My Premier League Team of the Decade

With the 2010s coming to a close, everyone’s been discussing who’ve been the stand out players of the decade. Since this has been the first decade where I’ve been able to follow the Premier League from start to finish, let’s look at which players have stood out among the competition, players who will be remembered for years to come. There is a few names I’ve not included here which a majority of people will disagree with. This team is a combination of players who have left a lasting impression on me. Some of them might not be the best players we’ve seen during this decade, but these are the guys I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching during the last ten years.

David De Gea

Starting with by far the most obvious pick, David De Gea has not only been the best goalkeeper during the last decade but arguably in league history. It’s well-documented by now that the Spaniard had a tough first couple of years in England, struggling to adapt to a more physical league, but Ferguson knew he would need to adjust. De Gea did start a lot of games under United’s legendary manager, 29 in his first season and 28 in his second. But if De Gea did have a couple of bad to mediocre performances, Ferguson would take him out of the side to ensure his confidence wouldn’t plummet entirely. This was the best decision, with De Gea going on to start over 34 games in all of his campaigns since the Scotsman’s retirement from management.

During a time where United have been inconsistent or underwhelming to put it lightly, De Gea remained a constant, always making those game-changing saves and made a pretty weak defensive unit look like the best in the division. His best season was by far the 17/18 season, more specifically, away at the Emirates. De Gea had the best goalkeeping performance in Premier League history. He made 14 saves against the Gunners, and they weren’t just simple stops. Some of the saves he was making were groundbreaking. The best among his many saves in this game was his fantastic double save. Lacazette was gifted a chance in the penalty area, which De Gea magnificently stops, only for the ball to fall to his future teammate Alexis Sanchez. De Gea had seconds to react, and from 6-yards out, he managed to save the Chilean’s shot with his leg. It was a save that not only saved United’s defence, which was awful on the day, but perfectly summarised United in the past 6 years. De Gea has been the sole reason for the Red Devils having one of the best defences in the league.

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Some would see a couple of factors that hold De Gea back from being the best goalkeeper of the decade. His first couple of years in England weren’t great and his form has fallen from the best in the world to pretty average since 2018. He’s never been great on the ball compared to the likes of Ederson and Allison. Yet, there were four years of elite production that I’ve never seen a goalkeeper replicate. 

Kyle Walker

The full-back areas have been difficult to choose, not for a vast amount of choices, but the lack of them. With not many names to choose from, Kyle Walker is easily the most obvious choice to fill the right-back position. Walker was an up-and-coming player during his early years, but up until 2015, he failed to live up to his potential. He was still starting a lot of games for Spurs, but was somewhat inconsistent and defensively still had massive holes in his game. It was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino, like for many of the Tottenham players, changed the course of his career. During his three years under the Argentine, Walker turned into the best right-back in the league, giving his side plenty of width while having the speed to make those recovery tackles if possession was lost. He was never a massive goalscoring threat like Marcos Alonso nor a great creator like Alexander-Arnold, but Walker remained solid. He was a constant outlet for Tottenham and seemed to live up to that promise he showed early on. 

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Walker’s move to Manchester changed his game. Guardiola already had, at the time, Benjamin Mendy has a very attacking full-back, so Walker was to take to a more reserved role in the team. He stopped pushing forward as far as he did under Pochettino and AVB, yet still remained heavily involved in build-up play, completing over 70 passes per game last season. Even with more talented players around him, The England right-back has been a critical member for both Pochettino and now Pep Guardiola. Ricardo Pereira and Trent Alexander-Arnold might be more talented, but Walker is an excellent player to have for any manager and has stood out during the 2010s.

David Luiz

Maybe putting David Luiz in this team might be rather daft, but when I think of players who have defined the 2010’s, David Luiz is one of the first names to come to mind. The Brazilian has had moments of stupidity at times, with his brand of defending leaving his teammates rather exposed at times, but what David Luiz has always excelled at is distribution. People like to look at Rio Ferdinand as the first defender in England to honestly look comfortable and composed on the ball. Ferdinand did revolutionise the position here, but David Luiz took the next step and became the best defender in terms of ability on the ball. The issue that many managers have found with Luiz is if you don’t play him in a particular system, he might be your worst defender, but in the right one, he is your best defender.

Luiz has played under a lot of Chelsea managers, 7 in fact. He arrived in January 2011, going onto play 11 games under Ancelotti. David Luiz was loved at Chelsea. His aggression, positivity and the way he has always worn his heart on his sleeve has made him very easy to like. He was genuinely great under Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, but it was Mourinho’s arrival that almost forced Luiz into departing Chelsea. Luiz has many qualities, but defending in a deep block, similar to how Mourinho likes to deploy, isn’t playing him to his strengths. He broke the record for the most expensive defender, moving to Paris for £50 million. At PSG, David Luiz was fantastic and did his usual long balls and runs out the back to help progress the ball. Laurent Blanc usually played possession-based football, with a high-line. This was perfect for Luiz.

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After two successful seasons in Paris, David Luiz returned to Chelsea, coincidentally, the season after Mourinho departed. Many neutrals laughed at this deadline-day signing. Why bring back a player you sold two years ago, who is now 30 years old? It was a weird move at the time, but a lot had changed since that first stint. Antonio Conte was now Chelsea manager, a coach who plays a deep block similar to Mourinho. It usually included a libero, a defender who focuses on sweeping up after the other defenders and using their passing ability to help move the ball further up the field, think Beckenbauer or Leonardo Bonucci. Luiz fitted this mould perfectly and had his best season during his long club career. Luiz was genuinely fantastic under Conte, gaining a place in the team of the season and finally winning a title at Stamford Bridge. Luiz eventually earned the credit he had deserved for years, showing that when placed in the right system, no one in England was better than him. After falling out with Conte, Luiz returned to being a first-team regular under Sarri, another manager who saw Luiz as the great defender he is. His excellent reading of the ball and world-class distribution meant that he fitted seamlessly into Sarri’s possession-heavy system. 

The criticisms which have faced Luiz for years have always been the mistakes and lack of concentration, which are reasonable. He will occasionally give away needless penalties and make the wrong decision when facing teams with pacey forwards. Under a certain amount of pressure, Luiz can crumble, and still does. Now playing for Arsenal, Luiz needlessly pulled Mohamed Salah’s shirt in the box and gifted Liverpool a penalty. It was a moment that many have come to expect from Luiz. Whenever he makes mistakes, he tries his hardest to make up for them, only to make the situation worse. Luiz, at his worst, can be a problem, especially during substantial stints without possession, but at his best, is one of the best defenders the league has ever seen. Maybe putting him over Vincent Kompany might be slightly baffling, but no defender has defined the evolution of centre backs more than Sideshow Bob himself. 

Toby Alderweireld 

Since his arrival in England, Alderweireld has been apart of some the best defences of the past 5 years. Firstly on loan under Ronald Koeman at Southampton, where he helped form the second-best defence in the league. Many, including me, saw Jose Fonte as the stand out player out of the pair, but it was, in fact, Alderweireld, who was the key man. He then earned a move to Tottenham, which not only showed his qualities but turned Tottenham from a mess into arguably the best team in the league for two years. They went from having the worst defence out of the top six to having the best in Alderweireld’s first season. The former Ajax defender offered so much more than any defender Tottenham had in the past. He was the best ball-playing defender in the league, not only comfortable in possession but even helping move the ball into the final third, earning 2 assists in 15/16, both to Dele Alli with long balls right into the England international’s feet. The way he could receive the ball and send this calmness across the ground was something rare to see. In 17/18, he had an injury-plagued season, where he only managed 13 starts, but since then, has continued to be a mainstay in Spurs’ defence.

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Alderweireld might not be a physical monster like Virgil Van Dijk or have the goal threat of John Terry. Still, the Belgian was at one point comfortably the best defender in the league and was the reason for Tottenham’s consistently high performances between 2015 and 2018. It’s instead a shame he hasn’t been able to win a trophy in England, but on quality and consistency alone, no one deserves to be here more than Alderweireld. 

Cesar Azpilicueta

Another example of a position where choices are limited. However, even if there was a fantastic left-back to choose, Azpilicueta is fully deserving of a place as one of the best players of the decade. The Spaniard has been Mr Consistent since arriving in England, moving from right-back, to left-back under Mourinho, centre-back under Conte and now back to right-back. He’s never suffered from a single injury since playing in London and has been loved by every manager who he’s played under. In the summer of 2014, Mourinho brought in Brazilian left-back Felipe Luiz from Atletico Madrid, with Ashley Cole departing and Ivanovic covering at right-back, it was presumed that Azpilicueta would play as a back-up. But he kept his place in the side, and keeping arguably one of the best left-backs in the previous year, on the bench. 

Defensively, Azpilicueta is one of the best full-backs the league has ever seen. He has consistently put up massive tackle and interception numbers, has always been difficult for opposition wingers to beat and reads the game so well. It’s a testament to his defensive qualities that he fitted in rather flawlessly in Antonio Conte’s back three, alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Azpilicueta was primarily winning the ball back and pushing up in build-up play. The Spaniard was putting in less than a foul per game during that title-winning campaign under Conte and played every game of that spectacular season. 

Azpilicueta’s speciality is defending, and he’s really good at it, but that isn’t to diminish his qualities on the ball. The former Marseille defender has racked up 29 assists during his Chelsea career, with his long balls over the top to Alvaro Morata during the 2017/18 season a highlight of his career, assisting the Spanish forward 6 times that season. He was making those difficult balls into the final third that you usually expect David Luiz to play, but Azpiliciueta once again showed just how good and versatile he is. 

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There isn’t a massive fault in his game or in his credentials to play in this team. No one has been more consistent and loved by multiple managers in the same way as Cesar Azpilicueta. An absolute shoo-in for everyone’s side of the decades. 

Fernandinho

Maybe not putting Ngolo Kante in this team might be baffling, but hear me out here. Fernandinho has not only played in this league longer than the Frenchman but has been even better. The Brazilian arrived in this league at the age of 28. Usually, this is seen as the age where players begin losing their physical edge and start to become easier to expose, think Steven Gerrard or Toni Kroos, who after the age of 28, began to show weaknesses defensively. Fernandinho was a short term fix in a sense. His arrival and the sheer amount of defensive work he did during City’s 13/14 title triumph (6 tackles and interceptions), which not only helped add some protection to the defence but covered for Yaya Toure, allowing him to have that great 20 goal season. Fernandinho had an arduous task ahead of him. Pellegrini teams are famously a lot of fun to watch and gets the best out of his attacking talents, but it can leave the defence extremely vulnerable if the personnel isn’t at the same level as the attack. Fernandinho was one of the reasons why City were actually good defensively that season. 

He continued his consistently high standards on the pitch in Pellegrini’s final couple of seasons, even if the team was weaker as each year passes. However, it was the arrival of Pep Guardiola that indeed showed Fernandinho as the best defensive midfielder of the decade. Even at the age of 31, Fernandinho was vital for City’s end of decade dominance. He was the sole midfielder in a three-man midfield containing David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. While Pep and De Bruyne are credited for creating the ‘free eight’ role on the pitch, it wouldn’t be possible without having Fernandinho behind him, allowing the Belgian to push forward and create. Fernandinho has been doing everything you can ask from a midfielder. He puts in a lot of defensive work, reads the game well, and can play those penetrating balls through midfield, can dribble, can score and knows when to partake in the dirtier side of the game.

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His quality can be best be shown with just how bad City were in the 18/19 season without him. While Gundogan isn’t a bad player, he doesn’t do nearly enough defensively to allow the other midfielders to push forward. Fernandinho missed most of the December fixtures, which resulted in defeats to Leicester and Crystal Palace. Even finding a replacement for Fernandinho proved difficult. The Champions finally settled on Rodri, after being linked to Jorginho, Fred and Aouar. City’s midfield so far this season has looked weaker without Fernandinho. Rodri is excellent but doesn’t possess the same speed, intelligence and ability to stop attacks before they materialise. People will always look at Aguero, Kompany and Silva as the players who have been the driving force for City’s success. While that is true, most of it under Guardiola has been down to Fernandinho being so well-rounded, so perfect for the whole that his coach requires. 

Santi Cazorla

I love Santi Cazorla, a lot actually. It’s hard to really put in words how fantastic he was to watch during his peak years in England. Cazorla arrived at a very frustrating time for Arsenal fans. It was another summer where they sold their two best players from the previous season, Robin Van Persie and Alex Song, to bigger clubs. It left Arsenal with a massive problem, goals and creativity. Giroud and Podolski arrived to fix the goal problem, while Cazorla arrived to supply their new forwards. The Spaniard arrived in a league where two Spanish playmakers dominated in style and production. David Silva and Juan Mata were their teams’ most important players, consistently linking midfield and attack so fluently. While they were at their best as a number 10, they could even play as a wide player, move freely into the centre and cause all sorts of problems for their opponents. Cazorla arrived into the league much later than his national teammates, being 27 while Mata and Silva were 23 and 24 respectively, but that added experience gave the additional quality. Cazorla was a two-footed, intelligent, exciting, while still possessing a burst of speed that let him play on the left.and could dribble through the smallest of gaps. His tight control of the ball was unmatched in the league. 

Cazorla’s first season for Arsenal is arguably the best creative season during this whole decade. I still believe that if Arsenal managed to sign Cazorla and keep Van Persie, they would have been league champions in 12/13. Arsenal were excellent that season, with Walcott, Arteta, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Sagna have their best seasons at the Emirates. If it weren’t for Manchester United desperate to commemorate their manager in the right way and Arsenal’s usual patchy results (I’d imagine they’d be different with Van Persie in the side), the Gunners would have ended their long trophy drought. Cazorla played in every Premier League game in 12/13, playing centrally or on the left, and dominated Arsenal’s stats. The former Malaga midfielder was second for most shots in Arsenal’s squad, first for chance creation, second for dribbles completed, second for passes completed and was even putting in over 4 tackles and interceptions. He ended the season with 12 goals and 11 assists. His best season for Arsenal was the season where he was at his most important. He was responsible for doing nearly everything in attack and ball progression while having to do his fair share of defensive work. The fact he did so and more, shows just the level of player Cazorla was at Arsenal.

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Cazorla’s versatility was arguably his biggest strength, but in the arrival of Mesut Ozil, a flaw. Wenger saw how Cazorla didn’t need to play centrally to be effective, so bringing in Real Madrid’s best creator and moving Cazorla over to the left did make sense. Ozil, and later Sanchez, did start to be looked at as Arsenal’s best players, from their vast reputations at previous clubs, but Santi Cazorla remained as crucial as ever. The reason why you play Cazorla and Ozil together is that it means you can’t stop the creativity. You couldn’t merely mark Ozil out of the game, because Cazorla would then take centre stage. It’s what made them so good for Cazorla’s first couple of years at the club, even with Giroud being very frustrating. It’s arguably what Arsenal’s most significant problem in recent years. The lack of creativity in the side means they are so easy to silence under Emery. Without having a variety of creators, it makes it so easy to stop you from dominating games and creating chances. 

Cazorla’s final couple of full seasons at the Emirates showed just how important he was for Wenger. Even with Ozil, Sanchez, Ox and Walcott preferred in the forward areas, Wenger had to have in the team somehow, so chose to play him in a double pivot alongside Francis Coquelin. Cazorla was once again fantastic, and it made so easy for him to receive the ball, evade pressure effortlessly and continue to play defence-breaking balls into the final third. 

However, his long-term ankle injury in October 2016 ruled him for nearly 2 years, leaving Arsenal and Cazorla with no choice but to part ways. His departure coincided with Arsenal losing their competitive edge, and they suddenly fell off a cliff. Ozil became easier to mark out of games since there wasn’t anyone else to carry that creative burden, and Arsenal generally went from a great team to a bad yet fun team under Wenger. Cazorla might not have the same longevity or titles as other players, but he has genuinely been one of the best players the league has ever seen.

David Silva

The next three players here have all been involved in the best team of the decade, but let’s start with David Silva. Like Walker, Silva has been in the league from the start and has been remarkably consistent. His first season in England was famously not great. While 11 goal contributions and toping the team for key passes with 2.1 is still substantial, it still showed that Silva, and Manchester City, weren’t yet ready to win their first title. The physical side of the league did seem to have an effect, but Silva did eventually got to his best. The former Valencia midfielder had an absolutely sensational campaign in City’s first title win. Silva went from 11 goal contributions in his first season to 21 in his second. This is where Silva established himself as the best creator in the league, linking up so well with the other forwards and always finding space in the final third to exploit. Like Cazorla, Silva was regularly played as a wide playmaker, with an emphasis on coming inside and looking for holes to exploit between the defence and the midfield. He could evade pressure so smoothly and was vital for creativity and ball progression.

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It was actually under Pep where he cemented himself as all time great. During Manchester City’s centurion season, Silva had his best season for the club. While De Bruyne did take the headlines for some of his fantastic assists and performances, Silva’s role had transformed. He was now alongside De Bruyne as a ‘free 8,’ and excelled in this fast, possession football that needed players like Silva, so technically gifted and intelligent to help drive the ball and create chances for the other forwards. During this super season, Pep’s wingers would stretch the defence, Cruyff-style, and give space for Silva and De Bruyne to exploit. Silva was so good when getting the ball in the 18-yard box, to quickly play a pass into one of his teammates in the box when their opponents had no time to adjust to the speed in City’s attacks. You couldn’t stop him from wiggling through defenders and play those simple, yet so effective balls into the feet of his teammates.

I’ve been in more depth with other players here, because in some cases, primarily Cazorla and Luiz, I’ve felt I have needed to justify their selections, but Silva will be in everyone’s team of the decades. He’s consistently performed every season and played a big part in all of City’s title winning seasons. From the leading creator, linking midfield to defence during his peak years, to using his invaluable experience and ability on the ball to find pockets in the opposition’s box, Silva has been a joy to watch during the last 9 years. 

Raheem Sterling 

Sterling might be a hard player to justify including, considering how he didn’t start playing regularly until 2012, in which he was very much a raw talent, being a great dribbler but still needing time to mature. Sterling was great alongside Suarez and Sturridge in one of the few seasons where Liverpool were close to winning the title. His follow-up season was a struggle, yet not as bad as many like to remember, considering he was only 20 and still getting into double figures for goal contributions. We look back and see that £44 million paid for Sterling and think it was a good deal, but at the time, people were not happy. The idea of spending so much money on a young player who was still unproven in a sense was crazy. What made it slightly worse was the arrival of Kevin De Bruyne, who at around £10 million more, Manchester City were getting arguably the best player in the Bundesliga in the previous season. He was at an age where he was ready to produce now. Sterling defined the money clubs were willing to spend on the next hot English talent.

Like 3 other players on this list, Pep Guardiola arrived and changed Sterling from a promising winger to one of the best wingers in Europe. Pep took out the weakest parts of his game, being his shot location and directness. One of Sterling’s problems was how wasteful he could be when in good positions. They improved during his first season in Manchester, but this was down to some dominant Manchester City performances, but what changed under Pep was where his shots were coming from. Sterling began looking for space in the penalty area, with all of his goals coming from inside the box. In the 17/18 season, down to improvements in his own game and a much better Manchester City team, Sterling looked unstoppable. He contributed to 29 goals in City’s first title win under Guardiola and stood out with some vital goals against Southampton, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Everton and Huddersfield. He was one of the reasons why City even managed to win the league and get to a historic amount of points. He was primarily played on the right, with his objective to stay wide in a very Dutch way, to stretch the opposition back four and allow his teammates to find space in behind. Sterling’s dribbling did help him stand out. The problem before Pep’s arrival was the way he was dribbling was slowing down attacks, choosing to take multiple touches on the ball. Pep made the slight yet significant change of telling him to take a single touch and move the ball. It keeps opponents in an uncomfortable position, with Sterling’s speed making it harder to predict his next move. 

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Sterling remained insanely consistent in City’s follow up campaign, scoring 17 and assisting 10. His goals were still being taken in very good areas, even with Kevin De Bruyne missing for most of the season. Pep also began playing him on the left, his preferred position due to the winger being right-footed. Pep clearly sees Sterling as a vital member of his team, with Sane dropping to the bench and the likes of Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, two naturally right-sided players, playing to get the best out England’s exciting attacker. 

Maybe including a player who has only had 3 genuinely great seasons in the Premier League is a bit extreme, especially choosing him over Hazard. But Sterling is one of the best wingers on the planet, and his goalscoring, creativity, dribbling are all fantastic. His skill set is more varied than Hazard’s and has been sensational in the best team of the decade. 

Sergio Aguero 

Another Manchester City player who must be included in this team. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Sergio Aguero is the best South American to ever play in the Premier League. His level of consistency since 2011 is absolutely outstanding. Only once did he manage to score less than 15 goals in a season, scoring bundles of goals and winning games for every manager he has played under. 

Aguero arrived during Manchester City’s early spending spree, joining in the same summer as Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy and joining other big-money signings like Yaya Toure, David Silva and Joleon Lescott. Aguero had some fierce competition in terms of players in the pecking order. Edin Dzeko was another expensive arrival and offered a lot in terms of build-up play and in the air. Carlos Tevez didn’t reach the point of being virtually hated by all sets of fans in Manchester and was still considered one of the most lethal forwards in the league. Mario Balotelli was another player who, while controversial, was still useful, and at this point, promising. Aguero arrived to add that element of speed and coolness in front of goal, while still being very comfortable on the ball and could offer a lot in terms of build-up play, even with a weaker frame to Dzeko. The Argentine famously had one of the best debuts in Premier League history, coming off the bench in a 4-0 win over QPR. In only half an hour of football, Aguero managed to score his first goal, create two more for his teammates and score the final goal. He also scored THAT winning goal against QPR on the last game of the season, with his intuitive and powerful finish winning Manchester City their first Premier League title. 

His best season to me was the 14/15 season, where he won the golden boot with 26 goals (yet didn’t make the team of the year). Aguero was in absolutely monsterous form. He scored all 4 goals in a 4-1 win over Pochettino’s Tottenham, reaching the 10 goal mark by the beginning of November, and actually reached 100 goals for Man City in a 4-2 derby defeat to Manchester United. It took him only three and a half years to reach a goal tally for a club that some strikers never reach. Aguero’s numbers in that season were ridiculous, ending 14/15 with 0.93 non-penalty expected goals contributions per 90. There is only one season where he bettered that, in Pep’s centurion season, playing in a team with a much better supporting cast. I have fond memories of Aguero over the years, with the one that stands out is a particular goal he scored. I still can’t remember what side this goal was against, but all I can remember is when Aguero struck the ball, and you can see the net being close to breaking. 

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His time under Pep did initially start on bad terms. The Argentine marksman bafflingly didn’t seem to fit Guardiola’s blueprint for his ideal striker, with there being a huge question mark over his build-up play. Aguero has always been a consistent chance creator, but as he has gotten older, his primary focus has always been on goalscoring. There were even rumours in January 2017 than Pep would consider selling Aguero, with Jesus being preferred in terms of his ability to drop deep and drag defenders with him. However, Jesus picked up a severe knee injury not long after his arrival, meaning Pep had to turn back to Aguero, an opportunity the Argentine took and proved his manager wrong. From March onwards, he scored 13 goals in all competitions, including 2 huge goals in a spectacular Champions League tie against Monaco. Pep was wrong to doubt Aguero, but the striker proved himself to be the undroppable player he has proven to be for every manager. 

Aguero has been the perfect forward since arriving in England. A consistent, creative scorer who always turns up for big games. Newcastle are his favourite opponent to play, but Chelsea and Tottenham are right behind them, with Aguero in double figures against both London clubs. Like Silva, he has been heavily involved in all of Manchester City’s success in the past decade. Premier League fans still tend to place Henry and Shearer ahead of Aguero, but it is just so difficult to argue against Aguero being at their level. A Premier League legend for sure. 

Sadio Mane

Maybe including Sterling is reasonable, but Mane might be a stretch too far, but hear me out. Mane arrived during Southampton’s best time of the decade, helping them achieve back to back top half finishes. Coincidentally, as soon as he departed, Southampton went from a fun team into the tedious slog they are today. Mane has never failed to score less than 10 goals in every season he has played in English football. The former Salzburg winger had a solid start to the Premier League. In the 14/15 season, he broke the record for fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, scoring 3 goals in only 2 minutes 56 seconds. This hat-trick perfectly showcased what Mane was all about. He was quick, direct, strong and had a lethal strike on him. He was a defender’s worst nightmare.

His £35 million move to Liverpool did raise a lot of eyebrows. While he did show a lot of talent at Southampton, the problem was his consistency and attitude. Koeman publicly called him out during the 15/16 season because of Mane’s lack of focus and concentration. It was clear that with Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Liverpool all interested, Mane wanted to join a bigger club. His form in that final season was also a problem. While his numbers did always remain positive, he would go through long periods with the Saints without scoring. Famously before his brace in a 3-2 win over Liverpool, Mane went four months without scoring. His xG per 90 throughout his career has remained at around a goal every other 3 games, a good return for a winger. What a lot of people don’t realise is players usually stop acting out once they get their dream moves, and Mane’s case, that remains true. He was the first big signing made by Jurgen Klopp to add a pace and goals from the wide areas. Mane has arguably been Klopp’s best signing at Liverpool, for kicking everything into motion and being the starting point for their future success. Bringing Mane in first made a lot of sense. His versatility and ability to press made him an ideal player to have while the majority of players adjust to a demanding style of football. In Mane’s first game, he scored the 4th goal in a spectacular 4-3 away win against Arsenal, hitting the top corner of the net with his weaker foot. His first reaction was to run to his manager, showing how this was the perfect match, for a player who’s acted out before, and a manager with love for players in Mane’s mould.

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His second season saw Mane take a big leap forward. While his xG and his goal contributions did stay mostly the same, he was still consistently producing even with Mohamed Salah having an absolutely sensational season. Mane still had moments of pure magic, which included 10 goals in the Champions League and a goal in the final. In a final which saw Salah go off injured, they needed their other attackers to truly turn up, and Mane definitely brought his a-game. Mane was comfortably Liverpool’s best player, causing Carvahal all kinds of problems with his pace and trickery. 

Last season saw Mane score as many goals as his Egyptian teammate, finishing the season with a personal-high 22 goals. He did massively overperform, but with Salah being tightly marked through many of Liverpool’s matches, teams forgot about the threat that the Senegalese forward can bring. 

Salah could have easily appeared on this list, but it seems unfair to choose a player who has only been playing regularly in the league since 2017. Mane’s numbers have remained consistently high throughout his time in the Premier League, but it took a move to one of the best Premier League teams of all time to allow him to play at his level. 

Honourable mentions 

With the XI finally complete, there are plenty of other players who deserve praise. In goal, there were some other options to consider. Hugo Lloris would probably be my honourable mention, but De Gea has comfortably been the best goalkeeper, and Lloris has gotten noticeably worse in recent years. Lukasz Fabianski was fantastic at Swansea, and we saw Polish shot-stopper have a David De Gea season in 18/19, being the sole reason why West Ham didn’t have the worst defence in the league. Joe Hart even deserves mention for being an excellent goalkeeper during City’s early success but didn’t possess the same consistency for such a long period as David Silva and Aguero.

In defence, there were quite a few choices to select. John Terry was a player who, while past his best during the decade, was still an ever present in Chelsea’s team. However, I can’t include thanks in part to me not liking him as a human being and the former England captain only having 3-4 years where he didn’t look like the ageing player he was. Jan Vertonghen was another to consider, but Alderweireld was just better and transformed Tottenham’s defence on his arrival. Vincent Kompany is obviously the player that should be included, and for 3 years he was fantastic, but injuries began to impact him and lead to a player who struggled for consistent game time for 3 years. He did have an excellent final season at the Etihad. Still, David Luiz at his best was the best defender during the whole decade, and Alderweireld was partly responsible for Tottenham actually becoming good. The Arsenal pair of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker could easily start here, but both had massive injury problems, and Arsenal weren’t excellent defensively during this decade. Full-back, as mentioned, wasn’t stacked with option. Pablo Zabaleta is the only player who was genuinely in contention for a place, with the left-back position producing some weak options over the 2010s. 

There were plenty of midfielders to choose from. James Milner was so close to being put in midfield. He was an unsung hero during his five-year spell in Manchester. He went on to being a fantastic utility player for Klopp, filling in at left-back for a season, then moving back in midfield and being their best player in that position. Kante and Fabregas also could have easily been in this XI, but Fernandinho was simply better than Kante and Fabregas did have some fantastic seasons. Yet, Silva and Cazorla were must picks for Spanish midfielders. I’ve also heard people consider Kevin De Bruyne for this, but he’s missed as many games as he’s played while being in Manchester. He had two seasons of elite production, but two more that consisted of injuries. Yaya Toure is in a similar boat to De Bruyne, but the difference being that Toure arrived in this league a bit too late for his skillset. Ozil was close to being put in this team, but thanks to Emery wasting the two final years of the decade, it’s hard to put him here. 

Up front was arguably the area where a lot of good players had be cut thanks to Aguero being the clear choice. Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku were all considered, but it’s impossible to choose anyone over Aguero. Hazard was arguably the weirdest player to leave out, but his goal tallies have been massively swayed from penalties, and his 15/16 season was so bad, that it ruined his reputation for me

 

The 5 Most Inform Midfielders in Europe

I attempt to make it no secrets that midfielders are my favourite type of players. It’s arguably the hardest position to play since midfielders usually go through different trends. From aggressive destroyers like Roy Keane or Patrick Viera to less physical pass masters in Xavi and Toni Kroos. It’s what makes the very best midfielders today so fantastic because you need to have a varied and balanced skillset to play for the best teams around. It’s why guys like Thiago Alcantara, Marco Verratti, Luka Modric, Fernandinho and Paul Pogba have been so good for the past 5 years. They can do a bit of everything; create, dribble, keep possession and do a lot off the ball. Yet, none of these players feature here, because we’ll be looking at one midfielder from each of the top five leagues who have been excellent and deserve heaps of praise.

Idrissa Gueye

The former Lille midfielder has changed my views on what players over the age of 30 can do. I’ve always thought investing a lot of money in older players is a bad idea, especially if there is someone younger available, but Gueye is different. I’ve always seen Gueye as a great destroyer. He was consistently putting up massive tackles and interception numbers throughout his time in the Premier League, being the reason why Everton’s midfield at least remained solid. In his last season at Goodison, Gueye was partnered with Andre Gomes, who I’ve never been a fan of. However, with Gomes being partnered with someone who can do most of the defensive actions, it allowed the Portuguese midfielder to focus on ball progression. This helped further create this image of Gueye simply being a destroyer, letting other players do all the ball progression. He was the sole reason why Gomes had a decent season in England. Gueye was fantastic for Everton but made it clear in January that he wanted to leave, with PSG heavily interested. This was his last chance to play for a Champions League club, a club which had a massive hole in midfield after Rabiot’s departure.

He has spectacularly filled that hole and showed the complete player that Gueye seemed to be. In a more dominant team, it meant Gueye would have to be more involved in possession and build-up play. The Senegalese midfielder was replacing Adrien Rabiot, one of the best midfielders in Europe, which meant he had to show he was good enough to play at this level. Gueye has had massive help from being partnered with Marco Verratti, the perfect modern midfielder, meaning Gueye was free to not only do his regular defensive work but even progress the ball.

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Gueye has not only continued with his high defensive output but added quality in possession and the ability to move the ball through the midfield which I never knew he had. I’ve watched PSG a handful of times this season, but it was their dominant performance against Real Madrid that really stood out. Gueye was one of many players to impress me that night. Playing against a team that did possess the best midfield three in Europe, Gueye completely outclassed them and had his best performance in a PSG shirt as of yet. He made 7 tackles and interceptions, more than anyone else on the pitch, created 3 chances, completed 2 dribbles and was third in the team for passes completed with 74 (Verratti managed a ridiculous 97). He was one of the reasons why Real Madrid couldn’t get a foot into the game, and Gueye just looked incredibly comfortable. Gueye arrived to add some steel to a midfield that was consistently being beaten in the round of 16, with their loss to Manchester United back in March the most embarrassing. Gueye has definitely added that. He still has a high work rate, continually putting pressure on opposition midfielders and being just as good defensively as we all expect from him at this point. He has been as good as any of the elite midfielders in Europe. His form has actually frustrated me slightly, because it feels like he was utterly wasted at Everton, only doing defensive work when he could have contributed with so much more.

Joshua Kimmich

Benjamin Pavard was a sensible signing for Bayern, and it was assumed he would be filling in at centre-back as he had done for Stuttgart, but has in fact been playing at right-back. This isn’t to say Pavard has been fantastic, but his move to right-back has allowed Joshua Kimmich to move back into midfield. Kimmich is an absolutely sensational attacking player, and even at right-back, has been Bayern’s best creator for years. His passing is by far his best quality, consistently able to pick out either Lewandowski or speedy wingers Gnabry and Coman. His move to midfield has not only given him more freedom to find more players but has fixed probably his biggest weakness. Kimmich isn’t as athletic as other right-backs in the Bundesliga, which meant he could be exposed rather easily if he was caught too far up the pitch. Now in the base of midfield and partnered with another perfect midfielder in Thiago Alcantara, it has given him the freedom to not only push forward and continue creating for his teammates, but it keeps Bayern much stronger defensively. Kimmich is more than just a creator. The Germany international is more than only an elite creator, but like his Spanish teammate, has this ability to avoid pressure with ease. Kimmich is a quick decision-maker, is always aware of his surroundings and is difficult to dispossess.

We saw this against RB Leipzig. This was a tough test for Bayern, facing an opposition with a superior coach and players to match their dominant team. But thanks to Kovac getting his tactics right and making the most out of his midfield, Bayern looked very comfortable, with Kimmich being a big part of that. Leipzig attempted to press him, but he easily avoided pressure and continued to transition the ball into the forwards with ease. This was the game that not only cemented Kimmich as a midfielder but as one of the best players in Europe. It’s strange even to imagine he once played as a full-back, with how comfortable he has looked in the middle of the park. Benjamin Pavard is now probably the best signing of the summer, for allowing Kimmich to play in his favoured position.

Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester City might be quite fragile at the moment, but their attack is arguably better than it’s ever been. All of their attacking players are in fabulous form, and while it has come at the cost of keeping a line that is far too high considering they now lack Fernandinho in midfield, it has made them even better in the final third and gotten the best out of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian had an injury-struck 18/19 season, featuring very little in another insane Manchester City season. He is now back and looking just as good as in their first title win under Pep. The team seems built around him, with De Bruyne’s accurate crosses City’s leading outlet for creating chances. The Champions usually start their attacks down the left, with De Bruyne drifting to the right. The ball will then be switched from left to right, looking to give the ball to the right-winger (usually Mahrez or Bernardo Silva) and playing a cut back to De Bruyne, who will then aim his crosses for the back post, where David Silva, Aguero, Sterling or Jesus will be there to tap it in. This kind of attack can only work with the best creative midfielder in the world, and luckily for City, they have him. Only Ashley Young has been putting in more accurate crosses per 90 minutes than De Bruyne’s 2.6, putting him ahead of Pascal Gros and James Maddison. The former Chelsea midfielder’s xA is currently at 0.83. If looking at players to rack up over 500 minutes, he leads the league far too comfortably, with Alexander-Arnold second for xA per 90 with 0.41. De Bruyne has been absolutely sensational, and it is no surprise to see him rack up 8 assists already. Part of me thinks he shouldn’t be included here mainly down to the Belgian primarily acting as a number 10 instead of an 8, but it’s hard to ignore one of the best players in Europe in the form of their lives.

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Marcelo Brozović

It seems like the common perception of Inter for years was how they were a one-man team, heavily reliant on Mauro Icardi to win games for them. This is true to an extent, mainly due to the team being built around creating chances for him, but after Spaletti arrived, Marcelo Brozović quickly became Inter’s most valuable player. Over the last 3 years, Brozović has become not only the best defensive midfielder in Italy but arguably in Europe. The Croatian’s skill set is varied, including a fantastic range of passing, the ability to control a game, elite decision making while doing a majority of the team’s defensive work. When Conte arrived, Brozović was the only player in that midfield that was simply undroppable. He kept Inter ticking in possession when the players he was partnered with were either inconsistent or average. Brozović, now under Antonio Conte, is even more irreplaceable than before. He fills that regista role perfectly. During build-up play, Brozović will continuously receive the ball, to either relieve pressure off his teammates through quick passes or play a long, diagonal ball into one of the wing-backs. Conte’s Inter primarily attack through their wing-backs, so having a player who can pick them out with so much ease makes it so easy for the attackers to push and create. His long balls are an essential part of his game, completing 8.6 long balls per game, ahead of every goalkeeper in Serie A.

There is more to Brozović than his importance in the build-up, with the 2018 World Cup finalist sniffing out and stopping danger through a well-timed challenge or a foul. Brozovic is similar to Fernandinho to using any means necessary to protect the back-line. Throughout his time in Milan, he has picked up 44 yellow cards, an astonishing amount for any player. This isn’t even a bad thing, and it shows how he will resort to the dirtier side of the game to ensure Inter win. After two fantastic seasons under Spaletti, it’s hard not to include him in the conversation for the best midfielder in Europe. Now under another manager, Brozović has proved his worth again, allowing Sensi and Barella more freedom and has so far played every minute of every game this season. He could be the reason why Inter could finally break Juventus’ Serie A dominance.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa

If it isn’t apparent by now, Most predictions I make usually don’t pan out. Whether it’s Witsel being a massive flop or Ronaldo being a good signing. I typically predict the wrong outcome. In this case, I was spot on. Zambo Anguissa is a player I’ve been obsessed with for the longest time. During the summer of 2018, I saw the then Marseille midfielder as a perfect option for Arsenal before they signed Lucas Torreira, but suddenly Anguissa signs for another London club, and not Chelsea or Spurs, but newly-promoted Fulham. It was a great signing in terms of adding an outstanding defensive midfielder, able to win the ball back while progressing it well through the centre of the park. However, like all of Fulham’s signing’s that summer, it just seemed not to work out. It wasn’t to say Anguissa was terrible. His numbers were nearly identical to those during his time in France, but the team, in general, was so unbalanced and cobbled together that it made it difficult for many of the new signings to adjust. The other problem Anguissa had was the lack of quality in front of him. While Mitrovic did have a strong start to the season and Babel did well for the six months he was there, there wasn’t an elite creator similar to Payet in front of him. It meant there was more pressure on him to add that creativity to his game, something he has never done throughout his career. Anguissa works best when focusing primarily on ball recoveries and progression, giving the ball to talented attackers in front of him.

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Luckily for Anguissa, he has that at Villarreal. Going into the season, the yellow submarine had Vincente Iborra and one of my favourite players of all time, Santi Cazorla as their starting midfielders, Both were over 30 while they clearly offered experience and mix of the old-school Spanish style and the style that won Spain the World Cup, they needed a younger, more mobile player alongside them. Anguissa fitted this mould perfectly, while still being comfortable in possession. As mentioned, Anguissa wasn’t bad at Fulham, with his national team’s staff not spotting any regression in his overall quality, making him a sensible loan signing for Villarreal. Anguissa has fitted seamlessly into their midfield, complimenting Iborra and Cazorla so well, while allowing his own skills to blossom. Both him and Iborra put in a lot of defensive work, but Anguissa offers that extra strength and mobility when moving the ball into the final third, with no other player for the yellow submarine completing more than Anguissa’s 2.9 dribbles per 90. With Cazorla ahead of him, Anguissa has a player who can shoulder the creative responsibilities, something the former Arsenal midfielder still excels at, even after a terrible ankle injury and now being 34. The 23-year-old is a tremendous defensive midfield talent, and when placed into a side where he only has to play to his strengths, he can become a valuable member to any team. Let’s hope he continues to succeed in Spain, so he can go back to playing at the level to show off his talents.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ryan Fraser and Improving Arsenal

While many like to look at Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Nasri as some of Arsenal’s sales that have left a whole in the squad, Santi Cazorla is a hole they seemingly cannot replace. The Spaniard had one of the best debut seasons in the past decade, reaching double figures for both goals and assists. As Arsenal added expensive signings like Ozil, Sanchez and Xhaka, Cazorla remained to be their most important player. After the Arsenal medical staff failing to foresee the long term ankle injury (an injury that was noticed but not resolved until it was fatal), it left Cazorla in a terrible position, as well as Arsenal. While a midfield of Coquelin and Cazorla isn’t perfect, they balanced out each other and allowed them both to play to their strengths. Cazorla helped take pressure away from Ozil in the creativity department. In the 2015/16 season, Ozil was the best creator in Europe, making 4.2 key passes per game. The German was the only player who created more chances than Cazorla’s 2.5 key passes per game. It made Arsenal less predictable, ensuring that there was always one technically superb player on the pitch to assist the forwards. Cazorla was also influencial in transition, completing 2.5 dribbles per game. The Spaniard was arguably their best player during Wenger’s final years in charge.

So what does Cazorla have to do with a Scotsman who was sent out on loan to Ispwich while Arsenal were challenging for a title? Well with Arsenal in desperate need for creativity, thanks to Ozil seemingly falling out with Emery, it seems the Gunners will turn to Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser as the saviour. He could help give Arsenal extra creativity from the wide areas, so let’s find out if he is the man to help Arsenal challenge for top four.

Since breaking into Bournemouth’s first team back in the 2013/14 season, Fraser has found it difficult to find a place in the starting XI. While he did start 23 games in his first season in the Premier League, he was in a very poor Bournemouth side. However thanks to Eddie Howe building a much better attack, it gave all of his forwards a spark, and Fraser was by far the one who benefitted the most from the change. While Wilson finally seemed to be scoring the amount of goals we’ve all been waiting for him to reach, Fraser turned into one of the best creators in the league. The former Aberdeen winger formed a deadly partnership with Wilson, with the pair nearly breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s record for most goal combinations between two players with 12. It highlights where Fraser strength has been in the final third. He is one of the best players in the league for making that final pass. It’s where he has become so vital for Bournemouth. His eye for an assist has turned him into the most important player for the Cherries. Fraser is the player the rest of the team look for. He is technically gifted and his passing is spectacular. his 2.4 key passes per game rank 4th in the league, with the likes of Maddison and Hazard ahead of him. His crossing is also an area to be admired. The Scottsman completes 2 crosses a game, the 2nd highest in the league. He is his side’s chief playmaker, and seems to embrace the responsibility entrusted in him by his manager.

So is there anything wrong with Fraser? There is actually a few things to note, starting with his dribbling. He isn’t exactly a good dribbler.  Fraser is completing less than a dribble a game. While Bournemouth rank 14th for dribbles per game, it’s an area of concern. The reason why Cazorla was spoken about so highly is because he is still a player they need to replace. His combination of high chance creation and expert transitional play made him an almost perfect Wenger player. If Fraser will be able to replicate Cazorla’s creativity, there is still a hole to be filled. This isn’t to complete diminish Fraser’s strengths. In fact, his lack of dribbling does highlight one of his better qualities. His ability to get into positions where he is able to cross for his team is what has made him such a threat for Bournemouth. He doesn’t have to dribble because there is no one to beat. It’s a concern for if he signs for Arsenal because it’s hard to know if he would be able to adapt in a way to suit what Emery might want. Arsenal have let Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlein go and haven’t replaced them in what they added to the team, being the ability to beat players an add that element of unpredictability, something Fraser might not be able to add.

I like Fraser a lot, and would suit a side like Southampton, one which is starved of creativity, but are full of players who are excellent dribblers. These are more of the players that Arsenal should be looking for. Players who amase high dribble numbers. While players like Januzaj, Thuram or Sarr might not offer the same amount of assists as Fraser, they will make Arsenal a much better side.

8 Injury-Prone Players Having Excellent Seasons

Let’s look at 8 players who after having a difficult time with injuries, have bounced back this season. Injuries are that part of football that everyone does not want to see. When an player’s fitness and health are so important, the last thing you want to see is someone suffering an injury that will delay their potential in a career that could end in their thirties. Nothing is better to see than a player overcome massive injuries to finally reach that potential we all knew they had.

Sergio Canales

Canales is actually the inspiration for this list. The Spaniard was always seen as a promising player, with his performances all the way back in the 2009/10 season. He scored 6 and assisted 4 in 19 games. For a teenager it was very impressive. It earned him a move to Real Madrid, which saw him only play 293 minutes. Due to such limited minutes, he then went on loan to Valencia. While his minutes did increase to start, this is where the serious injuries back. He already suffered 2 minor injures in Madrid, both being ankle injuries, but nothing to worry about. He suffered a cruciate ligament rupture in October 2011, which resulted in him missing 37 games for Valencia. Things got even worse for Canales, with the midfielder then suffering the same injury a month after coming back, which resulted in him missing 189 days of football. Valencia actually signed the then 21 year old for a reported €8 million and on a 5 year deal. It was proof that they still believed in him. He only started 7 games the following season, which is understandable. He only returned from that second rupture at the start of November, and it takes time to get back to 100% when you suffer an injury that keeps you out for that long. In those brief appearances, he did manage 2 goals and 2 assists. His highlight at Valencia was arguably his performances in the Europa League in the 2012/13 season. Canales scored 2 in 5 starts, and was taking 3.6 shots a gamem the highest of his career. Canales was finally getting the minutes he deserved.

In January 2013, he moved to Real Sociedad, and continued to get the minutes, starting 13 games in the second half of that season. His 2014/15 was notable. It was the first time he started over 30 games domestically, and it was a sign that all those horrible injuries were behind him. Unfortunetly, that same ligament injury came back. In a 3-1 defeat to Madrid in late 2015, he tore ligaments in his left knee. What was most worrying about this was which knee was torn. The other injuries were all in his right knee, which made this injury even more worrying. He missed 266 days of football. While the following season was mostly a recovery process, of trying to get back into the groove of things, he did have a very good 2017/18 season. Like his time in Valencia, his highlight was the Europa League. He got 6 assists in as many starts, and was creating 4 chances a game. He had a very good season overall, but after difficult negotiations with the club over a new contract, he parted ways with Sociedad.

Canales then joined Betis on a free transfer. To say he is in the form of his career is an understatment. The Spaniard has started 21 games, scoring 6 and assisting 2. His numbers are all at the highest they’ve been in La Liga. He’s been taking 2.2 shots, creating 1.8 chances and completing 1.7 dribbles. Canales was always seen as a very Spanish advanced midfielder, so technically gifting and showed great ability at a young age. He was one of Spain’s brightest prospects and is now finally showing why.

Marco Reus 

Marco Reus is another who was highly promising at a young age. he started life at Borussia Monchengladbach, where he shined under current Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre. He was just improving every year, and went from scoring 8 in 27 in the 2009/10 season, to scoring 18 and assisting a further 9 only 2 seasons later. He was arguably Germany’s most talented player at the time, and it seemed he would be a potential player of the year. After that stellar season for Monchengladbach, he signed for then champions Dortmund, where he had a great debut campaign, but it was his follow up season where it seemed he could possibly win the Balon d’Or. In the 2013/14 season, scored 16 and assisted 13 in only 30 appearances. He was seen as one of the best players in Europe, and the only way was up.

So when did the injuries start? Well after his supernova season, he started to pick up consistent injuries. He missed 19 games in the 2014/15 season, a season in which Dortmund massively struggled and missing their key player was the last thing they needed. While he did miss 10 games the following season, it ended on a massively sour note. Reus suffered Osteitis Pubis. It forced him to miss Euro 2016, a tournament which would have needed the flair and speed of Reus on that left side for Germany. After making his recovery the following season, it again ended on a huge negative. In the DFB Pokal final against Frankfurt, he suffered a ligament tear in his knee. It ended a campaign that was full of difficulties, and it forced him to miss 220 days. It didn’t see him return until January 2018. He ended the season very well, scoring 7 in 11 starts, and helping Dortmund qualify for the Champions League. He also finally played in the World Cup, even if Germany were really bad.

We now reach this season, where Reus is finally at his best. After perfoming mostly through the middle in the previous season, Favre decided to play him as more of a second striker, to make sure he gets more involved in play and allows the young wide talent they have to play and flourish. Reus has had his best season since that supernova 2013/14 season. With a side so young across all positions, having a player who has been at the club longer than most is so valuable. Reus has went from that young player to helping ones like Larssen, Sancho, Diallo and Hakimi. With Dortmund having a weird striker problem, Reus has been the goalscoring vocal point for the side. He’s scored 13 in 19, and is looking very good, considering the team he’s playing in. Favre famously just allows his attackers to express themselves. It’s different to how Tuchel and Klopp set up, which were to get the most out of the attackers, and to dominate games from the front. It means Reus is more efficient, but statistically, isn’t having his best season. His dribbling is very low, but since he’s more central, he doesn’t have to be beating men as often as he did as a winger. His shot numbers are still good, and is his chance creation. It’s what happens when you age. You shouldn’t be trying to push yourself as much. Players at Reus’s age are starting to fade, so need to play in a way which still allows them to flourish. While he never reached the potential we all knew he could, he has still became a top player, and needs to be credited massively for being able to come back and perform after such a difficult time.

Ilkay Gundogan

Onto another Borussia Dortmund player. Like Reus, Gundogan showed a lot of promise at a young age. He shined at Nuernberg, playing as a central midfielder is excelled in the final third of the pitch, being able to create and score. He scored 5 in 24 for his side, and helped Nuernberg finish 6th in the Bundesliga that season. He then signed for title winners Borussia Dortmund, clearly as a replacement for Nuri Sahin, who departed for Real Madrid. He was so good in their success of keeping hold of the title, that it was as if Sahin never left, but just got a lot faster. He was putting in 5.1 tackles and interceptions that season, and was even creating 1.5 chances a game. It showed he was a very well rounded midfielder, and it highlighted him as one of Europe’s future superstars.

So when did the injuries start? Well 2 seasons later, on the opening day of the 2013/14 season, Gundogan unfortunately suffered an awful back injury. It meant he was forced to miss more than a year of football, and like Reus, forced him to miss the 2014 World Cup, and watch his country win from the sidelines. When he signed for Manchester City in 2016, he told Sky Sports, “I was really scared, and I didn’t know if I was ever able to play football again.” Out of all the players on this list, his injury might be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Spinal injuries are much harder to perform surgery on, because of how vital they are in how your body moves and functions. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want any player to go through. After Dortmund deciding to offload the midfielder, he was sold to Manchester City. After starting 15 games in his debut season, including 6 starts in the Champions League, another injury faced Gundogan. In late 2016, Gundogan was forced off with a ligament tear in his knee, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

After all these set backs, Gundogan is not the same player as he used to be, but that has not stopped him from contributing to one of the best sides in Europe. With Fernandinho and David Silva all aging, and Manchester City going far in so many competitions, it has given Gundogan a very important spuad role to fill. He is able to fill in every midfield position, and has scored 5 goals in 14 starts in the league, and has become a very important player to Pep. Let’s hope he doesn’t face another long term injury in his career.

Luke Shaw

While the other 3 players might be as discussed as they should be, a majority of football fans are aware of what happened to Luke Shaw. When he broke onto the scene under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, he was seen as the future England left back, since Ashley Cole was finally aging out, it was time to be finally replaced. Young Shaw was actually in the team of the season in that 2013/14 season. he started 35 games that season, the most of his career. He was only 17 at this point, which shows why he was seen as the future. He was averaging 1.6 dribbles per 90, the only time he has averaged over a dribble in his career. He was also creating a chance a game and was also putting in 3.2 tackles and interceptions per 90, the highest in his career domestically. These weren’t just good numbers for a young player, but a player of any age. It’s what lead Manchester United to break the record for money spent on a teenager, and was hopefully going to be a mainstay in that United defence for more than 10 years. However his first season under Louis Van Gaal wasn’t great. As the likes of Depay, Varela, Januzaj and Blackett will all know, Van Gaal has a very dated approach to dealing with young players. There’s an element of if you don’t perform, you’re out. It’s an attitude that saw all players leave during or right after Van Gaal’s tenure. Luke Shaw struggled just like the others, but things were looking good for the young defender in his second season, which saw him start the first 9 games of the season, and look like he had rediscovered his form that earned him a move to Old Trafford.

Then that game against PSV Eindhoven took place. With only 15 minutes on the clock, Luke Shaw makes a bursting run into the box, and was taken out by Hector Moreno. The tackle was not a pretty one, and it resulted in the young England full back suffering a leg break. When Shaw is asked about this injury, he mentions how he nearly lost his leg if he didn’t have surgery. Just when you watch this injury back, you can just see how seriously hurt Shaw was by that tackle. It’s by far one of the worst injuries that I’ve ever seen and it was going to take a miracle for him to recover.

Shaw returned from injury by the beginning of next season, and he faced his biggest challenge on the pitch, being Jose Mourinho. The three time Champions League winner seemed to not like him in the slighest. It lead to Shaw only starting 9 games that season, during a time when Manchester United didn’t have any other real left back option. After Shaw came off the bench to help United salvage a point at home against Everton, Mourinho came out after the match saying “Shaw used his body with my brain” and was one of many moments where Mourinho seemed to show his dislike to the former Southampton player. Their relationship didn’t improve, with Shaw only starting 8 games the following season, and many United fans were starting to lose patience. He didn’t seem to want to get into the team and fight for his place, and a lifestyle that showed a player who wasn’t in the rush to get in better shape. He was one of many players United fans wanted to see leave the club last summer.

These opinions all changed after that first game of the season against Leicester. Shaw scored and put in a solid performance to boast. He was one of very few United players to not down tools when the results were getting bad. This even continued under Solsjkaer, who has kept him in the side. Shaw has started 23 games this season, more than he’s managed in the last 2 campaigns. I don’t think he has been excellent, but he’s at least playing. He’s looked great defensively, but just needs to contribute more going forward. He’s only completing 0.8 dribbles per 90, but has proved at Southampton that he can do much better. United finally have a left back with dynamism and future, something they’ve lacked since a young Patrice Evra. He will stay at the club for a long time if he keeps up this new positive attitude.

Santi Cazorla

Santi Cazorla has got to be one of the most technically gifted players the Premier League has ever seen. He was one reason why Arsenal’s chance creation was so good during Wenger’s latter years at the club, and ability to find space and pick out the right pass made him their best player that season. I hold the firm belief that if Arsenal did not sell Robin Van Persie that summer, they would have won the league in the 2012/13 season. City, Liverpool and Chelsea all underperformed, and Man United lacking Van Persie wouldn’t have touched that trophy. A lot of Arsenal’s players truly stept up that season, with Podolski, Walcott, Gibbs and Arteta all having their best seasons for the Gunners. Cazorla however was arguably the best player in the league that season. After losing Nasri, Arsenal needed a new creator, someone to help all of these talents score the goals to replace those lost by the departure of Van Persie, and Cazorla fitted that bill. Not only did he replace Nasri, but he made the entire side even better, and must go down as one of the best bits of business Arsenal have ever made in the Premier League era. If Bale didn’t go supernova that season, Cazorla would have won the player of the season. The Spaniard scored 12 and assisted 11, taking 3 shots a game, creating the most chances and completed 2.3 dribbles. He even put in 3.7 tackles and interceptions, putting in the perfect midfield performance. He played every game that season, proving just how vital he was for the Gunners.

This importance did slowly decline once Mesut Ozil arrived, who instantly became their best creator, but that didn’t stop Cazorla contributing. He was moved into wide areas of the pitch, to accomodate their new record signing. However Cazorla still remained effective, scoring 4 and assisting 8 for his side. He was less productive, but since he wasn’t the main focus of the side anymore, that is understandable. He was then moved into a deeper position in the 2014/15 season. Arsenal were suffering from a lot of injuries in midfield, with Ramsey, Flamini, Wilshere and Arteta all missing out in the season. It forced Wenger to recall Coquelin and start Cazorla as a defensive midfielder, and Cazorla still performed great. He massively helped Arsenal in transition and helped get the ball up the pitch much faster. Coquelin gave the Spaniard plenty of protection and concerntrate more on attacking. He lead the team in assists and was key in their FA Cup win.

So when did the injuries start, well Cazorla always had the occasional knock, but nothing like the ankle injury he would receive. He already had ankle damage before. It began all the way back in 2013, where he received damage on his ankle. Even after that injury, he still had a lot of pain in his ankle, but it reached its limit in October 2016, where the worst 2 years any player has experienced. Cazorla missed 618 days due to injury, and it was through multiple problems in his ankle, the worse being a bacterial infection that was eating away at his ankle bone. The injury was so bad, that doctors in London had no idea if he would be able to play again. Those doctors are to blame for a horrible end to a footballer’s career. This infection was there all the way back in 2013, yet they had no idea. Surely a club the size of Arsenal would have a medical team that would at least be able to spot and treat a problem that has halted a great career.

He has since left Arsenal to join boyhood club Villarreal, where he been excellent. He’s started 18 games in La Loga, scoring 4 and assisting 5, so let’s hope he can end his career on a high.

Danny Ings

The final Premier League player to be on this list. Danny Ings has had a potentially solid career delayed thanks to two awful knee injuries. Ings was a promising player during his time in Burnley. The forward was a big reason why they got promoted in the first place, he scored 21 goals in 40 games, which was the driving force for their promotion. He then had a pretty solid debut campaign, scoring 11 in 35 for a side who were destined to go down. his form earned him a move to Liverpool, who at the time just couldn’t make good business. With Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli leaving the club after not adding the goals Liverpool hoped, they decided to bring in Ings and Benteke. Both just weren’t good enough for the club. Underwhelming business like this was a reason why Rodgers was eventually sacked, and in came Jurgen Klopp. He seemed to not like Benteke in the slightest, who was eventually sold the following summer. Ings had a bigger problem however. After starting 3 games, he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury, which resulted in the forward missing the rest of the season. What made things worse for Ings was he suffered another knee injury the following season, only 3 months after recovering from his last injury. It forced him out for another season. After having minimal impact in the 17/18 season, he decided to depart the club.

I thought a loan move at the time would make more sense, just to show other clubs that he can play consistently over a season. He was a massive gamble no matter where he was going, but Southampton were the ones who ready to take that risk, signing the English forward for £16 million. Ings has been a hit in South England, getting 8 in his first 14 games. He was a favourite for Mark Hughes and now with Hassenhuttl. He is taking 2.5 shots and creating a chance a game, good numbers from a player in desperation to finish a season. He has truly bounced back after years of injuries.

Ondrej Duda

Arguably the most unknown on this list, Ondrej Duda is currently playing for Hertha Berlin, and is having the best season in his short career. The 24 year old signed for Hertha back in 2016, and had a very miserable 2 years in Germany. He arrived from Warsaw with Pantella problems and didn’t have an impact in the first season and struggled in his second season with confidence. Since he wasn’t playing, it made adjusting to life in a new country so much more difficult.

However this season he finally seemed to be reaching his potential. He’s scored 10 goals and assisted 2 in 21 starts. He’s won Hertha so many games this season. including a massive win over Schalke away from home. He scored 2 goals to beat last year’s runners up. While he is definitely riding hot (he is expected to be on roughly 4 goals), it is still nice to see a player contributing to his side after so much problems.

Max Gradel

And finally we have to talk about Max Gradel. The winger has had quite a tough time in recent years. His injuries began back in 2013, where near the end of the season, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for 6 months. He did improve and scored 17 goals in just 31 appearances (23 starts) and earned himself a chance to shine in England, signing for Bournemouth in 2016. He had a real tough time, suffering from another ligament injury, which kept him out for another 6 months. When a club is trying to stay up, they need players like Gradel, someone who is able to add an element of unpredictability to a side. He is arguably their most exciting signing since their promotion, and it’s a massive shame he just didn’t work out.

He has been absolutely fabulous for Toulouse. He arrived back in France in 2017, and has given them a fighting chance in surviving relegation. He has scored 10 and assisted 4 in Ligue 1, and is completing 2.4 dribbles and taking 3.4 shots, numbers similar to before he moved to England. He has finally found his form and it’s good to see him contributing massively again.

Conclusion

While the last few might seem rushed, it’s because they haven’t had the same long history as Canales and Reus have had. This was originally going to be 10, but because of this taking way too much time, it had to be cut. Hope you enjoyed regardless.