The PFA Premier League team of the 2017/18 season was released this week and is predictably dominated by the runaway champions-elect Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side are represented with five players – Kyle Walker and Nicolas Otamendi in defence, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne in midfield and Sergio Aguero in attack.
Unsurprisingly, Manchester United’s David de Gea is in goal, deservedly so as the Spaniard is by far the best goalkeeper in the division. Burnley’s Nick Pope and City’s Ederson have both had fantastic seasons, but De Gea is in a league of his own in England and alongside the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak and Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen in Europe.
Tottenham Hotspur rank second with three players in the team. No doubts about Harry Kane or Jan Vertonghen, but Fernandinho may have felt harshly treated to be overlooked in favour of Christian Eriksen, as good as the Dane has been this season.
However, when it comes to being overlooked, Liverpool (and also Burnley) will feel the most aggrieved about the line-up.
Either of Burnley’s centre-backs could have made the team, in particular James Tarkowski, in place of Otamendi, who has certainly improved this season but does not deserve to be among the starting eleven of the Premier League’s best. Indeed, in recent weeks Otamendi has actually slipped back into bad habits, especially against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals.
With eight City and Spurs players in the team and only one Liverpool player, Jurgen Klopp can point to the Premier League team of the year as an indication of Liverpool’s status to those outside the red half of Merseyside. For all their progress and achievement this season, let alone what could yet happen in the Champions League, the Reds remain underrated.
No one at Anfield can argue against City’s monopoly over the team, given their performances in the league this season. However, Tottenham are behind Liverpool in the table yet have three times as many representatives.
Selection is not only determined by league position, otherwise Manchester United would have their own case for greater representation, but also style and expectation.
Liverpool were predicted by most to be fighting for, but not necessarily finishing in, the top four, given the strength of the top six in the Premier League.
Klopp’s players all had their own questions to answer – could Roberto Firmino really flourish as a proper number nine for Liverpool for example – and his new signings were viewed as slightly underwhelming compared with the names linked last summer. Yet, Dominic Solanke aside (who remains a work in progress), Liverpool’s record in the transfer market this season has been exemplary.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to develop into a midfield star since moving from Arsenal, while Andrew Robertson and especially Mohamed Salah have set the Kop alight this season with their stunning consistency.
Salah was always going to be in the team of the year thanks to his 40-goal-and-counting campaign, but Robertson should have been included over Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso.
In recent years there have been few outstanding left-backs, and Alonso’s inclusion suggests that he was the best of a bad bunch – but one who had played all season for his club.
This issue must be the only reason why Robertson was not included, but the Scottish international nevertheless deserves to be in the side. Since breaking through into Klopp’s first-team – helped undoubtedly by Alberto Moreno’s injury ending his own resurgence in the Liverpool side – Robertson has not looked back, and appears to have solved Liverpool’s long-term headache at left-back.
The 24-year-old is both adept at attacking and defending, and does not succumb regularly to injury, meaning he has the potential to surpass the likes of John Arne Riise and Fabio Aurelio as Liverpool’s best left-back of the millennium at least.
Virgil van Dijk has been outstanding since joining Liverpool from Southampton in January, helping improve an uncertain Liverpool defence to the point where clean sheets have now become the norm, when Klopp could not buy one for the majority of his early period at Anfield.
The Dutchman has without doubt performed better than Otamendi, but the playing time factor does have more credit here, and again would be extremely harsh on Mee and Tarkowski.
Finally, Roberto Firmino has enjoyed a career-best campaign with Liverpool, with 25 goals in all competitions, 15 in the Premier League, and with more tackles and interceptions than many big-name defenders in the division. The Brazilian is the ultimate all-round performer, who makes the Reds’ fearsome front three tick, and he may feel unfortunate not to be included over Aguero, even if the Argentine has more league goals.
Ultimately, Klopp will not care about the PFA team, but he and his Liverpool players will want to continue proving everyone wrong through further, tangible success, which every Liverpool fan truly senses could be around the corner under the dynamic German and his team.