At the end of each competition, the task of drawing up the dream team for the season is a major challenge. While it was not easy to pick the best players for the 2021-22 season, there were some classy performers who were almost guaranteed a place on the list. In our analysis, we look at each position using various objective statistical indicators to see who deserved to have their names rightfully included in such a compilation
Goalkeeper: José Sá
The fact that Wolverhampton finished the 21/22 season in the top half of the table was hardly down to their attackers: they only managed to score a total of 38 goals, and only the 3 relegated sides scored less. At the other end of the pitch, the 43 goals conceded doesn’t look too bad, although it should be added that all of these were from an xGA of 60.29, meaning that the opposition were not very sharp in front of their goal. However, this does not diminish the merits of José Sá, who finished the season with a PSxG minus Goals conceded difference of +10.53, just behind Nick Pope (+10.78) and a fair distance ahead of Kasper Schmeichel (+7.67). Average shot quality in terms of xG towards the Portuguese goal was 0.130, which is the 3rd highest rate in the league, so it was not an easy job for the Wolves’ goalkeeper, he needed great bravery and maximum concentration to make the those saves. His 76.74% save efficiency is so sensational that only Alisson (77.57%) has a higher rate.
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold
In the right-back position, there is no question that Trent Alexander-Arnold produced the most outstanding performances of the entire league. The home-grown Merseyside player, despite being only 23 years old, has consistently performed at a very high level for years now, played an invaluable role in building Liverpool’s attack and delivering killer passes. In the 2021-22 Premier League season, the English genius boasts by far the highest aggregate xA numbers in the Premier League (12.42). He has averaged 0.36 xA per 90 minutes, the highest of all players who have played at least 900 minutes, and only Mohamed Salah has had more than 12 assists (0.33/90). Only two players have made more passes into the attacking third (421) than him (12.32/90), 288 of which found a teammate (8.43/90), which is the 5th highest. The uncrowned king of crosses has curled the ball 170 times in total, which is more than anyone else, with 4.97 crosses per 90 minutes enough to put him at 3rd place. His 3.01 attempted through passes are also the 3rd best, with 0.94 of them being successful.
Centre-back: Thiago Silva
Although he will celebrate his 38th birthday in September, Thiago Silva has once again proved that he is still perfectly capable of performing at the top of the club football pyramid. The Brazilian has become a definite starter in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, with only Edouard Mendy (3322) and Antonio Rüdiger (3291) having played more minutes than him (2872) in the PL. Looking at the numbers, it is fair to say that he has a good reason to do so. Once again, the veteran defender’s presence and experience proved to be key, resulting in the London Blues conceding the 3rd fewest goals (33) after Pool and City (26). Silva has been magical at the back, as only Joachim Andersen (6.85) and TAA (5.71) have made more successful long passes per 90 minutes this season than him among defenders with a minimum of 900 minutes (5.45). His 72.8 successful passes per game is the 3rd highest in the league, and he also excelled in recoveries (12.32/90) and successful progressive passes (8.68/90), earning him the 12th and 8th rankings, respectively.
Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool’s march in 2021-22 after a disappointing season the year before has gone hand in hand with the return of Virgil van Dijk, who missed 10 months after a knee injury in October 2020. In the Reds’ squad, only Alisson (3491) has played more minutes in the league than the Dutch giant (3290), who, along with Joel Matip, has created an impenetrable wall in front of their goal. While the Merseysiders conceded 42 times in the 2020-21 season in the Premier League, with van Dijk - who finished 2nd in the 2019-20 FIFA Ballon d’Or awards - they were outfoxed only 26 times last season, a record shared with Manchester City, like the 21 clean sheets. One of the common characteristics of world-class defenders is that they are able to intimidate opposing attackers simply by their presence, and you could hardly find a better example of this than the Dutchman. Typically, a defender who does not produce extra numbers in terms of the classic defensive statistical indicators, but his place in the dream team is unquestionable.
Left-back: João Cancelo
On the other side of the defence there is someone who, although right-footed, but is still sensational on the left. Yes, it’s João Cancelo, who had a great season at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. Just as we saw with TAA at Liverpool, the Portuguese’s primary task at City is not to defend, but rather to make brilliant passes to break down the oppenents’ defences. His xA of 4.51 (0.12/90) is not particularly high, but there are a lot of other areas of the game where Cancelo is still quite brilliant, practically irreplaceable. His 2937 passes are the most in the entire league (76.02/90), which is a clear indication of how important the Portuguese is in the Spanish coach’s system. He has attempted 77 smart passes this season (1.99/90), 34 of them being successful (0.88/90), both absolute records. His 11.08 attempted passes into the attacking third is 7th, and his 8.72 successful final 3rd passes is the 9th best.
Defensive midfielder: Rodri
Rodri was certainly one of Manchester City’s most consistent players in the 2021-22 campaign, an indomitable all-rounder at the heart of Guardiola’s polished system. When he arrived in England nearly 3 years ago, he simply didn’t have a good understanding for what was expected of him, often choosing the wrong option or giving the ball away in dangerous positions. However, with the Spaniard coming in for Fernandinho, the Nr. 6 role now seems to have been resolved for a while. He is unmissable from City’s starting line-up, his 3108 minutes is the 3rd most in the team. He is terribly good with his feet, his 2705 pass attempts are the most of any midfielder in the PL (78.33/90), 93.46% of them finding a teammate (73.20/90), which is a formidable ratio. And he has achieved all this not by taking easy passes only: he has an aggregate of 320 successful passes into the attacking third (9.27/90), a figure only surpassed by Thiago (12.08/90) in the middle of the pitch. Of his 3.65 aerial duels per match, he has successfully contested 2.52 (69% rate), which is absolutely elite. Not counting goalkeepers and defenders, nobody averages more than 4.78 successful long passes, and only Nørgaard (12.32) has a better figure of recoveries per 90 minutes (12.09).
Centre midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne
It would be a fatal mistake to leave out Kevin De Bruyne, voted player of the season, from this season’s team, because unlike in previous years, not only he excelled in terms of creating chances (8 assists), but also proved to be relentless in front of goal, scoring 15 goals from a xG of 4.39. The Belgian genius is by far the best choice for the right-sided number 8 position, as his xA of 7.77 is the 4th on the list and his 90 minutes average (0.30) is the 3rd in the whole league. In addition to the above, his attempted 2.85 smart passes are the most, as his 1.29 successful passes, 1.22 successful through passes and 1.03 key passes per 90 minutes. On top of that, KDB’s 2.51 passes per game that resulted in a shot were bettered only by Tsimikas (2.56).
Centre midfielder: Declan Rice
With Declan Rice’s performances improving year on year, it is now getting to the point where it is perhaps doesn’t say much that he should be named among the best midfielders in the PL. According to reports, Chelsea will have to dig really deep if they want to acquire the 23-year-old West Ham centre-midfielder. Not only does Rice stand out from the rest of the players in terms of ball carries, but his defensive skills and passing ability are also commendable. He averaged 3.02 progressive runs per 90 minutes, by far the most of any player in his position. In the opponent’s half, he recovered 132 balls over the season (3.44/90), which is the 10th most in the league. Only the Hammers’ goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański (3622) has played more minutes than him (3457), meaning that the highly assured and agile player, who can play in either the Nr. 6 or 8 positions, has been central to David Moyes’ side that finished 7th. Whether he will stay at West Ham or move on to another club remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that his performances this season have rightly caught the attention of several top clubs.
Right winger: Mohamed Salah
Liverpool’s Egyptian striker’s place in the team of the season is backed up by all existing indicators. With 23 goals and 13 assists to his name he had a sensational 1.09 goal involvements per 90 minutes, which is a staggering feat that even the greatest players fail to achieve every season. Overall, he has an xG of 23.08 in league games, nearly 4.5 more than 2nd-placed Harry Kane (19.57), but when you compare his 0.70/90 rate to his rivals, you can’t find anyone more prolific. His 0.76 successful clever passes predestinemakes him 8th, which means that if he had to be good at breaking opponents’ defensive lines, Salah had no problem doing so. It is true that, after a losing the final at the Africa Cup of Nations and a World Cup qualifying defeat (also against Senegal), he just couldn’t repeat his autumn-form in the spring, but it is impossible to pass the extremely high bar week after week.
Left winger: Son Heung-Min
When considering the best-performing strikers, it would be unfair to forget about Son Heung Min, who has been having by far his most productive season since his debut in the PL in 2015-16. The South Korean’s 23 goals (0.65/90) have earned him the PL Golden Boot (with Salah), which is a particularly big feat given that, unlike the Egyptian, all of his goals have come from open play, meaning the Spurs star has kept pace with the Pool ace without taking a penalty. The wickedly quick Asian was not shy in creating good quality chances for his teammates, as he dished out 7 assists, which helped him to take 2nd place in the Canadian table with 30 points. His overall xA of 8.56 was bettered only by TAA, and his 0.24 per 90 minutes was the 8th best in the English top flight. One of the things to highlight about him is that he made the most of his opportunities, outscoring his xG of 14.38 by a margin rarely seen. Of course, this may not come as a surprise to Son, who has shown on more than one occasion in his career that he is one of the most ruthless finishers.
Striker: Harry Kane
Every team needs a universal striker like Harry Kane. The Tottenham legend hasn’t been able to replicate the numbers he produced in the 2020-21 campaign, but his 17 goals and 9 assists are still something to be applauded. As his xG of 19.57 suggests, he had no problems getting into good goalscoring positions (0.5/90), but the English striker could be criticised for converting those chances into goals. The xA of 5.08 (0.13/90) created for his teammates is not necessarily extra high, but the unique relationship with Son would be very fruitful not only in reality but certainly in a dream team. In addition to his goals and assists, Kane’s 1.49 smart pass attempts per 90 minutes (0.59 of which were successful) and 1.88 through balls (0.62 found a teammate) justify his place as well, but his 5 second assists (passes before assists) throughout the competition are not bad either, especially considering that only Bernardo Silva (6) has surpassed him. From these stats we can clearly see what an extremely complex player he is, who is rightly described as a 9.5, because he is such a fantastic goal scorer and a genuine creator in one person.