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The reserves: Picking next-best in each position of the Team of the Year

The PFA Premier League Team of the Year was released on Wednesday and, for once, the lineup offered little to debate.

(Photo courtesy: @PFA)

So, with few convincing arguments for straight-out swaps in this season’s XI, theScore suggests a reserve team with the next-best player in each position.

GK – Ederson

A clear second choice behind David De Gea is Manchester City’s Ederson, who slotted seamlessly into Pep Guardiola’s team. The Brazilian is often the base of his side’s attacks, starting with something as innocuous-looking as a well-weighted pass to Fernandinho, or as plainly devastating as a hastily dispatched goal kick over the heads of the opposition’s defence. He’s a convincing case for signing of the season.

RB – Antonio Valencia

Jose Mourinho using natural wingers as his full-backs has been cited as an obvious example of his conservative approach, but Valencia looks a natural on the right-hand side of a back-four. His strength is an asset, and his attacking instincts make him a nuisance when overlapping his winger. The Ecuadorian turns 33 in August, so may soon share time with Timothy Fosu-Mensah or a new recruit at Old Trafford.

CB – James Tarkowski

Beating fellow English defenders Jamaal Lascelles and Harry Maguire into the lineup is Tarkowski, who effortlessly stepped into the void left by Michael Keane’s departure to Everton. Burnley has the third-best defence in the Premier League, and only Brighton & Hove Albion duo Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, teammate Ben Mee, and Bournemouth’s Steve Cook have blocked more shots than Tarkowski this campaign.

CB – Davinson Sanchez

Sanchez arrived at Tottenham Hotspur as an extremely raw prospect who had played just one year at Ajax following a move from Colombia’s Atletico Nacional the previous summer. He’s just 21, but ensured that Toby Alderweireld wasn’t missed during his long-term absence with some mature defending and fine distribution. Despite the odd mistake, Sanchez has firmly established himself as one Europe’s most promising defenders.

LB – Andrew Robertson

If Robertson played more in the first half of the campaign, he would’ve been a serious contender to usurp Marcos Alonso in the final Team of the Year. He has a wicked left foot, and his Jurgen Klopp-pleasing engine sees him pressing players well away from his allotted position. He could be a leading Premier League left-back for years to come.

MF – Fernandinho

Fernandinho’s tactical intelligence saw him occasionally slot in at full-back during Guardiola’s first season in charge, but this season he’s been the team’s nucleus. He demonstrates exemplary decision-making, slotting into positions when they are vacated by colleagues and striking probing passes from deep when space briefly opens up. He beats heavy competition – including Nemanja Matic, Wilfred Ndidi, and Luka Milivojevic – into the XI.

MF – Abdoulaye Doucoure

Doucoure was a former France Under-17 teammate of Paul Pogba, but serious knee injuries threatened his great promise. Finally, at the age of 25, he is realising his potential with Watford, showing a studied positional sense of the game, an eye for a pass, and the ability to lose an opponent with just a few long strides.

MF – Jonjo Shelvey

Shelvey can be an incredibly frustrating player, but when he’s in the mood he’s absolute class. His recent appearances for Newcastle United have earned him consideration for an England call-up, according to The Times’ Matt Hughes, and it would be a pretty good plan B to have Jamie Vardy latching onto Shelvey’s diagonal deliveries. The 26-year-old edges Aaron Ramsey and Pascal Gross into this team, but will still be a source of irritation until he becomes more consistent.

FW – Raheem Sterling

Some fine-tuning from Guardiola has turned Sterling into one of the most feared wingers in the league. He’s scored more goals this season (22) than he did in the previous two terms combined. When he fully loses his habit of fluffing gilt-edged chances, “he will be one of the best players in the world because he has everything. He is young and he is able to do it,” Guardiola tweeted via his PepTeam account last week.

FW – Roberto Firmino

Probably the most controversial omission from the PFA Premier League Team of the Year was Firmino, who added goals to his quality positional play and selfless work in Liverpool’s attack. Out of the Reds’ famed frontline, you suspect Firmino would be missed most, as he’s both its adhesive and frequently the instigator of the forward forays. He beats Jamie Vardy and a Carlos Carvalhal-handled Jordan Ayew into the reserves’ strikeforce.

FW – Wilfried Zaha

There is no player more important to his team than Wilfried Zaha. Crystal Palace has lost each of the nine league matches when the Ivorian hasn’t been available, and his goals have been worth eight points to the club – without those points, the Eagles would be seven points adrift of safety. The former Manchester United flop overcomes Heung-Min Son to make this list, and could be nearing a chance of his second big transfer this summer.

The lineup

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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