With the 2011/12 Barclays Premier League season reaching it's climax, I thought now was about the right time to look back on this season, before deciding upon a 'Team of the Year', and my predictions for the remaining fixtures.
This season has seen the two Manchester clubs lead the way, with London left to fight for Champions League spots, and King Kenny's Liverpool languishing in mid-table. Suprise packages have came from Alan Pardew's Newcastle side, who despite the losses of key players from season's gone by have emerged as genuine contenders for a European spot, thanks in no small part to the astuteness of Pardew's transfer dealings. Newly promoted Swansea and Norwich have fared exceptionally well, bringing some sparkling football to the top tier. At the bottom, Wolverhampton Wanderers appear to have been cut adrift following the loss at home to Bolton this weekend, leaving their opponents to fight it out with fellow North West rivals Blackburn and Wigan, as well as Queens Park Rangers and potentially an Aston Villa side, who's decline from a top 6 side, playing wonderful football under Martin O'Neill, to a below average, and indeed boring side under Alex McLeish, has been extraodinary.
Team of the Year
Goalkeeper - Michel Vorm (Swansea City)
There were several contenders for this position, including Joe Hart and John Ruddy, but I feel at £1.5 Million, the Dutchman has proved a superb signing. His shot shopping is second to none, and his ability with the ball at his feet, perfectly complements the eye-catching Swansea style of play. His consistent performances have contributed significantly to Swansea's league position, and have cemented his position as one of the league's best 'Keepers.
Right Back - Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Following a successful loan spell at Aston Villa last season, Kyle Walker has gone from strength to strength for Spurs this season, even leading to a potential place on the plane for the Euros' this summer. Walker provides pace in abundance, an end product, and has become increasingly tactically aware. Micah Richards came a very close second to Walker, but I felt Walker's performances to be just that little more eye catching.
Left Back - Leighton Baines (Everton)
Ashley Cole may well be England's first choice left back, but as far as understudys go, Leighton Baines is right up there. He is the main architect of so much of what is good about Everton, he performs consistently week in week out. Baines' main attribute is his delivery, both in normal play and from set-pieces, and with the heading ability of the likes of Tim Cahill in your team, a crosser of the ball like Baines, is priceless.
Centre Back - Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
An absolute rock at the back, the main reason behind Man City holding the best defensive record in the league, as when he's missing, up steps the likes of Stefan Savic, and City see themselves crash out of the Fa Cup and Carling Cup. An indispensible member of the City side, and one of the world's most commanding centre half's.
Centre Back - Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United)
Three seasons ago, a newly signed, frizzy haired Argentinian wandered into St James' Park and looked as easy to beat as a dyslexic at Scrabble. Newcastle subsequently went down, and it was assumed that was the end of him. However both last season and this season he has come back with a vengeance, he has put in top class performances time and again, alongside a relatively inexperienced backline, including the likes of Mike Williamson and Davide Santon, yet Newcastle find themselves in 6th place and on course for Europe.
Right Midfield - Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
One of the most under-rated players in the Premier League, the Ex-Wigan winger has overcome a series of injuries to become a key piece in Fergie's jigsaw. He shows a high work-rate, a willingness to get back and fulfill defensive duties, while when going forward has a direct, pacy approach to give full back's nightmares, with a superb final ball at the end of it all. If he added just a few more goals, he could be one of the world's best wide-men.
Left Midfield - Juan Mata (Chelsea)
AVB's reign may well be viewed as a total and unmitigating disaster, but one bright spark eminated from the despair which enveloped his reign - Juan Mata. The diminutive Spaniard has been a hugely welcome addition to the Premier League, typical Spanish flair and ability, a neat touch, an eye for goal and the quality of link up play to rival even the likes of Xavi and Iniesta.
Centre Midfield - Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur)
A player that all professional's would love to play alongside. The newly appointed England captain, Player of the Year last term has gone on to be a revelation at Tottenham, and at a mere £6 million begs the question, why did nobody else try to sign him? Parker never stops running, he makes vital challenges, blocks, interceptions, and crucially allows the likes of Bale, Modric and van der Vaart to flourish around him.
Centre Midfield - Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
The Ivorian powerhouse, has dominated opposition midfield's all season. In full stride he is impossible to defend against, and simply steam-rollers his way through defences. David Silva and Sergio Aguero may receive the plaudits, but without Toure, City's midfield has no steel, and is considerably weaker.
Striker - Grant Holt (Norwich City)
If you had told me that Grant Holt would even be anywhere near my thoughts for a position in a Premier League team of the year, i'd have assumed you to be either a delusional Caary, or clinically insane. However I have well and truly been proven wrong, not only by Holt himself but by Norwich City in general. Holt is the second highest English goalscorer this season, behind Wayne Rooney, which for a striker plying his trade in League's One and Two for the vast majority of his career, is quite remarkable. His sheer strength and hold-up play make him a nightmare to defend, while his scoring record makes him a prolific Kevin Davies.
Striker - Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)
Easiest decision of the lot, with 26 goals and counting in the league for Arsenal, Robin Van Persie has finally shaken off the injury problems which have plagued his career to firmly place himself amongst Europe's elite. Following the 8-2 humbling at Old Trafford , Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were on the ropes, but Van Persie, almost single handedly turned Arsenal around, crucial goals came by the bucket-load, most notably a stunning hat-trick in Arsenal's 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Well there's my Team of the Year, hopefully it will stir up some debate.
With seven fixtures remaining, what does the future hold for the Barclay's Premier League?
Since Spurs' collapse from mid-February onwards, the race for the title has been a two-horse race, between Manchester United, and their 'noisy neighbours' Manchester City. City at one stage lead by eight points, yet a recent slump, coupled with United's characteristically near-flawless form since January, has seen United overhaul their rivals and open up a two-point lead, which could be extended at Ewood Park tomorrow. With City still to face Arsenal and Newcastle United away, United are firmly in the driving seat, and despite possessing an incredibly weak squad - in comparison to previous title-winning United sides- look set to claim a 20th League Title.
Champions League Spots
Four teams are currently left fighting it out for the two remaining places at Europe's top table. North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham lead the way with a resurgent Chelsea, and suprise package Newcastle just five points adrift. Prior to Saturday's shock defeat at Loftus Road, Arsenal had won seven on the bounce and had over-hauled Spurs to claim third place, and as long as Van Persie stays fit, that result will be just a blip, and they will finish strongly, and in 3rd position. Chelsea have fought back splendidly under Roberto di Matteo, while Newcastle have been playing some sublime football, but for me the fourth spot will also go to North London, and to Spurs. They have been, along with Swansea, the best team to watch this season, from an neutral perspective, and to drop out of the top four now would be cruel. Today's victory was crucial, and they are now back on track and have a good platform to push on for 3rd. I don't believe they will get it, but i believe fourth place is assured.
For a long time it was three from five to drop into English football's second tier, however, following the farce surrounding Mick McCarthy's sacking and the belated appointment of Terry Connor, after a very public pursuit of Alan Curbishley, Wolves have been cut adrift. They've suffered humiliating defeat at Black Country neighbours West Brom, and to Fulham and Manchester United. However most crucial were the home defeats to Blackburn and Bolton, who along with QPR and Wigan, have hit form at just the right time, and have condemned Wolves to relegation.
With Wolves gone that leaves two places to fill, and in my view still five teams in real danger. The aformentioned Blackburn, Bolton, QPR and Wigan, but also Aston Villa. The past two seasons have seen drop drastically from a vibrant, top 6 side to a docile relegation battler. Alex McLeish has done an absolutely appalling job at Villa Park, his side can't seem to pick up wins from anywhere and are quickly being caught up, however in the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent, the side has goals in them, and that goal threat should be enough to save them from relegation, but surely not Alex McLeish.
The two to go down, for me will be QPR and Wigan. QPR, purely due to their run in, in which, including the suprise win at Arsenal at the weekend, they play each of the top 5, and unfortunately, I cannot see them obtaining enough points in those games, to ensure safety, especially not with the teams around them being in such good form.
It may well be foolish to write off Wigan, given their previous ability to snatch survival out of the jaws of relegation, but for me this season may be one too far, they simply do not have the quality required in this division. Their top scorer has only four goals, and that say's it all. They may well be on a decent run of form after wins over Liverpool and Stoke, but for me, they are not cut out for this division, are are doomed for the drop.
Therefore, I believe Bolton and Blackburn will survive, and if so, I wil be very happy for them. Firstly, Bolton have had to overcome the shocking events of two weeks ago, when Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the White Hart Lane pitch, and continues to fight for his life in intensive care. Muamba's recovery has boosted Bolton no end, they play each match for their midfielder, and as a result have gained crucial victories over relegation rivals, and fighting for Muamba, will see them safe.
Huge credit has to go to Steve Kean, he suffered horrendous abuse from the Ewood Park faithful as Blackburn struggled early on, yet the board stuck with him, and the turnaround has been phenomenal, with Blackburn climbing out of the relegation zone, and looking likely to be the first side since West Brom to beat the drop despite being bottom at Christmas.