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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.

Leicester City wallops Aston Villa

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Harvey Barnes led Leicester City to a 4-0 win over Aston Villa at the King Power Stadium on Monday, snapping a four-match Premier League winless run.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Barnes scored and played a role in Leicester City’s other two goals as Jamie Vardy bagged his first two goals of 2020 in the win. Marc Albrighton assisted both the Foxes’ goals.

Leicester now has 58 points to hold an eight-point advantage on fifth place, 10 over sixth.

Villa’s 25 points are two behind a trio of teams. The Villans have lost four-straight in league play and sit 19th. They next face Chelsea, Newcastle, Wolves, and Liverpool.


Three things we learned

1. Vardy’s 2020 finally begins: Leicester City star Jamie Vardy had 17 goals on the Premier League season entering Monday’s action, but had not found the back of the goal since a 3-1 loss to Man City on Dec. 21. The goal moves Vardy back ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the race for the Golden Boot. More important, however, is the idea that Vardy could help Leicester firm up its top four credentials.

2. Villa architects of own demise (and VAR didn’t help): There’s no question that Leicester was the better team on the day, but their breakthroughs both came from Villa errors. Reina’s race to meet Albrighton’s delightful long ball to Barnes was ill-conceived and Mings’ unlucky lunge cost Villa any hopes of a comeback. Should it have been a penalty? Probably not, but it’s a low-percentage defensive move anyway.

3. Barnes an easy Man Of The Match: The 22-year-old scored his fifth and sixth league goals to go with six assists, and served the ball that led to Vardy’s penalty while also helping negotiate the counter for Vardy’s second. Barnes also is a willing combatant in his own end, winning the lion’s share of his duels while being credited with three tackles and an interception.


The visitors stormed out of the gates, and an early free kick was slid wide of the goal by Mbwana Samatta.

Leicester responded, with Kelechi Iheanacho missing wide before Pepe Reina made a great save on a Jonny Evans header.

Villa defender Frederic Guibert’s well-timed tackle earned penalty shouts from the Leicester faithful in the 23rd minute.

The Foxes kept coming, and Iheanacho missed wide with a promising header attempt 10 minutes later.

Barnes put Leicester City ahead in the 41st, as Albrighton sprung him down the wing. Barnes pushed the ball around an onrushing Reina and slotted into the empty goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Reina denied a breaking Iheanacho in the 47th minute as Leicester kept coming forward.

It continued to be all-Leicester, and Dean Smith prepared some subs in the hopes of injecting life into his side.

Mings was whistled for a penalty before that could happen, his shoulder striking the ball in a lunge to block Barnes’ cross. Vardy beat Reina to make it 2-0 with 28 minutes to play.

Evans made two tackles to spring a counter for Leicester’s third, Barnes waiting to play Vardy down the left.

Norwich City shock struggling Leicester at Carrow Road

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Leicester City clearly missed the injured Jamie Vardy, pummeling the Canaries time and again with shots but none had the killer instinct of the absent striker. That was critical as the Foxes had no response once Jamal Lewis put Norwich City in front as the Canaries worked a crucial 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The game was goalless until the 71st minute when Lewis received a cross from Max Aarons that skittered through the area to the opposite side where the left-back ripped an absolute rocket that tucked inside the right post.

Vardy and his 17 goals were missing through a calf problem that may have cost the Foxes points on the road. With Leicester City looking to push Manchester City for second in the Premier League table, this loss saw them slog seven points back of the Citizens. Norwich City, meanwhile, will relish the victory as they draw just three back of the other two relegation-threatened sides.

The closest Leicester City came to a goal was a cancelled strike from Kelechi Iheanacho – Vardy’s replacement – who has a goal cancelled by VAR on a dicey handball call. It was a spotty performance at best for the Foxes who created few solid chances and were soundly beaten.


Three things we learned

1. How is Norwich City bottom of the table?

Seriously, how? Watching the first half, this Canaries squad is capable of dangerous forward play and solid defending that can only be undone by quality attacking moves. It’s true that as the first half waned on, they conceded heavy possession to the Foxes, but the hosts still threatened Leicester City multiple times and looked up for the match at Carrow Road. They are clearly missing a consistency indicative of an established Premier League side, but they look far from the worst team in the top flight. In fact, even when the game was goalless, Kasper Schmeichel was the busier of the two goalkeepers, with Tim Krul not truly threatened.

The goal was Norwich City’s first goal from open play in nearly 11 hours, an unbelievable total if you only watched this 90 minutes. If the Canaries are going to climb the mountain and stay up, they will need to channel this performance through the rest of the season.

2. Kelechi Iheanachi is no Jamie Vardy

Leicester City ripped off 12 shots in the first half, but only managed three on target. Once halftime had come and gone, Leicester City had just four more shots in the tank, with 16 total but just four on target and none with a mark of over 0.21 xG.

Vardy’s exquisite finishing ability was sorely missed as the Foxes created plenty of chances but couldn’t finish many dangerously. The 23-year-old Nigerian was hardly involved in the game, seeing a goal ruled out but also contributing little else. With Vardy at 33 years of age, the Foxes clearly need a Plan B should he end up missing any more time in the near future or down the road, because they had nothing to aim at with the talisman sidelined.

3. Leicester City is in a rut

Iheanacho was not the only on who struggled against the Premier League’s bottom side. James Maddison had very few touches in the attacking third, creating four chances but two of them came off corners and two were miles from the net. Dennis Praet and Ricardo Pereira were probably the Foxes’ most creative player but even they popped up few and far between, producing just 1.44 xG on a whopping 19 shots. Jonny Evans was constantly screaming at his fellow defenders for their loss of shape. The Foxes challenged for Man City’s second position lasted a few weeks, but they have fallen off the table and now just hope to solidify third before they fall any further in what could be a precarious home stretch.

Man of the Match: Ben Godfrey


The two teams were both bright in an entertaining start with Norwich threatening down the right on the overlap and Leicester City pressing hard. Teemu Pukki had an opportunity from the right edge on 22 minutes but Caglar Soyuncu made an acrobatic last-gasp block. That started a lengthy spell of pressure from the Canaries, but the hosts couldn’t cash in.

Leicester City’s best chance of the first half-hour came on 25 minutes as Dennis Praet found himself in a dangerous area, but he could only clip Ricardo Pereira’s delivery off the outside of the right post. Ayoze Perez also put a shot into a precarious position moments later which cannoned dangerously off the leg of Norwich City defender Grant Hanley, but went wide instead of into the gaping net.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Foxes began to assert their dominance past the half-hour mark and Perez found Kelechi Iheanacho right in front of net, but he disappointingly fired over.

Minutes into the second half Iheanacho found the ball in the back of the net but saw it ruled out by VAR thanks to a handball on the buildup. That was Leicester City’s biggest moment as they were toothless up front otherwise. Norwich City capitalized with 19 minutes to go as Lewis pounced on a Max Aarons delivery clean across the box and delivered a cannon blast into the back of the net. Norwich nearly had a second a few minutes from full time but Kasper Schmeichel came up to save a quality effort from substitute Josip Drmic.

Chelsea, Leicester: ‘Happy to have a break’

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LEICESTER — 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 was the scene from in the tunnel area of the King Power Stadium after Leicester and Chelsea drew in an entertaining game in a big top four battle. The main theme from both players: “We cannot wait for the international break!” as they need a break after struggling in recent weeks.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham stopped with the media for a chat and they were fairly happy with how Chelsea played but Abraham admitted they needed a break as he’s off to Dubai on holiday for a few days to recover. Pedro, Marcos Alonso and Kepa were the first three players out and many of the Chelsea players were wearing casual clothes as they were set to jet off on holiday or to see their families. Cesar Azpilicueta (probably the nicest bloke in football) wishes everyone a good winter break as he skips away in his jeans and sneakers. “Enjoy your holiday!”

Mount adds that “a point each was deserved” and that Chelsea’s confidence is “high” and Abraham says he “can’t wait” for the winter break: “We are all buzzing.”

Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Perreira also stopped for a chat, with Youri Tielemans stopping for Belgian TV. Barnes was sporting a cut lip and he handed his pizza to a security guard as he discusses his goal, a potential England call-up and his recent good form. He revealed he has been working hard on finishing and he has been paying close attention to Jamie Vardy in training. Barnes has scored four in his last six games.

 


ALL ABOARD THE BANTER BUS

Hamza Choudhury walked past Mason Mount while he spoke to us and made the England midfielder laugh with a little whisper in his ear. Lot of young English players on both of these teams and clearly a lot of respect, too.


INJURY NEWS

Abraham is off to rest and recover in Dubai but said he isn’t planning to take a physio with him, while Leicester’s Jonny Evans limped through the mixed zone saying he had sore shins and James Maddison was hobbling in and out sporting a bright silver backpack and a rascal jean jacket.


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Michy Batshuayi was on FaceTime as he walked through, which is a good way to get through without being stopped. Premier League players take note if you don’t want to speak to the media. Michy is an innovator.

Callum Hudson-Odoi was trying to find his parents, and was very concerned to find them, as he was showed into the Leicester family room by accident. The English winger eventually found them outside.

There was a nice moment as Frank Lampard went back into the stadium and gatecrashed Brendan Rodgers‘ press conference to say goodbye as the Chelsea bus was leaving for London. Rodgers was a coach of Chelsea’s academy during Lampard’s playing days with the Blues, so they go way back.

Rodgers was then wandering around the tunnel area saying hello to old friends and staff at Leicester, as the mixed zone closed.

Leicester, Chelsea draw in thriller

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LEICESTER — What a game. Leicester and Chelsea played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as the two top four teams when toe-to-toe in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

After Chelsea had the better of the first half, all four goals came in the second half as Frank Lampard‘s side took the lead through Antonio Rudiger but then Brendan Rodgers saw his side come roaring back as Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell scored in quick succession to make it 2-1. Rudiger scored his second header of the game to level it up again and Leicester missed plenty of chances to win it late on.

With the draw Leicester stay in third on 49 points, while Chelsea are in fourth on 41 points and the teams below them could close the gap to just four points.


3 things we learned

1. Both teams low on confidence: Heading into this clash both teams were lacking in confidence and it showed. The amount of missed chances, giveaways at key times and lack of quality on the ball was almost identical from Leicester and Chelsea. After great starts to the season they have hit slumped and both are limping towards the finish line. Momentum is a hard thing to regain and it seems that both of these young squads have run out of steam.

2. Chelsea’s striker shortage a concern: Was Lampard making a point when he subbed out Tammy Abraham late on and brought on a midfielder for him? Batshuayi was on the bench but after not bringing in a new striker, or anyone, in the January transfer window, perhaps Chelsea’s manager was sending a message to those above him. ‘You need to spend money on this squad if we are going to be a top four team’ is what Lampard is saying. Abraham missed a few chances and looked leggy after his recent spell out with injuries.

3. Top four battle set to get tighter: This draw is better for Leicester than it is Chelsea and it tightens up the top four battle. Tottenham and Man United or Wolves could close the gap to four points with wins this weekend and with the title all but wrapped up, all eyes will be on the race to finish third and fourth. Leicester and Chelsea aren’t in their best form and both know there is a chasing pack getting closer as Wolves, United and Spurs all improved their squads in the transfer window.

Man of the Match: Harvey Barnes – He just gets the edge over Rudiger because he was a constant menace. He deserved his goal and should have won it late on. Barnes is a proper old school winger and kept getting behind Chelsea’s defense.


Chelsea started well as Jonny Evans headed clear and the Blues launched several counters from out wide.

Cesar Azpilicueta pulled the ball back but Abraham slipped at the vital moment as a big chance came and went. Moments later Reece James whipped in a superb ball but Abraham couldn’t quite get on the end of it, then Abraham went down in the box under a challenge from Soyuncu but no penalty kick was given after a VAR check.

Leicester then woke up as Willy Caballero brilliantly denied Vardy and then Youri Tielemans just failed to find Vardy on another counter as both teams gave the ball away cheaply.

Kasper Schmeichel then tipped a lofted effort from Pedro over the bar as Chelsea pushed hard for the opener but Leicester had their chances as Ben Chilwell fired just over from a tight angle. Mason Mount had a shot blocked just before half time as Chelsea again failed to make the most of key chances, while Ayoze Perez clipped a ball to the back post but it was cleared from a corner and Hamza Choudhury headed inches wide from that set piece.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Less than a minute into the second half Chelsea took the lead as Mount’s corner was headed home at the back post by Rudiger who wheeled away in delight.

Moments later Caballero scrambled to save down low as Leicester got behind the Chelsea defense. The Foxes did equalize moments later as Barnes got in again down the left and his deflected shot looped into the far corner.

Then Leicester went ahead as Caballero was caught out of position, scrambled back towards his goal but a cross to the back post found Chilwell who swiped home with this right foot to send the home fans wild.

Chelsea hit back almost immediately from another set piece situation as Rudiger sent a beautiful header from deep into the top corner but it was then Leicester who looked the more likely to win it.

First Jonny Evans headed wide when unmarked six yards out, then Vardy found Barnes but he scuffed his shot inches wide. Late on Rudiger looked to have handled after Barnes crossed into the box but no penalty was given as a wild second half ended level.