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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.

Man United trigger Matic contract extension

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Nemanja Matic has been an unsung hero of Man United’s recent revival and he’s been rewarded with an extension as talks over a new contract are also said to be lined up.

Matic, 31, has had a clause in his contract triggered by Man United as his stay at the club will now be extended until the summer of 2021.

The Serbian midfielder joined United from Chelsea in the summer of 2017 as he linked up with his former manager Jose Mourinho.

Matic became somewhat of a scapegoat among United fans during the 2018-19 season but in recent months he has been influential alongside Fred in midfield as he filled in admirably for the injured duo of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

Man United are unbeaten in their last 11 games in all competitions and Matic has started nine of their last 10 outings in the Premier League, providing composure and tenacity in midfield as he and Fred have provided a valuable shield to United’s back line amid a string of improved defensive displays.

At 31 years old he provides valuable experience among this very young Man United side and you could certainly understand why Solskjaer wants to keep Matic around for another few seasons, especially because the future of Pogba is uncertain in central midfield.

This turnaround in form from Matic has been quite sensational but there’s no doubting his quality after he starred at Benfica before heading to Chelsea in 2014 and helped them to win two titles in three seasons before heading to Man United.

He’s not a player who will steal the headlines but he’s quietly become a key cog at Man United and they obviously want him to stick around.

Player ratings: Man United v. Man City

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Manchester is definitely red as Man United beat Man City 2-0 in the Premier League on Sunday to do the double over their crosstown rivals for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

 [ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Anthony Martial‘s first half goal set United on their way in a tight, tense clash as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side defended superbly and kept their top four hopes alive with a gritty victory against Pep Guardiola‘s Man City. Scott McTominay sealed the win with a strike from distance amid the pouring rain in Manchester.

Here’s a look at the marks out of 10 for the players from both teams.


Man United

David De Gea: 6 – Didn’t really have much to do and what he did, he did it well. No errors this week.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka: 8 – A superb display from AWB who shut down Sterling and was a threat going forward.

Victor Lindelof: 6 – Solid enough and made several blocks when it mattered most.

Harry Maguire: 7 – Came back early from injury and his positioning was spot on. Marshalled the United defense expertly.

Luke Shaw: 7 – Put his body on the line at left center back and left back and will have impressed watching England boss Gareth Southgate. His resurgence continues.

Brandon Williams: 7 – Energetic display from the local lad as Williams got forward a lot more than usual.

Nemanja Matic: 7 – Typically combative display as his sat in front of the back five with Fred. This was his type of game.

Fred: 7 – See above, but with more energy as his consistency in the second half of the season has been sublime.

Bruno Fernandes: 8 – His moment of magic set up Martial for the opener and he was so calm on the ball and made some great runs that his United teammates didn’t see.

Daniel James: 7 – Worked his socks off out wide and had a few good looks on goal but his drought continues. Has to get his head up more in the final third.

Anthony Martial: 8 – A proper No.9’s display as he held the ball up, volleyed home the opener and did his best to be an outlet. He’s really matured this season.

Subs
Scott McTominay: 6 – Scored a lovely goal from distance to seal the win.
Eric Bailly: 6 – A few good clearances and tackles late on.
Odion Ighalo: 6 – Was only on the pitch for a few minutes but got involved.


Man City

Ederson: 4 – At fault for both goals and almost caught in possession. One of his worst displays in a Man City shirt.

Joao Cancelo: 6 – Had quality from right back but chose the wrong option when he got forward.

Fernandinho: 5 – An unusually poor display as Martial turned him inside out on several occasions.

Nicolas Otamendi: 5 – Could have given away a penalty kick and lunged in time and time again.

Oleksandr Zinchenko: 4 – A horrid display at left back. James and AWB ran rings around him. Subbed off.

Rodri: 7 – Did his best to keep City ticking over and, as always, tidy in possession.

Ilkay Gundogan: 5 – The game passed him by in midfield. Not his type of game at all.

Phil Foden: 7 – Kept trying to make things happen but maybe this underlined how much City rely on Kevin De Bruyne.

Bernardo Silva: 6 – Quiet game by his standards but some quality deliveries as per usual.

Sergio Aguero: 5 – Scored a goal which was disallowed via VAR and he looked totally off the pace of the game.

Raheem Sterling: 4 – See above. Missed a great chance in the second half and was just off, as he has been a lot recently.

Subs
Riyad Mahrez: 7 – Made a big difference off the bench down the right hand side. So much creativity.
Gabriel Jesus: 6 – Came close to scoring and so dangerous. Should have started.
Benjamin Mendy: 5 – A slight upgrade on Zinchenko at left back, but that’s not saying much.

3 things learned: Man United v. Man City

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Manchester is definitely red as Man United beat Man City 2-0 in the Premier League on Sunday to do the double over their crosstown rivals.

 [ MORE: Premier League schedule

Anthony Martial‘s first half goal set United on their way in a tight, tense clash as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side defended superbly and kept their top four hopes alive with a gritty victory against Pep Guardiola‘s Man City. Scott McTominay sealed the win with a strike from distance amid the pouring rain in Manchester.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

With the win United are in fifth, three points behind fourth-place Chelsea. Man City remain in second but this defeat means Liverpool now need just six more points to secure their first league title in 30 years.


3 things we learned

1. United’s success against ‘big six’ continues: They’ve now beaten Man City home and away, Chelsea home and away and Leicester at home, beat Tottenham at home and drew at home against Liverpool. This United side are set up to frustrate and punish the other ‘big six’ clubs and those clubs do not change their philosophy when playing against United. Solskjaer’s side have their counter-attacking plan down to a tee and it worked a treat once again as they soaked up pressure and hit City on the break time and time again.

2. City’s sluggish defending sums up their season: Ederson‘s uncharacteristic error led to Martial’s goal and why was Aguero marking Martial from a set piece? Those kind of silly decisions are the reason why Man City are 25 points behind Liverpool, not to mention Otameni, Zinchenko and Fernandinho all looking well off the pace. The back four which started would have all been second-choice at the start of the season and injuries and a lack of form have hit them hard defensively. City missed key playmaker Kevin De Bruyne who was out injured as they lost for a seventh time this season.

3. Martial carrying United’s top four hopes: Yes, he scored the goal which won this game but Martial’s performance was about so much more than this. He’s now scored four goals in his last six games for United but his hold up play has improved, he is an outlet up top and he and Bruno Fernandes have struck up a real partnership in attack. With Marcus Rashford out he’s become a reluctant No.9 but he’s digging deep and doing his best.

Man of the Match: Anthony Martial – See above. Martial stood tall and delivered once again when his team needed him. He is maturing each and every week. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was also superb at right back.


Raheem Sterling‘s curling shot was pushed away by David De Gea early on and Matic made a great last-ditch tackle on Aguero as City started well.

United were a threat on the break as Daniel James was played in by Bruno Fernandes but shot straight at Ederson.

Martial then got the better of Fernandinho but hit his shot straight at Ederson as Man United continued to have their moments despite Man City dominating possession.

United took the lead after a moment of magic from Fernandes as his clever chipped free kick found Martial who volleyed home at the near post as Ederson should have saved his effort. Moments later Fernandes sent a header wide as United were rampant after their early goal.

Before half time Fred was booked for simulation when he went down in the box but replays showed he was clearly caught by Otamendi but VAR wasn’t used and Man United were not awarded a penalty kick.

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At the start of the second half City clicked through the gears as Aguero had a goal disallowed for being offside, then Foden and Otamendi both went close.

As Man City threw caution to the wind late on, Man United launched several counter attacks as James surged forward but failed to see Fernandes wide open and instead Ederson saved his effort at the near post.

Substitute Riyad Mahrez found Sterling with a splendid cross but the English winger somehow missed from close range and then another sub, Gabriel Jesus, was denied by De Gea as Man United dropped deeper and deeper late on.

The Red Devils held on with relative ease as Man City lacked any cutting edge and the hosts took all three points and bragging rights in style as substitute McTominay curled home from distance with the final attack of the game.

Report: Nemanja Matic to sign new Manchester United deal

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According to a report by Manchester Evening News reporter Tyrone Marshall, Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic is set to sign a new contract at the club that will keep him at Old Trafford for the forseable future.

While Matic’s current contract expires this summer, Manchester United has the option to extend the deal for an additional season, but instead it appears they will reward the 31-year-old with a contract that extends beyond next summer.

The Serbian international has been a constant figure in the Red Devils midfield since joining from Chelsea in 2017, following Jose Mourinho from Stamford Bridge to Old Trafford. While it appeared at the beginning of this season that he would be reduced to a substitute role, injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay have seen Matic return to the starting lineup after recovering from a groin injury of his own.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby, “We have agreed with him so he will stay, 100 per cent.”

The news presents a quick turnaround from the situation in January, which per Matic’s own comments seemed like talks had not yet begun. “We will see,” Matic said back in late January. “I’m at Carrington every day open to talk if they think I can help. If not, life will go on.”