There were certainly some players that many of you missed from our previous article, but now we’re going to take a look at some of the players who have also had a brilliant season. In this analysis - as in the former one - we look at who stood out most from the English top flight in each position, using a variety of objective statistical parameters
Goalkeeper: Alisson Becker
The Reds’ goalkeeper has been sensational since his arrival in England, and has performed really well in last season as well. The Merseysiders’ goalkeeper has produced 20 clean sheets, the most by any player in the league, tied with Ederson. In total, the 29-year-old Brazilian has been beaten 24 times, conceding 0.62 goals per 90 minutes - both are records for goalies with 900 minutes or more. While five players have bettered Alisson’s (+4.84) PSxG +/- (post-shot expected goals-goals allowed), his 77.57% save percentage was the best in the league. The Brazilian is not only a world-class goalkeeper in terms of classic skills, but he is also a brilliant distributor of the ball with his feet: he found his teammates with 93% of his passes, the highest rate in the entire league.
Right-back: Reece James
Although Chelsea were ultimately not able to keep pace with either Manchester City or Liverpool in the title race, the London Blues have seen a number of outstanding individual performances throughout the season. Reece James has been rather unlucky in terms of injuries, but when he has been available to Tuchel, he has given his best to prove his starting place for the German coach. The Englishman shone so brightly in the right wing-back position in a 3-4-2-1 formation that he contributed a total of 5 goals and 9 assists to the 3rd place finish of his team, which is certainly commendable. He attempted 4.28 crosses per game, which is the 5th highest volume among defenders, but his xA of 0.2/90 is also outstanding compared to the rivals in his position. On top of that, he had 0.89 successful key passes per 90 minutes, a figure only surpassed by Trent Alexander-Arnold (0.94) among defenders. Still only 22, he’s the perfect choice for the wing of defence if you’re looking for someone who can support the attacks.
Centre-back: Antonio Rudiger
In our previous article, it was no coincidence that we praised the veteran Thiago Silva, who exuded confidence and used his experience to make life miserable for the opposing attackers. However, it was not only the Brazilian who excelled in the 3-man defence, but also Antonio Rüdiger, who has since signed for Real Madrid. The rock-solid and combative German spent the 2nd highest number of minutes on the pitch (3291) after Mendy (3322) in his team, and he absolutely deserved it! His 276 passes into the attacking third were the 6th (7.55/90), his 389 progressive passes the 5th (10.64/90) and his 292 successful progressive passes were the 4th highest in the league. An aggregate xT (expected threat) of 4.7 means that Chelsea have only three players (Mount, James, Silva) whose actions have increased their team’s chances of scoring more than him. And if only passes are taken into account, the German (4.95) created the most threat besides Silva (4.98).
Centre-back: Joachim Andersen
Under Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace have shown a completely different face in the 2021-22 season than in previous years. Only 6 teams conceded fewer goals than 46 and, if the quality of the opponents’ chances (xGA) is taken into account, the Eagles also finished 7th (48.04), which is encouraging for a club on such a limited budget. From the defence, we could praise either Marc Guéhi or Joachim Andersen, but we prefer the latter one. The Danish centre back has played the 3rd highest number of minutes (3154) in Vieira’s squad, which means that the French coach has seen him as a stable point throughout the season. He has averaged 8.08 successful passes into the attacking third per 90 minutes, but there is one aspect of his game where he has done even better: excluding goalkeepers, he has made 6.85 successful long passes, by far the most by any defender. The 26-year-old centre back has therefore played a huge part in Palace’s relative success, and it would come as no surprise if he were soon to join a team with bigger ambitions.
Left-back: Andrew Robertson
There is hardly a better option for the left side of defence than Liverpool’s Scottish player, as Robertson has all the attributes required for that position. He has amassed an xA of 5.47 (0.18/90) over the season, which only TAA (12.42) exceeded among defenders. Just like James, who was brought in on the other side, Robbo, who was signed from Hull City for a ridiculously low price (£8M) in 2017, has also dished out 9 assists to his teammates (0.3/90), the 3rd highest number in the entire league. Only three players have produced more crosses than him with 136 (4.49/90), 44 of which have been successful (1.45/90) - all metrics rank the Scot in the top 10. His 21 key passes (0.69/90) are good enough for second place (behind TAA) in the defenders’ rankings, while his 11.65 progressive pass attempts per 90 (9.61 of which were successful) puts him in 5th place. The fact that the endlessly industrious full-back has also scored 3 goals in the PL is just the icing on the cake, and his place in the alternative-11 is hardly questionable.
Midfielder: Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United fans will probably want to erase this season from their memories as soon as possible, but despite the awful results, not everyone has been a total failure. Bruno Fernandes’ production in 2020-21 (18 goals, 10 assists) will be hard to repeat, but at the same time his 10 goals and 6 assists are not bad at all, both are the 2nd best within the team. His xA of 7.67 (0.21/90) is the 5th, and his 0.89 successful through passes is the 7th highest in the league. He has a total of 31 key passes (0.84/90) to his name, bettered only by TAA (32), and 76 passes leading to shots (2.05/90), exactly the same number as the Pool right-back has created for his teammates. As evident from the figures above, the Portuguese genius was responsible for the distribution of final passes and for creativity in general, and the expected threat indicator shows exactly that. If all types of actions are included, Fernandes finished with a cumulative xT of 9.17, which ranks him 10th in the league and first at MU, far ahead of the rest (he is followed by Fred with only 4.29).
Midfielder: Bernardo Silva
If there was only one player to choose from Manchester City’s midfield, probably most people would go for Kevin De Bruyne, but Bernardo Silva was no less spectacular. Not only one of the most versatile players in the Premier League, but perhaps in the whole top-flight football, the Portuguese can play as a Nr. 8, an attacking winger and a false 9, but he doesn’t panic when his manager occasionally counts on him as a deep-lying playmaker. One of the players who runs the most and presses the most, there is practically no part of football that the City midfielder doesn’t master. His 8 goals and 4 assists do not even show the complexity of Silva’s role at Manchester City. His 0.85 successful key passes per 90 minutes is the 12th, his 3.54 progressive runs are the 11th highest and his 6 second assists is the best in the PL. With 3072 minutes played, he was the 4th in the squad in terms of playing time, and is clearly one of Guardiola’s favourite players, and for the reasons outlined above, he should not be left out of the dream team.
Midfielder: Thiago Alcântara
Thiago’s Liverpool adventure didn’t start the way the Reds fans wanted it to, with the Spaniard suffering a serious injury in a city derby against Everton. He was forced to miss a lot of weeks of action. And when he was on the pitch, we often got the feeling that he needed more time to fully adapt to the demands and peculiarities of Klopp’s football. The 1639 minutes he played last season were not a lot, but it was enough for him to be at his absolute best and show why the Reds made an exception when signing him from Bayern München. He averaged 12.08 successful passes per game that ended up in the attacking third, a feat that nobody could match. No other midfielder has a higher volume than his 9.5 successful progressive passes, and his 11.37 recoveries per 90 minutes are only bettered by Wilfred Ndidi (11.92). 6.48 of these actions happened on the opponent’s half, making him the absolute leader in this category, ahead of ‘silver medallist’ Fabinho (5.44).
Right winger: Jarrod Bowen
It’s no wonder that several teams are reportedly targeting Bowen, as 12 goals + 10 assists is not a bad recommendation, although whether the West Ham winger would be a good fit on a ‘higher shelf’ is a big question. With 3207 minutes, he was the 5th most capped player for the Hammers, and not only did he produced 22 Canadian points, but also with an xA of 6.82 (0.19/90) that nobody could beat. Also, only Michail Antonio (13.43) had a better xG with 10.33 (0.29/90). His xG+xA of 17.15 (0.48/90) is the 11th highest in the league, beating the likes of Bruno Fernandes (16.43), Kevin De Bruyne (13.16), Bukayo Saka (17.11) and Mason Mount (15.99). Taking into account all actions, it was Bowen who increased Moyes’s team scoring chances the most with a cumulative xT of 9.63, well ahead of Cresswell (7.6) and Fornals (6.94). This volume put him at the top of the pyramid, with only six players having a higher cumulative xT than him. It will be interesting to see how long the 7th placed London club can hold on to one of its greatest values.
Left winger: Sadio Mané
It is not easy to stand out alongside Salah, because when the Egyptian king is playing in his absolute best form, there is no defender who can easily handle him. It is true that Salah was the Reds’ most potent striker in the first half of the season, but in the spring Mané proved to be more agile and fresh. The Senegalese not only sparkled on the left wing, but also played the false 9 role impeccably. Overall, he scored 16 goals in the league, which, excluding penalties, is the 3rd highest, and his xG of 15.28 is the 5th highest (0.45/90), meaning he had no problems getting into good quality shooting positions. Only three players in the Merseysiders’ squad have played more minutes in the PL than Mané (3026), so it won’t be easy to replace the winger who left for Bayern München and gave the Reds fans so many wonderful moments and sensational goals in his nearly 6-year career in Liverpool.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
When Manchester United signed Cristiano Ronaldo (again) in the summer of 2021, they were presumably hoping that the Portuguese world-class player would make a Premier League title a reality again, something they last achieved in the 2012-13 campaign at the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. It didn’t work out, to say the least, even though CR7 scored 18 goals from an xG of 15.69, which is exactly the kind of finishing rate that brought him to Old Trafford. He finished 3rd in the goalscoring charts behind Salah and Son, and if we look at the quality of his chances, only three players finished ahead of him. Per 90 minutes he averaged an xG of 0.53, which is 5th highest in the league. However, there are obviously some aspects of his game - defensive work, run volume, number and intensity of pressures - that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is not particularly strong in, but that’s probably not why the Red Devils lured him back. Despite all his shortcomings, the Portuguese star’s data shows that he still deserves to be among the best players for the 2021-22 season.