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Stoppage Time's Premier League team of the season

Why Erling Haaland is not in the best XI from the 2023-24 Premier League season 😮

Just like that, it’s done.

The 2023-24 Premier League season will go down as one of the greatest-ever in the history of England’s top flight, and Championship Sunday – although predictable in its outcome – did not disappoint. Between the title race going down to the wire, underachievers making a late push for Europe, and bidding farewell to a legendary manager, yesterday’s action reminded us to take the good with the bad and soak in the wide range of emotions that the Beautiful Game can conjure.

And since I’m feeling like I don’t ever want this season to end, let’s hold onto it just a bit longer with some end-of-season awards. First up is who I think was the best XI in the Premier League this past season:

🧤 GK: Jordan Pickford (Everton) Second to only Golden Glove winner David Raya in clean sheets (13), the England international played a crucial role in keeping the Toffees afloat in the top flight this season. He finished second in the league in save percentage (74.4%), with Everton conceding the fourth-fewest goals in the league despite lacking the defensive talent of top sides like Man City, Arsenal, and Liverpool

🏝️ RB: Ben White (Arsenal) Speaking of top defensive talent, White announced himself as perhaps the best right back in the league this season, significantly elevating his play on both sides of the ball. The “Love Island Maldini” was perhaps the Gunners’ most consistent player, rarely putting a foot wrong in his ~3,000 minutes of Premier League action – the fourth-highest in Arsenal’s squad.

No meme has ever aged as poorly as this:

🚘 CB: William Saliba (Arsenal) If White wasn’t Arsenal’s most consistent player than it was probably Saliba, who played every single minute as the linchpin of the league’s best defense. The 23-year-old Frenchman has developed a formidable partnership with Gabriel (who almost made the cut), perfectly balancing the Brazilian’s psychotic energy with his cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor, both on the ball and while marking attackers. Saliba’s stats won’t jump off the page, but watch any Arsenal game and it’s instantly apparent why the “Rolls Royce defender” deserves a spot not only in this team, but in any team in Europe. He’s that good.

💪 CB: Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) The 32-year-old had his best season since tearing his ACL in 2020, with the highest average match rating of any defender in the league at 7.14.

The Dutchman was a remarkably consistent presence in a Liverpool back-line that was decimated by injuries this season. Whether staring alongside 21-year-old Jaarrell Quansah or the error-prone Ibrahima Konaté, Van Dijk’s world-class positioning, aerial prowess, and composure under pressure were instrumental in the Reds finishing the season with the league’s third-best defense.

📈 LB: Destiny Udogie (Tottenham) Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, the 21-year-old Italian thrived in his first season in England. Tottenham’s decision to loan Udogie back to Udinese (à la Arsenal with Saliba) after signing him for only €18 million in the summer of 2022 was a rare stroke of genius from the club, as he hit the ground running after an extra season to develop in Italy. Udogie boasts all the physical traits of an elite defender, and impressed with his ability to drive forward into space and even occupy an inverted role in the midfield. He’ll be a pillar of Spurs’ back line for years to come.

⚙️ CM: Rodri (Man City) The best way to understand Rodri’s influence is to see how Man City fared without him. The champions’ only three defeats on the season came without the Spainard in the lineup, and they have gone undefeated in the last 74 games across all competitions in which he’s played.

Rodri leads the league in touches (4,116), passes (3,632), progressive passes (362), and passes into final third (363), and is second in average match rating per WhoScored? with a 7.62. His influence is unmatched in the modern game, making him the first name on Pep Guardiola’s team sheet and an even easier inclusion into this team.

🪄 CM: Martin Ødegaard (Arsenal) The only player who can hold a candle to Rodri in terms of influence, Ødegaard has excelled doing a little bit lot of everything for the runners-up. From dropping deep in build up, to finding a defense-splitting pass in the final third, to pressing like a banshee for 90 minutes, the Norwegian fully justified Mikel Arteta’s decision to name him captain two seasons ago. Don’t let his numbers (8G, 10A) fool you – Ødegaard is a worthy candidate for the PFA Player of the Year award and has fully lived up to the hype since he burst onto the scene at just 15 years old.

🍚 CM: Declan Rice (Arsenal) The signing of the season and it ain’t even close. Rice is, simply put, the difference between last season’s Arsenal and this season’s Arsenal. While the result was still the same, Arsenal looked noticeably more mature, composed, and clinical this season – and that’s almost entirely because of their £100 million man. Worth every penny.

🧊 RW: Cole Palmer (Chelsea) Let’s take a look at FIFA… err… EA Sports FC to better understand the 22-year-old’s meteoric rise.

After warming City’s bench for a few seasons, Palmer headed into the 2023-24 season with a 66 rating. After a season in which he recorded 22 goals and 11 assists for sixth-place (!) Chelsea, he earned a special edition “Team of the Season” card with a 94 rating. Never has the Young Player of the Season award been such an obvious choice. 📈

⚡️ LW: Phil Foden (Man City) My Premier League player of the season, Foden took his game to undeniably world-class levels in 2023-24. The 23-year-old stepped up big time when Kevin De Bruyne was sidelined with a hamstring injury in the first half of the season, dazzling with his electrifying pace, technique, and a first touch smoother than his blush cheeks.

His two-goal outing in City’s 3-1 win over Man United was in my eyes (and ESPN’s) the best single-game performance of the season, and I’m still not entirely convinced he was born in Stockport and not São Paulo.

Foden finished the season with 19 goals and 8 assists, recording an average match rating of 7.50 per WhoScored? – the third-highest in the league.

🎯 ST: Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) Speaking of numbers, no player had more goal involvements in the Premier League this season than Watkins, who burst onto the scene as the main man for an overachieving Aston Villa side. The 28-year-old recorded a career-best 19 goals and 13 assists this season, which surely caught the attention of Gareth Southgate as he contemplate’s England’s squad selection for this summer’s Euros.