Soccer

Jack: The best Premier League XI after 11 weeks

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Kristian Jack
11/11/2013 3:32:42 PM
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The Premier League season is closing in on the one-third mark and through the opening three months, we have certainly witnessed some outstanding performances.

Last week, I listed my top ten disappointments of the season so far, so on the 11th day of the 11th month after 11 rounds in the Premier League, here is my Premier League best 11 so far.

1. David De Gea (Man Utd) - The Spaniard has, without question, been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season. Controversially named as the league's best goalkeeper last season, despite magnificent campaigns by the likes of Simon Mignolet and Asmir Begovic on inferior teams, the United number one has elevated himself to the league's number one thanks to a number of vital performances when his team needed him the most. It would not surprise anyone to see United go on a run of dominant form in the next few weeks, where they will rely little on De Gea, but when they struggled at the beginning of the season, the 23-year-old was fantastic and his save at Sunderland on Emanuele Giaccherini, while down 1-0, could well be the point many can look to as the turning point for United's season.

2. Bacary Sagna (Arsenal) - There was once a time Bacary Sagna was the league's best right back. It is no coincidence that this was a time when Arsenal were a major force challenging for the title. The departures of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin van Persie saw a drop in form for club and Sagna, once seen as a legitimate world class talent destined to join the aforementioned group moving on to a team likely to win more trophies. Sagna's dip in form the last two seasons halted his departure and Arsenal are now benefiting. The Frenchman has been a terrific defender this season and, with many technical in-form players ahead of him, he is noticeably more confident in an attacking role down the right flank where he has produced some wonderful crosses this season.

3. Leighton Baines (Everton) - New manager; same old Baines. Roberto Martinez's move to Merseyside has been seemless for many of the Everton players, left back Baines included. The Spaniard's style requires his defenders to be comfortable on the ball while joining the attack, something the Englishman did last season under David Moyes. This year, he has reached a new level, playing even higher up the pitch, and contributing with goals, including two fantastic free kicks to win the game at West Ham. A lot of what Baines does well on is down to a partnership he creates with the left midfielder and although Steven Pienaar hasn't been at his best this season, the left back certainly has.

4. Sylvain Distin (Everton) - One of the league's most underrated players continues to shine. Alongside Phil Jagielka, also a candidate for this team, Distin hasn't lost a step inside a new look offence under Martinez, treasuring the ball and welcoming a new role where he often starts attacks by receiving the ball from goalkeeper Tim Howard. At the Tottenham match recently, Distin fell awkwardly and looked badly injured. Goodison Park waited in silence and thoughts of an Everton team without Distin were not ones they wanted to entertain. Thankfully, the Frenchman recovered and has played every minute of the season so far, as have the entire back five of Everton, helping the club achieve six clean sheets from their 11 games so far.

5. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) - Arguably the best defender in the Premier League has shown his versatility this season. Despite standout performances at centre-back for the first seven matches of the season, the tall Belgian has been moved to left back in the last four games and has been even more effective for manager Andre Villas-Boas. The former Ajax man loves the ball at his feet, in either position, and has been a shining light in a troubled team attack so far. At centre back, alongside Michael Dawson, the pair often take the ball past halfway before switching play with an accurate cross-field ball, while at left-back, he is capable of driving forward and, unlike most of his teammates, has so far been able to connect well with star striker Roberto Soldado.

6. Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton) - Another candidate for one of the most underrated players in the league, Schneiderlin is finally getting the attention he deserves, thanks to the fantastic season his team have had so far. When watching the central midfielder, it is difficult to imagine that three years ago, he was playing in League One, the third tier of English football. Schneiderlin, who turned 24 this week, led the Premier League last season in interceptions and tackles combined and is in the top 10 in that category again this season. Alongside the slightly more inconsistent Victor Wanyama centrally, Southampton's midfield has helped protect the Saints back four brilliantly, helping the likes of Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte to impressive seasons so far.

7. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) - With Gareth Bale in Spain, there is a new Welsh Wizard in town. 'Rambo' has been the talk of the Premier League so far and is the early leader for the Player of the Year award, handed out in April. Ramsey's six goals in 11 league games have certainly put him amongst the headlines but it has been his overall game in midfield that has been the most impressive. Already asked to play in central midfield as a member of a two, or out wide in a fluid, interchanging attacking three, the Welshman has excelled at either position, showing great confidence in his passing on the ball, and tackling ability and space awareness without the ball. Ramsey is far more than an individual, however and his impressive form has helped his team overcome significant milestones as they try to mature into a title contender. Ramsey's goals have helped Arsenal win games they haven't played that well in, his football intelligence has helped Mesut Ozil settle in London immediately and his form has crucially taken the radar off Jack Wilshere, a player too many want to see too much from too soon.

8. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) - The Reds' skipper gets the nod of other worthy candidates, such as Yaya Toure and Oscar, for his ability to take his team over hurdles they have struggled to overcome in the past. The England captain has played a disciplined role alongside the excellent Lucas Leiva at the heart of Liverpool's midfield, allowing the sharp shooters in front of him to get the glory. Gerrard, however, does not sit deeper all of the time, picking his moments to penetrate into the final third where his passing ability, particularly from set pieces, has created many scoring chances that the likes of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have feasted on. This has helped Liverpool destroy inferior opposition at Anfield, something they struggled with under previous managers Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson.

9. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) - The Arsenal striker gets the nod as my front man over the likes of Loic Remy and 'the SAS' Anfield strike partnership, thanks to his overall game. Giroud will likely not score as many goals as Sturridge, and certainly not as many as Suarez, but for all 11 league games this season, he has been at the top of his game for the Gunners. Giroud is more than just a predator in the six-yard box, he links up brilliantly with teammates, finds space well and makes some outstanding runs off the ball to help finish off goal-scoring opportunities, such as the pivotal goal he scored against Tottenham. Giroud has received 404 passes per game through 11 matches, including a remarkable 47 at Old Trafford on Sunday. By comparison, Tottenham's starting striker in 11 games (Soldado 10, Jermain Defoe 1) has received just 239 passes, despite playing three more minutes. We should not be judging Giroud simply by the amount of goals he scores but those he did score certainly played a massive part in building Arsenal's confidence after their opening day loss to Aston Villa.

10. Sergio Aguero (Man City) -  This is what City fans have been waiting for. There is no disputing Aguero's talent, he does, after all, belong on a list of the game's top 10 best players but the Argentine has struggled at City to find a long run of games where he has performed at an elite level. Until now. Aguero is, for me, the biggest threat to Ramsey's early run at the Player of the Year award. Explosive in attack, a brilliant finisher, who can play in a front two, or up top on his own, like against Chelsea, the 25-year-old gives City something none of the other top teams have. A true creator, who instantly makes others around him better, but who can be placed amongst a list of Suarez, van Persie and others as one of the true elite finishers in the game. In a crucial year heading into the World Cup, look for Aguero to carry City through a hectic winter schedule and help them climb to a spot where they believe they belong.

11. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) - Gunners fans must still be pinching themselves. Frustrated at the lack of activity in the transfer market for years, they now finally have one of the best players to ever arrive in England. His time as an Arsenal player began at Sunderland in September. The game was not shown live on television in England but those lucky enough to watch it in its entirety will have marvelled at Ozil, who produced one of the finest debut performances the Premier League has seen. He didn't score but he did everything else, including a breathtaking run into space, a supreme touch of the ball to bring it down and a cross for Giroud for the opening goal. It was so typical of Ozil, who finds space quicker than anyone, using his brilliant pace and mind to outthink opponents. Move over David Silva, you have company as the league's true space invader.

Aaron Ramsey Mesut Ozil (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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