World Cup 2022: Rest of World Team

Every four years the FIFA’s Men’s World Cup dazzles the globe. Most of the best soccer players get the opportunity to vault themselves, and their nation, into the spotlight, and maybe even the history books. However, only 32 teams get to play in the Men’s World Cup and so there are always talented players left to watch the big tournament from home. FIFA is addressing this by expanding the Men’s World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, meaning this 2022 iteration may be the last time where a glutton of big stars miss the tournament. What if we took all of those players whose nation’s did not qualify and placed them on one team? To imagine player combinations which we don’t usually see is part of the fun that international soccer provides. In this article, I am going to do just that: have some fun creating a hypothetical World Cup team comprised of player who’s nations did not qualify.

Most of the time, such imagined “Rest of World” teams only pick from the top 2-3 teams that missed out on qualification. For 2018, imagine an Italy/Netherlands combo team with a sprinkling of non-European players. In creating my own “Rest of World” team, I wanted to be a little more creative so I added a simple, yet limiting, rule: I am only allowed to pick 1 player from each country to join my team. This made for some tough choices which I will explore below.

Before sharing my team, a few more parameters: I chose a 26-man roster, as it is rumored each nation will be allowed 26 players in 2022. I did not include players whose nation qualified, but they are outside of their nation’s World Cup roster (sorry Hakim Ziyech of Morocco), as it made the pool of players almost too big, and we don’t know the official World Cup rosters yet. Also, given my 1-player-per-country rule, there are many permutations of this team. The team I name below is not a definitive team, simply the one I chose. If I didn’t pick your favorite player, or I missed a player, it’s not a knock on them. There are only so many spots on the roster and so many players deserving of a spot! I also went with a relatively standard 4-3-3 shape which affected my choices. With that, here is my roster followed by a breakdown of my choices:

Name (International team, Club team)

Goalkeeper (3): Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy, Paris-Saint Germain), Jan Oblak (Slovenia, Atletico Madrid), Odysseas Vlachodimos (Greece, Benfica)

Right-back (2): Mehmet Zeki Çelik (Turkey, Lille), Elseid Hysaj (Albania, Lazio)

Center-back (4): Guillermo Maripán (Chile, AS Monaco), Milan Škriniar (Slovakia, Inter Milan), Stefan Savić (Montenegro, Atletico Madrid), Willi Orbán (Hungary, RB Leipzig)

Left-back (2): Andy Robertson (Scotland, Liverpool), Arthur Masuaku (Democratic Republic of the Congo, West Ham)

Defensive Midfielder (3): Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria, Leicester City), Tomáš Souček (Czech Republic, West Ham), Renato Tapia (Peru, Celta Vigo)

Central Midfielder (4): Emil Forsberg (Sweden, RB Leipzig), Amadou Haidara (Mali, RB Leipzig), Konrad Laimer (Austria, RB Leipzig), Naby Keita (Guinea, Liverpool)

Wingers/Attacking Midfielders (5): Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, Algeria), Luis Diaz (Colombia, Liverpool), Elif Elmas (North Macedonia, Napoli), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia, AS Roma)

Strikers (3): Erling Haaland (Norway, Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, FC Barcelona) Sébastien Haller (Ivory Coast, Ajax)

First of all, let’s acknowledge that, despite any limitation I put on myself, this team is *stacked like pancakes*. Almost every player plays in a traditional Top 5 league in Europe, many of which are Champions League caliber, and those who aren’t are at the very least playing on mid-table teams if not Europa League or Conference League teams. This team would pretty easily be competitive at the World Cup. Most of these players fell into one of four categories of my decision making process.

The Easy Choices. I found some national teams where one player stood out amongst the rest and made me say “Well I gotta pick him”. This includes, Salah, Aubameyang, Mahrez, Haaland, Haidara, Keita, Ndidi, Skriniar, Oblak, and Vlachodimos. While these mostly seemed like obvious choices, some did eliminate other good players from selection. For example, by picking Haaland, arguably the best young striker in the world, I eliminate the option of picking Martin Ødegaard, who isn’t at Haaland’s level, but is still a great player in his own right. Similarly with picking Mahrez over Bennacer from Algeria. Bennacer is a great player, but not as great as Mahrez. This is also where I noticed “Between, Salah, Haidara, and Keita, I have some players used to playing in a high press. Maybe I should run with that”.

Difficult Decisions. There were some teams where I had to pick between two or three solid players of a similar level. In these cases, it depended on what positions I needed and whether I thought they would fit my “high pressing” scheme. This includes Colombia, Ivory Coast, Sweden, Scotland, Chile. Luis Diaz, Andy Robertson, and Emil Forsberg were all selected over their countrymen because each of them play on club teams that like to press. Instead of Diaz, I could have chosen Colombia’s ‘keeper Ospina. Picking Forsberg eliminated Lindeloff from Sweden as a right-back. Picking Robertson eliminated Tierney and McTominay from Scotland as a left-back and central midfielder, respectively.

Wealth of Riches. There were a few teams where I could pick almost any player from their Starting XI to fit into this roster. The obvious team being Italy who won the 2020 European Championship, and then somehow flopped in World Cup qualification for a second cycle in a row. It is perhaps because of Italy’s quality that I chose their goalkeeper, Donnarumma, as my sole Italian. A ‘keeper can often have the most influence on a game relative to any individual field player. Plus, Italy’s defensive record is a large part of what won them that 2020 Euro’s tournament. Austria also provided me with plenty of options but again my high press theme made Laimer an easy choice as he is a teammate with Haidara and Forsberg at Leipzig. Although, it wasn’t easy to leave off Alaba after he and Real Madrid won the Champions League this season.

Filling in the Gaps. Lastly I had to assess where I was missing players in my roster. This is where positional needs pushed some players ahead of others on their national team. For example, I was in need of right-backs and found Celik from Turkey. On the other hand, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Turkey’s captain, might be a “higher profile” player in the eyes of many. Then again, Çalhanoğlu doesn’t seem to fit my high press scheme, so he would likely start on my bench. Am I going to bring Çalhanoğlu as a sub and then dig deeper at the right-back spot? For me, it made more sense to bring Celik. This is also the point where I found some fun standouts who usually wouldn’t be included in these “Rest of World” teams. This included Albanian defender Hysaj, Elif Elmas of North Macedonia, and Masuaku of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Honorable Mentions. These are the players who stood out on their national teams but missed the cut for me: Omar Alderete (Paraguay, Valencia), Amir Rrahmani (Kosovo, Napoli), Yangel Herrera (Venezuela, Espanyol), Edin Džeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Inter Milan), Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan, Roma), Amir Murillo (Panama, Anderlecht), Alberth Elis (Honduras, Bordeaux), Michail Antonio (Jamaica, West Ham), Lukáš Hrádecký (Finland, Bayer Leverkusen), and Mu’nas Dabbur (Israel, 1899 Hoffenheim), Chris Wood (New Zealand, Newcastle United).

Lastly, how well would this team would do at the World Cup? 19 out of 26 of these players will be playing Champions League next year with 4 more playing in Champions League Qualifying, Europa League, or Conference League. This compares relatively well to teams which are considered favorites to win the competition, such as France, Brazil, England, and Germany. Of course, this team would have much less chemistry, so they would likely not play as cohesively as the favorites. At the same time, no one can scout them since they never played together before this. I think the disadvantages of being an All-Star-style team outweigh any advantages. Therefore, I would not call them favorites, but I think you could call them contenders. I would expect them to at least make it out of their group, likely win their Round of 16 game, and put in a good fight in the quarter-finals.

That’s all I have, let me know if you have a different “Rest of World” roster of your own! Hit me up at @BeardedJack on Twitter.

Ranking USMNT Players Abroad in Fall 2020 by Tiers Part 2

Welcome back! If you missed it, check out Part 1 of this article here. For a quick summary, last time we examined the male Americans playing in lower leagues. Now we’re looking at the USMNT players who play in the Top 10 leagues in Europe, plus some of the best South American leagues.

Again some housekeeping: I am only looking at games that count towards the ’20-’21 season. In order to limit this already really long list, I am only looking at players who have received first team minutes (Sorry Alex Mendez fans, Jong Ajax won’t count). Additionally, I didn’t go any lower than 2nd division in any country (apologies to all of the Sunderland/Lynden Gooch fans out there). Lastly, I didn’t include a bunch of potential dual nationals because we don’t know what they might do (sorry Florian Balogun fans). These statistics are from December 28th approximately.

These tiers are generally in order from worst-to-best but you could argue the order for the bottom tiers. Within each section I generally listed the players in order from most-to-least interesting. This is kind of a “who is the best player in a vacuum” ranking while also being a “who improved the most between the summer and now” ranking. So, like, don’t take it too seriously? I don’t know I just do this for fun.

Player Name, Age (Club; Total appearances this season, Continental Cup mins, Domestic League mins, Domestic Cup mins if applicable)

Decent 1st Division League (Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Brazil, and Argentina)

  • Matt Miazga, 25 (Anderlecht; 10 app, 900 Juniper League mins)
  • Reggie Cannon, 22 (Boavista; 11 apps, 964 Primeira Liga)
  • Johnny Cardoso, 19 (Internacional; 11 apps, 477 mins across all competitions)
  • Alan Sonora, 22 (Independiente; 12 apps, 563 mins across all competitions)
  • Luca de la Torre, 22 (Heracles Almelo; 12 apps, 730 Eredivisie mins)
  • Chris Durkin, 20 (Sint-Truiden; 13 apps, 784 Juniper League mins)
  • Erik Palmer Brown, 23 (Austira Vien; 11 apps, 990 Austrian Bundesliga mins)

This is a bit of a grab bag section for all of the guys who play in non-Top 5 Leagues. I would argue that all of these leagues are a step up from MLS. Miazga has played well on loan from Chelsea to Anderlecht. EPB is technically still a Manchester City player but has been on loan for 4 straight seasons, similar to Miazga with Chelsea. Gotta wonder when either of them will find a permanent home. Cannon has impressed at Boavista, grabbing the attention of Portuguese giants Benfica in just 9 games. Cardoso is one of the first Americans to ever play in Brazil. Honestly, I’ve barely seen him play but getting minutes in Brazil at 19 usually leads to good things. I don’t know much about Sonora either, but again seeing minutes in Argentina at his age is a good sign. It’s nice to see Luca de la Torre get regular-ish minutes after riding Fulham’s bench for a few years. Only one assist in over 700 minutes is disappointing though. Lastly, Chris Durkin is quietly stacking up mins in Belgium. I think he has more defensive bite now than when he played in the 2019 U20 World Cup.

Good Situation, Small Sample Size

  • Tim Weah, 20 (Lille; 15 apps, 111 Europa League mins, 212 Ligue 1 mins)
  • Richard Ledezma, 20 (PSV; 6 apps, 25 Europa League mins, 93 Eredivisie mins)
  • Konrad de la Fuente, 19 (Barcelona; 2 apps, 19 UCL mins).
  • Zack Steffen, 25 (Manchester City; 4 apps, 90 UCL mins, 270 EFL Cup mins)
  • Owen Otasowie, 19 (Wolverhampton; 3 app, 112 EPL mins)
  • Ethan Horvath, 25 (Club Brugge; 2 apps, 90 UCL mins, 90 Juniper League mins).
  • Chris Richards, 20 (Bayern Munich; 7 apps, 129 UCL mins, 89 Bundesliga mins, 15 DFL Super Cup mins)

All of these guys have around 300 mins or less but they are on good teams who either play Champions League, Europa League, or in a Top 5 League. Horvath and Steffen are both backup keepers and will naturally be limited barring injuries to the starters. But goalkeepers hit their prime later so I’m not too concerned. And, recent rumors have Horvath on the trading block. Otasowie got his first EPL appearance and start in the closing weeks of 2020. From what I saw, he looked raw, but with a few moments of skill. Ledezma tore his ACL, which derailed a breakout year for him. Weah had a ton of cameo appearances out of precaution after he lost most of last year to injuries. Last few weeks his minutes for Lille have been trending in the right direction. Richards saw an uptick in mins for Bayern, but it seemed to be more “out of necessity due to injuries” than “he beat out other players in practice”. Konrad barely makes the cut here as he mostly still plays with Barca B. His appearances in UCL were cameos in games where Barca was leading. Hopefully he will see more meaningful minutes soon.

Sustained Success in a Top 5 League (England, Spain, Germany, France, or Italy)

  • Tyler Adams, 21 (RB Leipzig; 16 apps, 109 UCL mins, 701 Bundesliga mins, 104 DFB Pokal mins)
  • Christian Pulisic, 22 (Chelsea; 12 apps, 175 UCL mins, 605 EPL mins)
  • Josh Sargent, 20 (Werder Bremen; 14 apps, 1010 Bundesliga mins, 175 DFB Pokal mins).
  • John Brooks, 28 (Wolfsburg; 12 apps, 1008 Bundesliga mins)

These guys play in Top 5 Leagues, and they are good players, they simply haven’t made significant improvements since the summer. Pulisic has been slowed by injuries but looks great every time he plays. Notably, Pulisic started 2 games for Chelsea in the last week. Sargent is now a regular starter for Bremen but hasn’t done much in that time (3g 2a in ~1300 mins). Adams has been in the rotation for Leipzig and looks comfortable without being flashy. John Brooks is just a known quantity at this point. An overall good centerback who has the occasional error. Now, these guys are not necessarily worse than the players in the next tier. They just sustained a level of success rather than raised their game in some way. I don’t want to undermine what these guys are doing. It is not easy to continuously play at a high level.

Significant Improvement in a Top 5 League (England, Spain, Germany, France, or Italy)

  • Gio Reyna, 18 (Dortmund; 22 apps, 407 UCL mins, 887 Bundesliga mins, 138 DFB Pokal mins, 19 DFL Super Cup mins).
  • Weston McKennie. 22 (Juventus; 15 apps, 295 UCL mins, 591 Serie A mins
  • Sergino Dest, 20 (Ajax –> Barcelona; 19 apps, 450 UCL mins, 77 Eredivisie mins, 743 La Liga mins)
  • Yunus Musah, 18 (Valencia; 15 apps, 961 La Liga mins, 35 Copa Del Rey mins).
  • Antonee Robinson, 23 (Fulham; 15 apps, 1080 EPL mins, 270 EFL Cup mins)

This group is exciting to say the least. Yunus Musah broke onto the scene in this his first professional season. While technically still not committed to the US, I suspect the multi-national Musah will play for the Stars and Stripes going forward (knock on wood). Robinson may not be playing his first pro season, but it is his first EPL season and he has been up for the challenge showing well in Fulham’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool. The USMNT starting LB spot is his to lose. McKennie and Dest both moved to bigger clubs (you could argue that Dest’s move was more lateral, but I digress) and are regular starters in their respective new homes. McKennie’s goal against Barcelona in the Champions League was one for the ages. Quick reminder: Messi and Ronaldo were on the field and 22 year-old American Weston McKennie had the best goal of the game! Gio Reyna takes the cake though. His goals + assists per 90 mins are top 30 in the Bundesliga (top 25 if you don’t include penalty goals) and the kid turned 18 last month. Unreal. People are talking about him as one of the best teenage soccer players in the world, and rightly so.

Thanks for reading! Have any questions or qualms with how I organized this? Then leave a comment below or yell at me on Twitter @BeardedJack!

Ranking USMNT Players Abroad in Fall 2020 by Tiers: Part 1

Hello all! It has been a hot minute since I wrote about soccer. Graduate school will do that to you. Enough about me though. 2020 has seen the rise of many young US Men’s National Team (USMNT) players balling out for large clubs in Europe. Thus, I wanted to check in to see how all of them are doing. For the most part, I will be looking at their minutes, games played, assists, and goals (mostly all available at https://fbref.com/en/ with some help from https://www.transfermarkt.us/). Here in Part 1, we will mostly examine the Americans in lower leagues. Come back for Part 2 to read about Christian Pulisics of the world.

First some housekeeping items: I am only looking at games that count towards the ’20-’21 season (some Scandinavian leagues play a summer schedule so I counted their whole 2020 regular season). In order to limit this already really long list, I am only looking at players who have received first team minutes (Sorry Alex Mendez fans, Jong Ajax won’t count). Additionally, I didn’t go any lower than 2nd division in any country (apologies to all of the Sunderland/Lynden Gooch fans out there). Lastly, I didn’t include a bunch of potential dual nationals because we don’t know what they might do (sorry Florian Balogun fans). These statistics are as of December 28th, approximately.

These tiers are generally in order from worst-to-best but you could argue the order. Within each section I generally listed the players in order from most-to-least interesting. Overall this is kind of a “who is the best player in a vacuum” ranking while also being a “who improved the most between the summer and now” ranking. So, like, don’t take it too seriously? I don’t know I just do this for fun.

Player Name, Age (Club; Total appearances this season, Continental Cup mins, Domestic League mins, Domestic Cup mins if applicable)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Cameron Carter-Vickers, 22 (Bournmouth)
  • McKinzie Gaines, 22 (Hannover 96)
  • Nick Taitague, 21 (Shalke)
  • Alex Mendez, 20 (Ajax)
  • Chris Gloster, 20 (PSV)
  • Cameron Harper, 19 (Celtic)

According to FBref, none of these players have made an appearance for their first team so far this season. There are a million other names that could be here, with the increasing number of Americans in European academies, but these are the ones who (I feel) are closer to 1st team minutes The most notable name here is Cameron Carter-Vickers who recently moved to Bournemouth and reportedly has a nagging ankle injury keeping him out of the squad.

Okay-to-Bad Situation, Small Sample Size (Various Leagues)

  • Ulysses Llanez Jr., 19 (Heerenveen; 5 apps, 95 Eredivisie mins)
  • Matthew Hoppe, 19 (Schalke; 3 apps, 111 Bundesliga mins)
  • Timothy Tillman, 21 (Gruether Furth; 12 apps, 141 2.Bundesliga mins, 74 DFB Pokal mins)
  • Charlie Kelman, 19 (Queens Park Rangers; 3 apps, 42 EFL Championship mins)
  • Tyler Boyd, 25 (Besiktas; 4 apps, Turkish Super Lig 315 mins)
  • Jonathan Amon, 21 (Nordsjaelland; 1 app, 26 Danish Superliga mins)
  • Joel Sonora, 24 (Talleres Cordoba; 8 apps, 156 Argentina Superliga mins)
  • Matko Miljevic, 19 (Argentinos; 1 apps, 45 Copa Sudamericana mins)
  • Sebastien Saucedo, 23 (UNAM; 3 apps, 141 Liga MX mins)
  • Brendan Hines-Ike, 26 (Kortrijk; 4 apps, 360 Juniper League mins)
  • Desevio Payne, 25 (FC Emmen; 2 apps, 32 Eredivisie mins)
  • Dillon Powers, 29 (Dundee United; 8 apps 290 SPL mins)

These are guys who would be in one of the higher tiers if they were were seeing significantly more minutes. Llanez and Kelman just arrived to their new respective teams this fall, and may still be adjusting. Both regualrly feature on the bench but have been rarely selected as substitutes so far. Might be harsh to put Hoppe here since Schalke play in the Bundesliga, but you would understand if you saw Schalke play at all this year. It’s not pretty. Amon just recovered from 13 months of injury and will likely jump into the “Good in a Not-So-Good League” tier if his regular minutes resume by the spring. With the rise of other wingers in the pool (Gio Reyna, et al.), Tyler Boyd probably isn’t relevant to the USMNT anymore.

Good in a Not-So-Good League (Scandinavian Leagues, Poland, Switzerland, and Scotland)

  • Haji Wright, 22 (Sonderjyske; 12 apps, 690 Danish Superliga mins)
  • Emmanuel Sabbi, 22 (Odense; 13 apps, 956 Danish Superliga mins)
  • Jordan Siebatcheu, 24 (Young Boys; 17 apps, 71 Europa League mins, 434 Swiss Super League mins)
  • Aron Johansson, 30 (Hammarby; 22 apps, 1343 Allsvenskan mins)
  • Christian Cappis, 21 (Hobro; 10 apps, 869 Norway’s 2nd Division mins)
  • Mix Diskerud, 30 (Helsingborg; 28 apps, 2428 Allsvenskan mins)
  • Romain Gall, 25 (Orebro/Stabaek; 18 apps, 585 Allsvenskan mins, 373 Eliseserien mins)
  • Henry Wingo, 25 (Molde, 25 apps; 366 Europa League mins, 1213 Eliteserien mins)
  • Ian Harkes, 25 (Dundee United; 17 apps, 1411 SPL mins)
  • Kenny Saief, 27 (Lechia Gdnask; 11 apps, 826 Ekstrklasa mins)

This section kind of speaks for itself. These guys may look good on paper but you have to consider the context. The Scandinavian leagues, Polish League, Swiss League, and the Scottish Premiere League (outside of Celtic and Rangers) are arguably worse than MLS. Sabbi’s Goals + Assists per 90 is .47, Johansson’s is .80, and Wright’s is .91. My shorthand for those numbers is around .50 is “good for their league” and closer to 1.00 is “they should play in a better league”. I would love to see Wright get a chance to be on the U-23 Olympic roster next year. Harkes, Saief, Gall, Wingo, and Diskerud couldn’t cut it in MLS and that’s why their leagues make this list. Diskerud is 30 now? Woof.

2nd Division Heroes (2nd Divisions of France, England, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, and Germany)

  • Sebastien Soto, 20 (Telstar; 10 apps, 542 Eerste Divisie mins)
  • Nicolas Gioachinni, 20 (Caen; 15 apps, 1135 Ligue 2 mins)
  • Julian Green, 25 (Greuther Furth; 15 apps, 931 2.Bundesliga mins, 178 DFB Pokal mins)
  • Andrija Novakovich, 24 (Frosinone; 12 apps, 660 Serie B mins, 36 Copa Italia mins)
  • Duane Holmes, 26 (Derby County; 15 apps, 600 EFL Championship mins, 55 EFL Cup mins)
  • Matt Olosunde, 22 (Rotherham; 11 apps, 614 EFL Championship mins)
  • Shaq Moore, 24 (Tenerife; 19 apps, 1648 Segunda Division mins)

These guys are all playing about as well as they can given that they play for a second division team. All of the young guys here should continue to prove themselves for the rest of the season and hope for a transfer upwards in the future. Notably Soto has been lighting up the Dutch 2nd division with 6g about 540 mins. Novakovich also has 5g +2a in under 700 mins. Green is arguably the best player on the best team in the 2. Bundesliga right now. If they get promoted I would love to see how Green plays against Bundesliga competition. Holmes had a small injury limiting him this fall.

Declining Veterans (Used to regularly play in Top 5 Leagues at some point)

  • Tim Ream, 33 (Fulham; 6 app, 450 EPL mins, 90 EFL Cup mins)
  • DeAndre Yedlin, 27 (Newcastle; 6 apps, 185 EPL mins, 270 EFL Cup mins)
  • Geoff Cameron, 35 (Queens Park Rangers; 18 apps, 1560 EFL Championship mins)
  • Timmy Chandler, 30 (Frankfurt; 5 apps, 55 Bundesliga mins, 19 DFB Pokal mins)
  • Eric Lichaj, 32 (Faith Karagumruk; 10 apps, 736 Turkish Super Lig mins)
  • Alfredo Morales, 30 (Dusseldorf; 8 apps, 382 2.Bundesliga mins, 110 DFB Pokal mins)
  • Bobby Wood, 28 (Hamburg; 10 apps, 96 2.Bundesliga mins, 13 DFB Pokal mins)

In some ways I think this is the most controversial section, especially putting it in the bottom half. Suffice it to say that if any of these guys want to stay in the USMNT picture, they need to find a new club where they can earn playing time. In my personal opinion all of Ream, Morales and Wood should consider a move to MLS. Lichaj just got to Turkey this fall, otherwise he would also be an MLS candidate. Yedlin and Chandler could probably move elsewhere in Europe and still get starting minutes but it will likely be a step down, perhaps similar to what Cameron is doing in the English second division. And to be clear Cameron is not in the USMNT picture these days, nor should he be. *Late edit*: Yedlin started the last two games for Newcastle, and he is on the young side of this group. Perhaps I was too hasty placing him here. I hope he proves me wrong and continues this run of form!

Thanks for reading! Come back for Part 2 later this week. Have any questions or qualms with how I organized this? Then leave a comment below or yell at me on Twitter, @Beardedjack

English Premier League Team of the Year

The Professional Football Association (PFA) announced its Top XI on Thursday and it leaves me scratching my head. I decided I needed to break down the flaws in their Team of the Year and create my own.

Jamie Vardy
Vardy (above) and Mahrez have Leicester on the cusp of an unlikely title.

Well first let’s start with what they got right. And most of it was right. Harry Kane lead the league in scoring so he is a no-brainer. Jamie Vardy has played out of his mind as well, scoring 22 goals and adding six assists. His running mate Riyad Mahrez has been a stud as well, finishing fifth in goals and tied third in assists. Deli Alli’s number are impressive with 10 goals and nine assists.

David De Gea is the best keeper in the Premier League as United has allowed the second fewest goals in the EPL this season. De Gea only allowed 28 of them too. With Tottenham being the only team to allow fewer goals, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld are hard to argue with. Hector Bellerin has played deserving football as well to make this team. I can’t even argue with Wes Hoolahan, who has started and finished every game for Leicester this season. I could argue that Jose Fonte or Chris Smalling should have been included over him, but we will let that go.

Sergio Aguero
Aguero is tied with Vardy for the second most goals in the league.

That leaves only a few that I would leave off, but they really bother me. First, I am not a huge fan of Payet’s inclusion. He failed to register double digit goals or assists this season. That might be nitpicking, but everyone else in midfield or attack on this list, except Kante, has hit double digits in at least one of those two categories. In 27 games, he registered 18 points, which is very respectable, but with some of the other options out there, I would have changed the formation. I think I would’ve picked a third striker in place of Payet in the form of Sergio Aguero. He played the same number of games this season, often through some sort of injury and registered 24 points compared to Payet’s 18. That kind of performance is deserving of the designation Top XI.

Mesut Ozil
Ozil has been the engine behind Arsenal’s attack.

The other issue I have is N’Golo Kante. That’s not to say that he isn’t a great player and hasn’t had a great season. And yes, I know he lacks the counting stats because he is a defensive-minded player, but when you have someone like Mesut Ozil lead the league in assists, by a sizable margin as well with 18 compared to Christian Eriksen’s 12, you cannot leave him off of the team of the year. He also knocked in six goals of his own. Ozil is on the shortlist for player of the year, so it is mind boggling that he could be left off of the team of the year.

If you want to argue with me that I cannot replace Payet with a striker then fine, but I would leave Kante on before I left Payet. His play defensively I think outweighs that of Payet offensively. Payet is making this mainly as an offensive playmaker, a role which Ozil has surpassed him in this season. I might even argue that Eriksen was more deserving of the spot than Payet was.

The PFA did alright on the whole, but some of the snubs make it a very questionable lineup. Adding Ozil probably would’ve saved them from me writing this. I still can’t figure out how the guy who is on the shortlist for player of the year gets left off the team of the year. Oh well. Now we all just get to sit back and watch if Leicester can hold onto the title.

Premier League Wishlist: Part 2

Continuing from where we left off, this is what is topping each Premier team’s wishlist as they head into the January transfer window. To see Part 1, click here.

Newcastle UnitedNewcastle United: Left Back
If you want to maintain that you belong in the Premier League, then Paul Dummett cannot be your best option at left back. Massiado Haidara has mixed in with him as well but neither one is ready to be a starting full back in England. The Magpies have allowed the second most goals in the Premier League this season. Some of that can be attributed to the rash of injuries at keeper but the poor play at left back definitely does not help.

Nathaniel RedmondNorwich City: Striker
In their return to the Premier League, Norwich has held their own, but if they plan to stay here they are going to need some attacking help. Youngster Nathaniel Redmond leads the team in scoring at the moment with only four goals. Cameron Jermone is the leading scoring forward with just three. Norwich needs to spend a little bit to bring in a quality goal scorer. In 11 out of 17 matches, Norwich has been held to one or fewer goals. That cannot continue if they want to start thinking about year 2 in the top division.

Morgan SchneiderlinSouthampton: Creative/Controlling Midfielder
To say that Southampton are reeling is a bit of understatement. This team finished just outside of a Euro League spot last year but find themselves in the bottom half this season with a lot of question marks. The departure of both Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin over the summer has left this team starved of creativity and reliability. Infusing a player that can control the pace and create chances will give Southampton the boost they need back into the top half.


Bojan KrkicStoke City: Attacking Midfielder
Go ahead. Try to score against Stoke. It has been nearly impossible to net one against Mark Hughes side this year. That is a credit to the backline and the play of the rising star in Jack Butland Stoke have in between the pipes. Despite that, Stoke are midtable with the worst offense in the league. Scoring only 14 goals in 17 matches is a recipe for disaster. The lack of scoring options on the team is astounding. Stoke only have four players to score for them this season, and they are all strikers. Hughes needs to have someone from the midfield who can pose a threat as a goal scorer to push this team higher up the table.

Billy JonesSunderland: Defender (Any Position)
Sunderland are in danger of relegation. They sit just five points behind Newcastle and Norwich, who are just above the relegation zone, but the Black Cats are going to need some major defensive overhaul to stay up this year. Sunderland has allowed the most goals by any Premier League side this season, almost two per game. John O’Shea is on his last leg and Billy Jones commits a lot of fouls. This team needs to find some new blood to reinvigorate one of the worst backlines in European top division football.

Bafetimbi_GomisSwansea City: Striker
To say Swansea need some more scoring options is an understatement. Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis have accounted for 11 of Swansea’s 15 Premier League goals this season. As a result, Garry Monk is gone and Swansea is in free fall. Finding a reliable goal scoring option to supplement Ayew and Gomis would stop the bleeding and put Swansea back on track for staying in the Premier League.

TottenhamTottenham: Controlling Midfielder
Spurs reach the halfway point in a Champions League spot with a healthy goal difference. Spurs have only lost twice the whole season but have drawn a league high eight times. If Tottenham want to make a push for the top then they are going to need to control the game a bit more to avoid giving up late goals. They have a tendency of blowing late leads. Finding a midfielder who can hold possession and run with the ball late in games could prove to be the difference maker between Tottenham being good and great.

Troy DeeneyWatford: Keep Deeney and Igahlo
You might even be able to add Etienne Capoue and Nathan Ake to that list. They have been the core that has led Watford to a Europa League spot in their first season back in the top division. To say Watford has been impressive is an understatement. Deeney and Igahlo have been at the center of that. Deeney has scored five goals while setting up four goals. Igahlo has scored a whopping 12 goals and even chipped in two assists. Watford could easily finish in the top half if they can keep their key pieces in place.

Saido BerahinoWest Brom: Goal-scoring option
I doubt they will care where the goals come from but West Brom needs to score more. So far this year, they are averaging a goal per match and the teams leading scorers only have three goals to their names. Saido Berahino hasn’t helped the situation much with his refusal to play at times, especially when you consider that he is one of those players for West Brom to have scored three goals even though he only has eight starts to his name.

Enner ValenciaWest Ham United: Sell Enner Valencia
He played a lot last season but this year, Valencia has failed to work his way into the first team. He has been subbed on four times this season and has failed to make any sort of impact after joining the fray. He notably said that the club had forgotten about him. It is pretty clear that he is not fitting in and he has only scored four goals in his now year and half with the club. If West Ham could find a taker in the vicinity of the £12 million they paid for him last summer, the Hammers could look to improve the midfield and invest in a young defender or two to ensure future success.