PFA Alternative XI
Football players know better than anyone who their toughest opponents are. But they still only face them twice per season and are likely to be playing themselves when most of their opponents' matches take place. At Sky Sports, we have turned to the statistics to highlight some of the key performers who might have been considered during the nomination process.
It is 35 years since Peter Shilton became the last goalkeeper to pick up the PFA award. It's just the nature of the game that you get more plaudits for scoring goals than stopping them. But Simon Mignolet has been doing the latter rather well for Sunderland all season.
Only West Ham's Jussi Jaaskelainen has made more saves than the Belgium international this season, with the Black Cats defence ensuring he's been kept busy. Critically, Mignolet has a better save percentage from long-range shots than the Finn and it is the 25-year-old's capacity for the spectacular as well as the mundane that has caught the eye this season.
Defensive work in general has been ignored in this year's voting with Michael Carrick the only player on the main list whose primary focus is anything other than directly scoring goals or creating them. As the number of goals in the Premier League continues to rise, the importance of those players able to restrict the opposition becomes more significant.
|Tackles per game - Premier League 2012/13|
|PABLO ZABALETA||MAN CITY||3.8|
|Interceptions - Premier League 2012/13|
|Matthew Lowton||Aston Villa||97|
|Blocks - Premier League 2012/13|
|Clearances - Premier League 2012/13|
|Ciaran Clark||Aston Villa||328|
Measuring defensive contributions can be tricky statistically. Paolo Maldini was just about the best in the business precisely because he didn't have to make tackles. But we want a good balance at the back between players who will throw themselves in front of the ball and those able to make crucial interceptions.
Ashley Williams has been a key figure in the ongoing success of Swansea with his defensive determination providing the steely platform that allows Michael Laudrup's team to play. As well as helping the Swans to victory in the Capital One Cup at Wembley, the Wales captain has produced more blocks and more clearances than any other Premier League player this season.
While Williams is the king of blocks and clearances, Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin is the man when it comes to tackles and interceptions. There is far more to the talented Frenchman than stopping others, but this willingness to do the dirty work at a high tempo has played its part in ensuring the Saints have enjoyed a successful return to the top flight.
The statistics also show that Pablo Zabaleta is the toughest-tackling defender in the Premier League, putting in almost four tackles per game and winning more than 72 per cent of them. And if the Argentine is the highly-skilled scrapper, Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen is the arch anticipator. The former Ajax captain has made 86 interceptions this season - more than any centre-back in the division, other than the aforementioned Williams.
|Chances created - PL 2012/13|
|Player Name||Team||Chances created|
|David Silva||Man City||93|
Of course, defenders can also be an attacking threat and nobody exemplifies that more than Everton left-back Leighton Baines. No player has created more chances for his team than the England international, with his set-pieces a particular threat - creating 53 opportunities, 16 more than anyone else. Baines is also the only defender in the top 10 for chances created in open play.
Steven Gerrard is also among the greatest chance creators this season after surprising many by playing every minute of Liverpool's league campaign. In particular, Gerrard continues to impress with his astonishingly accurate long passing. The Reds skipper plays an average of 8.6 accurate long balls per game. To put that into context, the next half a dozen players on the list are all goalkeepers. In fact, Gerrard has played 95 more accurate long passes than any other outfield player.
Another of the top five chance creators in the Premier League, Santi Cazorla, is a very different type of midfielder. Despite the loss of Van Persie, Cazorla's incisive passing has given Arsenal a chance of finishing third in the table once again - the Spaniard has played 29 through-balls this season, almost twice as many as any other player.
While the statistics show Gerrard and Cazorla provide an interesting balance with their differing passing ranges, a midfield should have everything. With that in mind, Marouane Fellaini is the man to turn to. In contrast to the diminutive Cazorla, he has dominated the midfield area with his sheer presence.
As well as proving comfortable on the ground, Fellaini's aerial threat has been vital to Everton's approach. He is in the top five for aerial duels contested this season and, of those five, only giant strikers Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll have won a greater percentage of those duels - and Fellaini has scored as many headers this season as the two of them combined.
|Goalscorers (min. 14 goals) - PL 2012/13|
|Player Name||Team||Goals||Shots||Goals per shot|
|Robin van Persie||Man Utd||24||108||22%|
|Christian Benteke||Aston Villa||15||67||22%|
When it comes to goalscorers, Michu can count himself extremely unlucky not to have been included among the PFA nominees. The Spaniard arrived at Swansea for just £2million in the summer and has promptly netted 17 Premier League goals in his debut season at the Liberty Stadium.
The three men with more goals than Michu - Van Persie, Suarez and Bale - all received nominations. And yet, Michu deserves recognition for hitting the heights with a team outside the top eight. His goals-to-shots ratio is superior to both Suarez and Bale, while his three Capital One Cup goals also took the Swans to the first major trophy in the club's history back in February.
When it comes to finding success despite limited opportunities, perhaps Rickie Lambert could teach even Michu a thing or too. The Saints striker has netted 14 goals from just 67 shots this season and those goals have been directly responsible for nine of his team's 39 points. Without them, Southampton would be in the relegation zone.
Tough at the back, able to compete physically and pass the ball in midfield, with goals in attack. But who would make your Alternative XI? Let us know in the comments below...