By Richard Laverty.
It was harder to pick an XI for the final day of the season than ever before. With the pressure off, certain teams ran riot, meaning players around the country put in some superb influential performances – with some playing for their futures. But with the season now over, here are the men who shone as the Premier League clock ticked down one more time.
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Goalkeeper: Tom Heaton (Burnley)
After being called up to the England squad for the first time last week, the former Manchester United trainee showed exactly why he received his inclusion away at Aston Villa.
During a game which looked potentially crucial a month ago, Heaton made a string of excellent saves to keep Villa at arm’s length and ensure Burnley went down with three points to take with them. Whilst he may or may not get his England debut next month, Roy Hodgson couldn’t possibly ignore his contribution on Sunday.
Right-back: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
A regular inclusion in our teams this season and the man who made the position his own in the PFA Team of the Year, Ivanovic once again marauded up and down the right-hand side of the Stamford Bridge all day.
On a day of joy and celebration, Ivanovic showed why he continues to be an important part of Jose Mourinho’s team, and any player will do well to dislodge him when the Blues come back to defend their title next season.
Centre-back: Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Captain last week, Smalling once again showed he has completed a miraculous turnaround in his final appearance of the season. After being sent off in November’s Manchester derby, it seemed as though his long-term future lay away from Old Trafford, but he has been superb since.
Whether playing alongside Phil Jones or Marcos Rojo, Smalling has been a leader at the back, rarely needing to throw himself into tackles, showing he learnt well from Rio Ferdinand. He was once again commanding at the back against Hull, and surely now has a big future at United after signing a new contract.
Centre-back: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
The Belgian is quite an enigma. Undoubtedly he has the talent to potentially go on and play for a Chelsea or a Manchester United, but he has regularly been made to look mediocre by poor partners in Vlad Chiriches or Federico Fazio.
But against Everton, Vertonghen put in a superb performance to ensure a final-day victory for Spurs; one that moved them into fifth place and above Liverpool. With rumours of a move away dying down, he will be crucial if Mauricio Pochettino can find him a solid partner for next season.
Left-back: Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle United)
What a story. When it was announced Gutierrez was suffering from cancer at the start of the season, it looked as though his football career was in serious danger. On Sunday, he scored his first goal of the season – and the one that saved Newcastle.
Making his return against Manchester United two months ago was an achievement in itself, and the Argentine was excellent from left-back against West Ham. His cross was converted by Moussa Sissoko for the first, before he added a second himself, sparking wild celebrations.
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Centre midfield: Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle United)
It may not have been a vintage Sissoko performance, but the Frenchman did the damage when it mattered and his contribution was crucial.
With Hull knocking at the door against Manchester United, a goal would have seen Hull safe and Newcastle relegated. But Sissoko rose above the West Ham defenders to head home, ensuring St James’ Park was as loud as it has been all season.
Centre midfield: Frank Lampard (Manchester City)
Whilst Steven Gerrard departed the Premier League in the worst way possible, Lampard’s own departure to the United States went under the radar somewhat.
He’s turned out to be a shrewd signing for Manchester City, and left his latest employers with the opening goal in a tight game against Southampton. Another legend departing the Premier League for good.
Centre midfield: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
His season was completely curtailed against Manchester United back in November, but Wilshere’s first start in six months put him in the frame for inclusion in next week’s FA Cup final.
Playing from the right, Wilshere was excellent; albeit against a West Brom side that appeared to be on their holidays after securing impressive wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. His goal was arguably one of the finest of the day, and he has, along with one or two others, given Arsene Wenger a real headache.
Striker: Marc Albrighton (Leicester City)
What looked like a solid free transfer at the start of the season, the former Aston Villa man has gone slightly under the radar this season. But as Leicester somehow clawed their way to 14th (they were never in danger!) with a 5-1 win over QPR, Albrighton was sensational.
Regularly putting balls in from the right for Leonardo Ulloa, he bagged a goal himself as Nigel Pearson’s side ended the season in the fashion that their survival deserved.
Striker: Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
If Wilshere has given his manager a headache, then Walcott has given him a migraine. Completely thwarted and frustrated against Sunderland in midweek, Walcott unleashed that energy on West Brom with a first-half hat-trick in the striker’s position vacated by the rested Olivier Giroud.
Whilst nobody truly expects the Frenchman not to start next week’s final, his current form and Walcott’s sensational first half blitz have certainly given Wenger something to think about.
Striker: Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City)
Not the first time a former Manchester United man has done some damage to Liverpool. Last week it was superb sub Wilfried Zaha, this week it was the turn of Diouf.
The striker completely dismantled a weak and tired looking Liverpool side in the first half. Getting on the score sheet twice in quick succession, the Senegalese international helped his Stoke side romp into a sensational 5-0 lead at the break. A great end to the season for both Diouf and Mark Hughes’s side.
Who would be in your team of the week?
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