And for good reason. If I thought Arsenal's "disaster week" from February 2007 was bad (knocked out by PSV in CL, Chelsea in CC, Blackburn in FA), the football gods found a new way to torment me with the double whammy of Liverpool and United ensuring an empty trophy cabinet. Of course, I thought I wouldn't ever want to watch soccer again, let alone update TLoCA, but we all know the beautiful game cannot be resisted for long. In my absence, I've had a chance to do a lot of thinking, and though there are three games remaining, I give you...
Jim's 2007-2008 EPL All-Star Team
When I first drew it up, I had a few biases I was consciously avoiding. One was the instant temptation to overload with Arsenal players (I obviously see them in action more than any others). The other was to exclude players from teams outside the Big Four of United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool, because again, I usually tune in to watch the big matches.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized my concerns were unwarranted. Because I see Arsenal players so often, I suppose I sometimes have a tendency to glorify their contributions, but on the flipside, I'm also acutely aware of their shortcomings. This, I think, balances out in my choices. And as for the Big Four, I realized that it didn't make any sense to overcompensate with players from smaller teams because often, they simply aren't as good. There's a reason the league is dominated by four teams, and it's because they have the best players. Period. So without further ado:
GK: David James (Portsmouth). At the beginning of the year, it seemed a certainty that Pepe Reina, Petr Cech, and maybe even Jens Lehmann would be battling for this honor. However, Reina has been very inconsistent, Cech has been plagued with injuries, and Lehmann rode the bench after horrorshow (I actually screamed) mistakes against Fulham and Blackburn to start the season. Through it all, James has been a model of consistency and leadership for a solid Pompey side, has won back a starting place in the England national squad for his efforts, and even made the shortlist for PFA Player of the Season.
RB: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal). Arsenal supporters were all disappointed when Wenger's "big" off-season signings consisted of this man and Croatian striker Eduardo. I think everyone's tune has changed now. If there were an award for "best transition to the English game," I think the shortlist would consist of him and a certain Spaniard to be named later in this column. And that's it. His defense was almost flawless, but even more valuable was his ability to perform like a second Clichy on the right flank. The two of them overlapping and dribbling past defenders gave Arsenal so many attacking approach options, and it wasn't a coincidence that Arsenal's defense immediately fell apart when he was injured against Chelsea.
CB: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United). Everyone knew he had natural talent and athletic ability, but after his legal troubles (drunk-driving, failed drug test, etc.) and with his goofy appearance, I've always found it difficult to take him seriously. No longer. He's played like a man possessed, his positioning has improved dramatically, and he's been rewarded with a captain's armband for England and a new big money contract. United have conceded only 19 goals all season, and the credit is really due to Rio and his rock-solid partnership with Nemanja "he'll f**kin' murder ya" Vidic.
CB: Micah Richards (Manchester City). Richard Dunne, the great atmosphere at the City of Manchester Stadium, and the early form of Elano certainly helped, but probably the biggest reason for Citeh's hot start to the season came from this young man. Though he was sidelined for the remainder of the season in February, his tireless and inspired play (one of the best tacklers I've seen) and his ability to play several different positions on the pitch gets him the nod alongside Rio in the heart of defense.
LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United). He barely edges out Arsenal's Hurricane Clichy for this honor, though it's clear that these two are head and shoulders above anyone else at their position right now. They're also extremely similar players. But while Clichy has better pace bringing the ball up the wing (he may be the single fastest player I've ever seen) and is able to track back to cover his few errors, he's shown some mental lapses this season and becomes somewhat ineffective in the final third. This year, Evra gets my vote for his all-around defensive ability and the quality of his crosses, but I think Gael has the higher ceiling, so expect him here next season.
RM: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United). Um, obviously.
CM: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool). Captain Fantastic was again the heartbeat of his side, and though their league aspirations suffered early, his leadership and determination has seen off Everton's challenge for fourth and led 'Pool to (another) Champions League semi-final. Thanks to him, Torres, and a tough central defense, the spine of the team (though aging) is as good as any in the world. If Liverpool buys some decent width, maybe they'll finally do something next year.
CM: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal). The Cesc God got off to a dynamite start to the season, and though he eventually came back down to Earth, Earth for him happens to be the Himalayas. His passing suffered a little during the winter months, but he remained the most consistent member of an Arsenal squad that crumbled into oblivion these past few weeks. In the end, nobody scored more crucial late goals (Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool, AC Milan, Bolton, etc.) and there still isn't a player in the league with better vision on the field.
LM: Joe Cole (Chelsea). There was a recent article on Soccernet discussing Chelsea's lack of a true star. In the end, though, they conceded that Cole has been the Blues MVP this season, and I completely agree. On a squad which never lacks for disciplined play, Cole provides the one thing they do lack: creativity. He's not the paciest winger, but he definitely is one of the trickiest, and his dribbling skills are second to none. (OK, one, I guess.)
FW: Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn). The complete package and the lone threat on an otherwise toothless squad which did everything it could to erase his accomplishments. For example: he became the first player in years to score a hat-trick in a losing effort against Wigan. Oh, and he should have scored the winner against United this past weekend. Anyway, he won't be on this team next year.
FW: Fernando Torres (Liverpool). Has a striker from another league ever adapted this quickly to the Premiership? Henry, Drogba, Bergkamp - none of them made the necessary adjustments as quickly as el Nino. Yes, he's a bit two-faced, scoring the vast, vast majority of his goals at Anfield, but he's scored 22 total. That's pretty good, but even scarier is that it's two goals away from his age. He's only 24. I'll say it again: he's only 24. Marinate on that for a second.
Matthieu Flamini (Arsenal). The running man. The new Gattuso. An extremely versatile player, but I think we learned where he fits best. I really hope he doesn't go to Italy.
Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham Hotspur). I don't like Spurs, but it's hard not to respect Berba. He exudes cool, and his body language demonstrates nothing but disdain for opposing defenses (and sometimes his teammates, but deservedly so). If only Tottenham didn't immediately give away every goal he and Keano score.
Mikel Arteta (Everton). Sorry Everton, looks like another year of finishing behind Liverpool. But Arteta did his best, and remains the best Spanish midfielder in the league not named "Cesc Fabregas."
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United). He sort of scares me. And the United fans sing a song about him killing you. If this were an actual team and I were smart, I'd start him alongside Rio, but I'm a sucker for talented youth.
Michael Essien (Chelsea). The only player for Chelsea aside from Joe Cole who seems to actually care about winning the title. It's shocking that Grant kept him on the bench for parts of the season. This guy can play any position and play it well.
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa). He fast.
And with that I'd like to pass the mic to my esteemed colleague...
Juan's 2007-2008 EPL All-Star Team
Fernando Torres - I think I'm going to nickname him, "The Spanish Inquisition," and I mean that as offensively as possible.
Dimitar Berbatov - 15 goals and 11 assists is 5th and 3rd respectively in the EPL. These stats are for a team that is dead middle of the table and scored 64 goals total. That means he is 40% of Tottenham and that is not a typo (The leader is at 46%... I wonder who that is?). He's more than just a finisher and who in the world is he passing to? The answer is Robbie Keane but still - respect. I nickname him, "The Truth".
Cristiano Ronaldo - 46% My nickname - "Oh-Em-Gee"
Cesc Fabregas - He leads the premiership in assists (18) and he convinced me this season that he really cares about his team. That is important to me with so many overpaid, mercenary athletes in todays sports world. Nickname - Fabulous Cesc In The Morning
Ashley Young - 2nd in the league with 16 assists. I didn't pick this duo simply because they are one and two in assists but hey, who the hell cares. He's fast, he's young and if you watched any Aston Villa this year you realized he was integral to their side. Nickname - "A-Yo"
David Bentley - McClaren was probably not the right coach for England but there is a reason this guy edged out David Beckham and saw serious playing time. He also had 10 assists amongst his crew of flunkies on Blackburn. Don't upset the queen Bentley and pass that ball. Nickname - he has a pretty cool name already. I'm fine with calling him Bentley. Actually, hell, call him, "The Continental."
Gael Clichy - One of my new favorite defenders of all time. Honestly, besides Cristiano, this guy was the 2nd easiest person to put on the list. He's on my all-world team at left back right now. He's blistering fast and I've always contended that's he's the fastest soccer player in the world. It's not just his offensive threat either, he's a world class defender too. He's not a bastard either (cough, Ashley Cole) and if you need convincing, watch his game against Liverpool 2nd leg. He was the best all around player on the field, he ran more than anyone else, and he left every ounce of himself on that field. I heart Gael Clichy. Nickname "Gazelle Clichy"
Bacary Sagna - If there is a bias pick in this list I will admit this has to be it. Allow me to retort. The spot could go to Wes Brown or some Liverpool defender but the team I know the best is Arsenal and not once did I see Sagna responsible for giving up a goal. I can hardly remember him making a bad play. As you can see I'm a big fan of defenders that threaten both sides of the pitch too. Nickname - "Bacary" pronounced back-ah-reeeeeeee in a jovial French accent.
Rio Ferdinand - He gained alot in my eyes when he played hurt. He was hobbling all over the place and still did well against Roma. He's a franchise defender that has it all and the best attribute a defender can have is to never be named or thought of in a game. He does that alot.
John Terry - Jim and I were alarmed when he mouthed off but I think its safe to say he's back in fine form since returning from injury. Plus he got kicked in the face - John Terry ladies and gentlemen. Nickname "JT."
David James - The goalies of the top 4 don't count as they are all solid, but mostly a product of their great teams. King James was 3rd with cleansheets and 5th with goals conceded. Not counting the big four he is 1st and 2nd in those departments. He achieved all of this on a shat Portsmouth squad too.
GK Tim Howard
M Theo Walcott