With over a quarter of the 2017/18 season in the books, let’s assess who’s been the best at each position through the first 11 matches. Separated (within reason) by their zones on the field, we’ll highlight the top performers at each spot and pick a team of the year so far.
David De Gea remains unchallenged as the best keeper in the division, reasserting himself as he protects the line and frankly, at times, holds United together. Obviously their standing in the league means that he has less work to do than those in goal for the lower-ranked sides, but his unmatched reflexes and instincts (and a league-leading eight clean sheets!) ensure that if an all-EPL team was picked to win a game tomorrow, he is the only option.
In terms of weighted output, Nick Pope has faced the third-most amount of shots and rejected them with the best percentage (of keepers who have faced more than 25 shots), and some superhuman performances have held Burnley to a clean sheet when his defence has let him down. De Gea is a better overall keeper, but no team have leaned on their goal-stopper as much as Burnley thus far.
Elsewhere, Ederson has made a huge difference in replacing Bravo with a stable presence at the back for City. The regular candidates have been good too: Thibaut Courtois remains ever-reliable in goal for Chelsea and Hugo Lloris rediscovered his confidence after a shaky early start, following the same trajectory of the entire Spurs team.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 7, 2017
Kyle Walker is light years ahead of the wing back group, left or right. Walker deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Citizens’ success at both ends of the field, consistently providing an option with great width and game-awareness that was a clearly missing from Manchester’s attack last season. His pace allows him to recover from advanced areas to assist in regaining possession and he rarely gets caught out of position despite constantly pushing forward.
Valencia provides a similar service for the cross-town rivals, with similar consistency but less flash. Hector Bellerin is next in line and Joe Gomez has been strong for Liverpool standing in for the injured Nathaniel Clyne, but either would be third by a decent margin, with a huge chasm behind them separating the rest of the field.
Assists this season:
Kyle Walker:4 pic.twitter.com/wr11IHKhjs
— . (@Clinicalbastard) November 5, 2017
On the left side, Sead Kolasinac has been a revelation for Arsenal — a staple at left-back and about the only player on their team who could be considered among the true elite at their spot. Proficient playing left centre-back as a part of a back-three and excelling as the left-wing back zipping up-and-down the touchline and providing great width with his work-rate, Kolasinac has proven great value for a player brought in on a free transfer — almost inexplicably let go by German club Schalke, who are usually particularly stringent with transfers — and a candidate for the best-value transfer this season.
Fabian Delph is the big surprise here: outstanding since filling in for the injured Benjamin Mendy and operating with surprising comfort despite playing his entire career to date as a central midfielder. His transition has undoubtedly been helped by City’s flat out dominance, but he hasn’t missed a beat transitioning across.
Marcos Alonso has been the best offensive weapon from the left-back position, but he is generally a one-way player, and his defensive inefficiencies have come to hurt Chelsea in a few important situations.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) November 14, 2017
The central defence competition is far more competitive.
Cesar Azpilicueta has been the best offensive weapon, chalking up 5 assists (3rd in league). He’s especially lethal on the counter attack, unlocking his league-leading combination with Morata (all five assists have been on Morata goals), sending balls through the air and picking out gaps in the opposition backline with precision — an potent weapon to spring on unsuspecting victims that has been his team’s best source of offence this season, a sensational notion for a centre-half. His defensive input has been solid — 10th in tackles — allowing his work with the ball to shine.
Leading the defensive output is James Tarkowski, who been outstanding for Burnley, a crucial factor in them outperforming their goal-differential to sit a surprising 7th. A large amount of credit for their borderline-elite defence and recent streak of four straight clean sheets should be chalked up to him. He is tied 1st in blocks (19), 2nd in clearances (97) and provides an indispensable security at the back.
Brighton’s Lewis Dunk and City’s Jon Stones are both unlucky to miss out and can mount cases for the spots over the rest of the season by continuing their current form.
— César Azpilicueta (@CesarAzpi) November 5, 2017
Pep Guardiola has found the perfect use for Fernandinho’s wide-array of skills. Deploying him as the sole defensive-midfielder, he masterfully shifts between the lines, allowing him to become a central figure in creating City’s brilliant attack. His 933 passes, by far the best mark in the league, is a perfect illustration of his involvement, and his tendencies to push up the field and join the attack hasn’t been compromised. It’s unlocked the other members of the City midfield who have all be outstanding so far.
Protected by the foundation set by Fernandinho, David Silva, traditionally an attacking-midfielder, has slid back to allow De Bruyne to run the show up front. He’s been equally extraordinary in his new role: orchestrating from deep and progressing the ball with alarming ease, the biggest beneficiary of the space the Citizens create with their flowing system. Silva still finds himself in plenty of attacking scenarios — and leads the league in assists for good measure — the opportunity to move from deep in his own half with his eyes up and ball at his feet has opened up new opportunities to utilise his extraordinary vision. The potency of City’s attacking threats is owed to the output of their excellent midfield.
Averages 84.8 successful passes per English Premier League game, more than ANY other player this season.
How valuable is the Brazilian in Pep Guardiola’s plans? pic.twitter.com/OEOeF2UF39
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) November 12, 2017
After two straight years of being a top-five player in the league we know what to expect from N’Golo Kante. His energy and presence is unquantifiable, but tune into any fraction of a Chelsea game and you’ll see how much they depend on him. He is the driving force behind their gritty, physical style and instrumental in both holding their midfield together and moving the ball up the field, especially on one of his blistering drives on the counterattack.
His new teammate Tiemoue Bakayoko is quickly becoming a fascinating fit: he has grown in each start and brought a physical edge that provides security when Kante rolls forward, and forms a brutal combination when they defend in tandem. Thrown in the deep end without any experience in the system, Bakayoko has grown more comfortable each week and has seen his performances mirror that. Together, Bakayoko and Kante have held Chelsea together despite the team’s up and down form.
Kante’s former running mate has been on the opposite trajectory. Nemanja Matic started red-hot but has cooled off as United have done the same, but his addition has made a visible difference to the cohesion of their roster, and fundamental presence they desperately lacked last year. He’s the glue guy, and any chance at a title run will follow his form line. That’s a solid wrap after only 11 games with a team.
— N’Golo Kanté (@nglkante) November 5, 2017
The easiest decision of the lot: Kevin De Bruyne has been the best player in the Premier League through the first 11 games, utterly dominating defences with his all-round prowess that requires double coverage at all times.
Stopping him has proven almost impossible, especially when he roams across the goal-front and gets lost among City’s attacking weapons. He’s second in the league in assists, and that’s despite the attention he draws and how hard teams scheme to shut him down. David Silva’s league-leading seven assists are a direct result of KDB drawing attention opening up space outside of him. His long-shot is deadly, his passing laser-like and his composure remarkable. He has been unmatched this far; a complete footballer of the highest calibre.
Christian Eriksen is the only other contender worth a shout: stable and consistent, pulling the strings and at times carrying the bogged-down Tottenham offence adding a creative flair that would be otherwise absent from their attack. As Ponchetti still settles on his ideal use of Delle Alli, Eriksen has become the linchpin of their offence.
Kevin De Bruyne is on the right track. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OiB6rr2dIt
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 9, 2017
Out wide, two duos of devastatingly potent strike weapons lead the way.
After switching from the two-striker system that was employed earlier in the season, Guardiola settled into an alternate 4-3-3 that used two wingers, and Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling left him no option but to stick by them.
Sterling is outstanding at finding space and making sharp runs deep into the attacking half, always opening up options for his playmakers. Whilst his touch still needs to improve, he’s operated at a level of consistency we’ve never seen from him, and add 7 goals to boot.
He’s only been outplayed by his teammate, the breakout star of the 2017 season. Sane has flashed superstar potential before, but he is improving at an accelerated speed, far past expectation. He’s already notched six goals and five assists (in only seven starts!) whilst flashing vision and passing that would rank him among the best in the world at his position. Oh, and he just turned 21.
Forget your Rashford’s, Dembele’s, Mbappe’s, Jesus’s etc; Leroy Sane is the best young player in the world. pic.twitter.com/mc2dwmur7p
— 🅱️ (@ThatchersElbow) November 11, 2017
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have fallen victim to Liverpool’s inconsistencies, because more time on the ball would make splitting them with the City duo a very difficult task. Liverpool possess the most deadly counterattack in the league, and the pure, dizzying pace these two bring is the backbone of the success. Space can be hard to come by for the Reds, but any time either have carved it out they strike with impressive efficiency.
Eden Hazard hasn’t played enough games to crack the conversation but has flashed his usual scary production in his brief extended game time. Willian was the best player in the league and carried Chelsea through their first four games, but Conte’s change in preferred formation has seen him inexplicably left off the pitch. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have given United great energy whenever they get the chance.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) November 10, 2017
How do you split Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero?
Kane hit hyperdrive and was downright unstoppable before succumbing to a minor injury that slowed his run. His eight goals are tied with Aguero for first, and that includes his inexplicable August malaise and a missed game. Aguero has been so good, almost on par with his career peak (and with Kane) that he made Gabriel Jesus unnecessary in Guardiola’s first XI, a huge feat considering when he’s played Jesus might’ve been the third best striker in the league.
Both have netted eight times, although Kane has hit the woodwork five times and is playing on a far less talented team. Kane gets the nod for that reason: Aguero might be the perfect cherry on top of City’s cake, but for Spurs, Kane is the whole cake.
I just got 280 characters so I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that Harry Kane is the best striker in the world and we will never see another striker as good as him for as long as we live and breathe on this planet. Invaluable. Irreplaceable. One of our own. pic.twitter.com/7tAVYrBHgr
— Spurs In The Blood (@SpursInTheBlood) November 7, 2017
Alone in between the two leaders and the field, Morata has begun to find his feet, especially in the least three weeks, and is getting progressively more comfortable playing his game: his hold-up play has become a necessary buffer for Chelsea and a tempo control that has calmed them throughout; his header might already be the best in league.
Outside of those three, the options are all tainted by inconsistencies. Lukaku started on fire through United’s hot streak but has seen his form follow the same trajectory of the team’s. His last league goal came in September, and we’re now halfway through November. Alexandre Lacazette can thank Wenger’s flip-flopping and inability to find the right formation for the restrictions on his game time, whilst Firminho is perhaps the most effected by Liverpool’s weak midfield that has forced him to carry a higher workload than ideal. Jamie Vardy will keep being Jamie Vardy.
Romelu Lukaku: “I was born to score. I don’t think many strikers of my generation have as many goals as me. I am like a leopard in the box.” #MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtdUpdates_) November 14, 2017
EPL Team of the season (so far)
GK: David De Gea (Manchester United)
RB: Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
CB: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
CB: James Tarkowski (Burnley)
LB: Sead Kolasinac (Arsenal)
CDM: Fernandinho (Manchester City)
CM: David Silva (Manchester City)
CAM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
RW: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
ST: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
LW: Leroy Sane (Manchester City)