A few weeks back, Manchester United and Belgian international striker Romelu Lukaku had an idea. It was both a wonderful and awful idea. Lukaku had a wonderful, awful idea.
Here’s an idea for you guys… the nba has all-star game! Don’t you guys think we should organise one in the @premierleague.. The north vs the south! And the fans vote… what do you guys think? @premierleague @FA 😏😉
— R.Lukaku Bolingoli9 (@RomeluLukaku9) February 26, 2018
Kidding. Lukaku had a GREAT idea.
The Belgian talisman suggested the English Premier League adopt a North vs. South All-Star game, a format similar to one found in the NBA or NFL, which would be played near the midway or end of the season and feature two star-studded squads.
Yes, I was excited to see this Tweet:
You can put 22 of the world’s most talented footballers on the same pitch for 90 minutes (and penalties?) and the whole world would go mad for it. After all, the Premier League employs stars like no other league in the world (Messi and Neymar can be glaringly pointed to as the exceptions).
So while I may be a tad bit late to the party, I decided to go ahead and see if I could come up with my Starting XI for both the North and South, if an All-Star game was to happen at this season’s end.
As the manager here, I configured both formations in a classic 4-4-2. However, I’m open to suggestions from you, the Fan, over who should be included and what formation should be employed.
Now before I begin, this is the breakdown of how the North and the South would be split up:
I’ll keep it in the North this week. If I was the manager of the North side, this is who I’d take on my 18-man squad:
Strikers: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Roberto Firmino has really come out of his shell this year, exploding in his partnership with African teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Firmino’s 13 goals and 7 assists shows the Brazilian’s all-around ability at the striker position, as well as his unselfishness in the final third.
I hesitated before putting Aguero in the Starting XI, just because of the Argentinian’s injury-proneness. However, it’s clear that the Manchester City frontman has been one of the most prolific strikers in the Premier League since moving to City in 2011.
The Argentine international has snagged 21 goals and 6 assists in just 24 appearances. What makes his feat even more impressive is the fact that he does it for a Pep Guardiola-side with depth and talent in each position.
Wingers: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
First off, Salah is the league’s Player of the Year.
32 goals in all competitions, and his form in the Premier League has been unmatched this season. Energy, pace, and accuracy. To anyone who reads my posts, I sound like a broken record when talking about him. Time and time again, King Salah is brilliant for the Reds.
And the best part about Salah is that he can come off the wing or play in a more central role.
Kevin de Bruyne has been phenomenal for City all season long.
The Belgian’s ability to cut into the center of the pitch has made him a threat from anywhere. His 14 assists lead the league, but what’s more impressive may be his 73 passes per game average, along with 16 big chances created so far during the 2017/18 campaign.
Central: Paul Pogba (Manchester United), David Silva (Manchester City)
The expensive Frenchman has bounced back this year after a relatively tame season last year.
Paul Pogba is tied for third in assists with 9, most of them coming in pivotal matches. With a 74% tackle rating and 53 successful 50/50 challenges made so far this season, it is difficult to keep Pogba out of the Starting XI, even if he is a United player.
Whether his hair is full or bald, there’s no doubting the Spanish maestro’s quality.
82 passes per game is one thing, but out of the 23 times David Silva has appeared for the Citizens in the Premier League this season, the Sky Blues have won 22 times. Coincidence? I think not.
Defenders: Andy Robertson (Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
Andy Robertson has solidified himself as the left-back not only Jurgen Klopp was looking for, but managers Brendan Rodgers and Kenny Dalglish before him.
Robertson is a reliable back who is able to both push forward and join the attack, in addition to tracking back and defending, too. He has 100 recoveries on the year, and a 52% tackle rating isn’t too shabby either. The Scotsman is confident on the ball and in his defensive decisions, also.
Virgil van Dijk has won a whopping 98 aerial duels this season. 98!
VvD’s height and physicality is impressive, and when you pair that with 117 clearances, 38 interceptions, and 19 tackles, well, you have yourself an experienced stud to throw at the center back position.
Most people will laugh (or currently are laughing) about my inclusion of Leicester City’s Harry Maguire. But hey, it’s MY North side.
Maguire has been a solid for the Foxes this season.
From his clutch, match-winning goal against Manchester United back in December, to 199 duels won so far this season, Maguire has been a crucial player for Leicester. His 125 accurate long balls also give me the sense he’s not all muscles.
Antonio Valencia’s speed and agility make him a great addition in the back four.
13 out of his 26 games played have been clean sheets. His 3 goals this season also prove that, when he gets up the field, the Ecuadorian can become a real threat in the attack. I mean just look at this strike:
Has your jaw dropped? Yeah, same.
Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United)
I hate, hate, hate that I have so many United players, but David de Gea might be the most deserving on this list. The Spaniard has 15 clean sheets this season, including ones over Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton. His cat-like reflexes have turned into 97 saves.
Bench: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Ben Mee (Burnley), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Rom is good, but the other two strikers above would have better chemistry together.
There’s just something about that South American style of play that I like. The Belgian does have 14 goals and is built like a train. A super-sub appearance in the 65th-minute would crush the opposition.
Wayne Rooney was out of pity.
He went back to Everton instead of taking a boatload of cash and shipping off for the Chinese Super League. Respect to that, and to the 10 goals and 2 assists this season. Rooney is like the 2016 Kobe Bryant-pick for the All-Star game. He’s fading, but he’s an all-time great.
How could I not give love to my favorite player not named Mohamed Salah?
Riyad Mahrez is a tad bit delicate at times, but his wicked left foot equates to goals and assists. He’s got great awareness and agility. His shiftiness and patience in tight areas is a next-level quality that managers drool over.
Aaron Mooy ranks 20th in the league with 2,004 touches.
Everything Huddersfield does goes through Mooy. He’s capable of erupting for a brace, sitting back, and playing solid defense or creating chance after chance for his strikers. Mooy is a great compliment to the central midfield, and he has nice hair, too.
Ben Mee gets better game by game.
Mee’s performances this season have guided Burnley to 7th in the table, which is impressive by the Claret’s standards. He brings experience, leadership, and knowledge to an already solid back four.
Kasper Schmeichel and Nick Pope are two goalkeepers that always deliver when called upon.
Kasper the Friendly Keeper is a former league champion, while Pope has played well enough, in my opinion, to earn himself consideration for the England World Cup squad this upcoming Summer.
OK, this is my 18-man squad. Like it or not, I would take these players into battle against any team in the world. Yes, that’s right, any team in the world. Chat me comments below about who I left out, who I added that you disagree with, or if you think I was spot on.
Look out for my South Starting XI next week.