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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.

Three things we learned: Real Madrid v. Man City

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Man City beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg in the Santiago Bernabeu as Pep Guardiola‘s tactical masterclass left Zinedine Zidane scratching his head.

After Isco gave Real an undeserved lead, Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne struck late on to make it 2-1 as the reigning Premier League champions take a crucial lead back to Manchester for the second leg.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a superb away display from Man City as they sealed their first-ever win against Real Madrid.


GUARDIOLA’S BOLD CHOICE PAYS OFF

Sometimes it seems like Pep Guardiola is too smart for his own good but this is why they pay him the big bucks. Man City’s manager left the experienced trio of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Fernandinho on the bench alongside the fit-again Raheem Sterling and everyone was left scratching their heads with his team selection. Pep’s bold choice paid off. Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva operated as two false nines centrally, while Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus played out wide and did plenty of tracking back as they pinned back Real’s wingers and full backs.

Mahrez and Jesus would make runs in-behind Real’s defense whenever KDB and Bernardo got on the ball and it worked a treat. The only problem was that Mahrez and Jesus only took one of the big chances they were handed because they could have scored four or five. Guardiola’s side conceded after being undone by a sloppy defensive error which epitomizes their 2019-20 campaign but Pep’s bold choice paid off. Man City were the better, and more dangerous, team for vast swathes of this game and got the away win his ingenuity deserved. The decision to sacrifice the positioning of his two best playmakers in Bernardo and De Bruyne worked a treat as the displays of Mahrez and Jesus justified leaving Aguero and Sterling on the bench. Man City’s master tactician risked being ridiculed and labelled as an over-thinker once again. It was a risk which paid off.


REAL’S ATTACK ONE-DIMENSIONAL

Zinedine Zidane was without the injured Eden Hazard, while Gareth Bale started on the bench and there was a severe lack of creativity in the attacking third of the pitch. Karim Benzema lead the line and had one header on target in the first half but that was about it as he had 18 touches in the entire game. 18. Vinicius and Isco both failed to get the better of the Kyle Walker and Mendy respectively and without that extra spark Hazard or Bale could provide at the drop of a hat, Zidane’s side were predictable.

Real caused their own problems as Casemiro was the spare man and precision passing isn’t his best trait as City were dangerous on the counter. Real Madrid were timid and rigid and that isn’t something you’d expect from a Zinedine Zidane-side on a big European night like this. Zidane has made Real more pragmatic this season and Vinicius and Isco did make the most of a Man City defensive error to put the Spanish giants ahead before two late goals from Jesus and De Bruyne gave Man City the edge heading into the second leg. Real will need to take more chances at the Etihad and as their defensive display showed on Wednesday, they are not capable of shutting down City’s attack and Sergio Ramos will not play in the second leg due to his red card. Real are in big trouble and for once their failure to go all-out for the win cost them dear. That is very unlike Real.


DE BRUYNE LEADS DEFIANT CITY

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Kevin de Bruyne wore the captains armband with class in the Bernabeu and he was the beating heart and pulsating brain of this composed, yet brave, victory.

“We are only halfway there,” De Bruyne said afterwards.

With Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling left on the bench, all eyes were on KDB and he delivered. He played as a false nine but instead of shrugging his shoulders playing in an unfamiliar role he embraced it and could be seen cajoling his teammates and demanding more in key moments.

De Bruyne’s display summed up his season so far: Brilliant.

His mood also summed up the defiance in Man City’s display as they lost Aymeric Laporte to injury and Fernandinho stepped in and made key blocks, while Ederson was also at his best as City’s defense only slipped up once. With a two-season European ban looming large, this City squad know this could be their last chance to win the European Cup until the summer 2023 when many of them won’t be around. Kevin de Bruyne would be coming up to 32 years of age then, if he is still at City. The defiance he and City’s squad played with proved they want to win the Champions League right now and put the UEFA ban to one side as their appeal is heard in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the coming months.

 

Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid

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Kevin De Bruyne‘s second-half star show led Manchester City to a 2-1 comeback win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in Wednesday’s first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Isco had put the hosts ahead in the 60th minute off a Vinicius Junior assist, but De Bruyne set up Gabriel Jesus for a 78th-minute header before converting a Raheem Sterling-won penalty five minutes later.

[ MORE: Pep, KDB, Jesus react to win ]

Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 87th minute for a pullback on Jesus and will miss the second leg, while Aymeric Laporte was injured for City.

The second leg is March 17 at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola‘s tactical approach clearly surprised Zinedine Zidane, with Jesus in a left midfield/wing back role and De Bruyne up top.

Aymeric Laporte’s injury in the 33rd minute certainly hampered City’s thoughts of a big win.M

Bernardo Silva ripped a left-footed effort in the opening minute as City came out of the gates well.

The next real chance came from Gabriel Jesus, slipped in by a Kevin De Bruyne through ball but denied by Thibaut Courtois.

Ederson denied Karim Benzema point blank in the 30th minute, and Rodrigo fumbled the rebound in what should’ve been an easy 1-0 to the hosts.

Real used a goal line clearance to deny Jesus off a corner kick, as Courtois slapped Kevin De Bruyne’s set piece to the Brazilian at the back post.

Fede Valverde saw a yellow for taking down Ilkay Gundogan in the 48th minute.

A Casemiro mistake sent De Bruyne on a long dribble, the Belgian finding Riyad Mahrez for a shot that swirled high and wide of the goal.

Real found a breakthrough against the run of play in the 60th minute, Isco slotting under Ederson off a Vinicius Junior pass between Kyle Walker and Fernandinho.

It was terribly sloppy from Nicolas Otamendi and Rodri in a turnover with poor response.

But De Bruyne darted into the box and turned a delightful chipped cross to Jesus, who outleapt a stumbling Sergio Ramosto turn a header past Courtois.

Then Dani Carvajal chopped down substitute Raheem Sterling to put De Bruyne on the spot. The Belgian had a salve for City’s recent penalty issues.

Watch Live: Southampton v. Burnley

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Southampton host Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at St Mary’s as two teams in good form aim to push for a top 10 finish.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Ralph Hasenhuttl and Sean Dyche have turned things around for their teams in recent weeks and this is a great chance for them to pull further away from the relegation zone.

In team news Saints make four changes as Sofiane Boufal, Stuart Armstrong, Kyle Walker-Peters and Jannik Vestergaard come into the team with KWP making his debut and Nathan Redmond missing out due to injury.

Burnley make one change with Phil Bardsley coming in for the injured Matt Lowton.

LINEUPS

Champions League squads changes for four PL teams

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Monday was the deadline for all clubs to submit their final 25-man squads to UEFA for the knockout phase of the Champions League. With all four qualified Premier League teams still in the mix, it’s time to run through each club’s squad and see who made the cut and who was left at home.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tottenham sees goalkeeper Hugo Lloris back in the fold after a serious elbow injury forced him to withdraw from the Champions League squad in October.

One significant note, thanks to new UEFA rules instituted during last year’s competition, no players are cup-tied for the knockout phase regardless of what competition they played for in the group stage. This is particularly of note to Liverpool who was able to add winger Takumi Minamino to the list despite the former RB Salzburg player having been deployed for the German club in the group stage before his January move. Spurs also benefitted from the new rule as Steven Bergwijn and Gedson Fernandes both would have previously been cup-tied.

The most notable exclusion comes for Tottenham Hotspur who sees Victor Wanyama left off the squad, having made just one appearance for Spurs since September in a six-minute showing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage finale. Liverpool also left off young defender Sepp van den Berg who was sacrificed for the inclusion of new boy Minamino.

For Manchester City, the injured Leroy Sane was left on the squad with nobody new arriving. The same occurred for Chelsea who saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek still in the group despite his recovery from an Achilles tear.

Liverpool

IN: Takumi Minamino (transfer, RB Salzburg)
OUT: Sepp van den Berg

Full squad: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan, Caoimhim Kelleher*; Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Adam Lewis*; Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones*, Herbie Kane*, Neco Williams*, Yasser Larouci*; Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, Rhian Brewster*.

Manchester City

IN: [none]
OUT: Angelino (loan, RB Leipzig), Ian Poveda (transfer, Leeds United)

Full squad: Ederson, Claudio Bravo Scott Carson; John Stones, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo, Eric Garcia*; Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden*; Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea

IN: [none]
OUT: Marc Guehi (loan, Swansea City), George McEachran (loan, Cambuur)

Full squad: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Willy Caballero, Jamie Cumming*, Nicholas Tie*; Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Kurt Zouma, Cesar Azpilicueta, Fikayo Tomori, Emerson, Reece James*; Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley, Willian, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount*, Callum Hudson-Odoi*, Christian Pulisic, Billy Gilmour*, Tammy Abraham, Pedro, Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi.

Tottenham Hotspur

IN: Steven Bergwijn (transfer, PSV), Hugo Lloris, Gedson Fernandes (loan, Benfica)
OUT: Christian Eriksen (transfer, Inter), Danny Rose (loan, Newcastle), Kyle Walker-Peters (loan, Southampton), Victor Wanyama, Troy Parrott

Full squad: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm, Paulo Gazzaniga, Alfie Whiteman*, Brandon Austin*; Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vergtonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Juan Foyth*, Ben Davies, Ryan Sessegnon, Japhet Tanganga*, Timothy Eyoma*; Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko, Giovani Lo Celso, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele, Gedson Fernandes, Oliver Skipp*, Jamie Bowden*, Harvey White*; Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son, Steven Bergwijn.

*denotes a “List B” player, who must be born on, or after, 1 January 1995 and eligible to play for the club concerned for any uninterrupted period of two years since his 15th birthday. A club can list an unlimited number of List B players, whereas they may only list 25 List A players