The unprecedent dominance of Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League this season has meant that the two clubs have held a duopoly over the end-of-season awards. Unsurprisingly, the same is true if you look at the overall plus minus ratings for the season. The top 25 are exclusively City or Liverpool players, with Hugo Lloris the best of the rest in 26th place with +28. Further down the league though, there are several clubs who have enjoyed a relative level of success this season, and this team of the season reflects that. Rather than just selecting the highest scoring player in each position, this team is made up of people who have made significant impacts on their respective clubs, or exceeded expectations compared to their teammates or rivals.
Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Even at clubs with terrible goal differences, it’s not uncommon for an individual player to record a positive Plus Minus rating over the course of the season. Indeed, Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Rowe recorded a rating of +1, despite the club finishing with a goal difference of -54. Rowe only played 75 minutes in the league though, and normally when this is the case, the player will had no more than a handful of appearances, which happen to coincide with some of the few good periods of form the club enjoys. Tom Heaton by contrast played 19 games, so to achieve a rating of +1 in a team which finished with a goal difference of -23 is astonishing. The decision to bring Heaton into the team in place of Joe Hart had a huge impact, with the club picking up 28 points during the second half of the season, compared to just 12 points during the first half of the season when Hart was in goal. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Burnley ratings are topped by Heaton, with Hart in last place, and highlights what a difference a single selection can make.
Right Back – Seamus Coleman (Everton)
In some ways, the Everton ratings are quite similar to those at Burnley, topped by Seamus Coleman on +14, with the club’s other specialist right back Jonjoe Kenny bringing up the rear on -7. The situation is slightly different though, as Heaton started the season as second or perhaps even third choice at Burnley, but secured the number 1 spot by his fine performances once he was given an opportunity. Coleman by contrast was always first choice at Everton, and the ratings more reflect how much he was missed when injured.
Centre Back – Ryan Bennett (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Consistency of selection has been one of the main features of Wolves’ season and arguably a key reason for their success, their 7th place finish a stark contrast to the relegations suffered by fellow promoted clubs Cardiff City and Fulham. As such, the spread of Plus Minus ratings at Wolves is the smallest in the league, though it is interesting that Ryan Bennett should be the player to top the ratings with +6, given that he is arguably the least heralded of their regulars, though clearly, very effective.
Centre Back – Fabian Schar (Newcastle United)
Newcastle’s defence conceded fewer goals than either Arsenal or Manchester United, and though he only made 24 appearances, Fabian Schar was an important part of that. A Fantasy Football favourite who chipped in with 4 goals as well as recording 7 clean sheets, Schar recorded a Plus Minus rating of +9 against the team’s final goal difference of -6, highlighting that his performances were very effective as well as catching the eye with his attacking output.
Left Back – Adam Smith (Bournemouth)
Whilst primarily a right back, Adam Smith has played at left back too this season following the Nathaniel Clyne’s arrival in January. Bournemouth’s defensive recorded was very poor this season and the main reason why their overall goal difference was -14, though the defence was more solid when Smith was involved, only recording a rating worse than -2 on 2 occasions and finishing the season with a highly credible rating of +5.
Centre Midfield – Mark Noble (West Ham United)
In a season when Declan Rice has been attracting plenty of praise for the maturity of his displays, it is his midfield partner Mark Noble who tops the Hammers’ ratings with +9. Noble’s performances have been somewhat taken for granted, perhaps due to the fact that he has been doing this for West Ham for well over a decade now, but the quality of his performances and the influence he holds over the team should not be taken for granted.
Centre Midfield – Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Replacing Aaron Ramsey will be a major challenge for Unai Emery this Summer, despite the Welshman’s rather reduced role this season. Not only does Ramsey possess a happy knack of scoring during important games, the threat he poses from deep creates opportunities for his fellow attackers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was one player who certainly benefitted, finishing the season tied as top goalscorer with 22 goals alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. His Plus Minus rating was +16, giving a rating per 90 minutes of +0.49. Ramsey, despite less than half the game time Aubameyang enjoyed, recorded a rating of +19 and +1.20 per 90 minutes, meaning that he was one of just two players outside of Manchester City or Arsenal to record a rating per 90 minutes higher than 1.00 having also played more than 1000 minutes (Son Heung-Min being the other).
Wide Midfield – Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool)
Should Shaqiri have been given more opportunities to start for Liverpool this season, or was Jurgen Klopp correct in largely limiting his role to starting games against lower teams who looked to sit back along with the occasional appearance off the bench? It is one of the great “What if’s?” of the season, given that Liverpool would have won their first Premier League title had they been able to turn 1 of their 7 draws into a victory. Nevertheless, Shaqiri holds the distinction of the highest Plus Minus per 90 minute rating of any player who played at least 1000 minutes, with a rating of +2.15.
Wide Midfield – Gerard Deulofeu (Watford)
Gerard Deulofeu started to grab the attention during the second half of the season, thanks to a spell of regular goal contributions which saw him finish the season with 10 goals and 5 assists. However, his impact was spotted from a Plus Minus perspective well before that run. Deulofeu only completed the full match in 6 of his 30 appearances, but the regularity with which the team’s fortunes improved whilst he was on the field demanding the increased game time he would eventually receive, and a final rating of +5 against an overall goal difference of -7 puts him amongst the best performers in the league relative to their team’s overall results.
Centre Forward – Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Plus Minus can be a tricky concept to understand due to the fact that someone normally considered to be a key player can in some circumstances finish in the middle of the pack at their club, which often is the case at a mid-table club if the player concerned is a near ever-present. It is a lot easier to understand the positive impact a key player makes on their club if they are at the top of the ratings, and that is where you’ll find Jamie Vardy. Another excellent return of 18 goals in 34 appearances showcase his predatory skills, though a Plus Minus rating of +9 highlights the fact that Vardy’s goals were crucial in Leicester finishing in the top half of the table.
Centre Forward – Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
The only player in this team to also feature in the PFA Team of the Season (incredibly for the first time), Aguero is the pick of the Manchester City contingent due to the fact that he was the only player to feature in both the overall top 10 as well as the top 10 per 90 minutes ratings. This achievement is even more notable when you consider that Pep Guardiola almost always selects Aguero whenever he has a big (and therefore normally tight) game, which would normally be expected to lower the Plus Minus per 90 minutes rating. Aguero however seems to shrug off such obstacles and continues to score goals at an almost unprecedented rate.