With the season grinding down to a close, it’s finally time for all those end of season round-up posts. I’ll slowly but surely churn them out for want of content in the coming week or so, naturally focusing on Liverpool, but to start, here’s my Premiership team of the season. Let the bias claims commence.
Goalkeeper – Pepe Reina
Claims of bias in Reina's selection will be listened to, but most likely ignored. You can make arguments for and against Reina, Cech, James, and Van der Saar. Liverpool's back four, one of the best in the league, is miles better when Reina starts (just look at the last few league games), and I'm utterly sick of hearing about Reina "flapping." One, he's under orders to punch if almost all circumstance. Two, he's fouled more often than Lehmann, he's just not a petulant infant who plays it up.
Right Back – Steve Finnan
Finnan has been the best right back in the league this year, Liverpool or not, and despite some sparkling performances by Arbeloa, his absence was clear when out with a neck injury in April. He’s so consistent it seems he can easily be forgotten, but thankfully, the masses seem to be coming around.
Center Back – Ricardo Carvalho
Carvalho's contribution was also best demonstrated by the times he was out. Chelsea’s poor spell over the winter coincided with an injury to the Portuguese defender, as had this recent streak where they've gone out of the Champions League and lost the league. When healthy, Carvalho’s been better and more consistent than his partner and Chelsea captain John Terry, and that says enough right there.
Center Back – Jamie Carragher
I nearly put Nemanja Vidic in this spot, as he’s settled in superbly this season and even made Rio Ferdinand look like a consistent professional. However, it's impossible to look past Carragher; no matter Liverpool allegiances, there is no man I’d rather go to battle with. He is a rock at the back, epitomizes everything great about his club, and doesn’t get nearly the acclaim he deserves (even with the increasing plaudits he gets). Yes, I really do believe he’s a better defender than John Terry, better than anyone in the country. If he was more a self-promoter, he’d probably be a steadfast England regular, but that’s simply not Carra.
Left Back – Nicky Shorey
With England reliant on two injury-prone Chelsea players at left back, it’s amazing Nicky Shorey hasn’t gotten a look in sooner. He’s an excellent, consistent defender who can still get forward, and has probably been Reading’s best player during their amazing ride this season.
Right Midfield – Cristiano Ronaldo
Sigh. 22 years old, and probably the best player in the Premiership. If not the best, he’s at least the most threatening. We know the tricks, we know the free kicks, we know the stepovers. On his game, he can be the complete package on the wing. But the most impressive to me is how he’s become a stronger player, physically and emotionally, since he came into the league. The backlash following his antics against England in the World Cup would have seen lesser men demand a transfer request before the season even started. Ronaldo took it as a challenge and was more than up for the task. The strength of will in the kid knows no bounds, and that does not bode well for United’s opponents in the future.
Central Midfield – Michael Essien
Had Chelsea been able to play Essien in midfield throughout the season, he’d have been a lot higher up in the player of the year balloting. One of his greatest assets, his overall athleticism and versatility, have kept him from playing in his preferred position during Chelsea’s many injuries. However, I also believe if consistently played at right back, Essien would probably be the best in the league at that position too. The man is just a very impressive footballer.
Central Midfield – Paul Scholes
Ronaldo may get the headlines and plaudits, but Scholes' return to fitness and form has been just a big a reason for United's success this season. He allows United to play the way they play best, and his freshness (retired from the international game and missing most of last season) saw him stay healthy throughout this season.
Left Midfield – Matty Taylor
In the PFA team of the season, Ronaldo was listed on the left with Gerrard on the right. As a Liverpool fan, I’ll be one of the first to say I don’t think Gerrard belongs in the team of the season, and I think Ronaldo would be better served listed on the right. That said, this spot could go to any number of players; for me it comes down to Giggs, Barry, Stephen Hunt, Gamst, and Matty Taylor. I’ve got to go with Taylor. He’s not finished the season with the aplomb received earlier for his wonder goals thanks to injury, but he was still one of Portsmouth’s best performers. It’s no coincidence that Taylor went down with injury in late April, and Portsmouth just missed out on a UEFA Cup place.
Striker – Dimitar Berbatov
Easily the best transfer of the year. I was excited to see Berbatov play in the Prem, although at £10.9m, I wondered if Spurs had paid too much (remember, Liverpool paid £9m for Kuyt around the same time), and yet, if he was sold tomorrow, he’d go for well over £20m now. And deservedly so. He’s a very classy striker, technically sound, an all-around good player, and an excellent finisher. Without Berbatov, I’d be very surprised if Tottenham would have finished in the top-7.
Striker – Didier Drogba
Another no-brainer, and really, Cristiano Ronaldo’s only competition for Player of the Year. Drogba’s been immense this season, and it’s amazing to think back over the last two seasons to see how much nonsense he took from supposed experts. Even at the beginning of the season, he was supposed to play second fiddle to, if not make way for, Andrei Shevchenko. We know how that turned out. The Ivorian truly is the total package with speed, strength, the ability to play as a lone striker, and goals from all over the pitch. When he receives the ball with room to run on the counter-attack, it's utterly terrifying.