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Staff Poll: The EPL’s Best XI for 2021-22

4-4-2! Who is in your best XI for the season?

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Liverpool v Leeds United - Premier League - Anfield
Salah and Alisson are two players who are in many top XI’s.
Photo by Phil Noble/PA Images via Getty Images

It was an exciting end of the season across the table in the EPL, which means it’s time for end-of-season awards. Kevin De Bruyne won this year’s EA Sports Player of the Year, and Mo Salah was the PFA Player’s Player of the Year, but who were the season’s best starting XI?

We’ve asked our experts to chime in with their top 4-4-2 lineup (with maybe a little bit of wiggle room). There are some clear choices that make most lists, but there are also a few outliers.

I’m sure the players we named will be tweeting about the making this prestigious list!


David

GK: Alisson

He shared the 2022 Golden Gloves award for most clean sheets with Ederson. And lest you believe that Alisson collected so many cleanies only because of the world-class players lined up in front of him, stats designed to eliminate the influence of a keeper’s defense (Post-Shot Expected Goals vs Goals Allowed) reveal that he is the best shot-stopper in the league.

DEF: Trent Alexander-Arnold

TAA is probably the best right fullback in the world — certainly the best in the Premier League.

DEF: Virgil van Dijk

VvD was playing each of the 21 times the Reds kept a clean sheet, and every time he didn’t play they conceded. That tells you everything you need to know about the towering Dutchman’s imperious influence on his side.

DEF: Ruben Dias

Pep’s favorite center half, Dias played every minute available to him this season, racking up 30 tackles for an impressive 83% success rate. But Pep loves him for what he does in possession. Dias was second in the league for total passes, #1 in the league for pass accuracy (95%), had 6000 yards of progressive dribbling, and notched two goals plus three assists.

DEF: Cancelo

Another City defender who makes his money going forward, Cancelo had seven assists this season. That’s more than Bruno Fernandes, level with Heung-Min Son or Bukayo Saka, and just one fewer than Kevin De Bruyne.

MID: Kevin De Bruyne

The 2021-22 campaign wasn’t his best, but he’s still tops among a stable-full of world-class midfielders at the Etihad.

MID: Heung-Min Son

Co-winner of the Golden Boot with not a single goal coming from the penalty spot, his performances were crucial to Spurs’ Champions League qualification.

MID: Mo Salah

The other Golden Boot winner, this time his third. Only Thierry Henry has more (four). He also won the Playmaker award for most assists. Only four other players have ever won both awards in the same EPL season.

MID: Jarrod Bowen

What kind of season did Jarrod Bowen have? Well, only two players made the top 10 for goals and the top 5 for assists. One was Mo Salah. The other was Jarrod Bowen.

FWD: Harry Kane

It’s true he failed to repeat as Golden Boot winner, but besides the two guys who did win it, only Cristiano Ronaldo scored more league goals than Kane, despite the fact that Kane now seems to spend as much time playing as a #10 as he does as a #9.

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo

There are not many players who could have scored 18 Premier League goals while playing for a team as out of sorts as the Red Devils. His singular talent and unflagging determination were lonely bright spots in an otherwise dark place. Assuming he stays at Old Trafford, it’s amazing to consider that next season will be the first time in 20 years that CR7 will not be playing in the Champions League.

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Stats and info sourced from: mirror.co.uk, sportingnews.com, ranker.com, bbc.com,


Stall

GK: Alisson

Among all his attributes he leads from the back, comes and claims crosses and unbelievable at one on one saves, the best all round keeper in my option within the Premier League set a great example on and off the pitch.

DEF: Trent Alexander-Arnold

You watch him play, he gets caught out of position, he’s vulnerable one on one or to decent movement, and yet every season he performs with the ball. With constant supply of chances, constant energy, and positive decisions in a very good Liverpool side, he nicks the spot over an impressive Reece James for now.

DEF: Virgil van Dijk

I thought the injury that cost him the previous season might take something from him. That didn't appear the case last season, when he led his side so securely and maintained his aura on the pitch. He’s a Rolls Royce of a defender.

DEF: Antonio Rüdiger

While Chelsea ended the season without a domestic trophy, I thought Rudiger had the biggest impact for his side than anyone without the initials VvD. Playing for a manager who found the system and words to get the best out of him, he had his best Premier League season.

DEF: Cancelo

He just gets better and better, more and more an influence in his team. I’m not sure any City player quite gets Pep’s systems and requirements as well as Cancelo.

MID: Heung-Min Son

Son’s really splendid player who keeps improving, a manager’s and fantasy football player’s dream, such a hard working constant menace.

MID: Mo Salah

In the first half of the season, it looked like he may go on to break a number of Premier League all-time records. He dipped after the Cup of Nations and didn’t offer enough in the cup finals, but he remains the most feared attacking player in the league. His goal and performance in Man City’s 2-2 draw at Anfield sticks in the mind.

MID: Jarrod Bowen

Bowen was FPL’s 2021-22 assist king with 17 for an improving West Ham side. Bowen was linked with bigger clubs, but the hesitation saw a chance to prove himself with the Hammers. This may turn out to be the best step for Bowen in his development, and if he follows this up next season, he will become a story of the transfer window in 2023. Also, in a World Cup year it’s great to see an Englishman break through.

MID: Bukayo Saka

The final spot in my midfield could have gone to KDB who remains the league best player in my view, but I’ve gone for Arsenal’s young winger Saka.

He came into the season after missing in the Euro 2020 final, resulting in some pretty disgusting abuse. Many prime players would struggle to recover, so to see a 19 year old rebound the way he did was outstanding. At times he dragged his Gunners’ side into a race for a Champions League spot a year or two early in the squads development. He started 36 of 38 league games with two sub appearances, scoring 11 and assisting 9 times. Through those games he was often running on fumes, and I suspect played with injury at times. Game after game he terrorised opposition left back to which we saw teams double teaming him wherever possible. Saka was kicked and battered in games and yet kept his temperament. It’s that temperament that cannot be taught — it’s either in you or it isn’t.

With him still just 20, I think you can tell I am fantastically impressed with him as a player and as a young man. The Gunners will need to brace themselves for some huge summer bids next year if this carries on.

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo

Man United had a shocking season, but there were few bright moments, and there was CR7. At 37 he of course isn't the player from Real Madrid or the player United sold, but in the worst United side in the Premier League era, he scored 18 goals, making him the highest scoring forward in the 2021/22 season.

FWD: Harry Kane

After the expected move to City fell through, Kane started the season with too much on his mind (and not enough preseason), so his performances dipped. The headline appointment of Antonio Conte changed much at Tottenham and inspired Kane to lead his team back into the Champions League. 17 league goals plus 11 FPL assists saw him the top points scorer among forwards by some way. A big match player, he will go on to break more records next season.


Chris

I’m going with a 4-5-1 since the “forwards” (as defined by FPL) were so underwhelming. For me, that means Cristiano Ronaldo — only 21 involvements (18 goals and 3 assists) as central striker and focal point of Man United, who takes a huge chunk of responsibility for the 6th place finish — doesn’t make the cut.

GK: Alisson

I’m not alone in preferring budget options at keeper, but in this case Alisson takes the plaudits. Pricey but well worth it as the #1 keeper in FPL by a long shot thanks to a load of clean sheets combined with plenty of dazzling saves. David de Gea deserves mention with a standout season for the Red Devils, but sometimes an awful defense is too much to overcome.

DEF: Trent Alexander-Arnold

As usual. Pricey but well worth it as the #1 defender in FPL.

DEF: Joao Cancelo

Everybody got on the bandwagon early for the other transcendent wing back, or suffered greatly.

DEF: Virgil van Dijk

Where would Liverpool be without VvD? The answer came back in 2020-21. Thankfully he returned in full form in 2021-22.

DEF: Antonio Rudiger

The Gibraltar of the usually rock-solid Blues’ back line.

MF: Mo Salah

He’s everybody’s favorite captain, and with good reason. Many of us will always fondly remember triple-captaining him for a whopping 84 point return on his own in DGW-26 thanks to three goals plus an assist against hapless Norwich and Leeds.

MF: Son Heung-min

Sharing Golden Boot honors with Salah, Son nearly nipped his fellow winger at the end as the #1 player in FPL. Since Son didn’t benefit from PK responsibility, I’d say the Spurs’ star was truly the best pure attacker in the EPL for 2022-23. He wasn’t too shabby as a playmaker either, adding 10 fantasy assists as the partnership with Harry Kane continued to flourish.

MF: Kevin de Bruyne

KDB’s assists fell off to a pedestrian (for him) tally of eight, but the brilliant Belgian scored his most ever goals with 15 in under 2200’ in taking over some finishing responsibility in City’s absence of a pure striker.

MF: Jarrod Bowen

Tomas Soucek fell off from the prior season, and Michail Antonio underwhelmed following a blistering start to the campaign, but Bowen stepped up as the Hammers’ main man with consistent brilliance all the way through. 200+ FPL points on the cheap thanks to 29 goals + fantasy assists, simply phenomenal.

MF: Bukayo Saka

20 G + fA, an outstanding producer as the brightest star for the young Gunners.

F: Harry Kane

It took Kane a while to get going, but when the Tottenham talisman finally did start up, the usual top notch production returned in a fantastic finish.


PPQ

GK: Alisson

With 20 clean sheets and the best goals-against, it’s hard to look past him. He makes the saves that keepers should and others that most wouldn’t.

DEF: Joao Cancelo

Cancelo led the league in completed passes, played more minutes than all but two other defenders, and added seven assists for the team with least goals against. In a team that rotated a LOT, Cancelo was an anchor.

DEF: Trent Alexander-Arnold

The defender was second in the league only to his teammate Salah. He’s the clear best right-back in the EPL. There are very few people who play a ball into the box as well as TAA.

DEF: Virgil van Dijk

VVD showed again why he’s so valuable to Liverpool. He’s a huge reason why Liverpool kept the lowest goals and had the most clean sheets. He’s an easy choice to anchor any back line.

DEF: Antonio Rüdiger

He was the key piece in the back line for the Blues who finished third. He was consistent, and his runs forward were fun to behold.

MF: Kevin De Bruyne

Like other have noted, he didn’t have the same production as in previous years, but when City needed him he stepped up. He’s still the best player in the league when at his best.

MF: Jarrod Bowen

Bowen was a revelation this season. After ending 2020-21 strong, he took his game to another level this season. He was a constant threat as provider and scorer. He definitely has earned his spot in the top 11.

MF: Bukayo Saka

Saka is beginning to reach the potential that we Gunner fans had hoped for. He was the most dangerous and consistent player for Arsenal. I’m even more excited to see what is next for the youngster.

MF: Dejan Kulusevski

I’m going with a bit of a differential pick here. The Spurs’ transfer sparked new life in attack. He notched five goals and provided eight assists in just 18 appearances while always looking dangerous in link-up play. He was that extra knife that Kane and Son needed to dissect opposition defenses.

F: Mo Salah

I’m playing him more advanced so I’m going to count him as a forward. He led the league in both goals and assists. He’s inspiring... creative... technical. He is simply one of the best (and my FPL captain for most of the season).

F: Son Heung-min

He tied for leading scorer in the EPL. Spurs would have been lost without him this year. He made up goals when Kane slumped. He scored some magical ones this year!


Olakunle

GK: Alisson

Alisson was a rock in the Reds defense last season. Jurgen klopp’s side rivalled Man City ‘til the last day. The shot-stopper gathered 20 clean sheets, which was enough to share the Golden Gloves with Man City’s Ederson.

DEF: Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk returned from an ACL injury to steady Liverpool’s defense from its 2020-21 below-par level. The Netherlands’ skipper’s calmness on the ball and his leadership quality were evident all season as the Reds captured the FA Cup and Carabao Cup trophies.

DEF: Antonio Rudiger

Antonio Rudiger will be sorely missed in the Blues’ back line when the EPL kicks off again about eight weeks from now. The rugged center-back marshalled the Blues’ defense that had to cope with losses of important personnel all through the season. The center-back also chipped in with three goals at the other end of the pitch.

DEF: Ruben Dias

The arrival of Ruben Dias at the beginning of the 2020-21 season brought calmness and leadership to a Man City defense struggling to recover from former captain Vincent Kompany’s departure. The center-back was once against crucial as Pep Guardiola marched toward back-to-back league titles.

MF: Mo Salah

Easily the most capped FPL player last season. Salah once again showed his class as he shared the Golden Boot with Tottenham’s Son. Despite falling off a bit in the second half of the season, the Egyptian did more than enough to warrant a place in the League eleven.

MF: Hueng min Son

Son took over the goal scoring responsibilities from teammate Harry Kane to record his highest tally in a Premier League season. The striker scored 23 to tie Salah for the Golden Boot.

MF: Kevin De Bruyne

While De Bruyne’s assist record might have fallen off a bit this season, the Belgian playmaker more than made up for it by increasing his output in finishing himself. The Sergio Aguero’s departure at the end of the 2020-21 season and Pep’s lack of trust for Gabriel Jesus meant the midfielders were tasked with supplying the goals for Citizens. The playmaker scored a career-high 15 league goals this season.

MF: Jarrod Bowen

Bowen took his performances for West Ham to the next level by recording double figures for both goals and assists for the first time since joining the London side. Bowen scored 12 goals and added a further 10 assists.

MF: Bukayo Saka

Saka continued his growth in the Gunners set up by being the team’s talisman as Arteta’s side fought to make a top four finish. The winger hit double figures for goals for the first time in his career while also recording seven assists.

F: Harry Kane

Fewer goals? Well maybe not a problem. Harry dovetailed perfectly with strike partner Son to lead Spurs to the fourth spot, enough to guarantee a place in the Champions League next season. Despite having a slow start to the season, the striker finished in style by recording 17 goals and nine assists.

F: Cristiano Ronaldo

Too old for the Premier League? Definitely not. Cristiano Ronaldo showed once again that age is just a number by scoring 18 goals in a dysfunctional Manchester United team that seems to have lost direction and motivation. The Red Devils endured a woeful season that saw them finish sixth on a net-zero goal difference. Tellingly, they failed to win any of the matches in which Ronaldo failed to feature.


Alisson and VvD make each list. As do KDB, Son, Salah, Bowen, and Saka. Do you agree with those unanimous selections? James Ward-Prowse made the final list for many pundits. Should he have been included in our lists? Whom else did we leave out? Whom did we include that maybe shouldn’t be there? Please log in to share your thoughts and critiques in the comments!

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