamoured with him as a performer.

    The big worry is that that recovery speed—and thus his ability to step up, take risks, then fly back to mop up—will be diminished if his knee doesn't return to peak condition.

LB:Nathan Ake, Watford

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    Chelsea staff have long been enticed by the potential Nathan Ake holds, but finding out which position suits him best has been problematic. Too spindly to play centre-back but seemingly not mobile enough to play in midfield, a conundrum ensued as to where to go with him.

    Enter Watford and Quique Sanchez Flores. They took him on loan this season and put him at left-back—a position which, to the surprise of many, suited him down to the ground and married all of his best qualities together.

    Watford's more cautious approach allowed him to focus on his defensive responsibilities first, and he flashed excellence in one-on-one situations. There were some odd concerns about losing his man at the far post (and at set pieces), but overall 2015-16 was a year of serious growth for Ake.

Wing: Manuel Lanzini, West Ham United

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    This spot really should have belonged to Raheem Sterling, who, after sealing a big move to Manchester City, was expected to show the world just how good he is. But taking advantage of his stuttering campaign is Manuel Lanzini, who arrived at West Ham United to little fanfare and has thrived in Slaven Bilic's system.

    "The Jewel," as he is known in his homeland, boasts an excellent strike, a lovely turn and a tactical awareness you perhaps wouldn't expect from one so inexperienced at this level.

    The Argentinian played all over the midfield and dropped into the No. 8 position at times of need, willing to carry out any instruction given.

    Other (close) contenders for this role were Wilfried Zaha and Nathan Redmond.

CM: Eric Dier, Tottenham Hotspur

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    When Eric Dier lined up on the opening day of the season at Old Trafford in holding midfield, eyebrows across the country were raised. Had Mauricio Pochettino stepped into the void of madness before the campaign had even begun?

    But the bespoke role the Argentinian had crafted for Dier—playing as an auxiliary deep midfielder but also doubling as an extra centre-back at times—suited him perfectly, accentuating many of his strengths and hiding most of his weaknesses. It has allowed him to excel in a role more preventative that anything else.

    There's an argument he's been overplayed—he's clocked more than 4,000 minutes this season in all competitions—and that's led to a late deterioration in performances, but up until May, Dier had barely put a foot wrong.

CM: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Predictably, Dele Alli joins team-mate Eric Dier in our Under-23 Team of the Season. The Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year turned heads for all the right reasons in a remarkable maiden top-flight campaign.

    His fearlessness and bravery were often praised, as was his ability to score stunning strikes from every possible distance or angle, and while he struggled with consistency and discipline at times, it was easy to overlook those issues in light of the bigger picture.

    England have a gem in Alli, and Roy Hodgson knows it.

Wing: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

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    What a debut Premier League season it was for Anthony Martial. He shoved knee-jerk tabloid claims that he was a panic buy and a waste of money firmly back down their respective throats by shining on the pitch on a weekly basis.

    Eleven goals is an extremely respectable tally given he essentially played the entire season out on the left-hand side, and as the season progressed, he became more unpredictable with his play. By April he had full-backs twisting themselves inside and out trying to keep track of his piercing, mazy dribbles.

    One thing to watch moving forward: Does he morph into a full-time left-sided forward like Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar, or return to the position many Manchester United fans believe is "his"—the central striker's spot?

ST: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

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    Romelu Lukaku's season can be divided into two halves, just as Everton's as a club can: The first was scintillating, in which excitement, goals and wins flowed; the second was awful, the players slowly limping to the finish line and reaching it without a first-team manager in tow.

    Lukaku's 18 goals and six assists represent an excellent seasonal tally for a striker who turned 23 during the campaign. His hold-up and link play also improved, lending more hope to those who believe he can become one of the best and most complete strikers in the world.

    There are slight issues that must be addressed—his touch can be a bit off, and his decision-making needs to improve much more—but overall it was a season of progress for the Belgian, which is important, given 2014-15 didn't really go to plan for him.

ST: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Premier League Golden Boot winner Harry Kane was the first name on the teamsheet when constructing this XI. It's been a season of true success for him despite the disappointing end to the campaign for Tottenham.

    He recovered from a slow start (and therefore accusations of him being a one-season wonder) to bag 25 league goals—a phenomenal achievement which should not be underestimated. He's scored every type: left and right foot, header and long-range pile-driver.

    He's also established himself as one of the best holding forwards in the game, linking playing well and pressing voraciously, leading Spurs' effort from the front. A manager's dream, you might say.

Bench

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    GK: Jordan Pickford, Sunderland

    CB: Kevin Wimmer, Tottenham Hotspur

    CM: Emre Can, Liverpool

    AM: Ross Barkley, Everton

    Wing: Nathan Redmond, Norwich City

    ST: Kelechi Iheanacho, Manchester City

    ST: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United

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