By next Monday evening (2 May) we could already know who the 2015-2016 Premier League champions are. On Sunday Leicester City play Manchester United at Old Trafford knowing that a win will seal the Premier League title for them.
Tottenham, by the same token, will discover whether their game against Chelsea on Monday night will be about keeping them in the title race or maintaining their current position of second place. (Incidentally, Manchester United also have much to play for on Sunday, facing a comparable uphill battle in their attempt to secure a fourth placed finish and Champions League qualification spot.)
Scarcely anyone (except perhaps the odd optimistic Leicester fan) could have predicted at the start of the season that the Foxes would be seven points ahead at the top of the table with three games to play. Their team was assembled for a fraction of the cost of some of their more illustrious rivals. Leicester’s team this season was recruited for a combined cost of £54.4 million, compared to £418.8 million for Manchester City and £251.9 for Arsenal. Shrewd signings and tactics by Claudio Ranieri as well as excellent individual performances have led us to this point.
It is somewhat – though slightly less – remarkable that Tottenham are at this point the only team within touching distance. Like Leicester, many of their players were relatively unheralded at the start of the season: a group of youthful recruits, many of them from the club’s academy, charged with replacing stars who went on to pastures new (both Gareth Bale and Lucas Modric were transferred to Real Madrid in recent seasons). Their team was assembled for £161.1 million, however the Bale transfer alone provided much of the funding for that outlay.
So ahead of this weekend’s potentially title deciding games, we’ve decided to try to work out which players from both teams we would put in one single hybrid 11.
In terms of the formation, we’ve gone for a 4-4-2, or rather a 4-2-2-2, with two quite defensive central midfielders and two attacking wingers. This has been Leicester’s preferred system this season, so it would suit many of the players selected for this hybrid team. Tottenham have used a similar system, though one of their attaching players has usually lined up slightly further back, in a classic ‘number 10′ role.
In addition, we opted for this formation in order to accommodate the two wonderful striking talents at either club: Tottenham’s league top scorer Harry Kane, who has 25 goals this season, and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, who is currently the third top scorer, with 22 goals. In this system, Kane would probably play slightly deeper than Vardy, holding up the ball and linking up with the midfielders, with the Leicester man using his pace to run into channels and stretch the opposing defence, as he has done so successfully this season.
Flanking them we have Christian Eriksen on the left and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, on the right. Mahrez, who has 17 goals and 11 assists this season, would be tasked with using his excellent dribbling abilities to take on the opposing fullback and get crosses in for Kane and Vardy. A left-footed player, he would also be encouraged to cut inside from the right and attempt to score himself, as he has been doing for Leicester.
Eriksen, usually an attacking midfield player, or number 10, has proved that he can also be effective on the left wing, cutting inside onto his right foot to link up with the striker and take shots on goal. He has managed 6 goals and 12 assists this season, often from this left-sided position.
In central midfield, we’ve gone with teenage sensation Delli Alli and the hard-working N’Golo Kante. Though it has to be said that Danny Drinkwater, Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier have been excellent for their respective teams this season.
Though Alli, also a hard worker, has usually played in the number 10 position this year, he can also perform the deeper midfield role. In this system he would operate somewhat as a ‘box-to-box’ midfielder, performing defensive duties but also pushing forward to join the attack when the opportunity arises. His output has been exceptional this season, with 10 goals and nine assists to his name.
Kante, one of this year’s outstanding midfielders, would compensate for the additional freedom given to Alli, by sitting deeper in midfield and covering the space left by the young Englishman. Kante’s defensive statistics are impressive, averaging 4.5 tackles and 4.2 interceptions per game, one of the best records in the league. He also regularly covers around 12km a game, and has one goal and four assists, not a bad return for a defensive midfielder.
At the back we have Toby Alderweireld, the top ranked defender on the Premier League’s Player Performance Index (PPI), and Wes Morgan, the second ranked defender in the PPI.
Alderweireld has been a solid defensive performer this season and is also very adept with the ball at his feet. No other player except Kane has played more games than him for Tottenham this season (35), helping them to the best defensive record in the league with 26 goals conceded.
Morgan has also been highly impressive for Leicester, his consistency and 35 starts justifying his selection.
Two Tottenham players occupy the two full back positions. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have been two of the standout lateral defenders in the league, their speed and work-rate allowing them to contribute to attacks and defend in equal measure. As mentioned, their attacking adventurousness has not affected Tottenham’s stability in defence. Their attacking capabilities provide balance to the forward play, allowing the wingers further forward to drift inside while they support them on the overlap.
In goal we have Kaspar Schmeichel, the top-ranked goalkeeper in the PPI (just one place ahead of Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris). The Dane, who is the son of Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel, has been highly consistent this season, playing in 35 games. He has made 87 saves and registered 15 clean sheets in the league.
This would be an attacking line up that presses high up the pitch, seeking to destabilise their opponents and win the ball back in dangerous areas. Many of these players are particularly used to playing fast counterattacks so we would seek do the same with this hybrid 11.
Alli and Kanté would provide the running and hard tackling in midfield. With technically astute players in all areas of the pitch, this team would also be able to maintain possession when necessary, with Mahrez, Eriksen, Vardy and Kane using their ability and pace to unlock defensively solid opponents.
Do you agree with our selection of players and tactical set-up? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments section or on Twitter, using the hastag #TopEleven.