We’ve hit the halfway point of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season. It’s been one of the most wild and unpredictable seasons to date and there’s no better time than now to look back at which players have shined brightest. In a season of unpredictability, it’s only natural for the BPL’s best XI to have plenty of surprises.
GK: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Jack Butland has had a hell of a season and I was very tempted to give him a place in the team, but at the end of the day, de Gea has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League so far.
There are two reasons that Manchester United sit sixth in the table. The first is that they can’t score, and the second is because when they don’t score, David de Gea doesn’t let them lose. United have drawn four league games by a 0-0 scoreline already this season and in each of those games de Gea has saved them from losing with some tremendous saves. The thing about de Gea though, is he’s making those wonder saves look routine.
LB: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City)
For all the problems Manchester City has defending when Vincent Kompany is out injured, Kolarov is not one of them. The left back has been City’s lone bright spot on their back line when their captain is missing and you can hardly fault him for City’s deficiencies up the middle.
Kolarov also has a rocket of a left foot, something City have utilized on set pieces, and has provided them with two goals. His ability to push up the field and join the attack is an important part of an already dangerous Manchester City attack.
CB: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)
It’s not a coincidence that since the Belgian defender left Southampton to join Tottenham, the Saints’ defense has struggled while Tottenham has become one of the best defensive teams in the league. It’s not uncommon for center backs to take time to settle in at new clubs, even the great Nemanja Vidic took half a season to get comfortable at Old Trafford, but Alderweireld has stepped right in and been great from day one.
At just 26 years old, he’s formed a great partnership with Belgian teammate Jan Vertonghen (though it should be noted that neither of them play in the center of defense for the national team) and has become a major goal threat on set pieces.
CB: Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
For all the possession Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United enjoy, their defense sure comes under siege pretty often. Last season United’s defense was about as leaky as they come, and without signing a top-class center back in the summer, many people expected the same thing this year.
But this season, United boast one of the best defenses in the Premier League and that is thanks to Smalling’s emergence as the top defender United fans were looking for. At this point all of the Premier League’s top strikers have gotten their chance against United, with Leicester’s Jamie Vardy being the only one to break free from Smalling for long enough to score against the Red Devils.
RB: Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)
Going into the season we knew Arsenal’s 20-year-old right back’s speed would be great going forward and joining the attack. What we didn’t realize was how great Bellerin would be in his own end of the field.
At the halfway point of the year, Bellerin is not only among the top players in Europe in terms of attacking chances created, but he’s also sitting among the top of defenders in chances defended. Bellerin will only continue to get better, something Arsenal fans will enjoy watching for years to come.
RM: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
The right wing spot is a no brainer as Mahrez is currently having a Player-of-the-Year-caliber season. Mahrez always had the ability to be a star, he just lacked consistency. This year he’s found that consistency and is excelling week in and week out.
His 13 goals are more than anyone else in the league except for teammate Jamie Vardy and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, making it no wonder why teams like Manchester United and Chelsea are willing to shell out massive amounts of cash to try to sign him.
CM: Dele Alli (Tottenham)
When the 19-year-old Alli arrived at White Hart Lane last summer the plan was to ease him into the Premier League at a cautious pace. Apparently Alli wasn’t a fan of this plan and decided to take matters into his own hands by forcing himself into the Spurs’ first team every week.
Alli is versatile, as he can sit back and protect the back four or he can be pushed further forward to be one of the creative pieces on the attack. Either way, Alli has already shown a tremendous ability to make deadly runs into the box, adding another element to Tottenham’s now dangerous attack. Did I mention that he doesn’t turn 20 until April?
CM: Ross Barkley (Everton)
What great news for England when perhaps the two best central midfielders in the Premier League are both English players under the age of 23. We knew Barkley would be a future star when he first made his Premier League debut in 2011 and this year he is putting everything together to become a complete player.
At the halfway point of the season Barkley has already equaled his career high in goals with six, but his true greatness has come from his ability to create goals for his teammates. His seven assists in the first half of the season is just one fewer then he had in his first four years combined.
While Barkley loves playing forward in that attacking role, he can always play deeper in the more traditional No. 8 role, making him and Alli perfect partners who could be a lot of fun to watch for England for years to come.
LM: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Ozil isn’t a true winger, but with the way this team is set up someone had to be cast out wide. But it’s Ozil’s ability to play on the wing that sends him here and certainly not his performance on the field.
While everyone has been fawning over Leicester City and Riyad Mahrez this season, Mesut Ozil has been putting together one of the best seasons the Premier League has ever seen. To put things into perspective of just how good Ozil has been this year, the Premier League record for assists in a season is 20. At the halfway point this year, Ozil has 16.
ST: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
No surprise that the story of the season so far has been Jamie Vardy. In 2012, Vardy was playing non-league football. In 2015, Vardy now owns the Premier League record for consecutive games with a goal scored when he scored in 11 straight.
Not only has Vardy been the feel-good story of the year, but he’s also been the best striker so far this season. Vardy’s 15 goals is tied for the most in the league, easily earning him a spot on this team.
ST: Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
After a disappointing year with Everton last year, the Belgian striker is back to being the dominant player we expected him to become. Lukaku got off to a slow start this season making some wonder if Everton would wind up regretting spending so much money off him.
However once November came, Lukaku completely turned things around, scoring 10 of his joint-best 15 goals over the last two months of the season. He even gave Vardy’s weeks old consecutive games with a goal record a slight scare when he scored in seven straight games himself. At this point in the season, there may not be a more in-form striker than Lukaku.