As is usually the case, the PFA Premier League Team of the Year contained few surprises in a starting XI comprised of players plying their trade for big-six clubs.
We’ve turned our attention towards some of the division’s unsung heroes in this slideshow – namely players who have surprised us (for positive reasons) this season.
Swansea’s biggest downfall this season has been their inability to score. Carlos Carvalhal’s side have managed only 27 goals in the Premier League – the joint-lowest total in the division with bottom side West Brom.
However, the Swans have enjoyed some positive contributions from their top scorer Ayew, especially during the second half of the campaign after his positional switch to a more central role. Under Carvalhal and alongside his brother Andre, who was re-signed by Swansea in January, Ayew has been the key figure in his club’s march towards safety, managing 11 goals in all competitions.
It took Barnes until mid-November to get off the mark this season, and even since then he’s scored only eight goals in 23 appearances for Sean Dyche’s side – just one more than he's managed bookings in that period.
But the 28-year-old has proved something of a clutch player for the high-flying Clarets, who are bound for Europe in no small part thanks to him. Barnes’ rejuvenated partnership with Chris Wood produced four goals in successive games for him against Southampton, Everton, West Ham and West Brom – and in all of those he scored Burnley’s first or only goals.
Cook was signed as a teenager from Leeds in summer 2016, and Cherries boss Eddie Howe has been quick to recognise his talent. No midfielder in Bournemouth’s squad has more top-flight minutes under their belt this season than the 21-year-old, and his displays have even earned him a first England cap under Gareth Southgate.
His own manager has compared him to former Bournemouth team-mate Jack Wilshere – thankfully for his playing style, rather than injury record. “There are parallels to draw between the two,” Howe said in March. “They're both dynamic players, creative players, and they've got an eye for a pass.”
The outstanding French midfielder in the Premier League this season? Not Paul Pogba or N’Golo Kante, but Watford’s Doucoure.
“I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league,” he said in September following his side’s 2-0 win over Southampton where he opened the scoring – one of seven strikes he’s managed this campaign.
Those are lofty ambitions, but for much of the season he’s not been too far off. Since a difficult start to life at Vicarage Road – upon signing in February 2016, Doucoure was immediately loaned to Granada – he’s only missed one game all season (through suspension) and thrived as a box-to-box force.
Despite the rollercoaster thrills of The Claudio Bravo Experience, nobody exactly expected a disaster from the Brazilian signed from £34.7m from Benfica last summer – but few expected him to offer David de Gea a fight for the title of league’s best keeper either.
Ederson might not be on the Spaniard’s level just quite yet, but he's done remarkably well to slot into Pep Guardiola’s system so seamlessly and thrive.
Before 2017-18, Lascelles had only one dismal season of top-flight experience under his belt, but even then the young stopper was leading by example and trying to drag up the more experienced underperformers around him. It was no surprise therefore that Rafa Benitez chose the former Nottingham Forest man as his new skipper upon the Magpies’ relegation in 2016.
With Lascelles in the side this term, Newcastle have conceded only 0.93 goals per game on average in Premier League matches he's played this season, and his captain’s contribution of three goals could end up helping his team to a top-half finish.
The Serb must have ice running through those veins of his. Crystal Palace have been awarded an astonishing nine penalties this season in the Premier League, eight of which the 27-year-old has taken. Seven have found the back of the net.
Milivojevic has added another three goals to take his total for the season to 10, but he’s been generally influential throughout the campaign. A tough tackler who breaks up play in front of the defence, the ex-Olympiacos man is also an underrated passer of the ball.
Murray scored 11 goals in his previous three seasons of Premier League football for Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, leading to the reasonable conclusion that he probably wouldn’t ever replicate his useful record lower down the English pyramid.
This season alone with Brighton, however, the striker – now 34 – has scored 12 times, making him the fourth-highest-scoring Englishman in the top flight behind only Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy. That’s more goals than Marcus Rashford, Charlie Austin and Danny Welbeck, all of whom are in with a shout of being named in Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad.
After a 2016-17 in which Liverpool’s leaky defence cost them on more than one occasion, Reds fans were desperate for Jurgen Klopp to shore up his backline during the summer. That he did – but an £8m left-back from relegated Hull was hardly what Kopites had in mind.
By the second half of 2017/18, however, those underwhelmed with the Scotsman’s signing had shelved their doubts. Robertson has been the quiet success of the season at Anfield, establishing himself as an important element of Jurgen Klopp’s red machine since December’s 5-1 trouncing of Brighton, and all but confirming the end of Alberto Moreno’s career on Merseyside.
Jose Mourinho has no fewer than four other potential left-backs at his disposal, yet his decision to give Young a swing there ahead of Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind or Marcos Rojo has proven an unlikely success.
Since moving further downfield, Young has reinvigorated what looked to be a dying career at Old Trafford, and even played himself back into international contention. The 32-year-old was recalled to the England squad in November by Southgate after a four-year sabbatical, and is hotly tipped to be part of the Three Lions squad that travels to Russia this summer.
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