After an unforgettable year of Premier League football in 2016, in which Leicester City unexpectedly led the way from New Years’ Day until the end of the 2015/16 season in May, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur remarkably fell from grace to miss out on an inaugural title of their own, and four-time Premier League winners Chelsea stormed from 14th position on day one of 2016 – tied on 20 points with both Bournemouth and relegation-bound Norwich City – to sitting pretty in 1st place as the world welcomed in 2017.
However, after much deliberation and consideration of all the good, the bad and the ugly that we have seen over the past 365 days, it is now time to publish the ‘front six’ of my ‘Premier League Team of the Year’ for 2016, commencing with a winger who made the top ten of the Ballon d’Or list for players of the year.
A Premier League winner in his second season in England’s top division, Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez will never forget his rapid rise during the course of 2016. The 25 year-old French-Algerian was signed by The Foxes in January 2014, but it was not until his side’s title-winning campaign that Mahrez really came to the fore as one of the most talented players with the ball at his feet that the division has seen in recent years.
And although he is yet to find the same level of form that helped him score a total of 17 goals last season, there is little doubt that the Algerian international has the potential to win his side matches with a piece of skill or turn of pace that lesser players are unable to display.
The first name in this ‘Team of the Year’, Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté was another player who came relatively unknown to win the Premier League title with Leicester City last season. And it is now becoming common knowledge that Kanté has only lost to two sides (Arsenal and Liverpool) since moving to England in August 2015.
Since winning that incredible title back in May, the enforcer has helped new side Chelsea to the top of the Premier League table, as well as making his debut for national side France this calendar year, before helping them to reach the European Championship final on home soil back in July.
A target of unfair criticism of late, Arsenal star Mesut Özil is always positioned as one of the leading assist providers for both club and country. The assist-king proved his worth once and for all back in October, when he finally boasted the best assist per game ratio of any player to have stepped onto a Premier League pitch on more than 50 occasions.
Özil may be yet to win a Premier League title with the North London club, however, one criticism that nobody can viably have of the German is that he has ‘gone missing’ this season, as the midfielder has touched the ball more times than any other player thus far, with the exception of only Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta.
Like Kanté, Dimitri Payet left France to join the Premier League in the summer of 2015 in a cut-price deal, and, since then, the West Ham United winger has also shown his class on both the club and international stage, with quality performances continuing at this summer’s European Championships in France.
Payet has already claimed 15 goals for his new club, and he has been influential in their charge towards the European places over the course of the past 12 months. The challenge for Slaven Bilić is to support the winger in regaining his form from last season, as well as holding onto his star man with the January transfer window set to begin.
From a career in Non-League, to a Premier League title winner and England international, Jamie Vardy has enjoyed a quite remarkable 2016 in which he has been considered as one of the top strikers in world football with his Ballon d’Or nomination.
Similarly to Payet and teammate Mahrez, Vardy has struggled to maintain his immense form that was shown in the first half of 2016, yet his pace and dynamism has continued to cause problems for Premier League defenders throughout the new campaign, and it is surely only a matter of time before Vardy starts firing again with the aim of coming close to the 24 goals he scored last time out.
As mentioned in part one of my ‘Premier League Team of the Year’, Tottenham’s charge towards the title ended miserably as April turned to May. However, the club’s star striker Harry Kane was a member of that side who was still picking up trophies come the end of the season, as he collected the Premier League ‘Golden Boot’ award as the league’s top ‘scorer, with 25 goals.
Kane has continued to show such form throughout the new campaign, with eight goals in just 13 appearances thus far, and the England international will need to improve on that record if Spurs are to come close to a first Premier League title come May.
We have witnessed an incredible year of football in 2016, and have seen a number of players become stars for their respective clubs. Some have shown more consistency than others, but each name has earned their place in a hugely competitive and high-quality division.