By Shane Thomas
Do we really need a lengthy introductory paragraph here? The Premier League season's over. Here were its best players - with special mentions for a few others:
* - denotes my player of the season
Joe Hart (Manchester City)
It's the second time in three seasons that Hart's been my keeper of the season. What's so heartening about Hart (forgive the pun) is his steady improvement year on year. Ignore some of the hyperbolic drivel proclaiming him as one of the best goalkeepers in the world (not when Gigi Buffon, Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, Maarten Stekelenburg and Petr Cech are still around), but time is on Hart's side. He not only produced high levels of performance throughout the season (don't overlook his displays against Aston Villa & Wigan), but has also developed into a mammoth presence at City - one of the club's dressing room leaders. And while his conduct when saving a penalty from Scott Sinclair lacked class, it also showed a steely confidence that all the best keepers tend to have. Expect Hart to be one of English football's finest for years to come.
Special Mentions - Tim Krul (Newcastle), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan), Brad Friedel (Tottenham)
Danny Simpson (Newcastle)
A surprise choice? Maybe, but then Newcastle were the Premier League's surprise team. Simpson may not have done anything spectacular, but he did the basic things well on a consistent basis. In the era of the Dani Alves-like buccaneering full-back who plays as an auxiliary attacker, it can be easily forgotten that a defender's job is primarily to defend. And with Bacary Sagna injured for most of the campaign, and Branislav Ivanovic being shunted around Chelsea's back four, there was no more consistent right-back than Simpson.
Special Mentions - Kyle Walker (Tottenham), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
Gael Clichy (Manchester City)
While Arsenal fans were disinterested to see Clichy depart The Emirates, Clichy was quietly impressive at City, especially in the second-half of the season. He has always been a strong attacking full-back, never more displayed than in his stellar display against Wolves. The ongoing issue with him was his maddening propensity to lose concentration and make mistakes, often at ill-timed moments. However, the errors were absent this time around, allowing him to nail down the left-back slot at The Etihad, ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov.
Special Mentions - Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham), Leighton Baines (Everton), Jean Beausejour (Wigan)
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
A star performer last season, and a totem again during this campaign. Was badly missed whenever he was absent due to injury or suspension. An easily likable chap, but that's irrelevant in regards to his level of performance. Seeming to lack any weakness at centre-half; he's the ideal model of concentration, focus, awareness, positioning and determination. And lest we forget, he scored one of the season's most crucial goals when he won the Manchester derby. Fast becoming one of the world's best players in his position.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
I never would have envisaged me putting him in this team 12 months ago. After an awkward first season in England, which featured him making an inexplicable error to gift Birmingham the Carling Cup, his second season underscored just how well he held together a backline that was at times shambolic. While Arsenal were consistently inconsistent, Koscielny was an exemplar of reliability. It was only him who came out with credit in matches when Arsenal let in 8 against Manchester United, 4 against Blackburn & AC Milan, and 3 against Chelsea & Norwich. And he scored the crucial goal which sealed 3rd place in the table for The Gunners.
Special Mentions - Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans (both Manchester United), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle), Johnny Heitinga, Sylvain Distin (both Everton), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), Ashley Williams (Swansea)
Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
The Premier League's new colossus. In the mould of Patrick Vieira, Yaya is half footballer, half force of nature. A fearsome combination of physical force, technical proficiency, and a champion will. Looked jaded - like many of his African compatriots - after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, but roused himself to score pivotal goals in the title race, against both Stoke and Newcastle. Much like Frank Lampard in the past, Yaya has the knack of scoring goals at crucial times. He's an invaluable asset in City's quest to build an era of supremacy.
Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle)
Well I did say, didn't I... There are many eternal mysteries in life, and one of them is how on earth Newcastle managed to get Cabaye to sign for them, especially at such a cheap price? He sullied his season a touch with some classless conduct and dangerous tackling, but it wouldn't be fair to let that overshadow his more pleasing qualities. A midfielder that can do a bit of everything; good from set-pieces, energetic, but also reads the game well, can play as an anchor man or nearer the final third of the pitch, and has arguably the most underrated array of passing skills in the division (his display against Swansea being a case in point). There's something of the Roy Keane about Cabaye, and would make any team in the Premier League better.
Special Mentions - Mikel Arteta, Alex Song (both Arsenal), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes (both Manchester United), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Leon Britton, Joe Allen (both Swansea), James McCarthy (Wigan), Leon Osman (Everton)
David Silva (Manchester City)
He suffered from physical & mental lethargy in the second-half of the season, but his sterling form earlier in the campaign, coupled with a lack of viable alternatives means that Silva gets a place in my XI. At times he looked unplayable. His ability to find space, and create chances with the most perceptive rapier-like passing was breathtaking - will anyone forget his sumptuous assist for Edin Dzeko in City's 6-1 win at Old Trafford? It reminded me of the brilliance of Robert Pires in the 2001/02 season, which ended up with the Frenchman winning that season's Footballer of the Year. If only Silva had maintained his luminescence, he surely would have done the same.
Special Mentions - Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle), Michael Kightly (Wolves), Shaun Maloney (Wigan), Ramires (Chelsea)
Clint Dempsey (Fulham)
Always an underrated player, Dempsey turned himself from one of the most valued players at Fulham to one of the most valued players in the country. His season was a perfect rejoinder to those who write off a player as top class if they haven't fulfilled their potential by the age of 26. Dempsey didn't show anything that we hadn't seen from him before, he just did it more consistently. He topped 20 goals for the season, and became the first American to score 50 goals in the Premier League. You have to worry for Fulham if he leaves the club (which seems likely). They would have struggled enormously this season without him.
Special Mentions - Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Victor Moses (Wigan), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Scott Sinclair (Swansea), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich), James McClean (Sunderland), Juan Mata (Chelsea)
SECOND STRIKER/ATTACKING MIDFIELD:
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
I won't lie. Had events taken a slightly different turn just before 5:00pm on the 13th May, I probably would have given the nod to Wayne Rooney. It's tough to argue that Rooney wasn't more consistent than Aguero. But the fact is that there was no footballer more decisive than the little Argentine. I already noted after his sparkling debut just how important he could prove to City. But could anyone have predicted him scoring the most memorable goal seen on this island since Michael Thomas? It wasn't just the goal, but the way he kept a cool head in what was a figurative footballing inferno that gets him the in the team. He was City's most dangerous attacker all season, and is likely to be the pivot of the City team for the foreseeable future. If it wasn't for Kun, the Premier League trophy would be in the red half of Manchester, rather than the blue half. That £35 million doesn't seem so expensive now, does it?
Special Mentions - Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), James Morrison (West Brom), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Junior Hoilett (Blackburn)
Robin Van Persie * (Arsenal)
No player did more for the (relative) success of his side than Van Persie. Even when in Arsene Wenger's famed "red zone" towards the end of the season, he still contributed with crucial goals against Norwich (home), Wolves and Stoke (away). It's apposite that Van Persie idolises Diego Maradona, as the last time I saw one man carry & improve a team on his own was Maradona back in 1986. The victories over Chelsea, Sunderland, Norwich (away) and Stoke (home) were almost solely down to the Dutchman. I always said that if he could stay fit for a whole season, he'd be a certainty to score 20+ goals. Well he did even better than that. If RVP is destined to leave Arsenal in the summer, then he's given the club one hell of a campaign to remember him by.
Special Mentions - Grant Holt (Norwich), Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham), Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse (both Newcastle), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Peter Crouch (Stoke), Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Blackburn)
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