By Shane Thomas
Quite simple post, this. With the Premier League season now over, here's my team of the season (with a few honourable mentions):
* - denotes my player of the season
Petr Cech (Chelsea)
It appeared that the Czech would never be the same after his horrific collision with Steven Hunt back in 2006. However, he's gradually regained some of his best form, and while not the most eye-catching goalkeeper of the season, he's been the most consistent. When was the last time you saw Cech let in a goal and thought, "he should have done better with that"? And let's not forget his extraordinary save from Javier Hernandez, which helped knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup.
Honourable Mentions: David De Gea (Manchester United), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
The Argentine deserves credit from evolving himself to a useful utility squad man, into one of the first names on City's team sheet - and a genuine leader in the dressing room. Zabaleta has always been a solid defensive presence, but he also added greater personality and drive in attack, chipping in with some useful goals, and being one of the few City players not to allow his level to drop from the last campaign. He could be to City what Denis Irwin was to Manchester United.
Honourable Mentions: Rafael (Manchester United), Billy Jones (West Brom)
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Proof that nice guys don't always finish last. He has an incredible engine to patrol Everton's left-flank, giving solidity in defence, and menace going forward. Like David Beckham he often doesn't need to beat his man in a one-on-one situation, as he can just as easily bend the ball around an opponent with his dangerous left foot. Probably the most consistent deliverer of a dead-ball in the Premier League.
Honourable Mentions: Ben Davies (Swansea)
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Ferdinand's career as a cornerstone of club & country seemed to be over. He was injury prone, started the season as persona non grata for England, and was no longer an automatic choice for United. While he never got that England recall that many suspect he craved, he was restored to what had been a leaky Manchester United defence, and plugged the holes in the champions rearguard. He no longer has the pace of old, but has added greater anticipation & concentration to his game - and also scored the final Old Trafford goal of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. And yes, it was a late winner.
Matija Nastasic (Manchester City)
Roberto Mancini didn't get a lot right at the Etihad over the past few months, but demoting Joleon Lescott for a hitherto untried centre-half with potential was one of them. Many in the punditocracy were scratching their heads at the regular inclusion of Nastasic, but the scratching stopped by about February. The Serb showed remarkable composure at the heart of City's defence, which is even more impressive given Vincent Kompany's ordinary season. Expect Nastasic to be one of the Premier League's shining lights for years to come.
Honourable Mentions: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Jonny Evans (Manchester United), Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka (both Everton), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Chico Flores (Swansea), Sebastien Bassong (Norwich)
Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
One of the most divisive players in the Premier League; A cultured ball-player who would be revered if he was born Spanish, or a feeble fancy-dan, who lacks the character to control the big games?
Truth is, Carrick is neither. But he's the best progenitor England currently have, and while not a
great player, he's definitely a good one. And he had a very good season. He often had to hold United's threadbare midfield together on his own, striking up a good partnership with Robin Van Persie and giving his defence more protection that one might expect. People should stop focusing on what Carrick can't do, as the things that he can do are pretty impressive.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
A surprise choice, maybe. But from their (unlucky) opening day defeat to Manchester City, Schneiderlin looked a class act. A player who isn't outstanding at one facet at the central-midfield position, but proved quite adept at most of them. He can be used as a shuttler who can get on the end of crosses and knock-downs to score, but was often used in a deeper role, where his superb ability to intercept and launch counter-attacks fit in well with the new style of play at Southampton, instigated by Mauricio Pochettino.
Honourable Mentions: Sandro (Tottenham), Leon Osman (Everton), Sung-Yeung Ki (Swansea), Ashley Westwood (Aston Villa). James McCarthy (Wigan), Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
The least heralded of Chelsea's three amigos, but Oscar was one of the most pleasing surprises of the season - especially for Chelsea fans. In the past, we've seen talented players from Latin countries struggle with the climate, physicality and pace of the English game. But Oscar showed there's an unyielding character beneath his fragile frame. He announced himself with a stunning goal against Juventus in the Champions League, and showed his proficient mastery of the ball throughout the season.
Honourable Mentions: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich), Andreas Weimann (Aston Villa), Andros Townsend (QPR)
Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Not just a marvel this season, but a marathon man, playing in a mammoth 64 games. After a solid first season at Stamford Bridge, Mata - now playing in his preferred position - really showed his class during this campaign. The creative hub of all that came through Chelsea, he racked up 20 goals, as well as an astonishing 35 assists. He may not be the most celebrated name in West London, but make no mistake, not only is he the club's key player, but he may turn into a lodestar for this more technical, less robust era we're seeing at Chelsea.
Honourable Mentions: James Morrison (West Brom), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Marouane Fellaini (Everton), Kevin Nolan (West Ham)
*Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
I've put him on the left flank in this team, as it's still the closest thing we have to a nominal position for the Welshman. He started the campaign slowly, but after being giving a free rein near the turn of the calendar year, Bale's form has been tremendous. He's gone from an exciting talent into a genuine matchwinner of menace. Even though he failed to drag Tottenham into the top four, it wasn't for the want of trying. Not only was he deciding games, but he was doing so with coruscating brilliance. We should enjoy him in the Premier League while we still can.
Honourable Mentions: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Matt Jarvis (West Ham), Shaun Maloney (Wigan)
Robin Van Persie (Manchester United)
I was in a minority amongst Arsenal fans, as I wasn't frothing with bile and fury when Van Persie announced that he was departing The Emirates to head to Manchester United (apparently it was something to do with the "little boy inside him"). But I was very disappointed, simply because I knew what it meant. I had been privileged enough to see first-hand what the Dutchman can do. And what he did was drag Manchester United to their 20th league title, especially in the first-half of the campaign when they couldn't buy a clean sheet. Even though he had a dip in form, he recovered to give us the season's champagne moment against Aston Villa. He's one of the few players in England who befits the label of "world class".
Honourable Mentions: Michu (Swansea), Romelu Lukaku (West Brom), Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge (both Liverpool), Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
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