The first half of the 2023-24 campaign has thrown up plenty of surprises, sparking intense competition for the best combined XI
It’s fair to say that the Premier League now stands alone as the best top-flight division in European football, but it hasn’t been the most competitive in recent seasons. Manchester City have won the title in five of the last six seasons under Pep Guardiola, who also delivered an elusive Champions League trophy to the Etihad Stadium in 2022-23.
City have quite simply been an unstoppable winning machine, with world-class players occupying every position, a flawless tactical blueprint and a warrior mentality running through the dressing room. But some six months on from their treble-clinching victory over Inter Milan in the Champions League final, there are finally some clear signs that an era of unprecedented dominance could soon come to an end.
Arsenal led the table for a 248 days last term before a late collapse handed City the initiative, but that experience only seems to have strengthened their resolve, with Mikel Arteta’s men rising back to the summit in impressive fashion. Liverpool are also in the mix again after some shrewd summer business from Jurgen Klopp, with City currently languishing five points off the pace in fourth.
There is even a chance that a new name could be etched onto the trophy with former Arsenal boss Unai Emery masterminding a remarkable run for Aston Villa, silencing his critics in the process. Ange Postecoglou has made a similar impact at Tottenham, and the race for Champions League qualification also looks more open than ever before.
Plenty of household names have been firing on all cylinders, but new stars have also emerged amid a thrilling, unpredictable season that has the potential to go down as one of the best in the modern era. And so, without further ado, GOAL is on hand to bring you the Team of the Season so far, starting with a certain Italian shot-stopper…
GK: Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham)
Tottenham fans would be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed when Vicario was snapped up from Empoli in a £17 million ($22m) deal as the club’s new No.1 goalkeeper. The Italy international was not well-known to audiences outside his own country at the stage, and had the tough task of replacing World Cup winner Hugo Lloris, who unsuccessfully pushed for a move away from north London in the summer.
But Vicario instantly erased any doubts over his quality and experience, while proving to be an upgrade on Lloris, with his speed off his line allowing Spurs to play much higher up the pitch to maximise the effectiveness of Postecoglou’s attack-minded system. The 27-year-old hailing from Udine is cool, confident, and the epitome of a proper sweeper-keeper.
He also happens to boast outstanding reflexes, which have helped him produce a host of gravity-defying saves that have protected crucial points for Tottenham. It’s no exaggeration to say that Vicario’s presence could be the difference between Champions League and Europa League qualification for Spurs come May.
RCB: Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa)
Since Villa’s return to the Premier League in 2019, Konsa has largely been seen as Tyrone Mings’ right-hand man. He was the foil for Mings rather than the leader, setting about his work in quiet fashion while his more experience team-mate embraced the spotlight.
However, when Mings was forced off in the first half of Villa’s season opener against Newcastle with a serious knee injury, Konsa had to step up. As the new elder statesman in the backline, Konsa was left shouldering more responsibility than ever before, but has risen to the challenge admirably.
The 26-year-old initially welcomed in Pau Torres as his new centre-back partner, before being shifted to right-back after an injury to Matty Cash, and has proven to be equally reliable in both positions. Konsa’s technical brilliance, speed and strength in the box have been vital during Villa’s unlikely ascent into the Premier League’s top four, and he’s deservedly now part of the England set-up, with a Euro 2024 place likely to be on the cards if he can keep up the same level in the second half of the season.
CB: William Saliba (Arsenal)
Saliba was unquestionably the best defender in the Premier League last season, until an untimely back-injury ruled him out of Arsenal’s crucial title run-in. The Gunners crumbled without the Frenchman, but he’s returned in even better shape, and looks determined to make certain the famous trophy comes back to Emirates Stadium this time around.
It’s scary how well Saliba reads the game given the fact he’s still just 22 years old, and it’s almost impossible for opposition forwards to get past him because of his imposing physical stature. He’s also excellent on the ball and capable of turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye, while his natural leadership skills help to raise the level of those around him.
There is a very real possibility of Arsenal finishing up as champions of England for the first time in 20 years if Saliba stays fit. He is the most important member of the squad and there is no ceiling to his talent, which has been managed expertly by Mikel Arteta so far.