28 December 2006

Midseason Team of the Season

I’m marginally tardy to the party, but here’s my team so far this season now that we’re 20 games deep into the Premiership campaign.

Goalkeeper: Jussi Jasskelainen
Jasskelainen is up there with Van der Sar and Reina in goals against average and clean sheets, but he’s had much more to do than either of the other two keepers and has done it with the usual expected consistency.

Right Back: Steve Finnan
It’s easy to claim Finnan’s inclusion is because of my heavy bias, but he’s been Liverpool’s most consistent player and consistently one of the best right backs in the league for a couple of years now. One of Liverpool’s leaders in assists and one of the best crossers on the team, Finnan’s had no problems joining the attack, especially when he’s been played as a wingback in a 3-5-2, but also has very few defensive liabilities.

Center Back: Sol Campbell
The lead figure in Pompey’s revival this season. He’s added experience and discipline to Pompey’s backline, and it’s showed not only in Sol’s excellent play, but the improvement in all the defenders around him. Even David James looks to be a different keeper with Campbell in front of him.

Center Back: John Terry
Was very tempted to put Rio Ferdinand here, but Terry’s absence over the past couple of games has shown exactly how important he is to Chelsea. Without him, their defense looks average at best, and Terry has had one of his typically excellent starts to the season, although we’ll see how he returns from back surgery.

Left Back: Gareth Barry
Martin O’Neill lists him as a left back, then so will I. Barry’s easily been Villa’s best player, chipping in with 7 goals (albeit mostly from penalties), going forward to add width to the attack, while dramatically improving defensively.

Right Mid: Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s arguable that Ronaldo is the best player in the Prem this year. Less stepovers, marginally less diving, and an increased reliance and his speed and power to simply embarrass defenders. Mountains of tricks in his locker, an excellent free kick taker, and confidence galore. It’s maddening to no end complementing an annoying git like Ronaldo, but wow has he been good.

Center Mid: Michael Essien
Essien’s been immense this season, typified by his wonder goal against Arsenal, but he’s added much more to his game this year. More influential in midfield (smarter in the tackle and more of a goal threat) when he gets a start there, he’s also been a more than capable right back when called upon.

Center Mid: Cesc Fabregas
Every year Fabregas gets better and better, and he’s not even 20 yet. He’s got everything you’d want in a midfielder: excellent vision, great range of passing, and an increasingly good eye for goal. As he matures, he’ll get better in the tackle as well. Shows how much that Arsenal believes in him as he recently signed an 8-year contract tying him to the club until 2014.

Left Mid: Matty Taylor
Taylor’s having the season of his life. He’s scored something like 4 wonder goals this month (one of which will assuredly be amongst the goals of the season) that have kept Pompey in the top 5 of the Prem. Like Barry, he can play in both midfield and defense, and like Barry, is angling for an England call-up (why Stewart Downing is ahead of either of these players in beyond me).

Striker: Kevin Doyle
Doyle’s goals are the main reason Reading has done so well in the league. Tempting to put Kanu here, as he’s had a great season for Pompey after misfiring for Arsenal and West Brom, but Doyle’s season is slightly more surprising. He’s had absolutely no problem adjusting from the Championship to the Prem, and has been consistently scoring all season, including putting in the penalty that earned Reading a draw against Manchester United.

Striker: Didier Drogba
What needs to be said? 12 league goals this season and now that he’s learned to stay on his feet (well, more so than last season), Drogba’s got everything you want in a striker: pace, strength, a nose for goal, the ability to shoot with either foot, and heading ability. Boy, it would have been nice had he reacted poorly to Sheva joining Chelsea and forcing a transfer (as looked possible right after the deal). Instead, he’s cemented his place as the best striker in the league, by far.

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