With Sven winner of August’s manager of the month award and Micah Richards receiving the player of the month gong, I thought it might be interesting to try to build a complete ‘team of the first month and a half’. Many questions arise when considering such a team: should it just be a collection of individuals, or ought the team to cohere? Do two outstanding performances outweigh six or seven consistently good efforts? (e.g. Arteta’s explosive early season form over N’Zogbia’s consistently good form?).
Here is my attempt at a “best of” eleven from seven matches, a “seven-eleven” if you will, taking into account Opta player stats.
GK: Kasper Schmeichel (Manchester City)
Don’t think that there should be too many arguments about this. Schmeichel has surprised everyone (including himself and Sven, probably) with his performances, has the second highest saves-to-shot ratio (81%), below Steve Harper (82%) and has saved a penalty. The only real rivals for this place would be Harper, Reina and Van der Saar (the last two have conceded just two goals a piece, although Van der Saar himself has looked shaky behind a solid defence), but I feel that Schmeichel has stood out most out of this bunch.
DL: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
Patrice Evra has been excellent this season, both defensively and offensively, and can be said to have played a big part in Manchester United’s defensive shut outs. Evra has got forward to good effect although he is yet to score or set up a goal this season (the same goes for Gael Clichy and Ashley Cole, and indeed all of the other candidates listed here!). Other contenders might include Aston Villa’s Wilfred Bouma, and Manchester City’s Javier Garrido, who at 22 is tied with Gael Clichy as the youngest of the candidates.
DR: Alvaro Arbeloa (Liverpool)
Whilst Arbeloa has not played at right-back all season, he has excelled in all positions, and fully deserves his place in the Liverpool starting line-up. Arbeloa has provided one assist, against Derby County, so far this season. Arbeloa is also my candidate for most underrated player in the Premiership. Other challengers include Glen Johnson and Wes Brown, who have both played very well so far, the latter’s form flying in the face of critics (such as myself) who had labelled him a weak spot in the United defence.
DC: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
A toss-up here between Vidic and Ferdinand — both have been majestic, but Vidic offers a more direct goal threat (he is always a threat at corners, and won the points for United against Everton), whilst Rio Ferdinand has the joint-highest pass completion in the Premiership, and is a vital cog in the building of United attacks. I have gone for Ferdinand over Vidic because in Micah Richards this team already has a Vidic-type and a threat at set-pieces.
DC: Micah Richards (Manchester City)
A revelation for club and country, Richards has been superb all season. Richards does offer the occasional slip in terms of positioning (natural given his age), but normally more than makes up for it with his electric pace. Richards is a leader, and a massive threat at set-pieces too (although he is yet to score this season). Other candidates: Martin Laursen (revitalised and injury-free in an impressive Villa defence), Zat Knight, Kolo Toure, Steven Wright (SO underrated) and Richard Dunne (perhaps unfairly overlooked and outshone by his more exciting team-mate, but can be credited for helping to bring Richards on as a player and always setting an excellent example).
ML: Matt Etherington (West Ham)
Matt Etherington has been another to prove his critics wrong this season, offering up a series of assured performances and weighing in with two goals and one assist for high-flying West Ham. Other candidates: Martin Petrov (three goals and some good performances, although he took a while to settle and was originally outshone by his fellow midfielders Elano and Johnson), Stewart Downing (three goals, but what has happened to his pinpoint crosses?), Jason Koumas (regularly Wigan’s best player on the pitch).
MR: Elano (Manchester City)
Five assists and one (deflected) goal against Champions and bitter rivals Manchester United. Enough said. Other candidates: none really. Malbranque? (top tackler with 32 tackles, 81% of which were successful). Wright-Phillips?
MC: Francesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
No debate here — Cesc is the man. Four goals and six assists from six games makes Fabregas the top player of the season so far. Fabregas’ maturity is startling, and he is turning out to be quite a leader as well. Future Spain captain?
MC: Michael Essien (Chelsea)
There is a bit more to debate here, as players such as Man City’s Johnson, Newcastle’s N’Zogbia and even Fulham’s Smertin might have a claim to this spot. Essien might have done less in terms of goalscoring, but carries his team more than the other contenders, and he also has one of the best passing ratios in the country (82%). It’s a difficult one between Essien and N’Zogbia, but Essien just wins for me.
FC: Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal)
Six goals from six games (admittedly with five in two), enough said. Although I will say more; Adebayor has always been an excellent forward (his hold-up play is superb and he creates a lot for his fellow strikers). However, this season Adebayor seems to have become a good striker, and has contributed goals when Robin Van Persie seems low on confidence.
FC: Nicolas Anelka (Bolton)
Anelka gets this gong over other contenders (Kanu, Torres — who might have been in with a chance had BenÃtez not rested him for the last two matches, Viduka) because he has scored four goals playing for a team rooted to the bottom of the league, with no confidence. What’s more, the calibre of some of Anelka’s goals (e.g. the volley against Everton, the break against Portsmouth) has been outstanding. We should note, however, that Anelka’s goal-to-shot ratio is fairly poor at just 27%.
So there you have my choices, what are yours?