Jack Grealish

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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.

[ MORE: Possible end dates | PST roundtable ]

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.

Watch Live: Leicester City v. Aston Villa

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Leicester City can draw within four of second-placed Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table with victory over Aston Villa at King Power Stadium on Monday, with kickoff at 4:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Plenty is at stake for both clubs, however, as Aston Villa could pull itself out of the relegation zone with all three points. The visitors sit in 19th, two points back of West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth in 16th, 17th, and 18th.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Jamie Vardy is back for Leicester City, a huge boost for the Foxes who have been shut out in their last two Premier League matches, including the latest one against Norwich City which Vardy missed with a calf injury. However, the 33-year-old can only make the bench as Kelechi Iheanacho starts up front. Ben Chilwell misses out with a hamstring strain as 22-year-old James Justin starts.

Villa has lost its last three matches, and its schedule to finish the season looks daunting. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolves, and Arsenal are all on the docket for Aston Villa in the run-in.

Pepe Reina retains his league place in goal despite the solid performance of Orjan Nyland in Cup action midweek. Jack Grealish captains the side as usual, second in the league in chances created this season behind only Kevin De Bruyne.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Justin; Ndidi, Praet, Maddison, Barnes, Albrighton; Iheanacho.

Aston Villa: Pepe Reina; Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, Nakamba, Elmohamady, Samatta, Grealish.

Man City wins third-straight League Cup

Man City wins third-straight League Cup
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Manchester City won its third-straight League Cup trophy, outlasting a game challenge from Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: “Clinical” Foden reacts ]

It’s the eighth trophy of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City, as Rodri and Sergio Aguero scored in a 2-1 win. City’s seven league cups trail only Liverpool’s eight.

Mbwana Samatta pulled a goal back for Villa, who was denied extra time by a brilliant Claudio Bravo save. City had 70 percent of the ball and a 22-5 shots edge, but made a furious bid over the final few minutes.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Another trophy for City, with new heroes: Winning silverware never gets old, and this one will feel especially nice given the tumultuous season at the Etihad Stadium and impending UEFA Champions League ban. Villa proving difficult to beat lent the occasion more intensity.

The names helping City to glory were mostly new to the trophy chase, or at least unusual to it. Rodri helped set up the first goal and scored the second. Phil Foden was an absolute menace. And Bravo made a tremendous late save to ensure the match didn’t go beyond 90 minutes.

2. Foden announces himself: It can be easy to tire of the “did the young English player play and how did he play?” storyline with Premier League, but this isn’t that: Phil Foden was electrifying in this one, recalling fellow spark plug Jack Grealish on the opposite sideline.

The kid was sensational, completing 90 percent of his passes including two key passes. He completed three of four dribbles, won 7 of 10 duels, and made an interception to go with two tackles. That says nothing of his ability to move the ball in tight spaces before finding a safe outlet. Wonderful from a kid who’s still a teenager until May 28.

3. Bad call burns Villa, as fans provide occasion: Neither the AR nor head referee saw the ball touch Ilkay Gundogan last ahead of a wrongly-awarded Man City corner. VAR isn’t going to be deployed for every corner, nor should it be, but the missed call allowed Gundogan’s corner that Rodri buried for 2-0.

Villa’s fans were tentative early, but snapped to life once Samatta scored and found another level after the hour mark. It will have been a memorable day for a big club even if Dean Smith‘s men can’t shake the relegation blues.

Man of the Match: It’s between Rodri and Foden, with an acknowledging nod to Villa defender Tyrone Mings. We’ll give it to Rodri, City’s underrated star.


Early chances went both ways, Anwar El Ghazi heading over the goal at one end before John Stones headed a Gundogan did the same at the other.

City took the lead on an incisive, clinical play. Rodri swept a pass over the line to a streaking Phil Foden, who cut back for Aguero.

The Argentine had plenty to do with a leaping side-footed finish of an airborne ball.

El Ghazi cut around Stones to shoot toward the near post, but Claudio Bravo was in position.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Rodri had it 2-0 off a Gundogan corner that should not have been. The ball went off Gundogan last on the end line, but VAR cannot review every corner.

Villa got one back when Stones fell over, allowing El Ghazi to cross between Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko for a waiting Samatta.

City couldn’t find the goal to put the game to bed and introduced Kevin De Bruyne for Ilkay Gundogan, Guardiola not content to ride out a one-goal win.

Rodri almost had another when Nyland pawed away a 74th-minute bid, and Aguero slipped in a bid to side volley a Sterling cross past Nyland.

Villa won a corner in the 87th minute through the industry of Trezeguet, the crowd again meeting the moment. Bravo made an incredible save to push Bjorn Engels‘ header off the post.

FOLLOW LIVE: Villa, Man City in League Cup Final

League Cup Final
Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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Can Dean Smith and Aston Villa deny Manchester City its eighth trophy under Pep Guardiola?

The heavy underdogs will try during the 2019/20 League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, which kicks off at 11:30 a.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW: Aston Villa v. Man City ]

City has won the last two League Cups to give the reigning Premier League champions six in its existence. Only Liverpool’s eight number more.

Villa can join City on six with a Wembley win, the Midlands side last lifting the cup in 1996.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Phil Foden gets a start in Guardiola’s engine room, while John Stones partners with Fernandinho at center back.

Jack Grealish, of course, will captain Villa, with Mbwana Samatta leading the line and Orjan Nyland between the posts.

LINEUPS

Aston Villa:

Manchester City:

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ] 

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.