Which Burnley, Norwich City and Aston Villa stars have earned a place in our alternative Premier League Team of the Season?
It’s not all about your Jamie Vardys, your Kevin de Bruynes and your Sadio Manes. There’s quality all over the Premier League these days, from Sheffield to Southampton, Newcastle to Norwich, and we think its about time some of the top flight’s most underappreciated stars get the attention they deserve.
Hey, it’s Christmas after all.
Tom Heaton – Aston Villa
An error-prone defence plus a misfiring number nine usually equals relegation. Fortunately for Aston Villa, however, they have an England international performing heroics between the sticks on an almost weekly basis, bailing them out more than they would care to admit.
After six years at Burnley, 33-year-old Heaton is enjoying a new lease of life in front of a far less secure, claret-and-blue clad backline. In the recent 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, it was Heaton rather than Kepa Arrizabalaga who looked like the £71 million shot-stopper.
George Baldock – Sheffield United
Like so many of Chris Wilder’s Brit-tastic squad, Baldock is taking the Premier League by storm in his first ever top-flight campaign. Three seasons ago, the Buckingham-born flyer was playing in League Two with Oxford United – now he is providing a steady stream of inch-perfect crosses for a Sheffield United side who are flirting boldly with a European place.
Baldock scored a brilliant individual goal in December’s 2-1 win at Norwich City and has three assists to his name already.
Federico Fernandez – Newcastle United
Solid as a rock, Fernandez is an old-school Argentine centre-half who loves nothing better than throwing his body on the line to keep his sheet clean. And with Steve Bruce’s Newcastle somewhat lacking in the final third (yes, we’re looking at you Joelinton), one of the league’s more pragmatic sides are increasingly reliant on the 30-year-old’s tendency to be in precisely the right place at precisely the right time.
Mike Ashley is famously reluctant to tie down players strolling into the autumn of their careesr but surely he has no choice but to keep Fernandez around with the former Swansea stopper just months away from free agency?
Steve Cook – Bournemouth
The only player in the Premier League who averages more clearances per game than Fernandez (6.9 compared to 6.5), Cook’s experience and leadership skills are more crucial than ever as a fresh-faced Bournemouth side look to stave off the sceptre of relegation.
Dutch international Nathan Ake may hog the headlines but, if he is worth £75 million, how much would it take to convince Eddie Howe to cash in on a man who has been at Bournemouth since their League One days?
Enda Stevens – Sheffield United
Unlike Baldock, who forced his way up from the bottom tier of the Football League, Stevens has embarked on a circular route to the promised land. Let go by Aston Villa in 2014 after a handful of first-team games, the former Notts County and Northampton man would arguably walk into Dean Smith’s starting XI right now.
The Ireland international is the epitome of a Chris Wilder player; combative, energetic yet blessed with technical ability that continues to fly under the radar. There are few left-backs around who can cross the ball better than Stevens.
John Lundstram – Sheffield United
Honourable mentions must go to Newcastle’s unlikely top scorer Jonjo Shelvey and Brighton’s Aussie playmaker Aaron Mooy, but Lundstram’s contribution to Sheffield United’s remarkable top flight return should not be underestimated.
The one-time Everton enforcer has been a revelation in the top flight, adding goals to his game and providing the kind of perfectly timed runs that Frank Lampard would be proud of.
A Man of the Match performance in Sheffield United’s 2-0 win at Goodison Park in September showed The Toffees what they’re missing.
Joao Moutinho – Wolverhampton Wanderers
The former Porto and Sporting Lisbon playmaker arrived in England with over 100 Portugal caps to his name and countless Champions League appearances on his CV. Any lingering concerns that his best days were behind him, however, have been dispelled by a 33-year-old who appears to be ageing like a vintage bottle of red.
A set-piece specialist who controls the game from the centre of the park, Moutinho, rather than the much-vaunted Ruben Neves, is the brains of the operation at Molineux.
Adama Traore – Wolverhampton Wanderers
It is hard to believe we are watching the same Adama Traore who drove Tim Sherwood and Tony Pulis to the brink of insanity with his wild crossing and tendency to gallop down cul-de-sacs like a blindfolded horse.
The one-time Barcelona wonderkid has added end product to his blistering pace and the result has been devastating. After scoring both goals in Wolves’ shock 2-0 win away at Manchester City in September, Traore stunned Tottenham too with a 25-yard thunderbolt while giving Jan Vertonghen a serious case of twisted blood.
Todd Cantwell – Norwich City
‘The Dereham Deco’ (Chris Sutton’s words, not ours) has been a shining light in a difficult season for Norwich City. At his best, Cantwell epitomises everything good about Daniel Farke’s side – he’s daring, classy and capable of creating something out of nothing.
A two-footed playmaker with an eye for goal, Cantwell has even emerged as a man for the big occasion. His five Premier League strikes so far have been scored against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Wolves and in that shock triumph at Everton.
Dwight McNeil – Burnley
How Manchester United must regret releasing a little-known 14-year-old some six years ago. These days, McNeil is one of the first names on Burnley’s team-sheet and, if reports are to be believed, the £35 million-rated England U21 international would be welcomed back at Old Trafford with open arms (The Sun).
One of the best crossers British football has produced since David Beckham sported floppy blonde curtains, former Premier League scout Greg Walsh told HITC earlier this year how McNeil went from United reject to Burnley talisman – and nearly joined Blackburn Rovers along the way.
Lys Mousset – Sheffield United
Unfortunately for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jordan Ayew and Neal Maupay, Lys Mousset is simply too good to leave out – even if he has stared just half of Sheffield United’s games this season.
Eyebrows went sky high in the Steel City when The Blades splahed out a club-record £10 million on a man who scored just three times in 58 games for Bournemouth, but Mousset has already exceeded that tally in a mere seven starts under Wilder.
A technically-gifted targetman who can create as well as score, the France U21 star is the perfect fit for Sheffield United’s lone-striker system –his five goals and that hat-trick of assists in the 3-0 thrashing of Burnley will have had Bournemouth fans everywhere pulling their hair out.