Drew Robertson

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2019-20 Premier League Best XI so far

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With the coronavirus shutdown of all major European soccer, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the players who have stood out to this point as the table begins to truly take shape. Liverpool is just a hair away from securing the 2019/20 title, but not everything is about the Reds – although a lot of it still is.

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With that in mind, here’s the frontrunners at each position for Premier League Team of the Season, with the players who could also make a leap into the conversation with a strong finish to the campaign, if they ever get the chance.

Premier League Best XI

Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Also considered: Alisson Becker

Harsh on Alisson, who is leading the way for one of the best back lines in Premier League history, but Dean Henderson has been just as brilliant in far more difficult circumstances. The Manchester United loanee has starred at Sheffield United, prompting talk that the Red Devils should cut his loan short and instill the 23-year-old’s loan short and bring him on to take over for a struggling David De Gea. While many have labeled the shot-stopper “England’s future number one,” it’s entirely possible that Henderson would have been the starter had Euro 2020 not been postponed until next season, and it’s certainly fathomable that the youngster could still be first-choice once the tournament arrives. There are recent rumors among English tabloids that Manchester United is preparing a new contract for Henderson worth nearly $120,000 a week, which would be more than backup goalkeeper Sergio Romero currently makes and about equal with new midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Ederson is normally considered part of this list as well, but he just hasn’t performed up to the level required this season considering how he sparkled in Manchester City’s title campaign last time around.

Left-back: Andrew Robertson
Also considered: Ben Chilwell, Lucas Digne, Jonny

While Robertson doesn’t burst off the page like his fellow full-back teammate Alexander-Arnold (more on that in a moment), he is still far and away the best left-back in the league. The former Hull City man who joined Liverpool for just $9 million back in 2017 has flourished into one of the world’s best, and his chemistry with Alexander-Arnold is growing the two into a legendary pairing. He is a long-ball master, delivering 2.4 per game, the most of any left-back in the league and third among full-backs to just Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Also considered: Ricardo Pereira, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Did you know the Premier League was absolutely stacked at right-back? If not for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is quickly establishing himself as the best full-back in the world and has a shot at a place among the greatest of all-time should he maintain this form for a number of years, the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would actually have a legitimate shot at this award. Pereira’s performance this season has been so good he’s earned himself links to Real Madrid, and both he and Wan-Bissaka are tackle masters who are blowing away the rest of the league in that category (both are the only men not named Wilfried Ndidi to average over 4 successful tackles per match). Throw in Kyle Walker and wing-back Matt Doherty, and the ranks of Premier League right-backs are loaded. Too bad TAA trumps them all, with a gargantuan 12 assists this season and 2.6 key passes per game, more than double the total of any other right-back.

Center-Back: Virgil Van Dijk, Harry Maguire
Also considered: Caglar Soyuncu, Wily Boly, James Tarkowski

Selecting one of these players is a no-brainer. Virgil van Dijk is far and away the best center-back in the Premier League, and maybe the world. Selecting his partner is far more difficult.

WhoScored’s second-highest rated player at the position this season is Wily Boly, but like Scott McTominay, thanks to injuries he has not played enough this season to qualify. Caglar Soyuncu is another popular choice, and the youngster no doubt has been a pleasant surprise next to Jonny Evans at Leicester City, one of the league’s rising stars at the position. But Harry Maguire lived up to his price tag this season and that’s no small feat as the world’s most expensive defender. His positioning is exquisite, and while he hasn’t displayed van Dijk levels of domination – a slight slip in form through the months of October and November prove that – he has done fabulously at Manchester United, racking up a complete 2,610-minute Premier League season to this point and playing significant minutes through the other Cup competitions as well while the Red Devils struggle with injuries all over the pitch.

Defensive Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi
Also considered: Scott McTominay, Declan Rice, Jorginho

Wilfred Ndidi is a midfield destroyer the likes of which we haven’t seen since…well, since N’Golo Kante did it first at Leicester City just a few short years ago. But that doesn’t take away from the otherworldly performance that Ndidi has put forth this season, given that Kante earned himself Ballon d’Or nominations for his performance in Leicester City’s title-winning season. See this from November:

Ndidi is completing 4.4 successful tackles a game, only second to Crystal Palace’s James McCarthy who has only appeared in 12 games this season. He is doing so in a vicious pressing system that centrals around the Nigerian’s ability to cover an insane amount of ground, easing the pressing load on the other players as to not tire them out. Need an idea how important Ndidi is to the team? Of the five matches he missed in 2020 due to a knee injury, Leicester City won exactly zero of them, with three losses and two draws. He’s so important to the squad that Pep Guardiola game-planned for him successfully.

Scott McTominay has been a revelation this season, taking the next step into one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, but he missed too many games due to injury. Declan Rice continues to push forward as one of West Ham’s best assets, but has been unable to assert the same table-climbing effect on his side that Ndidi exerts on Leicester City.

Central Midfield: Jordan Henderson, Kevin De Bruyne
Also considered: Joao Moutinho, John Fleck

Kevin de Bruyne is everyone’s first choice on this squad. Leading the league 17 assists and producing scintillating displays nearly every week. The Belgian has displayed positional flexibility, often best sitting behind the striker in an attacking midfield role but also moving back into central midfield to receive the ball deeper or shifting out wide to make use of his crossing technique. De Bruyne will likely battle with van Dijk for Player of the Season should the awards eventually end up given out.

On the other end, Jordan Henderson is a perfect foil for de Bruyne. The Liverpool captain has been gargantuan this season, moving from cult hero to widespread household name. Henderson is a lynchpin of the highest order, calming the side and bringing structure to the buildup while helping defensively when Liverpool is hit on the counter.

The others considered from this position deserve to be mentioned. Joao Moutinho, along with midfield partner Ruben Neves, has turned the Wolves midfield into a dominant force no matter who they play. While they don’t necessarily hold the ball for endless spells of possession, they have been vicious when moving forward and relentless when shielding the back line. John Fleck, meanwhile, has been the other Sheffield United standout this season alongside Henderson, and his performance this season must be mentioned given where the Blades sit in the table.

Attacking Midfield: Jack Grealish
Also considered: James Maddison, Mason Mount

As far as players who are the most important to their team, Jack Grealish is unquestionably tops of that list. The Aston Villa midfielder has produced spectacular performance after spectacular performance this season, often the best player on the field despite Villa’s overall struggles. With his current club potentially going down should the season be concluded, Grealish is being linked with teams scattered across the top of the Premier League table and rightly so. At just 24 years old, Grealish has grown into a flourishing attacker who excels at taking players on and creating chances out of nothing.

Mason Mount has been fabulous for Chelsea this season, but injuries have hampered his campaign. The Blues should nonetheless be encouraged about the bright future of their young star. James Maddison has been equally fantastic for Leicester City in a similar role with freedom around the pitch, but he doesn’t quite carry his team like Grealish does. The youth on this list should be encouraging for the long-term health of attacking systems in the English top flight.

Forward: Sadio Mane, Jamie Vardy
Also considered: Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah, Adama Traore

Absolutely the most difficult choice of any position here, some high-profile players have missed out on a place in the team, but there’s just no way to leave out the two men at this spot. Jamie Vardy leads the league in goals, and while things have dried up somewhat until his brace against Aston Villa last time out, his goal conversion rate is still at historic levels. The dry spell has lowered his xG that at one point sat above the +6 mark, but he still has converted chances at a +4.76 rate this season, bagging 19 goals on a 14.24 xG mark. While Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah have also been prolific goalscorers, they just haven’t finished at the absurd rate that Jamie Vardy has produced.

Those two also just don’t equate to the importance that Sadio Mane presents to Liverpool. The presence of Gabriel Jesus means that Sergio Aguero could be missed and Manchester City hardly misses a beat, and while that shouldn’t take away from what the Argentine means to the heartbeat of that squad, it just doesn’t stack up to Mane’s vital presence at Liverpool. Adama Traore has burst onto the scene the second half of the campaign, injecting life into an occasionally stagnant Wolves attack and earning himself a place on this list, but he still struggles with consistency and doesn’t quite equate to the massive stature of the Liverpool winger.

Pukki leads 10-man Norwich City win over 10-man Bournemouth

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Both teams finished with 10 men but only one found a goal when Norwich City beat Bournemouth in a relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Teemu Pukki scored from the spot to give the Canaries some hope and increase the Cherries’ despair.

Steve Cook was sent off for Bournemouth in the 31st minute, with Ben Godfrey leveling the field in the 76th.

Norwich now has 17 points, six back of the safe places, while 19th place Bournemouth stays level on 20.


Three things we learned

1. Pitch side monitor used to upgrade card: The Premier League told the refs to check the pitch side monitors on possible red card offenses, and it worked. Ben Godfrey cleverly disguised his ugly tackle by looking away from the contact, only earning a yellow card. The video monitors told the story, though, and Paul Tierney wasn’t shy to make the right call and turn the yellow into a red.

2. Bournemouth in the worst of ways: Eddie Howe‘s slumping Cherries played down a man for 45 minutes, and couldn’t make anything of the reprieve handed them by Godfrey’s awful tackle. There was proper desperation from the Cherries, but also never a feeling that Bournemouth would come back.

3. Steve Cook at full stretch is pretty impressive (and illegal): Referee Paul Tierney was almost laughing as he gave Cook a red card for his excellent “save” to push a ball off the post.

 

Man of the Match: Emiliano Buendia is Norwich City’s shining light. If the Canaries go down, he’s going to be the subject of a recruitment more like relegated stars Idrissa Gana Gueye and Andrew Robertson before him.


Pukki couldn’t get purchase on an earlier chance, but got the job done from the spot.

Cook handled a ball in the box and was shown red, with VAR holding up the clear penalty.

The Finnish striker had no problem making it 1-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Todd Cantwell was very busy as usual for the Canaries, passing well but also blasting a shot into the upper reaches of the stadium.

Norwich was dominant, outshooting Bournemouth 15-3 when another moment of madness had both teams with 10 players. Godfrey’s late challenge on Callum Wilson sent Tierney to the monitor for a VAR-aided straight red card.

Curtis Jones stunner boosts young Liverpool side in Merseyside derby

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Liverpool’s kids took center stage again in Cup action, and this time they came through. Jurgen Klopp rotated his squad for the Merseyside derby against Everton in FA Cup play, and while Carlo Ancelotti selected a strong Toffees lineup, it was a day for the youngsters.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino were all rested alongside fellow regulars Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson, Andrew Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Instead, the Liverpool lineup was dotted with youth players who stepped up to the challenge. While Liverpool dominated in possession throughout the match, they found the attacking third a stumbling block until young Curtis Jones changed that with one spectacular 71st minute moment, leading the Reds to a 1-0 victory over Everton.

Liverpool suffered an early blow as James Milner, one of the few veteran players in the squad, was forced off just eight minutes into the match after pulling up behind the play. He was replaced by 19-year-old Yasser Larouci

Everton, having made just two changes from its last Premier League match, had a big chance on 12 minutes as Adrian kept out Mason Holgate‘s free header, a fabulous opportunity that was disappointingly directed straight at the Liverpool goalkeeper. The Toffees were quite good in the attacking third throughout the first half, forcing Adrian into a few more big saves. Yerry Mina flashed a header wide on 37 minutes and Dominic Calvert-Lewin also just barely dragged one shy of the post.

Liverpool’s young squad still had its moments through the first 45 minutes, including one where Divock Origi searched for the far post, only kept out by Jordan Pickford‘s acrobatic diving save. The second half was even more cagey than the first, and while Liverpool’s kids dominated in possession, Everton was wasteful with its chances. Theo Walcott delivered an absolutely abysmal ball for a streaking Moise Kean with 25 minutes to go.

As the Reds gained in confidence, they eventually went in front as 18-year-old midfielder Jones rescued the match. The Liverpool youth product cropped up with an absolute stunner, rifling a long-range shot into the top-right corner.

The goal was good enough to send Liverpool through to the fourth round, dumping Everton out of the competition. It’s not the first winning moment for Jones with the senior squad, as he was also on hand to deliver the decisive penalty in the EFL Cup penalty shootout against Arsenal which Liverpool won 6-5.

The win somewhat avenged Liverpool’s 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in which the youngsters took the field with the senior squad in Qatar for the Club World Cup. The young team deployed that afternoon played well, with the scoreline somewhat harsh on the side. This time around with senior team support sprinkled throughout, the kids produced a display worthy of a landmark rivalry win.

Liverpool sweeps aside Blades at Anfield

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The party plan for Liverpool’s arrival as Premier League champions appears to be a waltz.

The Reds danced past Sheffield United 2-0 at Anfield with little worry, getting goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool increases its lead to 13 points and still holds a match-in-hand on the chasing pack. The Reds outshot the Blades 19-3 and had 74 percent of the ball.

The two goals come against the third stingiest defense in the league. Sheffield United now sits eighth with 29 points.


Three things we learned

1. Reds score on Blades two let-downs: It’s nothing new that Liverpool is quality on the break, but the Premier League leaders were merciless given two chances at Anfield. The first was Baldock slipping to the turf to allow Robertson to set up Salah, but the second was like a mouse who spied free cheese.

Alisson claimed a looping cross and saw acres of space on his left. A throw to Robertson was quickly at the feet of Mane, who tore down the left before combing with Salah to make it 2-0.

2. Henderson adds to his highlight reel: Twenty-two year old Dean Henderson continues to make a case to both England and parent club Manchester United. The Blades loanee made an incredible stop on Mohamed Salah early in the contest, and had clear command of his box aside from a freak chipped cross from Salah that tapped the post.

3. Keita injury concern: Naby Keita picked up an injury in warm-ups, plugging James Milner into the Starting XI. Keita had been a revelation in recent weeks, looking exactly like the player he was for RB Leipzig before arriving at Anfield. Liverpool is deep but Keita gives them another level, their best midfield three likely involving him, Fabinho, and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Man of the Match: Salah and Roberto Firmino each had five shot attempts, but the Egyptian’s lightning quick finish to open the scoring was it. Andrew Robertson was also quite good for the presumptive champs.


The festive gifts are carrying over to the New Year for Liverpool, as George Baldock fell down tracking a cross. That allowed Andrew Robertson an unimpeded path to cross for Salah. No problem. 1-0.

It could’ve been two, but Dean Henderson leapt to paw a Salah flick away from frame after Jordan Henderson spotted the Egyptian’s run.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Mane came down the left and fed Georginio Wijnaldum, who maneuevered in traffic to whip an 18-yard shot wide of the goal.

Henderson saved a Salah shot again in the 30th minute.

The Blades kept the damage at one until the 65th minute, a break fired down the left side. Henderson stopped Mane’s close-range effort, but the Senegalese was first to the rebound.

Liverpool beat spirited Salzburg, reach UCL last 16

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The reigning European champions are in the last 16 of the competition.

Liverpool won Group E on Wednesday as they beat a spirited RB Salzburg 2-0 in Austria to secure their position in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds. A defeat would have seen them knocked out of the competition at the group stage but despite a shaky start they took care of business.

Both teams had plenty of chances in the first half and at the start of the second but two moments of real quality saw Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah do the damage for the Reds as Klopp’s side plan to reach their third-straight UCL final. As for Salzburg, managed by American coach Jesse Marsch, then drop down to the UEFA Europa League for the Round of 32 stage and nobody will want to play the young, talented and speedy Austrians.

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A breathtaking game started in rapid fashion as Stankovic denied Salah, then Alisson denied Minamino and Hwang with Mwepu causing plenty of problems. Moments later Salah had a great chance as he was played in by Mane but scuffed his shot wide, while Haaland was denied by Alisson as the end-to-end nature of the game continued.

Mane’s shot was saved by Stankovic, while at the other end Haaland was denied by Alisson as the hosts continued to look dangerous and neither team had control of the game. Salah played in Keita right on half time but the former RB Salzburg player was denied by Stankovic and couldn’t finish the rebound.

In the second half Salah had a couple of very good chances but he put one over the bar and Stankovic did superbly to claw the ball back, while Haaland then slammed a shot into the side-netting from a great position.

Liverpool made the most of Haaland letting them off the hook as Dejan Lovren went off injured and moments later they were ahead.

Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s incredible ball set up an attack down the left and Mane crossed for Keita to head home as the two former Salzburg players combined to put Liverpool 1-0 up. Moments later Salah stunned Salzburg further as he raced towards goal and Stankovic came off his line with Salah at an impossible angle.

But somehow Salah squeezed the ball home from a tight angle to make it 2-0 and set up a comfortable last 30 minutes.

Hwang’s shot was deflected over by Andrew Robertson and that was the closest Salzburg came to launching an unlikely comeback, as Mane and Salah both had chances to extend the lead but it was job done for the reigning champions.