We round off the latest Sporting Life series by picking a Premier League team of the season, from what we have seen so far.
(First published April 8)
Premier League: Top performers series
With the top flight set to return next week, we have gone through each position in detail to select the stand-out players and justify our decisions.
But how does it look when you throw them all into a team?
Here, looking back on the series we did, we put our best XI into one team.
Our man Tom Carnduff stuck his neck out here and didn't go for the obvious Ederson of Manchester City or Liverpool's Alisson Becker, instead looking to the surprise package of this season's Premier League.
Dean Henderson has been a huge part of Sheffield United's success both this season and last, but let's focus on the current campaign and one statistic that especially stands out - the difference between expected goals against and actual goals conceded.
The Blades sit top of that chart and no other top 10 team is anywhere near them, showing just how big an impact their shot-stopper has had.
Henderson's decision-making has led to five successful runs out from five, too.
You could point to him not making as many passes as some other goalkeepers but what is his job again? Keeping the ball out of the net. A team that was playing in the Championship last season, has the Premier League's second best defensive record this season.
And only Burnley's Nick Pope has kept more clean sheets than the Sheff United keeper.
Should the Blades be looking to make his loan from Manchester United permanent it might cost a pretty penny now - and could he be the man between the sticks for England at Euro 2021?
If you're still thinking about the Brazilian keepers mentioned at the top, then this season alone is what we are taking into consideration.
Ederson has been poor compared to his previous two outstanding campaigns at the Etihad and Alisson has missed a fair chunk through injury, on two separate occasions. Without doubt though, they are among the best goalkeepers on the planet.
- RB: Ricardo Pereira (Leicester)
- CB: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) - captain
- CB: Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester)
- LB: Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
Tom Carnduff was again judge and jury when it came to selecting a back four, and plumped for a 50/50 Liverpool/Leicester split.
Virgil van Dijk is one of the world's best players and has been since he joined Liverpool from Southampton for £75m in January 2018. There's been no injury, no drop in form and he has possibly had the single biggest impact in taking the Reds to the next level.
He has absolutely everything you would want from a centre-back and he captains this XI.
Alongside him is one of the finds of the season: Caglar Soyuncu.
When Leicester sold Harry Maguire to Manchester United for £80m and said they weren't desperate to sign a replacement, few would have believed things could have turned out so well.
Soyuncu made just eight appearances in all competitions during his first season at the King Power after joining from Freiburg for £19m in 2018.
The Turkish international is one of the leading tacklers among the division's defenders, has outstanding passing stats and is an obvious choice to join van Dijk in central defence.
At right-back, his team-mate Ricardo Pereira has really arrived in the Premier League this season. Having been used in the front three on occasion during his early days at Leicester, he has now adjusted his game sufficiently to have enough defensive capability too.
This is possibly the most competitive position to choose from in the division. Trent Alexander-Arnold has provided 12 assists for Liverpool this season, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been outstanding for Man United and a player Fantasy Football players won't forget is Wolves' Matt Doherty.
But Pereira gets our vote. His numbers for tackling, passing and dribbles are phenomenal.
At left-back things could hardly be more different - the competition is simply not there. Only Leicester's Ben Chilwell, who since the turn of the year has failed to hit the heights we have come to expect, could claim to be pushing Andy Robertson.
He's racked up assists, tackles, passes, crosses - you name it. Enough said.
Our man George Pitts went for a midfield trio by stats here, looking for a tackler, a passer and a creator
Wilfried Ndidi does the dirty work, leading the division's midfielders in both number of tackles and number of interceptions - an incredible stat given that Leicester have developed into a more possession-based team, and the Nigerian has missed a fifth of the season through injury.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has often referred to him as the team's most important player and stats like those go some way to explaining why. He has helped fill the long-term void left by N'Golo Kante and his injury absence coincided with their blip that began in early January, too.
Playing just ahead of him we have Rodri. He might not have made a huge impact since arriving at Man City for £62.8m in the summer, but his passing stats are quite astonishing be it long or short, and are surely a big reason why Pep Guardiola wanted him in the first place.
He is the glue that nits our team together and alongside Ndidi, does the hard graft that allows Kevin De Bruyne and our front three to flourish.
In spite of a poor season by City's own high standards, De Bruyne has had possibly his best ever.
Not only has he run matches when his side have played well, appearing all over the pitch before often providing the killer blow in the inside-right channel which he loves to frequent, but his stats have gone through the roof.
His 16 assists is double that of any other midfielder, with only the dozen that Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has amassed getting anywhere close to him. And with eight Premier League goals he is already level with his best scoring season.
I could go on and on about his passing, distance covered, chances created but you get the picture. For me, he is the best player in the league.
The evolution of the forward makes this a particularly tricky position to compare players. How do you make a comparison between inside forwards, wingers, target men, goal poachers, false nines and all-round front men? It's not easy.
There's an argument to be made that Adama Traore, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez are casualties of this fairly rigid dichotomy between midfielders and forwards, but their performances this season don't quite justify inclusion in a best XI anyway.
Mo Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sadio Mane could probably fill any of the three forward positions, but it's the Arsenal captain who's been chosen to lead what would be a fluid attacking line, as for me he is the best pure striker.
His strike-rate of two goals in three games since moving to north London in January 2018 is superb considering how abject the Gunners have been for the majority of that time.
This season he has 17 Premier League goals and just one assist. While some would use the latter as a criticism, I'm doing the opposite - he is a born goalscorer who puts away a divisional high of 36% of the chances he gets.
Jamie Vardy pushes him close based on statistics alone, but the Leicester striker doesn't have that same ability to play in multiple positions. I've picking Aubameyang as my spearhead, but Arsenal predominantly use him from the left because that's what suits them.
Either side, Mane and Salah are far from goal-shy, with 30 between them in the top flight this term, which is almost enough on its own to justify their inclusion. What clinches their spots is them being ideal foils for our centre-forward.
No attacker has more Premier League assists than Mane's seven this season, and Salah is just one behind him. Liverpool team-mate Roberto Firmino is the only forward to have completed more passes than the duo, who together have racked up more than 1,200.
With Kevin De Bruyne playing the creative role Firmino often does to complement Mane and Salah, providing the ammunition for a lethal Aubameyang, we're now looking at an attacking quartet that would be near impossible to stop.
Premier League Team of the Season 2019/20
Premier League Punters' XI: Eleven players to consider backing before the season ends, including Billy Gilmour and Bruno Fernandes
George Pitts picks out his 11 players to watch as the Premier League returns, and how to get on the right side of them in the betting. Click the image below to take a look...
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