The 2018-19 Premier League season saw plenty of consistent performers, but who stood above the rest in each position? There are some obvious candidates, but others may surprise you. Read on for our personal Best XI of the Premier League season.
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski, West Ham
While stoppers like Ederson and Allison complemented the way Manchester City and Liverpool played throughout the season and made crucial interventions, they also had the benefit of rock-solid defensive units. If you take a peek farther down the table, you’ll find some less fancied names who nonetheless dominated between the posts. Lukasz Fabianski, the Pole perhaps best known for underwhelming at Arsenal, led the league in saves for West Ham at 148. Keep in mind, this was a West Ham side all over the place during the season. If you need more convincing, take a look at some stats for the London side. Their expected goals against for the season was 65.66, yet they conceded only 55. Fabianski is the main reason for that, and that’s why he was named West Ham’s “Hammer of the Year” and the starting goalkeeper in our Premier League Best XI.
Left back: Lucas Digne, Everton
Lucas Digne is the choice here, even though Liverpool fans will probably find where I live after typing this. This position comes down a two horse race between Andy Robertson and Lucas Digne, two players on vastly different teams tasked with different responsibilities. Leaving out Robertson, who was part of a top-class defense while being fifth in assists in the league, is indeed painful. But we are docking him here slightly because he did have less defensive responsibilities due to his outstanding teammates and was also blessed with attackers more capable of finishing chances. Digne created 15 “big chances” to Robertson’s 13, and had a 30% successful crossing rate compared to Robertson’s 15%. He did this while also doubling Robertson’s interceptions. The Frenchman scored four goals, all outside the box, including two stunning free kicks. Second on the Everton team in tackles and interceptions while being third in total passes, Digne was also voted his team’s player of the year.
Center backs: Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool
The dutchman brought Big Dijk energy to Liverpool’s defense. The Premier League player of the season is the hands-down choice and has more than justified his gigantic pricetag. Liverpool only allowed 22 goals in 38 games after struggling for seasons to find any consistent defense. His presence allowed both the fullbacks to push forward and rack up assists. NO ONE DRIBBLED AROUND HIM ALL SEASON. I mean if you have eyeballs and watched a game you know he absolutely commanded that defense.
Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham
Even with his contract winding down, Toby was as solid as ever at the back for Tottenham. One of the few players who managed to stay mostly healthy, he was vital to their success as the team rotated center back partners and defensive schemes. During the season, Alderweireld played 500 more passes than anyone else on the team. On a team with limited midfield options, Toby was often asked to start the attack. He played over seven “long balls” a game while maintaining an 89% pass success rate, showcasing his dynamic passing skill. It’s too bad he will likely be sold off to another team, because his bromance and partnership with his Belgian teammate, Vertonghen, has been beautifully in tandem for many years.
Right Back: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool
SC: Give me a T!
SC: Gimme an A!
SC: Give me another A!
SC: What’s that spell?
It’s also shorthand for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who, at 20, is already considered one of the best fullbacks in the world, and it’s easy to see why. He’s gradually increased his importance over three seasons with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and provides dynamism while covering his own goal or motoring up the flank to provide a delicious deliveries to his teammates. His assist (12th of the season for the fullback) for Sadio Mané’s first goal on the final match day against Wolves is a perfect example of what he brings to the attacking third.
Left Center Midfield: Ryan Fraser, Bournemouth
MH: The Scot may only be 5’3, but Fraser rose above the competition through for Bournemouth this season, finishing second in the Premier League in assists with 14. Underlying statistics point to him being the best creator in the league this season by a wide margin. He created 28 concrete goal scoring chances, ten more than anyone else in the league. Fraser and Callum Wilson found each other for a combined twelve goals but it could have been even more if Wilson had been more clinical. The Premier League credits Wilson for missing the 2nd most “big chances” in the league. No wonder the top six clubs have already come calling.
SC: ‘But Matthew,’ you might be asking. ‘I didn’t know Fraser played in center midfield. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever played that position even once throughout his entire career.’ Well, reader, you would be correct, but here at The Workmanlike Performers, we like to think outside the box. With his technical skills, motivation, and ability to motor up and down the flank on those short legs for a full 90 minutes, there’s no doubt in our mind that this wee Scotsman can slide into a midfield three.
Center Midfield: N’golo Kante, Chelsea
Kante had to reinvent himself for Sarri, but only Mo Salah won possession in the final third more often than Kante. Normally a withdrawn defensive midfielder, Kante made his name by relentlessly hounding opponents and blocking every passing lane on the field at the same time. This a guy who is too shy to ask his teammates to hold the World Cup trophy, but likely also prompts his opponents to beat the ground in frustration and curse the heavens after foiling yet another attacking move. While his technical skills aren’t quite at the same level of some of his midfield peers, his reading of the game and positional sense is second to none. The diminutive Frenchman needs to be more clinical when he receives the ball in the third, but more goals should come as he continues to elude defenses and make unmarked runs into the box.
Right Center Midfield: Bernardo Silva, Manchester City
Bernardo has officially taken the mantle of best Silva best from his compatriot David. Playing in a more withdrawn role than he was used to, Silva nonetheless popped up in crucial positions all season long, scoring goals or whipping in devious crosses off his left foot. While not a conventional midfielder, he fit into Pep Guardiola’s system at Manchester City superbly. Continuing a trend, he was voted City’s player of the year, no small feat in a team full of stars. His seven goals and seven assists showcased his versatility and ability to contribute all over the pitch. Silva also ranked top of the league in pressuring the ball and regaining it in the final third. With Kevin De Bruyne injured for almost the entire season and David Silva slowing down, Bernardo kept the Pep midfield machine running on all cylinders in a season where they could not afford to slow down.
Left Winger: Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Where would Chelsea be without Eden Hazard? We’ll just have to wait for next season to find out, and it likely won’t be pretty. Hazard led the Blues with 16 Premier League goals. The next highest contributor was Pedro, with eight. He also led the team with 15 assists. The next highest contributor? Willian, with six. That’s a pretty severe drop off, and illustrates just how much Chelsea relied on the Belgian’s magic. He led the Premier League in goal involvement (31), and created 75 chances from open play, the highest of any player in the Premier League. Beyond the statistics, his ability to shuttle the ball up the field and dribble out of a high press created openings for the rest of his teammates.
Striker: Sergio Aguero
While it’s a bit repetitive to include Aguero on another team of the year, his fifth season of 20+ goals speaks for itself. There’s certainly an argument to be made here for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but City’s Argentinean contributed to more total goals (21 goals, eight assists) in about 300 less minutes of playtime and, crucially, tallied in the big games, scoring hat tricks against Chelsea and Arsenal and striking in the winter showdown with Liverpool. With a little more time on the pitch, Aguero likely would have earned the golden boot. Nonetheless, it’s another Premier League winner’s medal for Sergio.
Right Winger: Sadio Mané
The choice between Liverpool wingers (and Raheem Sterling) is a difficult one and many will point to Mo Salah’s much larger assist total as a reason for inclusion. However, in our eyes, Sadio Mané was the more valuable player this season. Sadio Mané finished as one of the joint leading scorers in the Premier League despite taking only 87 shots – a full 50 shots less than his counterpart – and finishing with the second-best shot conversion rate in the league. Mané performed consistently throughout the season while possessing the capability to put in a shift. His runs in behind were essential to Liverpool’s offensive success and he popped up in a big moment after big moment. Even as a fearless attacker, the Senegalese was only dispossessed 48 times all season. While Salah fell short of the incredible precedent he set the year before, Mané’s production ensured that Liverpool remained a dynamic force throughout the season.
GK: Alisson, Liverpool
DEF: Fabian Schär, Newcastle
DEF: Willy Boly, Wolves
MID: Fernandinho, Manchester City
MID: Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City
LW: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
RW: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City
ST: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci
Header Image: Twitter – @BernardoCSilva