The Football Lab’s 2017-18 Premier League Team of the Year

Mohamed Salah – belfasttelegraph.co.uk

After the PFA named their Premier League Team of the Year, The Football Lab offers our choices – but with a twist. We’re including a maximum of three players from each team with three players from outside the top six.

Goalkeeper – David De Gea

Given the criticism that Manchester United’s defence has faced this season, it seems unlikely that they would have conceded just 26 goals in 34 Premier League games without their goalkeeper. David De Gea’s performance in the 0-0 draw at Liverpool and especially the 3-1 win at Arsenal highlight him as a true big game performer.

Right-back – Kyle Walker

Last season, Manchester City had a right-back in Pablo Zabaleta who had legendary status with fans but was declining in ability. To replace the West Ham bound Argentine, Pep Guardiola was questioned for spending big money on Kyle Walker, but the fee has since paled into insignificance. Walker has added much-needed athleticism down the right flank; with him providing the width, the equally impressive Raheem Sterling has been able to focus on getting into goalscoring positions.

Centre-back – James Tarkowski

Tarkowski has benefited hugely from first team football in the lower leagues in the early stages of his development, which has seen him rise from making his Oldham Athletic debut in 2010-11 to making his England bow last month. The 25-year-old is composed on the ball and is a key part of a Burnley defence that has conceded just 32 goals – fewer than Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – and are 11/8 with free bets for a 12th clean sheet of the campaign against Brighton.

Centre-back – Lewis Dunk

Brighton & Hove Albion are not a possession-based side, they have a centre-back in Lewis Dunk who has the wherewithal to thrive in one. The 26-year-old has completed 153 accurate long passes (WhoScored) – the second most for a Premier League centre-back – and looks comfortable when asked to carry the ball out of defence.

Left-back – Andrew Robertson

We saw in the 2015-16 Championship play-offs that Andrew Robertson’s lung-busting runs from left-back to the final third play a key role in the transitional phases of play. The Scot has looked equally effective at the elite level and his community-centred mentality has helped build bridges with the Anfield faithful.

Holding midfielder – Luka Milivojevic

An outside shout perhaps, but we reckon Milivojevic doesn’t get the credit he deserves from those outside South London. The Serb has scored 10 goals this season and is a real threat from dead ball scenarios, while completing 67 interceptions; more than any other Premier League midfielder.

Creative midfielder – Kevin De Bruyne

We could only bring ourselves to pick one Manchester City midfielder – as much as David Silva and Fernandinho have been brilliant, De Bruyne just about edges it. The Belgian took control of big games against fellow top six sides, memorably scoring a stunning winner at champions Chelsea back in September and his deliveries to the back-post have been consistently inch-perfect.

Creative midfielder – Christian Eriksen

The Dane has been consistently one of the most creative players in English football. Not only has his sublime technical ability helped him score 10 goals this season, making him one of three central non-strikers to reach double-figures, he has also chipped in with nine assists. While De Bruyne has had the advantage of players with pace and good movement around him, Eriksen has the more arduous task of being Tottenham’s sole creative outlet.

Right-forward – Mohamed Salah

The effervescent Egyptian has scored 31 Premier League goals this season; a mere one more domestically we see him become the highest-scorer in this division since Alan Shearer hit 34 in 1994-95. Incredibly, prior to this season, he’d never scored more than 15 league goals in a season and had been appreciated more for his contributions in build-up play.

Centre-forward – Roberto Firmino

As well as being the fifth top scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals, Firmino has also completed 54 tackles – the second most any central forward in the division has made. His willingness to press helps Liverpool win the ball high up the pitch and create chances quickly after the turnover of possession.

Left-forward – Leroy Sane

The German has completed a frightening 61 successful dribbles, more than any other player. Of course, this isn’t a new aspect of his game – he’d gained a reputation for being a speedster in Germany which was confirmed in his first season at Manchester City. In 2017-18 though, he has drastically improved his end product with 10 assists.