F365’s pretty poor team of the season…

Sarah Winterburn

It’s time for another Team of the Year: The Pretty Poor XI. These are players who had a particularly difficult time this season. And we’re not talking Paul Pogba, who may not have been the greatest player north of Madrid but overall played well – well enough to be in our top ten central midfielders list, actually. These are players that for some reason either didn’t do the job, or performed substantially below reasonable expectation. There are three criteria for eligibility:

1) Players have to have played at least half their team’s minutes;

2) Injuries cannot have played a significant part in their season;

3) They have to have begun the season between the ages of 23 and 30, so that youth/age was less of a factor.

Incidentally, this list was drawn up before last weekend, so it’s a laugh that no less than three of the players scored goals on Saturday. Too little, too late, people. It’s a 3-1-4-2:


Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)
The astonishing physical specimen that is Fraser Forster will someday be stuffed and mounted – but Southampton fans will tell you it’s already happened. Watching him try to save low shots the last couple of years has been pretty painful. He began the season as the number one, as always, but lost his spot to Alex McCarthy during the holidays, and hasn’t played a minute in the league since. Were those England caps an illusion?


Centre-half: Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)
I’ve never been a Mustafi fan, but his performance this year was quite the shock. So many mistakes, so many lapses in concentration. The nadir was reached recently when in back-to-back league games he was beaten by the simplest of near-post runs by Shane Long and Ayoze Perez, neither among the top strikers in the league. As has been pointed out, his style tends to produce highs and lows, but in his first year at Arsenal he kept the lows under moderate control. This year, not so much.


Centre-half: Steve Cook (Bournemouth)
Gave us the rare sight of a good defender, in the prime of his career, simply forgetting how to play the position. A couple of years ago he revealed he was a bit uncomfortable as the right-sided central defender in a back four, but he was certainly fine playing alongside Nathan Aké last year. This fall, though, he just wasn’t fit for purpose. To his credit he played his way back into passable form, and has stayed first choice along with Aké, but even so he’s well short of the force he was last year. Saturday’s misplay which led to Southampton’s winning goal was emblematic of his season. Love watching him block shots, though.


Centre-half: Michael Keane (Everton)
Left the Burnley system, and was found wanting. Mobility and judgement weren’t good enough in a less structured approach. He’s stabilised somewhat under Allardyce, but still doesn’t look like the defender Everton thought they were getting. Watching him play alongside Phil Jagielka, who’s about 107, makes you realise he won’t be an upgrade, at least not yet.


Deep Midfielder: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
With the general decline in Chelsea’s play, and the rather more spectacular failure of Tiemoué Bakayoko (who was five days too young to make this list), Fabregas’ poor season has slid under the radar. Assists are by some distance an all-time low, pass completion percentage is the worst ever as well, and Saturday’s strike against Swansea still leaves him one short of his lowest goal total. He’s just dropped a couple of notches. Having started so young – he played his first full season for Arsenal at the age of 17 – maybe he’s run out of legs. The oldest player on this squad, and to be honest I upped the age limit from 29 to 30 because he was the only real choice in this position.


Winger: Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion)
One of the Baggies’ most effective performers last year, one of the least effective this. This might be cheating a bit, because he had hamstring problems early in the season, but he still had most of the year to make his mark. He’s dropped from four goals and eight assists to two goals and two assists, and numbers aside never looked the same player. Still, he has pace and can dribble, and against Newcastle last weekend he showed he can still be very useful at this level. Hopefully his head will be in the right place after relegation, and he’ll flourish in the Championship.


Winger: Nathan Redmond (Southampton)
I’ve always rated him, which means I’m looking pretty foolish these days. The general slump at St. Mary’s can’t have helped much, but he never really got going this season. Two years ago with Norwich City he scored six goals, last year with Southampton seven, this year none. He’s always been an underrated passer – he still leads the team in chances created/90 this season – but his pass completion percentage has gone from 82.7% to 77.4%, a considerable drop, and the last of his three assists was in December. He’s only 24, so he has plenty of time to fulfill his potential, but he may need a change of scenery.


Attacking Midfielder: Tom Ince (Huddersfield Town)
I wrote about Ince a few weeks ago in a piece on Huddersfield’s winning goal against Watford. He’s a trier, aggressive in attack and on the press, reasonably skilled with the ball at his feet. But the numbers this year don’t lie. Sixty-seven shots, two goals. He hasn’t added much to the attack elsewhere, either: zero assists, and he ranks eighth in key passes/90 in the squad. It just hasn’t been his year.


Attacking Midfielder: Tom Carroll (Swansea City)
It might seem unfair to include a player who leads his club in assists (he has four, two of which were neat passes from open play), and when he’s in form he can look like a decent playmaker, but on the whole he just hasn’t added enough to the attack. Defence was never his strong point, and when he has the ball he needs to be much more incisive. Conservative tactics under Clement and Carvalhal may have reinforced his natural, slightly passive instincts. If someone gets a hold of him and tells him to risk a bit more, I think he can succeed in the top flight.


Striker: Joselu (Newcastle United)
Began the season as the primary striker, but never got firing, and by the new year had lost his spot. Plenty of movement, hard work and aerial prowess, but not enough end product. Some of it may have been confidence in front of goal, because early in the season he got into good shooting positions often enough. Still, you have to finish, and four goals from 44 shots is a meagre return. When on the weekend he missed a very big chance to equalise against West Brom, a lot of Newcastle fans must have just nodded. Hasn’t yet shown he belongs at this level.


Striker: Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
Captain of this particular squad. Strikers can be streaky, but Benteke had always been one of the most consistent. If you can remember another striker whose form has dropped so precipitously for an entire season, please mention him in the comments. At times he’s played well as a target man, winning headers and offering decent hold-up play, but even that’s been spotty. With Premier League survival at stake, he was on the bench. The penalty kick against Leicester was a nice moment, and he handled it very well – but strikers don’t want to be reduced to sympathy penalties. One has to believe he’ll bounce back soon enough.


Peter Goldstein

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