Eye On EPL

Eye On EPL: The best XI of a revelatory season

The curtains will be drawn on the English Premier League (EPL) season this weekend. The campaign has been one of tactical revelation, the revival of faded players and a midfielder who has a limitless supply of energy. This week, I reveal my pick for the EPL's best XI this term:

MANAGER: ANTONIO CONTE (CHELSEA)

Forget 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. Conte brought back the 3-4-2-1, believed in it and his gamble paid off.

The Italian's system is not easy to pull off. It is attack-oriented but will make you vulnerable at the back to counter-attacks.

But Conte's flank players work tirelessly, running up and down the wings. On paper, Chelsea play a back three but in reality, they are so mobile that they can pack the defence with five when needed.

GOALKEEPER: THIBAUT COURTOIS (CHELSEA)

Still only 25, the Belgian has 16 clean sheets in 35 league games this season and he is a major reason behind the title win. Tall, strong and commanding, he is hard to beat. The downside for Chelsea now is that the big clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona will surely covet his services now.


Thibaut Courtois. PHOTO: REUTERS

CENTRE-BACK: DAVID LUIZ (CHELSEA)


David Luiz. PHOTO: REUTERS

Luiz was regarded as tainted goods after his role in Brazil's 7-1 World Cup 2014 defeat by Germany but he bounced back at Chelsea with some fantastic performances.

He plays like a midfielder. He is comfortable on the ball and many of the Blues' attacks are initiated by him.


CENTRE-BACK: GARY CAHILL (CHELSEA)


Gary Cahill. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Englishman is a classic stopper - powerful, aerially dominant and he has bite in the tackle.

Cahill combines extremely well with Luiz. It is a partnership that showcases the best of both and the two players cover so well for each other.

CENTRE-BACK: TOBY ALDERWEIRELD (TOTTENHAM)


Toby Alderweireld. PHOTO: REUTERS

Spurs have the EPL's best defensive record this season (24 goals conceded) and Alderweireld has been vital to this, with his positioning and physical strength.

But Mauricio Pochettino now has to work doubly hard to keep the Belgian around as Manchester City are said to be interested in the player.

 

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD: N'GOLO KANTE (CHELSEA)


N'Golo Kante. PHOTO: AFP

Quite simply, the ultimate team player. Kante has now won two titles in a row after also winning last season with Leicester.

The Frenchman deserves all the praise that comes his way and he is so good that he can be a one-man show in defensive midfield. And unlike many defensive midfielders, Kante has the skills to play a bit too.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: EDEN HAZARD (CHELSEA)


Eden Hazard. PHOTO: REUTERS

He was written off after a poor campaign last year but the Belgian bounced back with 15 league goals to re-establish himself as one of the best in the EPL.

Chelsea play a very efficient brand of football and it is Hazard who provides the magical spark.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: PHILIPPE COUTINHO (LIVERPOOL)


Philippe Coutinho. PHOTO: REUTERS

Coutinho might have missed chunks of the season through injury but he makes a big difference for the Reds. From killer through-balls to deadly set pieces to long-range piledrivers, Coutinho can do it all. And he chipped in with 12 goals and seven assists as well.

RIGHT MIDFIELD: SADIO MANE (LIVERPOOL)


Sadio Mane. PHOTO: REUTERS

While I would like to include wing-backs Victor Moses or Marcos Alonso, the best XI of the season should have more attacking flair to thrill the fans.

For that reason, Mane has to be included. Fast and strong, the Senegalese is ideally suited to the physical EPL and his 13 goals, usually scored when he cuts in from the flank, proved his importance to Liverpool.

When he was away on international duty or out injured, he was sorely missed.

LEFT MIDFIELD: DELE ALLI (TOTTENHAM)


Dele Alli. PHOTO: REUTERS

This is the season that Alli used to consolidate himself as the face of English football. He is worthy of taking over the mantle once held by players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes.

The Spurs man has a clean image off the field, and you can expect no trouble from him, unlike many young players with huge salaries. His output of 17 goals is seven more than last season.

FORWARD: DIEGO COSTA (CHELSEA)


Diego Costa. PHOTO: REUTERS

It is likely that Costa will leave Chelsea in search of a lucrative contract in China but what an impact he has made in England.

His record of 52 goals in 87 league games makes him one of the deadliest marksmen in recent years. While it is not pretty to watch as Costa can terrorise defenders with his sneaky fouls, his ability to find the net can never be doubted.

FORWARD: ROMELU LUKAKU (EVERTON)


Romelu Lukaku. PHOTO: REUTERS

If Chelsea do need to replace Costa, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement, especially as he leads the EPL scoring chart with 24 goals this season.

Lukaku already has all the physical attributes of a top centre-forward but this campaign, we saw how he has matured into a quality finisher.

Former national striker Aleksandar Duric has named his best first XI for this season's EPL. What would be your top XI picks based on Antonio Conte's 3-4-2-1 formation? Tell us what you think in the link below. Responses may be used in The Straits Times print and online editions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'The best XI of a revelatory season'. Print Edition | Subscribe