The World Cup kicks off in 12 days, but I don’t intend to cover it on Power Line (sorry, John). That’s my tiny way of protesting FIFA’s corruption and the related choice of Putin’s Russia as the venue for the competition.
England’s FA isn’t plagued by corruption, so there is no reason not to write a brief recap of the English Premier League season and to select my EPL all-stars.
This past season provided less drama than usual. Manchester City ran away with the championship. For most of the year there was uncertainty over which three of these four clubs — Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and defending champs Chelsea — would join Man City in next year’s Champions League. However, Chelsea faltered and it was pretty clear as the season drew to a close that it would be the odd team out.
The scramble to avoid relegation involved roughly half the league at one point or another. Even Everton, seventh place finishers in 2016-17, feared relegation throughout the first half of the season.
Eight teams, if I’m counting correctly, fired their manager hoping for a jump start that would pull them well clear of the bottom three. Everton was among them.
We brought in tried-and-trusted fireman Sam Allardyce. He performed his mission, leading Everton to eighth place. When the season ended, Everton sacked “Big Sam” and brought in Marco Silva, fired by Watford in mid-season when it looked like his team might be in a relegation fight.
Unfortunately, the relegation drama ended with a week left in the season, depriving fans of a classic final match-day melee. In a rarity, all three of last year’s promoted teams — Newcastle United, Brighton, and Huddersfield — survived. The three losers were Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, and Swansea City. They will be replaced by Wolves, Cardiff City (so Wales will still be represented in the EPL), and Fulham.
As for this year’s top EPL players, here are my selection:
David DeGea — Manchester United
Cesar Azpiliceuta — Chelsea
Ashley Young — Manchester United
Nicolas Otamendi — Manchester City
Jan Vertonghen — Tottenham
David Silva — Manchester City
Christian Eriksen — Tottenham
Kevin De Bruyne — Manchester City
Raheem Sterling — Manchester City
Harry Kane — Tottenham
Mohamed Salah — Liverpool
Nick Pope — Burnley
Antonio Valencia — Manchester United
Nacho Monreal — Arsenal
James Tarkowski — Burnley
Virgil van Dijk — Southampton/Liverpool
Fernandinho — Manchester City
Eden Hazard — Chelsea
Leroy Sané– Manchester City
Wilfred Zaha — Crystal Palace
Roberto Firmino — Liverpool
Sergio Aguero — Manchester City
Petr Cech — Arsenal
James Tompkins — Crystal Palace
Harry McGuire — Leicester City
Christopher Schindler — Huddersfield Town
Kyle Walker — Manchester City
N’Golo Kante — Chelsea
“Gana” Gueye — Everton
Dele Ali — Tottenham
Riyad Mahrez — Leicester City
Sadio Mané — Liverpool
Romelu Lukaku — Manchester United
Player of the year: Salah
Runner-up — De Bruyne
Everton player of the year: Jordan Pickford
Note that Salah and De Bruyne both played for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. The “The Special One” didn’t consider them special enough, so he let them go.
Pickford will be Everton’s lone representative on England’s World Cup squad. Word is that he may be in the starting 11. If so, I’m pretty sure he would be the first Everton goalkeeper to play for England in a World Cup.
Only Kane, Vertonghen and De Bruyne repeat from last year’s first team. Kane, England’s captain at the World Cup, makes his fourth straight first team!
De Gea, Eriksen, Silva, and Azpilicueta move up from last year’s second team to this year’s first. For De Gea, it marks a return to the first team.
Honorable mention goes to ex-Everton player Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, the central defenders who helped Brighton avoid the drop. It also goes to the players you believe were criminally omitted from the first three units.