Cherishing the crème de la crème in this captivating Premier League season, and thus allowing equivalently significant players to fly under the radar, is something we are all guilty of.
Here, though, we appreciate the names sung passionately in their respective clubs’ terraces that are, perhaps, unsung when the entire campaign is encompassed.
Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne, Harry Kane—all names that have reverberated around stadiums (and indeed the world) many times this season for good reason. Illuminating another nine intriguing Premier League months, those men have contributed heavily to the dazzling, box-office side of things that keep the best league in the world ticking on a global stage.
But they don’t comprise the whole division.
Exploring the grit of Burnley, tenacity of Huddersfield and scratching the surface of Liverpool behind their exalted attacking triumvirate is something we relish here, and our alternative Team of the Season celebrates those who have been instrumental but perhaps been concealed by the hype of the league’s star-studded, cardinal players. The formation for this side is the more conventional 4-4-2 (sorry to all the modern fans).
Goalkeeper: Nick Pope (Burnley)
You never would have thought Nick Pope started this term sitting on the sidelines.
Tom Heaton’s serious injury at the beginning of the season left the door ajar for potential, and former Charlton goalkeeper Pope (now on Gareth Southgate’s books) clattered it open in fierce fashion.
He has been at the heart of Burnley’s stalwart, stubborn approach and their unrelenting frustration of opponents—many of whom have struggled to score against the Europe-clinching Clarets—starts from between the sticks.
In Nick Pope is a goalkeeper that focuses solely on saving—crucial to tying down a permanent position. Sean Dyche’s success comes down to a solid, pragmatic team selection which rarely changes, something title-winner Claudio Ranieri will resonate with.
And for Pope to maintain his spot only underlines his progress since replacing Heaton, who will have to work extremely hard to get near the England international who’s coming on leaps and bounds with every performance.
11 clean sheets and a save success rate of 76.51%, slightly better than Heaton’s 74.6% last season (a season where, let’s not forget, many were clamoring for Heaton to be the England goalkeeper), are the statistics behind Pope’s incredible campaign.
And the stats don’t lie.
Left full back: Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
Formerly at Hull suffering the bitter taste of relegation from the top flight, Andy Robertson now finds himself an essential cog in a well-oiled Liverpool machine venturing to lift the Champions League trophy at the end of the month.
His electrifying speed and a work ethic up there with the best in the division earns the Scotsman a place in this side. Behind the ravishing football Salah, Mane and Firmino produce on a constant basis are diligent, motivated players key to the Reds.
And Robertson is certainly one of those.
As well as being a hounding, devoted full back that exhibits traditional defensive values slowly creeping out of the modern game, Andy Robertson brings a creative element symptomatic of the contemporary wide defender and an impressive five assists—three more than 2016/17 Team of the Season left full back Danny Rose—which highlights the balance between his attacking endeavors and his commitment to duties farther back.
Centre half: James Tarkowski (Burnley)
Like Nick Pope, James Tarkowski has been amongst the prime performers for Burnley in their record-breaking season.
11 clean sheets and 49 blocks indicate statistics any defender would be proud of, and Tarkowski’s never-say-die attitude corresponds to the principles upon which Burnley are built.
Another remarkable fact is that Burnley have avoided defeat in 21 of the 31 matches Tarkowski has started, and that only typifies his importance to the Clarets who will be enjoying their travels to some unconventional European destinations this summer.
Centre half: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth’s Player of the Season clinches a rightful spot in this Team of the Season.
One of the Cherries’ only ever-presents this term, making 38 Premier League appearances since his switch from Chelsea, Aké has transformed Bournemouth. Though their poor start to the campaign suggested it wouldn’t be an easy ride, the fairytale of Premier League football will remain at the Vitality Stadium.
Nathan Aké can be safe in the knowledge he has been a vital part of that. 87 accurate long balls from the centre-half has given Bournemouth the required out-ball from the back, and his superb physicality (104 aerial duels won this season) has helped ensure the south coast club a place in the top flight with comfort.
Right full back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
At only 19-years-old Merseyside-born Trent Alexander-Arnold has been another youngster to impress massively in his breakthrough season under Jürgen Klopp.
In addition to an understandable bias towards homegrown players (we hope he is on the plane to Russia), the Englishman has been almost, if not equally, as significant as Liverpool’s renowned three-pronged attack.
His penetrating runs and admirable maturity at such a young age indicate he is a prospect to seriously consider. 66% tackle success rate combined with a goal, an assist and 77% pass completion rate this season—simply magnificent stats from the young man.
Left midfielder: Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)
A revelation under David Moyes, Arnautovic’s contribution to West Ham’s quest for survival has been widely appreciated by those inside an occasionally turbulent London Stadium.
Hardly close to the level of performance that West Ham saw when they tempted him away from Stoke City under Slaven Bilic, it looked for a while as if the Austrian would never hit the heights in a claret-and-blue shirt.
That quickly changed.
Bilic was sacked, and something clicked in the head of Arnautovic when David Moyes took the reins in east London. An attacking drive motored for the Austria international, and the majority of his 11 goals, six assists and 33 shots on target have come under the ex-Everton and Manchester United boss.
An effervescent midfielder that might have kept Stoke in the Premier League had he stayed, West Ham are indebted to his services for instead assisting their successful survival quest.
Centre midfielder: Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle)
Shelvey’s astonishing passing range is certainly something that can help the Three Lions this summer. He is still optimistic of booking his place in the England World Cup squad, but at the moment he can feel satisfied for having played a central role in making Newcastle a top half side.
A 10th place finish doesn’t solely come down to him, however his influence has been conspicuous to say the least.
601 forward passes compared to 468 in 2015/16 underscores his improvement at St. James’ Park. He also made ten more through balls than that season, linking up with Dwight Gayle to lethal effect on several occasions.
Centre midfielder: Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
Australian Aaron Mooy, certain of a spot in the Socceroos’ World Cup squad, has been the most prominent star from Down Under since the likes of Tim Cahill at Everton and Mark Schwarzer at Fulham.
The production line of Aussies in the Premier League hasn’t been overtly high-yielding, but that takes nothing away from his achievements at Huddersfield and role in their miraculous maintenance of top flight status.
Mooy has made 36 appearances for the Terriers this term, racking up four goals and three assists. He has been archetypal of David Wagner’s positive, yet industrious style of play. Who knows where the Terriers would have finished without him.
Right midfielder: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Many, especially Crystal Palace fans, will argue that Wilfried Zaha should have made the ACTUAL Team of the Season.
And they would have a point, too—the Ivorian has been exemplary for the south east London side in a season of real ups-and-downs.
The Eagles have managed to accumulate nearly all of their points with Zaha in the side, and that alone epitomises his importance to a club that will desperately try to cling onto him over the summer transfer window. It may be difficult, though, as this coruscating season inevitably draws attraction to the talismanic wide man.
Goals and assists aside (of which there are 12 overall), the mere presence of Zaha is enough to unsettle any defence and his adept movement, swift turns and intelligent passing all contribute to a footballer of the highest calibre.
Striker: Glenn Murray (Brighton)
Brighton have struggled for goals at the best of times, however veteran Glenn Murray’s contribution of 12 has been hugely influential for the coastal club.
Murray may no longer have the mobility of many of the top names today, but he is a safe bet in a goalscoring business and demonstrated his value to a Brighton side also celebrating Premier League safety.
Once of Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, initial qualms of Murray losing his Premier League acumen were rapidly extinguished these past few seasons.
Striker: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
The Gabonese hasn’t flown under the radar as such, though he didn’t enter the Premier League quickly enough to have the same impact as Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero.
Ten goals in thirteen Arsenal appearances since his switch from Borussia Dortmund represents an outstanding return and the searing striker is sure to perform next season too.
The impact of Arsene Wenger leaving the club won’t have as much of a lasting effect on him either (having only worked under the Frenchman for six months), maybe meaning the emotional scar left by the departure of the legendary manager on him won’t be as pronounced compared to other players.
Probably the least alternative name in here, the Gabonese international should push to make the PFA Team of the Season next term.