With roughly one quarter of the Premier League season done and dusted, we take some time to reflect on the best XI of the season so far. These articles will be spread out into three posts (defence, midfield and attack), beginning here with the editor’s back four and goalkeeper of the season. There are some obvious standouts, with Tottenham registering as the league’s best defence after conceding just four goals in the first nine games, while there are some selections in this article that would have had you scratching your head at the start of the season. Nonetheless, here are the best four defenders and goalkeeper of the season so far. Feel free to list your picks in the comments section below.
Tom Heaton – BurnleyThere’s been no busier goalkeeper in the Premier League so far this season, and understandably so, as Burnley’s defence is rarely offered a peaceful afternoon. Heaton’s performances are worthy of recognition, averaging 5.1 saves per game and managing two clean sheets, the latter of which is never an easy feat for the Burnley keeper. No other Premier League goalkeeper has had to deal with as many shots at goal, but it’s the quantity of shots from inside the penalty area that Heaton has dealt with that is truly impressive, averaging three per game. He may have also produced one of the best saves you’ll see this season with this effort from a Charlie Austin header. https://twitter.com/BestGoalz/status/787688133089517568
Hector Bellerin – Arsenal
At just 21 years of age, Hector Bellerin is an accomplished right-back yet so far from fulfilling his potential that it’s no wonder he has generated interest from Barcelona in recent weeks. He has played every minute of Arsenal’s season so far, averaging a decent pass success rate of 84.3%, has more successful dribbles than any other right back with a 1.9 per game average (Seamus Coleman has more, at 2.2, but has only played 6 games), chips in with one assist and made this stunning tackle in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Chelsea.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoL9WknRPVg
Toby Alderweireld – Tottenham
Toby Alderweireld plays a massive part of Spurs cohesion at the back and can take much credit for being a part of the league’s best defence. He has formed a great understanding in his formidable pairing with Jan Vertonghen, with Alderweireld’s main strengths in his passing, averaging 8.9 accurate long balls per game, while Vertonghen is more capable in the air with an average 2.6 headers won per game, compared with Alderweireld’s 1.1. Although Alderweireld has played one less game than his defensive partner, he gets the edge over Vertonghen for his ever so slightly superior numbers in fouls given away, interceptions and passes, though truth be told both have been immense so far this season and have a claim to this spot.
Virgil Van Dijk – Southampton
Perhaps a part of the Premier League’s most underrated centre half pairing with Jose Fonte, Virgil Van Dijk has so far proven colossal in defence since his transfer from Celtic. Only Tottenham have conceded less goals than Southampton, whose record isn’t too bad themselves with eight goals conceded in the opening nine fixtures. The 6-foot-4 defender dominates the aerial duels, registering in the top five for aerial duels won amongst Premier League defenders with an average of 3.9 per game. His passing stats also impress, averaging 5.7 accurate long passes per game and an overall pass completion ratio of 84.8%.
Jose Holebas – Watford
A surprise inclusion into the side from a player who was very much on the periphery of Watford’s season last year. Though this season, the Greek international has thrived in Walter Mazzarri’s use of wing-backs, enabling Holebas to get the most out of his attacking attributes and use the extra defender in the team to cover for his defensive limitations. Holebas has played every minute of this league season in the more advanced wing-back role, which makes it unsurprising to see his attacking stats rank much better than his defensive stats. He ranks third for Premier League left-backs with successful dribbles, at 1.6 per game, and chips in with two goals and one assist. Two of those contributions were crucial moments; the assist was a free-kick whipped onto the head of Isaac Success to equalize at home against Bournemouth, while one of the goals was a thunderbolt strike to win 1-0 against Middlesbrough.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVoaKRRaMeI