Things aren’t going well for United
The recently concluded Premier League season saw Manchester City break all type of records on route to their third title this decade.
Meanwhile, Chelsea and Arsenal missed out on Champions League places and all three promoted teams survived for another season.
In this two-part article I will select the best player from each of the 20 teams. Obviously, there were some easy picks but there were some difficult ones as well – I faced particular difficulty with Everton and West Brom.
Manchester City: David Silva
This choice may surprise a view people; Kevin de Bruyne was the unanimous choice among my friends and colleagues. Yet, Silva’s performance throughout the season was amazing. While he produced goals and assists regularly in the first half of the season; in my view his effort in the second half was even more laudable.
Playing under enormous mental pressure – due to family problems – he still gave his 150 per cent. He looked a bit below par in his final match against Huddersfield and his team failed to create a single big chance. This only shows the importance of the man to his side.
Manchester United: Ashley Young
This is a symbolic selection. The fact a midfielder playing as left back in the twilight of his career gets the nod over much more fancied and expensive superstars says a lot about United’s season.
Their second-place finish was their best since the Fergie days, but finishing 19 points behind their city rivals was disappointing, to say the least.
Even their heroic comeback at Etihad only delayed the inevitable.
Coming back to Young, he did his job manfully and consistently. His crosses were brilliant – as to be expected from an ex-England winger.
Unfortunately, there was not enough movement or presence from the Red Devils’ attack inside the opposition box.
While he has lost a bit of pace, along with his hair in the head, the quality of his crosses reminded many of his heydays at Watford and Aston Villa.
Young is likely to be classified as a defender in the Fantasy Premier League next season and, if he can keep his regular starts next season, he can become a fantasy gold.
Tottenham Hotspur: Heung-Min Son
After promising much, the Spurs team had another trophy-less season. The big three of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen has performed consistently without reaching any spectacular heights.
In contrast, the young Korean has just finished his best season in the EPL.
He has also played multiple roles. In Kane’s absence, he even led the line successfully at times. His pace and trickery with the ball caused plenty of concern for opposition defences.
He was especially impressive at Wembley, but his most impressive performance came at Stamford Bridge – a dreaded place for Spurs.
In Kane’s absence, he led the line in the first half, but a brilliant tactical switch by the manager saw him move wide to the right in the second half – where he gave Marcos Alonso a torrid time.
Son is now the most well-known Korean footballer.
Liverpool: Mo Salah
Thousands of words can be said about him, and yet very few are required. Like Caesar some two millennia ago; he came from Rome, he saw and he conquered.
It doesn’t matter what happens over the rest of his career, the 2017-18 EPL season will always be remembered as Salah’s season.
The thing I like most about him is he is slightly old-fashioned. Too many right-wingers these days – under strict instruction from their manager not to lose the ball, even inside the opposition half – take the cautious approach.
Either they play a square pass to the central midfielder or wait for the right back to make an overlapping run.
Here is a man who takes on the opposition defenders – one, two or three at a time. He loses the ball every now and then but remains a constant menace to the defence.
In a sense, he is lucky to be playing under Jurgen Klopp, an adventurous manger by nature.
That’s why I would like to see the Egyptian stay at Anfield. He has the potential to join the list of all-time Liverpool greats.
Chelsea: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Again, the selection of a back would suggest an overall failure by the more attacking players. Although Chelsea’s defence wasn’t brilliant either, with Antonio Conte making constant changes to formation and personnel.
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Azpi, however, remained a consistent part of the team and a consistent performer. Some of his attacking potential diminished following the injury to Alvaro Morata, while Victor Moses playing further up the pitch saw him come into the limelight more, but Azpi remained Chelsea’s main source of hope throughout the season.
As the London club bid to fight back next season (with or without Conte), Azpi will remain a key figure for them.
Arsenal: Pierre Aubameyang
My original plan was to only consider players who played the full season for their team. But, after struggling to find any consistent performer for the Gunners, I decided to go for the Gabonese international.
Nacho Monreal’s goals made him a fantasy asset, but in terms of real football, he, like many others in his team, failed to perform at the expected level.
Of course, there is no reason to underestimate the value of Aubameyang’s efforts. It is significant on two accounts.
Firstly, unlike many other forwards coming from other European leagues, he seems perfectly okay with the extra pace of English Football.
Secondly, he has already formed a wonderful partnership with his fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette. In fact, the French striker, after struggling with form and fitness early, ended the season strongly with the help of Aubameyang.
The Wenger era may be over at the Emirates, but his legacy will live on. Three of his final signings, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are likely to be key figures in the post-Wenger era.
Burnley: Nick Pope
While Chelsea and Everton should vie for the title of the underachievers of this league season, Burnley and Newcastle are the overachievers. And a little-known goalkeeper played a big part in Burnley’s success.
After joining the Lancashire club in 2016, Pope remained an understudy to England’s best keeper, Tom Heaton.
But an injury to Heaton early in the season paved the way for Pope – and he took his chance.
Not only did he keep Heaton on the bench after returning from injury, in March he was called for England duties.
His Clarets debut, coming on as a sub against Palace, completed his experience in all the different layers of English football. He has now played in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and in Non-League football.
With Burnley qualifying for Europe next season, an addition to his CV seems almost certain.
Everton: Idrissa Gueye
Not much can be said about a defensive midfielder and not much is required. Playing alongside a group of underachievers, he did his own job admirably.
He often ignored the risks of bookings or sending offs for his team’s sake.
The blue team from the Merseyside never really had any rhythm about their play this season, and an 8th-place finish flattered them.
While Liverpool fans are dreaming of European glory, their neighbours are stuck in mid-table mediocrity.
Leicester City: Jamie Vardy
Although neither Vardy nor Riyad Mahrez came close to repeating their heroics of two seasons ago, almost everything positive about the Foxes this season involved one or both of the two.
After struggling to decide which one to choose, I decided their performance at Wembley on the final day would be the deciding factor. As things happened, both got their names in the scoresheet, with Vardy scoring twice to enhance his reputation as a big match player.
In the end, his impressive record against the top clubs, that made me give my vote to him. Although he is not as clinical as he used to be, missing a few absolute sitters every now and then, his pace still remains a big concern for the opposition centre-backs.
Now Vardy is one the verge of representing England in the world cup – not bad for a player who 10 years ago was fighting to establish himself in conference football.
Newcastle United: Ayoze Perez
A top half finish was a dream come true for the Toon fans, especially given that just a few months ago they were among the favourites for relegation.
Three things contributed to their improvement in the 2nd half; the arrival of Martin Dubravka at the heart of an organized defence, Matt Ritchie finding his feet in the Premier League and, finally, Ayoze Perez – their number 17 – scoring some vital goals.
Interestingly, while his goals played a vital part in Newcastle’s strong finish, it was his goal against Watford in a losing cause that impressed me most.
As the ball from the right came, he seemed to be in no position to reach it. Yet, showing great determination and agility, he made perfect contact to push it into the net. This is the kind of determination that has been lacking in his play for too long.
He always possessed the talent, now his newly found confidence should make him a big asset for his club in the immediate future.