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Premier League Team of the Season so far - Haaland, Rice, Van Dijk

Sports Mole selects its Premier League Team of the Season so far, including Erling Haaland, Declan Rice and Virgil van Dijk.

As revered Premier League names jet off for the first international break of 2024, the two-week domestic hiatus offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the thrills, spills and stars of a chaotic 2023-24 campaign, which is now nearing its business end.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City have stormed out in front and are engaged in a mesmerising three-way tussle for the trophy, which is currently the Gunners to lose as they sit above the Reds on goal difference and one point better off than the reigning champions.

Aston Villa still have the upper hand over Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for fourth place, albeit having played a game more than the Lilywhites, who only have a three-point disadvantage to make up with 10 matches remaining.

Spurs' fifth-placed ranking could potentially suffice for Champions League qualification based on UEFA coefficients, a spot which Manchester United - now FA Cup semi-finalists - and West Ham United are also in contention for.

A fascinating fight for sixth, seventh and potentially eighth place has opened up between Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham, while Bournemouth and Crystal Palace have built up comfortable leads over the demotion dog-fighters.

Brentford, Everton and Luton Town currently hover above the relegation places, where the all-but doomed Sheffield United and Burnley reside alongside Nottingham Forest, recipients of a four-point deduction on Monday for breaking the Premier League's Profit and Sustainability Rules.

Here, Sports Mole whittles down the division's top performers to an 11-man Team of the Season so far, with a few honourable mentions along the way.

Goalkeeper - Alisson Becker

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker goes down injured on November 25, 2023© Reuters

While Alisson Becker has spent far too much time in the treatment room for Jurgen Klopp and the Kop's liking this season, the Brazil international continues to enhance his credentials as one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet when prowling the Liverpool area.

Seven clean sheets have come Alisson's way from 21 top-flight games, in which he has only conceded 19 goals and recorded a save percentage of 75.3%, the best of any goalkeeper in the top flight.

Only Arsenal's David Raya and Newcastle United's Nick Pope boast a better clean-sheet percentage than the 31-year-old, who has witnessed Caoimhin Kelleher shine in his place over the past few weeks, but the Irishman will be under no illusions that his run in the first XI will come to a swift end once his senior is back in action.

Honourable mentions: David Raya (Arsenal), Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham), Bernd Leno (Fulham), Thomas Kaminski (Luton Town)

Right-back - Pedro Porro

Tottenham Hotspur's Pedro Porro celebrates scoring their first goal on January 5, 2024© Reuters

Making a name for himself as an effervescent wing-back during his time at Sporting Lisbon, Pedro Porro would seemingly slot right in to Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 Tottenham setup, only to witness the Italian depart in explosive circumstances just a couple of months after his arrival.

However, the Spaniard has more than acclimatised to a right-back role under Ange Postecoglou's wing and has set up eight goals in 25 Premier League matches during the 2023-24 season, in addition to scoring a stunning winner against Burnley in the FA Cup.

Furthermore, only Fulham's midfield enforcer Joao Palhinha (73) has tackled more dribblers than Porro's 47 in the top flight this season, and the Spurs man also ranks fourth for tackles won and blocks - both at 50 - as he matures into a competent all-around defender.

Honourable mentions: Ben White (Arsenal), Kyle Walker (Man City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Diogo Dalot (Man United)

Centre-backs - William Saliba and Virgil van Dijk

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk pictured on March 10, 2024© Reuters

As the best defensive team the Premier League has to offer with just 24 goals conceded, it would have been criminal not to include an Arsenal rearguard representative in our XI, and the ever-composed William Saliba gets the nod.

Exuding incredible confidence at the age of just 22, Saliba has not missed a single minute of Premier League football this season and has been central to Arsenal's chart-topping set-piece supremacy, contributing two goals and also laying on an assist in the Gunners' opening win against Nottingham Forest.

A pass completion rate of 92.3% also puts the France international in the top 10 for that statistical category, and Saliba's remarkable calmness on the ball will never cease to amaze Gooners, some of whom may be eating their words after criticising Mikel Arteta's decision to loan him out three times before handing him his debut.

Alongside the 6ft 4in Arsenal man is an equally domineering defender in Liverpool skipper Virgil van Dijk, who was an overwhelmingly popular choice to take over from Jordan Henderson as captain and has returned to his imperious ways.

Much has been made and will be made of the Dutchman's so-called "aura", but when it comes to good, old-fashioned statistics, Van Dijk can proudly boast to have won the most aerial battles (113) in the Premier League, as well as registering the highest percentage of off-the-ground duels won with 84.3%.

Two goals and two assists have also come Van Dijk's way at the other end of the field, but even though he has affirmed that Klopp's impending exit will have no impact on his future, being in the final 18 months of his contract may lead to some understandable concern among the Anfield faithful.

Honourable mentions: Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal), Ruben Dias (Man City), Micky van de Ven (Tottenham), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton)

Left-back - Destiny Udogie

Tottenham Hotspur's Destiny Udogie reacts on September 30, 2023© Reuters

Similarly to his new Lilywhites teammate Porro, Destiny Udogie has attracted glances from across Europe as an explosive wing-back at Udinese and became one of several Serie A-based players to join the Conte and Fabio Paratici revolution in North London.

However, the 21-year-old officially touched down in the English capital after a year of Tottenham turmoil and would also have to get accustomed to an out-and-out full-back role, but his transition has also been a relatively smooth one.

Udogie has netted two goals and set up three more in 24 Premier League matches for Tottenham, and his contributions have not gone unnoticed by Italy boss Luciano Spalletti, who rewarded the left-back with his first two senior Azzurri caps last October.

Honourable mentions: Alfie Doughty (Luton), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Emerson Palmieri (West Ham)

Right midfield - Bukayo Saka

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring their third goal on February 24, 2024© Reuters

Despite their summer transfer splurge, tying Bukayo Saka down to a new long-term contract was arguably Arsenal's best bit of business in 2023, and the jewel in the Gunners crown continues to rack up Premier League goal contributions at a staggering rate.

A force to be reckoned with when cutting inside onto his left foot and possessing impressive strength for his size, the England starlet sits in double figures for both goals and assists in the 2023-24 Premier League season, notching 13 of his own and setting up 10 more.

Each of Arsenal's first seven top-flight games of 2024 saw Saka either find the back of the net or provide an assist for a teammate, and at just 22 years of age, he is the youngest Gunner to net 50 goals for the club in the Premier League era. A true ode to Hale End.

Honourable mentions: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Phil Foden (Man City), Leon Bailey (Aston Villa)

Central midfield - Declan Rice and Rodri

Declan Rice celebrates scoring for Arsenal on March 9, 2024© Reuters

Not all nine-figure players have justified their ludicrous price tags down the years, but Declan Rice has been worth every penny of the £105m that Arsenal splashed out on him over the summer, and the 25-year-old is evidently not fazed by being the most expensive British footballer in history.

As well as his obvious defensive qualities, Arteta has sought to add more of a goal threat to Rice's game this season by deploying him as a left eight on occasion - a shrewd move from the Spaniard, as his £105m man has six goals and six assists in top-flight action this season.

Flourishing in his new role, Rice also sits third in the league for progressive passes (227) and is second in the division for passes into the final third (204), where only Man City's one-man wall can best him.

Joining the Englishman in a fearsome midfield partnership, Rodri is the envy of all top managers bereft of a proper midfield maestro, as the Spaniard continues to prove week in week out that he can do it all.

Rodri coincidentally shares Rice's tally of six goals and six assists in the 2023-24 Premier League season and boasts a total of 17 goal-creating actions this season - only Ollie Watkins has more with 22 - and 2.52 points won per game is the most of any player in the competition.

Fans and pundits alike often run out of superlatives to describe the 27-year-old, who has only been missing for three Premier League games in the current campaign. Surprise surprise, City lost all three of them, the only top-flight defeats that they have suffered this term.

Honourable mentions: Alexis Mac Allister (Liverpool), Cole Palmer (Chelsea), James Maddison (Tottenham), Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle), Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa), Ross Barkley (Luton), Pascal Gross (Brighton)

Left midfield - Mohamed Salah

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah reacts on March 14, 2024© Reuters

Shoe-horned into a left-midfield role for the purposes of our selection, Liverpool wing wizard Mohamed Salah blocked out the Saudi Pro League noise from the summer transfer window and returned to doing what he does best, scoring goals for the Reds.

Fifteen strikes and nine assists have come Salah's way from 22 top-flight matches in 2023-24 - thereby averaging over one direct contribution in every match - and he has now passed the 200-goal mark for Liverpool, just the fifth player to do so in the famous red strip.

Furthermore, by registering against Sparta Prague in the Europa League, Salah hit 20 goals for the season for a staggering seventh year running - a feat no Liverpool player had previously achieved - but the Reds must brace themselves for a sustained Saudi push for the 31-year-old's priceless services this summer.

Honourable mentions: Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Alejandro Garnacho (Man United), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle), Pedro Neto (Wolves)

Strikers - Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates scoring their first goal on February 27, 2024© Reuters

While Erling Haaland's comical catalogue of sitters missed make a lot of headlines, the Jekyll-and-Hyde Golden Boot winner is still on track for back-to-back top scorer accolades in the Premier League.

Potentially flying under the radar due to the gargantuan standards he set in his debut campaign in England, the 23-year-old's 18 strikes in the 2023-24 top flight remains unparalleled, and he has also chipped in with five assists for his teammates.

However, the race for the Golden Boot is a much tighter affair this time around, thanks in no small part to the incredible feats of Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins, currently Haaland's closest challenger in terms of goalscoring with 16 strikes to his name.

What is more, not a single one of those goals has come from the penalty spot, and Watkins tops the charts for the most overall Premier League goal contributions with 26, having set up a joint-high 10 Aston Villa strikes too.

The latest number nine to thrive under Unai Emery's wing, Watkins is spearheading the Villa charge for Champions League football and has earned his place among the European elite for 2024-25, whether that is indeed with the Lions or not.

Honourable mentions: Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth), Alexander Isak (Newcastle), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool), Hwang Hee-chan (Wolves)


PL TOTS so far

Sports Mole's Premier League Team of the Season so far (4-4-2): Alisson; Porro, Saliba, Van Dijk, Udogie; Saka, Rodri, Rice, Salah; Watkins, Haaland

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Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk pictured on March 10, 2024
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Tables header RHS
CManchester CityMan City38287396346291
4Aston Villa382081076611568
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs382061274611366
7Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381861485622360
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd38186145758-160
9West Ham UnitedWest Ham381410146074-1452
10Crystal Palace381310155758-149
11Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton381212145562-748
14Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38137185065-1546
17Nottingham ForestNott'm Forest3899204967-1832
RLuton TownLuton3868245285-3326
RSheffield UnitedSheff Utd38372835104-6916

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