Garth Crooks' Team of the Season: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, De Bruyne, Mane, Salah

by Steven Smith
8 minutes read

Manchester City pipped Liverpool to the Premier League title by one point as both sides left it late to win on the final day.

Tottenham secured their return to Champions League football by thrashing Norwich, while Arsenal’s five goals against Everton were in vain.

Manchester United lost at Crystal Palace but will be in next season’s Europa League thanks to West Ham’s defeat by Brighton.

Burnley’s great escape fell just short as they were relegated with a 2-1 loss to Newcastle. Leeds stayed up thanks to their win at Brentford.

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Goalkeeper – Alisson (Liverpool)

Alisson: It seems a long time since Alisson scored the 95th-minute winner at West Brom that helped Liverpool secure a spot in this season’s Champions League. They haven’t looked back since.

One of the reasons the Reds have been so successful is Alisson. The towering Brazilian goalkeeper continues to make crucial on-on-one saves during the big moments. He’s also one of those goalkeepers who, when producing great saves, makes them look quite ordinary.

This season, the Premier League title may have eluded him but the Champions League title is still up for grabs in next Saturday’s final against Real Madrid – and I wouldn’t bet against him pulling off another vital save in that game either.

Did you know? No keeper kept more clean sheets in 2021-22 than Alisson (20).

Defenders – Rudiger (Chelsea), Van Dijk (Liverpool), Dias (Man City)

Rudiger: It didn’t take me long to realise that Chelsea had bought a gem. Antonio Rudiger seemed as though he was born to play at Stamford Bridge, although it took the Chelsea faithful what felt like an age to realise it. To be fair to their supporters they have had some magnificent defenders in their time so having to be convinced about Rudiger was not totally unreasonable. However, since then he has gone on to win the Premier League and Champions League. He is one of the few genuine warriors left in the game and the perfect replacement for Sergio Ramos – which is probably why he finds himself leaving for Real Madrid.

Did you know? Chelsea conceded 0.8 goals per game when Rudiger played in the Premier League this season, compared with 1.3 when he did not.

Van Dijk: He looks immaculate on the pitch and plays in the same manner. He is without doubt the best defender on the planet – and without him, Liverpool wouldn’t have had anywhere near the success they have had.

But that is part of the genius of Jurgen Klopp. Having the ability to spot what your team need, and when they need it, is a key element of management. It also has to be said that Van Dijk wasn’t world class when he arrived at Anfield but under the careful stewardship of Klopp and his coaching staff, he has turned into something very special.

The mere fact they’ve held on to him for so long is also a testament to an adoring Anfield crowd who appreciate the jewel in the crown.

Did you know? Van Dijk won 77% of his aerial duels (117/151), the highest rate of any player to contest at least 100.

Dias: Not since the days of Vincent Kompany have Manchester City had a centre-back who plays with such authority. Ruben Dias has also brought a touch of class to the proceedings.

The Portugal international has been at the heart of City’s Premier League title campaign. When he’s been absent through injury or subject to team rotation, that absence has been felt – never more so than in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool, when City received a first-half drubbing.

City got over that defeat very quickly – but they had to bring back Dias to help them do it.

Did you know? City won 79% of their Premier League games when Dias played this season (23/29), compared with 67% when he did not (6/9).

Midfield – Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), De Bruyne (Man City), Eriksen (Brentford), Cancelo (Man City)

Alexander-Arnold: His defending in the FA Cup final against Chelsea was the best I’ve seen from the 23-year-old full-back. I mention it only because it’s the one aspect of his game considered a little suspect.

However, anyone who knows anything about Liverpool will tell you that when they have full-backs who can play, they win things. Chris Lawler, Alec Lindsay, Phil Neal, Steve Nicol – none of them were great defenders, but they loved to surge forward and get involved.

Trent Alexander-Arnold plays in that true Liverpool tradition, where full-backs fly forward and get among the action. He has a remarkable 19 assists in all competitions this season, and he could top 20 by the time the Champions League final comes to an end.

Did you know? Alexander-Arnold created more chances than any other player in the Premier League this season (90).

De Bruyne: Arguably the finest footballer in the world at the moment. Actually, I thought his performances during the 2019-20 season were better overall – but when Kevin de Bruyne plays football, you know you are about to see something quite special. George Best had it, Zinedine Zidane had it and De Bruyne certainly has it.

His display in the 5-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month was the best individual performance I have seen for some time. It wasn’t just his four goals that were so impressive but the way he took them. He’s just added another Premier League title to his tally but only the elusive Champions League title will do for him now.

Did you know? De Bruyne enjoyed his best ever goalscoring season in the Premier League (15), while he created more chances per 90 minutes than any other player (3.6 – excluding players to feature in fewer than 500 minutes).

Eriksen: Some readers may be a little surprised to see Christian Eriksen in my team selection. I’m amazed he’s playing professional football at all. To suffer a cardiac arrest while playing for your country must have been a life-changing experience. To come back from it, return to the game and then transform a team, as he has done, is quite remarkable. His performances for Brentford have been outstanding and it’s great to have him back.

Did you know? Some 48% of Brentford’s Premier League points came in their final 11 games, from when Eriksen made his first start.

Cancelo: This lad is so comfortable on the ball that I’m convinced he could play in any outfield position on the pitch. He moves so gracefully, has great feet, remarkable vision and looks like he’s learned to play his football at some finishing school for geniuses. In fact, he’s perfect for Pep Guardiola and the beautiful way he insists the game should be played.

It was the great Brian Clough who said every player should treat the ball like his best friend. Joao Cancelo treats the ball like it’s a member of his family.

Did you know? Only De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus (eight) made more assists for City in the Premier League this season than Cancelo (seven).

Strikers – Son (Tottenham), Mane (Liverpool) Salah (Liverpool)

Son: The partnership between Harry Kane and Son Heung-min is unmistakably important. However, on this occasion I am not going to allow the spectre of Kane to overshadow the contribution Son has made to Spurs this season. It was the South Korea international who held the fort while Kane was sulking over his failed transfer to Manchester City. Son was outstanding throughout and his performances for that spell alone deserve recognition. That is why I am delighted he shares the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah. It’s a fitting tribute to mark his goalscoring efforts this season. Champions League football next season won’t hurt either.

Did you know? Son became the first Asian player to win the Premier League Golden Boot.

Mane: He rarely misses a game, he’s as tough as old boots and he doesn’t make a song and dance about anything – that’s Sadio Mane.

What a season this lad has had. Diogo Jota arrives and tries to take his place and so does Luis Diaz but to no avail. He then flies off to Cameroon for a month to play for Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations; wins the tournament for his country with the decisive penalty in the final shootout, comes back to Liverpool and picks up where he left off.

He makes a complete and total mockery of the ‘we need a rest’ brigade who bolt for the treatment room every time there’s a whiff of a fixture pile-up. Mane has been sensational for Liverpool and without doubt the most committed striker in the country.

Did you know? In his eighth Premier League season, Mane scored 10+ goals for the eighth time – the best such 100% record in the competition’s history.

Salah: It seems inconceivable to even think of leaving out a player who has scored 23 Premier League goals and yet for a fleeting moment I considered it. Salah’s goals speak for themselves but the final few games of the season have found the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year struggling for form. His performances in both cup finals were ordinary at best. However I can almost pin-point the moment Salah went off the boil and it seemed to coincide with his contract negotiations. To what extent the player found these discussions a disruption to his game is hard to quantify but they remain unresolved. Liverpool need Salah firing on all cylinders against Real Madrid. He has a score to settle with them.

Did you know? Salah won the Premier League Golden Boot for the third time, with only Thierry Henry ever winning it more (four).

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