A belated Merry Christmas to all PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY readers and I hope you have enjoyed a good time with your families and friends.
There has been a lot going on in the Premier League in the last seven days at the top and bottom and a new manager in at Swansea in Carlos Carvalhal.
But for the last column of 2017, I am starting with something slightly different with my team of the season so far – with a twist.
THE ALTERNATIVE TO MANCHESTER CITY XI
CONSIDERING they have 58 points out of a possible 60, a 15-point advantage over Manchester United at the top and a psychological hold over the rest of the Premier League, Manchester City are undoubtedly the team of the season so far.
And as such, every single one of their players would be a strong contender to be the best in their position.
Therefore, PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY is going to pick to the Alternative XI – the 11 players outside of City who have shone so far.
DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United)
THE Spaniard has not been as busy as in the last three seasons, but when called upon, he still produces stunning saves. His incredible display in United’s 3-1 win at Arsenal is almost worthy of a place in this team on its own.
CESAR AZPILICUETA (Chelsea)
CHELSEA have struggled to reach the great heights they managed last year on the way to the title. But that cannot be levelled at their Mr. Consistent. Azpilicueta remains reliable at the back and has also provided six valuable assists for striker Alvaro Morata.
JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley)
BURNLEY sold their best defender in the summer in Michael Keane, yet have improved defensively with nine clean sheets from 20 games. That is credit to manager Sean Dyche and to his replacement. Tarkowski had only made four starts in the Premier League before this season, but his form has been so good there has been talk of an unlikely England call-up.
ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN (Chelsea)
THIS has been one of the success stories for Chelsea. Christensen has shown that a young player can return from various loan spells to take a place in the first-team squad. The young Dane effectively took John Terry’s place in the squad and has knocked David Luiz out of the team, such has been the assurance he has brought to his central defensive role.
ASHLEY YOUNG (Manchester United)
YOUNG was linked with a move to China in January, but he ends the year as a first choice at United and back in the England squad. That is him despite moving into an unfamiliar role at left-back, where he has adapted to his defensive duties, as well as continuing to supply dangerous crosses.
ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE (Watford)
A slightly left-field choice here, but Doucoure has emerged as the archetypal modern Premier League midfielder. Strong, athletic and with an eye for goal, the Frenchman has scored seven times as Watford sit comfortably in mid-table.
NEMANJA MATIC (Manchester United)
JOSE MOURINHO knew what he was getting when he signed Matic from his old club, Chelsea, and the Serbian has delivered. Matic has been a model of consistency for United and gives licence to Paul Pogba to break forward and get involved in attacks.
PHILIPPE COUTINHO (Liverpool)
LIVERPOOL kept hold of their man despite huge interest from Barcelona in the summer and the Brazilian has got better as the weeks have gone on. There has been no sign of sulking as Coutinho has scored goals, made them for others and dictated his side’s play. It’s no wonder Barca see him as the ideal replacement for Andres Iniesta.
MOHAMED SALAH (Liverpool)
ONLY lost his place as the Premier League’s leading scorer after Harry Kane’s two hat-tricks against Burnley and Southampton. Salah has been brilliant since arriving at Anfield in the summer. His electric wing play and eye for goal has continued to make Liverpool great to watch going forward.
WILFRIED ZAHA (Crystal Palace)
IF there is one player who is head-and-shoulders above the rest at his club, it is Wilfried Zaha. He got injured on the opening day and did not return until October 14. Without him, Crystal Palace lost every match and failed to score a goal. Zaha inspired a victory over Chelsea on his return as their recovery began and if he stays fit, Palace will stay up.
HARRY KANE (Tottenham)
THE leading goalscorer in Europe’s top five leagues for club and country in 2017. These are heady times for Harry Kane with back-to-back hat-tricks giving him 56 overall, and 18 so far in the Premier League. The one problem – he is not scoring enough! Kane’s 18 have come in only nine games, less than half of Tottenham’s league matches.
Can Carlos really stop the Swans from sinking into the Championship?
SWANSEA CITY’s perilous position at the foot of the Premier League has forced the club into drastic action. For the third straight Christmas they are in the bottom three, but prospects of a third straight survival act are not good.
Two recent trips to Merseyside have been pivotal. A 3-1 defeat at Everton marked the end for manager Paul Clement and the meek 5-0 surrender at Liverpool on Boxing Day showed that a new manager had to be brought in and fast.
However, no one expected that man to be Carlos Carvalhal. The Portuguese had been sacked as Sheffield Wednesday boss on Christmas Eve with the Owls only 15th in the Championship and not living up to pre-season expectations to challenge for promotion. As such, the cynics would suggest the Swans have found the right man if they want to ensure Championship football next season as two failed play-off campaigns meant Wednesday couldn’t return to the top flight after so many years away.
Swansea need two things to happen to stand any chance of staying up. They need Carvalhal to be an inspired motivator capable of galvanising average players and they need a successful transfer window to improve what is a very poor Premier League squad. Even then that might not be enough.
If anything this feels like Hull’s decision to recruit an unknown Marco Silva 12 months ago. He showed he was a good coach and made some good signings, but ultimately he did not keep Hull up. However, his own reputation was sufficiently enhanced to get another Premier League job at Watford. Carvalhal’s first game is away against his fellow Portuguese manager and he needs an instant impact if Swansea’s hopes and his own job are not soon to become mission impossible.
Stat of the Day
5 – SWANSEA have five players in their squad who have been relegated from the Premier League with different clubs – Wayne Routledge (Crystal Palace); Martin Olsson (Blackburn, Norwich); Leroy Fer (Norwich, QPR); Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa); Sam Clucas (Hull).
Adam’s Saturday Scores
Bournemouth 1 Everton 1
Chelsea 3 Stoke 0
Huddersfield 1 Burnley 1
Liverpool 3 Leicester 1
Newcastle 1 Brighton 0
Watford 2 Swansea 1
Manchester United 2 Southampton 0