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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.

Solskjaer on Ighalo, Rooney, Man Utd win: ‘Everyone loves Wayne’

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Manchester United will look to stretch its unbeaten run to 10 matches when it hosts Manchester City in what should be a scintillating derby on Sunday.

The Red Devils hit nine matches on Thursday when they eliminated old pal Wayne Rooney and Derby County from the FA Cup with a 3-0 win at Pride Park.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was thrilled with the performances of striker Odion Ighalo and rare goal scorer  Luke Shaw in the win.

For Ighalo, it’s three goals in two starts for United after a trio of goal-free substitute appearances. Here’s Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“When you get strikers in you want them to be happy and confident. He has come in here and of course we still have a few injuries and it is great for us to have Odion to call upon. He is a different striker for us and scores some good goals, there is not many who could dig that one out for his first. We have a team of good players.”

The striker says he’s feeling good around Old Trafford, and isn’t bothered by any odd thoughts regarding his return to the Premier League from the Chinese Super League.

“As long as my team-mates believe in me, the boss believes in me and the fans believe in me, just have to keep going. I don’t care what anyone says.”

Rooney nearly got on the score sheet with a technical marvel of a free kick in stoppage time, but Sergio Romero made an even better play to slap the ball over the bar.

Solskjaer and Rooney were teammates at Old Trafford for a few seasons, and there’s mutual appreciation.

“Everyone loves Wayne, all the supporters at Manchester United appreciate what he did,” Solskjaer said. “He played well. He shows class and sometimes he has too much time on the ball for my liking.”

Rooney was quite good on the day. The Derby County captain completed 11 of 15 long balls while connecting on 88 percent of his passes. He had five key passes, an interception, a blocked shot, two tackles, and a clearance (via Sofascore).

Ighalo leads Man Utd past Derby County

Manchester United
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Manchester United dealt with old pal Wayne Rooney and Derby County to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Odion Ighalo scored in each half after Luke Shaw opened the scoring to lead the Red Devils past the Rams 3-0 at Pride Park on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Rooney put on a decent display in a losing effort. The Derby County captain completed 11 of 15 long balls while connecting on 88 percent of his passes. He had five key passes, an interception, a blocked shot, two tackles, and a clearance (via Sofascore).

Sergio Romero denied Rooney a wonderful stoppage-time free kick goal when he flew right to slap a ball over the bar.

Shaw’s goal was a bounding effort from the left side of the box in the 33rd minute.

It’s his first since opening day of the 2018/19 Premier League season, and just his second in 151 senior appearances between Southampton and Manchester United.

Ighalo has scored in both of his starts for United this season since arriving from the Chinese Super League, and his first goal was especially deft (see below). The 30-year-old maneuvered between two defenders and finished well. He deposited his own rebound after a Juan Mata pass in the 70 minute to make it 3-0.

United will visit Norwich City in the quarterfinals, which is comprised entirely of Premier League combatants.

[ MORE: FA Cup Draw ]

Solskjaer, Mata react to Man Utd draw: ‘We can play better’

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Manchester United got an away goal in a 1-1 first leg draw with Europa League foes Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday.

The goals were pretty individual, a big chip of Sergio Romero followed by Anthony Martial’s powerful dribble to equalize for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United outshot the hosts 16-10, but fell short in big chances created by a 3-1 margin.

Here’s Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“It was a game with difficult conditions out there. It was almost like an astroturf. The ball was very quick and lively,” Solskjaer said. “We got the away goal. It was a very good individual goal, worked hard to win the ball and finish so we are happy with that but we know we can play better.”

The second leg is Feb. 27 at Old Trafford, four days after a Premier League encounter with Watford in the same building.

United midfielder Juan Mata had a busy day, winning the majority of his tackles and creating one key pass. He expected better from his team but sees the game for what it is.

Here is Mata, from The Manchester Evening News:

“They scored a goal we shouldn’t concede. We scored a goal from their mistake. we wanted to win, obviously, 1-1 is not a very bad result, but we always want to win,” Mata said. “We just couldn’t find spaces, they defended very well with five plus four. We tried to play a few times through the middle, which we didn’t succeed to do that. Then we scored that goal and from then we played a bit better.”

Solskjaer kept Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Daniel James, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench to start the match. Fernandes and Fred came on late.

Man United held at Club Brugge (video)

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Man United were held to a 1-1 draw away at Club Brugge in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 tie as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side battled back from a sloppy start to stretch their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions.

Emmanuel Bonaventure (commonly known as Dennis) scored a beautiful opener to put Brugge ahead but United equalized through Anthony Martial and he also hit the post as the Red Devils looked more dangerous as both teams had chances in a tight, tense encounter.

The two teams met for the second leg at Old Trafford next Thursday, Feb. 27.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

Brugge almost scored with their first attack as Dennis caused havoc behind Luke Shaw and a combination of Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic cleared the ball from danger from close range.

Andreas Pereira fired in a low shot which Simon Mignolet saved well but moments later Brugge were ahead.

Nemanja Matic thought he had won a corner kick but a goal kick was given and former Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet caught out the entire Man United defense with a long ball over the top to find Dennis who lobbed the ball over a stranded Sergio Romero and in.

Hans Vanaken, Mats Rits and Dennis then all went close to doubling Brugge’s lead as United’s defense was all over the place.

United did draw level before half time as a loose throw-in from Brugge caused their own problems and Martial powered towards goal and calmly slotted home to make it 1-1.

Brandon Williams missed a good chance and Mignolet then pushed Martial’s shot onto the post as United came alive after their opening goal.

In the second half Man United continued to improve as Diogo Dalot‘s cross found Jesse Lingard who flicked wide, while Martial and Juan Mata then combined but Brugge managed to block the danger at the last moment.

At the other end Dennis was denied as Romero saved well down low at the near post and late on Dennis bamboozled Harry Maguire before crossing for Odilon Kossounou who somehow scuffed his shot wide.

Man United finished with a flourish as new signings Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes came on off the bench to try and help the Red Devils grab a winner and although they both looked lively, United couldn’t find a late goal.