Breakthrough Premier League Team of the Season

As the Premier League season nears its end the award season is in full swing.

There are still some matters to decide – namely who is going to win the title – but we already have some answers in terms of individual honours.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk became the first defender to win PFA Player of the Year since John Terry in 2005 while Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling took the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

The 24-year-old Manchester City man also collected the Football Writers Association Player of the Season Award and the PFA Team of the Year was exclusively a Manchester City and Liverpool affair – apart from Paul Pogba.

The top two clubs took a vast majority of the headlines this year but let’s not forget that, within this, it has also been a pivotal season for a number of players who have broken through to star for their clubs.

Some of them were purchased in the summer and have adapted to Premier League football seamlessly. Others have risen through the ranks to become a key component to their clubs.

Either way they have all risen to become crucial stars this year when they perhaps weren’t expected to be at this stage.

The Offside Rule’s Alasdair Hooper picks his Breakthrough Premier League Team of the Year.

Goalkeeper – Angus Gunn (Southampton)

The son of Norwich goalkeeper Bryan Gunn, 23-year-old Angus has finally earned his chance as a Premier League first-choice ‘keeper.

The English Under-21 international started in the Norwich academy before moving to the Manchester City academy as a youngster.

But after a loan spell back at Norwich last season – where he played all 46 league games – he decided to make the move to Southampton last summer in a £13.5m deal.

It’s well documented that Southampton have had a frustrating season and originally that’s how it panned out for Gunn as he was back-up to Alex McCarthy.

But eventually, after the turn of the year, Ralph Hasenhüttl gave Gunn the starting berth and he has remained in net until the close of the season.

The 23-year-old has so far rewarded his manager’s faith with three clean sheets in his 11 appearances that have helped Southampton beat the drop.

His challenge now is to stay first choice next season.

Right-back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)

The 21-year-old full-back’s exclusion from the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist was probably one of the biggest shocks when the nominations were announced.

He has, quite simply, been one of the revelations of the season with England spoilt for choice at right-back.

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After a handful of appearances last season, the England Under-21 international has become a regular member of Palace’s first team, making 37 appearances in all competitions.

The young defender already has a knack for reading the play excellently and has been successful in 68 per cent of his tackles.

With so much potential Wan-Bissaka could well be starring in the league for years to come.

Centre-back: Joe Gomez (Liverpool)

The number of centre-backs rising up this season has been limited to say the least, and Joe Gomez isn’t exactly a stranger to football fans.

Last season the 21-year-old was often used as a right-back but this season he was well on his way to making the central defensive berth his own alongside Virgil Van Dijk at Liverpool.

Considering he is still so young, that was a tremendous achievement and he quickly ascended to becoming first choice for England as well.

But, as it has done before during his Liverpool career, injury struck again in December when he fractured his leg.

This may be a rogue choice in the line-up but this season was Gomez’s coming of age in the centre of defence.

Centre-back: Issa Diop (West Ham)

As mentioned previously, the wealth of breakthrough central defenders is minimal but West Ham’s Issa Diop is one who has definitely caught the eye.

The Frenchman was brought in as a club-record signing in the summer from Toulouse, although that record was soon broken by the arrival of Felipe Anderson, but it has been a positive first season.

Diop has played 31 times in the league and, although his form has been patchy in the past couple of months, it is very easy to forget he is still just 22 years of age.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini took him out of the side for a couple of games and Diop was restored for last weekend’s fixture against Tottenham.

That game showcased his full capabilities and potential – he is athletic, powerful and has the full skillset to be a success.

You would fully expect him to kick on next season.

Left-back: Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City)

This is the second season in a row where Manchester City have had to make do without their first choice left-back Benjamin Mendy for large stretches.

Last year it was Fabian Delph who impressed as a left-back but this year it is 22-year-old Ukrainian Zinchenko.

Among the wealth of riches at City’s disposal, Zinchenko was a £1.7m signing in July 2016 and for a time looked to be a young talent lost among the talented squad at the Etihad.

Normally a central midfielder, the Ukrainian has worked hard and really made a name for himself as a stand-in left-back covering for Mendy.

He is now well and truly part of this City squad, having featured 26 times in all competitions, and is the go-to option at full-back whenever there is a big game.

For those who thought he didn’t have a future at the Etihad it is time to re-evaluate.

Defensive midfield: Declan Rice (West Ham)

If you were picking a captain for this team, Declan Rice would easily fit the bill.

The 20-year-old looks set to be a West Ham captain of the future and his nomination among the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist just exemplifies what an amazing season he has had.

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Rice had played occasionally at various stages last year in the centre of defence, supposedly his natural position.

But after West Ham’s midfield limitations were exposed at the start of the season Manuel Pellegrini threw Rice into the holding role – it’s been the making of him.

Rice has now transformed into one of the best holding midfielders in the league combining his defensive know-how with his natural talent on the ball.

His change of international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England has also helped solve one of Gareth Southgate’s biggest conundrums – having a midfielder that is composed on the ball.

The 20-year-old now says defensive midfield is the place for him and he has the right attitude that will only see him get better.

Central midfield: Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)

At the beginning of the season the £7m purchase of Guendouzi almost went under the radar at Arsenal but Unai Emery’s faith in the young midfielder was apparent from the start.

Still only 20, the midfielder has become just as recognisable for his hair as he has for his talent – make no mistake this is one seriously good individual.

Racking up 31 appearances in his debut season will have come as a surprise to many but Guendouzi has simply earned that opportunity, combining high intensity play with some precision passing.

As with any young player there are still mistakes and he is far from the finished article.

But to be playing regularly for a top-six side at his age shows signs of what is to come.

Just imagine what he will be like when he is the finished article.

Central midfield: James Maddison (Leicester City)

The Leicester number 10 has stepped up from the Championship to the Premier League far more successfully than people would have expected.

Maddison arrived at the King Power Stadium as Norwich’s player of the year in the summer but quickly set about stamping his authority on his new team.

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The 22-year-old has bagged seven goals in his 34 league appearances – plus seven assists – and is another diminutive creative midfielder England can look forward to seeing develop.

Now with Brendan Rodgers in charge, it’s also likely Maddison will be given much more of a licence to roam and affect play.

In a squad packed with young talent, Maddison is one the Leicester fans can look forward to seeing grow after an excellent first season.

Right midfield: David Brooks (Bournemouth)

Another PFA Young Player of the Year nominee, Brooks has made the step up to Premier League football look effortless.

When Bournemouth bought the Welsh international from Sheffield United in the summer, in all likelihood it was with a view to the future.

But the 21-year-old soon established himself as a key component and has scored seven goals in 30 league appearances.

Whichever way you look at it, Brooks has exceeded expectations and considering the price Bournemouth paid for him – around £11.5m – he looks a bargain.

He signed a new long-term deal with the Cherries in March and looks set to get even better, whether it’s out wide or playing as an attacking midfielder.

Left midfield: Dwight McNeil (Burnley)

A season of struggle finally saw the Clarets turn their fortunes around in the second half of the campaign.

Burnley are now safe, but a large part of their recent success has been down to the inclusion of 19-year-old Dwight McNeil.

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The academy graduate has made 20 league appearances for Sean Dyche’s side and managed to grab three goals and five assists in that time – a crucial contribution when battling the drop.

Those performances have elevated the youngster to a starting berth, and he was rewarded in March with a call-up to the England Under-20s.

With his crucial play this season it’s highly likely we will see much more of the winger next season at Turf Moor.

Striker: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)

In a similar vein to Joe Gomez, Calvert-Lewin was a player we all knew about.

His exploits with the England Under-20s, where he scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, as well as his occasional appearances for Everton proved there was talent there.

With the striker now 22, you got the sense that it was now or never for things to click into place.

But from the turn of the year onwards he has cemented himself as Everton’s first- choice striker in Marco Silva’s system, primarily through hard work rather than his goal scoring.

Breakthrough strikers have been hard to come across this season but Calvert-Lewin’s elevation to first-team regular has seen him granted a real opportunity.

He may have just six goals, but this is still a player in development.

If he can find the net on a more regular basis and can stave off any competition he may face as Everton’s front man, there is every chance he could progress to the next level.

Follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992

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