With the PFA awards now open for voting, the Analyst has put together together our top candidates for PlayON’s team of the year.
Eight games remain in this season’s Barclay’s Premier League and the title race is beginning to edge towards a procession, while at the bottom this year’s promoted sides are circling the drain while desperately attempting to cling on to their Premier League status for another year.
2014/15 has been an exciting year for the Premier League, with an influx of attacking talent not seen in recent times. The likes of Sanchez, Kane, Costa and others have mitigated the loss of last year’s standout player, Luis Suarez, to La Liga.
David De Gea: Everything appears to be falling into place at Old Trafford, with Louis van Gaal’s vision finally resonating with a bunch of players who appeared dazed and confused earlier in the season. If, as now seems likely, they finish the season strong and claim a Champions League berth then David De Gea will be the man they thank.
De Gea has been a measure of consistency and calm for Manchester United, despite playing in front of an ever changing and unreliable back four. His 27 goals conceded are more then Chelsea’s Courtois and Southampton’s Fraser Forster, who leads the Premier League pack among first choice keepers for goals conceded with just 21.
However, De Gea trumps the Saints man with 80 saves to 61 and also leads all other top seven goalkeepers for saves made. While other keeper’s have been protected by their defenders De Gea is that rare goalkeeper that makes up for those around him. Without him United’s recent purple patch may have come too late.
Branislav Ivanovic: Unlike many modern fullbacks, Branislav Ivanovic’s primary mandate is to defend, and defend he does. In this age old art, the no-nonsense Serbian international wipes the floor with his contemporaries, winning 73% of his 81 tackles this season, and coming out the victor in 189 duels.
That’s not to say that Ivanovic neglects attacking opportunities. Far from it. The uncompromising right-back has contributed four goals and laid on a further four assists for his league leading teammates. If Chelsea have hit a stutter and slump in recent weeks, it’s characters such as Ivanovic that serve to pull them out of it.
Jose Fonte: Freed from the shadow cast by former teammate Dejan Lovren, Fonte has emerged as one of the league’s best defenders and his form was rewarded this season with a well deserved international call-up, just a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday.
The Portuguese centre-half and Southampton captain has been the defensive tenet of the their exhilarating push to the top end of the table. Clocking a league topping 85 interceptions and a sound 159 clearances, Fonte has lead the Saints to and the finest defensive record in the Premier League, with just 21 conceded.
He also embodies the remarkable team spirit of the club, providing inspirational leadership for his teammates. Brendan Rodgers must be wishing he had stumped up for Fonte rather then Lovren last summer.
Martin Skrtel: A controversial decision perhaps, given that the Liverpool centre-half endured a torrid start to the season – a couple of glaring errors in particular loom large in the memory. John Terry would have been a more straightforward and intuitive choice, such is his club’s league standing, but on stats based analysis and considering his PlayON performances it’s difficult to look past Martin Skrtel.
Forming the key component of Liverpool’s resurgent three man defence, the Slovakian captain has been a rock, winning 94 aerial duels, 227 clearances, 34 blocks and coming up trumps in 74% of his tackles. He has been the key cog in a Liverpool defence that has kept seven clean sheets in their last eleven league games.
Ryan Bertrand: The fullback’s role as an auxiliary winger has become an increasingly vital part of the modern game. At Southampton, the double act of Clyne and Bertrand fulfils this model to great effect: bombing on to support attacks while maintaining their duties as part of the exceptionally tight Southampton defensive unit.
Bertrand just pips his club and international teammate in PlayON’s eyes, the ex-Chelsea man winning 60% of his tackles and providing more of a threat in the final third – with two goals and two assists to his name.
Santi Cazorla: Along with the explosive Premier League debutant, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla ranks as Arsenal’s outstanding performer of the season. Always highly rated in the game, the Spain international has added considerable consistency and an increased positional adaptability to his game this season.
Operating in the centre of midfield, out wide, in front of the defence or behind the striker, Cazorla has proved an extremely viable fantasy football option, and as such almost always assured a starting spot in Wenger’s starting line-up. Turning in eight assists and seven goals in 25 starts, the 30 year old ranks among countrymen Silva, Fabregas and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, as the go-to midfield forces in the league. Having created 63 goal scoring chances and played 25 successful through balls, the Spaniard has been a substantial creative influence.
Cesc Fabregas: If his form has trailed off somewhat over the past few Gameweeks, it only serves as a reminder of his sustained and imperious form for the majority of this season.
The one time Arsenal hero has been virtually unmatched in the creative stakes: contributing with 16 assists – almost double that of Angel Di Maria on nine – creating 76 chances in all, laying on a goalscoring opportunity every half hour on average and completing an all-conquering 975 successful forward passes .
Statistics aside, the Spaniard has visibly knitted this Chelsea side together and has proved a perfect antidote for the departed Lampard.
Nemanja Matic: Partnering Fabregas in the centre of the Chelsea midfield, Nemanja Matic has been force of nature in the Premier League in2014/15, pulling the ball into his orbit at every available opportunity.
The victor of 76 tackles and 58 interceptions, the Serbian defensive midfielder has proved the ultimate physical foil to Fabregas’ creative strengths. That’s not to say he can’t play, the Serb started out as an attacking midfielder and it shows in his passing range, ability and an 87% completion rate.
Eden Hazard: Last season’s young player of the season and arguably this year’s player of the season, Eden Hazard has well and truly brought his game to the next level. Operating primarily on his favoured left flank, Hazard has racked up an impressive 11 goals and 6 assist this term.
Complimented by a now unyielding work rate, Hazard has transformed himself into a complete player.We no longer hear Jose Mourinho complain about his defensive discipline, yet Beating his opponent in some 253 duels – Alexis Sanchez coming in second with 210 – Hazard also leads the league, and his colleague Fabregas, with 79 goalscoring chances created. Well and truly a cut above this term.
Harry Kane: The undoubted revelation of the season, Harry Kane has stormed the Premier League in a fashion not seen since the heady days of Alan Shearer. The Spurs and England faithful are salivating at every shimmy, header and strike that this 21 year old has to offer, and it’s hard not to understand the appeal.
Standing level with Diego Costa at 19 goals scored this season, the Tottenham youth product lags just behind his main competitor and Olivier Giroud for goal efficiency, converting 23% of his 83 attempts on goal. Still a PlayON bargain at just £8.6m, he’s more than a dark horse for PFA player of the season.
Diego Costa: The one time Atletico Madrid favourite has adapted to the Premier League with astounding ease, but not without his fair share of controversy. A Mourinho player in the truest sense of the word, Costa will do anything to get the required results – quite literally stepping on some toes to get what he wants.
Putting away 19 goals in 23 starts, the forward is force to be reckoned with when on form and will go right down to the wire with Kane for the golden boot. Only Papiss Cisse – somewhat surprisingly – has been more efficient in front of goal than the man from Lagarto – a 27.5% conversion to Costa’s 25%.
Honourable Mentions: Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, John Terry, Jordan Henderson, David Silva, Alexis Sanchez, Sergio Aguero.