Stats Zone Premier League XI of the Year
Ladies and gentlemen, as part of the inaugural Stats Zone Awards FourFourTwo and Opta are proud to present the Premier League XI of the Year for 2012/13. The following gentlemen have contributed outstandingly to their teams' causes, so feel free to applaud at your screen.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Cech has been around for nearly a decade, but is far from being on the wane. Indeed, his calm influence has been needed more than ever during a long and fluctuating season in which Chelsea have switched defenders and managers, not always to popular acclaim. The league's best saves percentage (76.6%) helped Cech to 14 clean sheets (and the Stats Zone Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year) and Chelsea into the Champions League places.
Right-back: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
The outgoing champions only have one player in the XI, which reflects both their disappointing season and the excellent campaign of that selection. Zabaleta was the Premier League's top tackler with 113 challenges: indeed, only three other defenders (Jan Vertonghen, Geoff Cameron and Matt Lowton) made it to three figures. Zabaleta was also proficiency with his passing: in November's win at Wigan he became the only player in this season's Premier League to achieve a 100% completion rate having attempted more than 50 passes.
Centre-back: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Among the Bale constant focus Bale on Tottenham's Bale star Welsh wizard Bale, another left-footer did more than most to help Spurs' valiant attempts to reach the Champions League again. Whether filling in at left-back or in his preferred central role, the ball-playing Belgian back passed with aplomb while also topping 100 tackles and making almost 300 clearances. The Stats Zone Centre-Back of the Year also found time to contribute four goals and three assists - the only Premier League defender to manage more than a couple in each column.
Centre-back: Chico Flores (Swansea City)
Cynics will say there has to be a Swansea influence in a Stats Zone team, and it's frequently true that the Swans cut a swathe through opponents with their passing statistics. Their Spanish centre-back certainly fits that mould, with 1,478 passes not far off the top 10 overall. But the man Michael Laudrup signed last summer for £2m isn't just there for ball retention: he also made 226 clearances and the fourth-most interceptions (91) - not bad for a man who missed a third of the season through injury.
Left-back: Leighton Baines (Everton)
Perhaps nobody sums up David Moyes's Everton like Leighton Baines. Picked up relatively cheaply, a tremendous hard worker whose graft doesn't hide his craft, Baines has a reputation as a set-piece specialist but is capable of some wonderful moments from open play. Nobody in Europe's top five leagues created more chances this season than Baines's 116 - and although that only translated to a disappointing 5 assists, you imagine that might go a bit higher if the Stats Zone Premier League Full-Back of the Year were to follow Moyes down the M62.
Central midfielder: Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
As we go to the digital version of "press", nobody in Europe's top five leagues has made more passes than Arsenal's Spaniard (2750). Alright, so Xavi is level with his compatriot and Barcelona play their final La Liga game on Saturday, but you have to imagine Arteta wouldn't mind finishing second to the main orchestrator at the Camp Nou. The Arsenal man has adapted superbly to a slightly deeper role than the one he filled at Everton, thanks largely to the fact he's not afraid to stick a foot in, making 108 tackles over the course of the season: only five Premier League midfielders made more.
Central midfielder: Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
Southampton's midfield Alsatian - he's from the same Germanic-tinged region of eastern France as Arsene Wenger, hence the somewhat Teutonic surname - has been suitably good at the herding-and-guarding in front of the Saints' defence: nobody made more interceptions (139) or tackles (146) in the Premier League. The Stats Zone Premier League Central Midfielder of the Year is no slouch with the ball either, with an impressive 84% retention rate from his near-2,000 passes putting him in the top 10 for passes completed. He's the only player in the Stats Zone Premier League XI not to play for a side in the top half, but maybe that will change if his fellow Alsatian Wenger fancies a bit more bite in his midfield.
Attacking midfielder: Juan Mata (Chelsea)
As it turns out, no club has more than two players in the Premier League XI, but few deserved their places like Chelsea's pair. While Petr Cech kept goals out at one end, Juan Mata kept causing them at the other: he provided more assists than any other Premier League player (12) and scored the same number of goals himself. Along with young protege Eden Hazard, the Spaniard did more than most to keep Chelsea in the top four during a frequently difficult season. Imagine how well they could do with a settled defence and a popular manager.
Attacking midfielder: Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
The last of four members of this XI to have thoroughly enjoyed their debut Premier League season, Santi Cazorla is also one of only four players to hit double figures for both goals (12) and assists (11) in this season's top flight. The prime creative force behind Arsenal's late-season surge towards retaining their Champions League berth, he made more successful passes in the final third (1,645) and averaged more touches in the opposition half (65.9) than any other player in the league. Arsenal fans have understandably taken to the diminutive Spaniard, and will be salivating at the prospect of him feeding a genuine top-class forward if the Emirates outfit see fit to splash out this summer.
Attacking midfielder: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Completing a terrifying triumvirate of London-based attacking midfielders is Tottenham's second member of the XI - although he didn't come second in much this season: the Welsh winger won both PFA gongs, the Football Writers' award, the Barclays award and, arguably most glittering of all, Stats Zone Premier League Attacking Midfielder of the Year. Sadly for Spurs, all his individual gongs and even his 21 Premier League goals - bettered only by Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie - couldn't help the White Hart Lane lads into the Champions League. Bale will end up there one way or the other: Tottenham will hope he gives them one more chance first.
Forward: Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
Maybe we should all listen to our inner child more often. Van Persie admitted it was the boy within who told him to leave Arsenal for Manchester United; the decision matured nicely with a Golden Boot-grabbing 26 goals and a not wholly unconnected 20th title triumph for the Old Trafford outfit. For so long the centre of Arsenal's universe, the Stats Zone Premier League Forward of the Year adapted so well to Old Trafford that he has unwittingly helped push Wayne Rooney toward the door - and possibly Arsenal. Funny how things work out: the United hierarchy had sworn off buying late-20s players without noticeable resale value, but you won't find many at Old Trafford bemoaning the £24m fee and contract taking Van Persie towards his 33rd birthday.
Next: Stats Zone Premier League Young Player of the Year
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