Yes, it’s time for another Premier League team of the season. This one is a little different, however, containing as it does not the best performers of the 2018-2019 campaign but rather those whose contributions have either gone under the radar, not been fully appreciated or simply been overshadowed by others. In other words, welcome to the Unsung XI.
There were two rules ahead of picking this side – no one on the Professional Footballers’ Association’s player or young player of the year shortlists could be chosen, and there could only be one player from any given club.
Finally, I was incredibly tempted to include Wilfried Zaha given he has not been nominated by the PFA and, once again, has had a very good season for Crystal Palace. But it feels as if Zaha has been spoken about, analysed and praised too much for him to be considered ‘unsung’. So he misses out. Sorry, Wilf.
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster (Watford)
OK, there was that terrible error against Wolves, and that terrible error against Arsenal before that, but, in general, Foster has been a source of reliability for Watford since returning to the club in the summer. No one has made more league appearances for Javi Gracia’s side, with some of the 36-year-old’s displays exceptional, such as in the goalless draw at Brighton in February. “He has an amazing character,” Gracia said afterwards of his goalkeeper.
Right-back: Ricardo Pereira (Leicester)
Even in an era when most of us take huge transfer fees for granted, £21.8m for a full-back still feels like a substantial outlay. Yet Pereira has pretty much justified every penny Leicester spent on acquiring him from Porto. He has quietly gone about being decent defensively, making over 50 interceptions and 100 clearances, as well as a real threat going forward, assisting six goals and scoring another two, including a belter against Manchester City on Boxing Day.
Centre-back: Conor Coady (Wolves)
Given the stellar season Wolves have had, one of their players was a must for this team. There were plenty to chose from but, in the end, it was the captain who made it. Less heralded than the likes of Raúl Jiménez and Diogo Jota, Coady has been a figure of resilience, organisation and impressive distribution from the centre of Wolves’ three-man defence. The 26-year-old is surely in line for an England call-up sooner rather than later.
Centre-back: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Koscielny hasn’t been great but he has been remarkable. After all, this is a player who may well have called time on his career having ruptured his Achilles a year ago but instead he returned in December and has gone onto deliver a string of assured displays in what has been a less than assured defence. The Frenchman can barely run these days – barely walk, in fact – but there he is, doing his absolute best for as long as he can. It’s been a momental contribution from Arsenal’s best defender of the post-Invincibles era.
Left-back: Lucas Digne (Everton)
Best left-back in the country? Digne isn’t even the best left-back on Merseyside. Nevertheless, the Frenchman has been very good for Everton since arriving from Barcelona in August. From an attacking point of view he has provided four goals and four assists while defensively Digne has been an important part of an increasingly robust unit, with Everton having kept six clean sheets in their past seven games. Farewell Leighton Baines, your successor has arrived.
Midfield: Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham)
“Leopards don’t change their spots” declared Roy Keane during his recent punditry rant, but sometimes they do. Take Sissoko, who was viewed as being an absolute dud after joining Tottenham from Newcastle for £30m last season. Yet this season the Frenchman has been much improved – a commanding and tactically astute presence in central midfield (albeit one that could do with scoring some goals), which may not have been picked up by the wider public but has been appreciated by Tottenham supporters as they have watched on from Wembley and their shiny new stadium.
Midfield: Jorginho (Chelsea)
Those passes. Those endless, endless, passes. There have been over 2,900 – more than any other player – and, according to the critics, not a single one has been any good. Yet surely there should be more appreciation of the season Jorginho has had. A first in England in which he has been a fundamental figure for a team that has guaranteed a top-four place with a game to spare, is into the semi-finals of the Europa League and reached the Carabao Cup final. Maybe, just maybe, he’s not a waste of space after all.
Wide right: Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)
It will come as a surprise to no one to hear that Eden Hazard has provided more assists than any other top-flight player this season, with 15. Yet it may cause mild shock to hear who is second on the list. Yes, that’s right, it’s Fraser. There have been 14 from the 25-year-old during a campaign in which he has become a key figure for Eddie Howe’s side with his fast and direct approach, albeit from the opposite wing that he is deployed from here. Fraser has also provided Scotland supporters with a timely reminder that their country do have some decent players after all.
No 10 : Felipe Anderson (West Ham)
Another played who has largely operated from the left wing this season, Anderson arrived at West Ham amid much anticipation on the back of his fee – a club-record £33.5m – and impressive displays for Lazio. He has not disappointed. The Brazilian has been a bewitching presence for a side sat snugly in mid-table and is their joint top-scorer with nine goals, having also contributed four assists. It’s been a very good debut campaign that would have probably garnered more attention were it not for the glut of other excellent creative talents in the division.
Wide left: Miguel Almirón (Newcastle)
The Paraguayan has done well for Newcastle since arriving from Atlanta United for a club record fee of £21m, bringing energy and creativity to their attack, and it was a shame for all concerned that a hamstring injury brought his campaign to a premature end. Almirón has also provided Newcastle supporters with something important on a broader level – hope. Hope of a more ambitious future and hope that Rafael Benítez, feeling he has the required backing of Mike Ashley, will ultimately remain as manager.
Centre-forward: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)
There are better strikers than Mitrovic in the Premier League but none who have done so much in such dire circumstances. Fulham’s return to the top-flight has been a car crash, leading to the firing of two managers and, ultimately, relegation. But all the while there’s been Mitrovic, holding the ball up, running the channels, being a general nuisance and scoring 11 goals – a third of his team’s entire total for the campaign. Fulham are going down but their No 9 may well not be.