With the 2020-21 Premier League season coming to a close, I though it would be fun to put together my own team of the season – but with a twist. This XI will only feature players outside of the traditional “big six” clubs. If you aren’t familiar with the term “big six,” it is essentially a nickname given to the 6 Premier League clubs that traditionally have been the most successful, have the largest fanbases, and boast the highest payrolls in the division. These clubs are Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal. So, players from these teams are excluded from consideration.
It is important to note also that the players in this XI have been picked based solely on their performances this season in the Premier League. This is not a list of the most talented players nor have I considered how these players would function together as a real team.
Alphonse Areola, Nick Pope
After arriving from Arsenal in September for a reported fee of $20 million, Martinez has been excellent for an Aston Villa side that struggled defensively in the previous campaign. In the 19-20 season, the Lions used 3 different goalkeepers, none of which were able to perform at a level close to what Martinez has done this season. With Martinez between the posts this campaign, Villa have gone from conceding 67 goals (2nd worst) to just 46 (7th best).
The 6’4 Argentine recorded 15 clean sheets in the Premier League this season – good for third in the division. He is 2nd in the division for both save percentage (76.8 %) and Post Shot xG + / – (+ 7.4). The stats show us just how crucial Martinez has been to Aston Villa’s success this season. He also brings an element of solidity and leadership at the back that is extremely important for any team. He may well be the goalkeeper of the season including those in the “big six,” so it was a no-brainer to include him in this team as well.
Aaron Cresswell, Matt Targett
Lucas Digne has just been selected for France’s Euro 2020 squad and now he’s being selected for my team of the season, what a week it’s been for the Frenchman! Digne has been excellent again this season despite missing some time with an ankle injury. While there were some other very good options here, I have decided to go with Digne because he is both an excellent provider and defender. The graphics show just how well rounded he is.
Digne finished the season with 7 assists, second only amongst fullbacks to West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell (who played 500 more minutes than Digne). The Frenchman has been a valuable asset to Ancelotti’s side this season, able to whip crosses in from the left for the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. Digne is quite good at the defensive end as well. He ranks very highly in terms of 1 v 1 duels and is surprisingly excellent in aerial duels for someone standing at only 5’8.
James Tarkowski, Wesley Fofana
Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, Ezri Konsa, Johnny Evans
While Burnley have not been great this season it is easy to imagine that without James Tarkowski they would be looking at a drop down to the Championship. The 28 year old Englishman has been immense at the back for Burnley. Statistically, Tarkowski does not impress in terms of passing and ball progression, but he shines as a purely defensive presence consistently showing excellent decision making and positioning.
The chart below illustrates just how good Tarkowski has been this season in terms of winning the ball in the air and not allowing dribblers to get past him. He also ranks above the 90th percentile across Europe’s top 5 leagues in terms of clearances and shots blocked per 90. Tarkowski is a perfect fit for Burnley’s low bock system and deserves recognition for another fine campaign.
Wesley Fofana is such an impressive player. At just 20 years old, Fofana has already become one of Leicester City’s most important pieces. He has been ever reliable for Brendan Rogers this season and has the flexibility to play in a 3 or 4 at the back system. Fofana moved from St. Etienne last October for a $38.5 million fee despite having only made 20 Ligue 1 appearances.
Fofana is an elegant ball carrier and a solid defender. Looking at the numbers we can see that Fofana is very well-rounded and has been crucial to Leicester both defensively and offensively in terms of building out from defense. During the 2020-21 season Fofana produced 5.85 progressive carries per 90 as well as an impressive 3.95 passes into the final third per 90. Defensively, Fofana has produced 2.36 tackles, 1.77 interceptions, and 3.28 successful pressures per 90. The future is looking very bright for the young Frenchman.
Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Matty Cash
Vladimir Coufal gets the nod here for me at RB after a fantastic season with the Hammers. Coufal arrived at East London in October from Slavia Prague and has been a major part of West Ham’s surprise top 6 finish. The fullbacks in David Moyes’ system are an important part of the attack and Coufal has fit right in, providing excellent service into the box and finishing the campaign with 7 assists.
The Czech international ranks highly in Shot-Creating actions, xA, and crosses into the penalty area. Coufal is also very solid defensively both against dribblers and in the air.
Wilfried Ndidi, Tomas Soucek, Yves Bissouma
Declan Rice, Youri Tielemans, Matheus Periera, Jesse Lingard, Stuart Dallas, Ashley Westwood
Wilfried Ndidi continues to be one of the best defensive midfielders in world football. The Nigerian had another excellent season for The Foxes, recording 4.34 tackles and 2.19 interceptions per 90. Looking at the graphic below, you can see just how incredibly effective Ndidi is as a defensive midfielder. He and Youri Tielemans have formed a delightfully balanced midfield partnership and Leicester fans will hope they can hold on to both of them this summer.
Ndidi has simply been world class again this season and makes my XI despite missing time with injury. He even added 1 goal and 4 assists, not bad for a player that puts in the kind of defensive shift that he does.
Speaking of scoring goals, how about Tomas Soucek. The Czech international recorded 10 goals for West Ham this season, good enough to lead the team alongside Michail Antonio. Joining from Slavia Prague last July, Soucek has become and invaluable member of David Moyes’ side – playing every minute of the 2020-21 Premier League season.
The perfect midfielder for David Moyes’ system, Soucek has the physicality to dominate both penalty boxes. He contributes nicely on the defensive end as well winning 5.90 Aerial duels, 2.30 tackles, 1.34 interceptions, and 3.58 clearances per 90.
Just look how dominant he has been in the air this season. Absolute monster.
I was tempted to go with a more attacking central midfield option here, but I simply could not leave out Yves Bissouma. The Malian has been nothing short of sublime this season, posting 3.43 tackles and 1.73 interceptions per 90 – in fact, no player in the Premier League this season has more combined tackles and interceptions.
Along with his defensive acumen, Bissouma is a handy ball carrier and is an important cog in Graham Potter’s setup, playing in 36 matches for the Seagulls this season.
Pedro Neto, Allan Saint-Maximin, Jack Harrison, Harvey Barnes
This was a fairly straightforward decision for me. While there are some other very good left wingers to choose from here, none of them can quite contribute what Jack Grealish does on a consistent level. Despite playing in only 26 matches this season due to injury, Grealish still managed to produce 6 goals and 10 assists. He has been the main man at Villa Park for some time now, and it is no surprise to see him turn in another great season. The addition of Ollie Watkins to the attack has helped Grealish as well, having assisted his fellow England international 4 times this season.
Grealish is the creative hub of the Aston Villa team – providing 3.06 key passes and 5.63 shot-creating actions per 90. Grealish has been effective this season as both a LW and a #10.
Grealish is also a fantastic dribbler and progressive passer, with 11.73 progressive carries and 5.98 progressive passes per 90. He is also once again the most fouled player in the Premier League – a fact which points to his ball carrying and dribbling prowess. Grealish is simply what makes the Villa attack tick; he is the player able to progress the ball out of defense and also the one to provide the killer pass at the other end.
Jarrod Bowen, Matheus Pereira, Richarlison
Arriving from Rennes this past October, Raphinha has been the perfect player for Marcelo Bielsa’s attack. Playing down the right wing, Raphinha is an excellent dribbler and creator, cutting in on his favored left foot to do damage to opposing defenses. In his first Premier League season, the 24-year-old Brazilian tallied 6 goals and 9 assists in 30 matches.
Raphinha is constantly looking to be dangerous with his passing – providing 2.44 key passes, 1.56 passes into the final third, and 4.33 shot-creating actions per 90. He is a confident dribbler as well completing 2.41 dribbles per 90. Raphinha offers Leeds quality and creativity up front. Similar to Jack Grealish, he is often the player Leeds will look to in order to provide the final ball at the end of moves. Raphinha definitely deserves to be in this XI and he will be the key man for Leeds next season as they look to move into the European spots.
Ollie Watkins, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho, Chris Wood, Callum Wilson
Patrick Bamford has had a great season for Leeds, proving plenty of doubters wrong about his ability to score goals in the Premier League. He will surely feel disappointed to have not been selected for England’s Euro 2020 squad, but the fact that he is even in contention for a place speaks to how far he has come and how well he has performed during this past campaign.
Bamford notched 17 goals and 7 assists over the season and was a constant presence up front for Bielsa, who started him in all 38 Premier League contests. Bamford is a hard-working and unselfish center forward who does much more for Leeds than just score goals. He works hard defensively and completes plenty of sprints both in attack and defense to help his teammates. There were of course some other very good options here, but ultimately I feel that Bamford deserves the recognition for an excellent season as the top goal scorer in an exciting Leeds team that finished 9th in their first season back in the top flight.
All stats via FBref / StatsBomb