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  • Writer's pictureThe Football Notebook

The All-Time Best Premier League XI

GK: Petr Cech - Chelsea, Arsenal

Many would argue that Peter Schmeichel is the best goalkeeper of the Premier League era. Yet Cech was instrumental to both Chelsea and Arsenal for almost every single year he played in the Prem, holds the record for the most clean sheets of all time and the record for the most clean sheets in a single season at 24(!).

He was a part of the shift from Chelsea being a decent side competing for European spots to a full-blown superclub. He was also a brilliant keeper, extremely well commanding of his area, and capable of pulling out some super saves - all the while rarely making a mistake in his stellar 14-year-career in England’s top flight.

RB: Gary Neville - Manchester United

“No one grows up wanting to be a Gary Neville.” That quote by Jamie Carragher perfectly sums up Neville. He was reliable and very good at his job - yet seldom had any moments of magic that stirred excitement. Sir Alex Ferguson also said that Gary Neville was kept around a lot longer than his ability suggested he should have been - a testament to his influence in a dressing room that was overflowing with huge talents and egos alike.

He was not the most physically impressive player, but he more than made up for that with a superb attitude and determination matched by few around him and was great in the 1v1. But what shows you how good the Englishman was is that it would be hard for anyone to imagine a prime Manchester United without him.

CB: John Terry - Chelsea

But if it was hard to imagine a prime Manchester United without Gary Neville, it would be impossible to imagine Chelsea at all without John Terry. His formative academy years were spent with the West London club before he broke into the first team. From there he went from strength to strength, becoming club captain at the age of just 23 under a certain Jose Mourinho. For almost 17 years Terry was one of the best defenders in Europe, forget just the Premier League. He was not very fast, but was supremely strong, one of the most aerially dominant players in the league, and also had a knack for scoring goals. With 41 goals he is the highest-scoring defender to ever play in the Prem - which by the way is the same as Phil Coutinho.

But his most important quality was perhaps his leadership, leading Chelsea to all 5 of their titles in the PL era, and always being the biggest voice in the dressing room. Terry was not without his flaws, often involved in off-pitch scandals, but he is up there with the greatest players to ever play in the greatest of leagues.

CB: Rio Ferdinand - West Ham, Leeds, Manchester United, QPR

Rio Ferdinand was the perfect modern centre back; tall, strong, fast, composed, excellent anticipation, and a brilliant ball-playing ability. He was also quite the leader, captaining both Leeds and Manchester United for considerable periods of time. Rio was part of the most memorable Red Devils side of the Premier League era, from about 2003 to 2009, and was always in the conversation to be the best defender in the league.

He played for 4 clubs in his time in England, emerging from the West Ham Academy(alongside Frank Lampard), then moving onto Leeds, then United, then a short stint at QPR before hanging up his boots. Few defenders in history have been at the same level at Ferdinand for such a long time, and as such he holds a position in the star-studded Premier League All-Time Best XI.

LB: Ashley Cole - Arsenal, Chelsea

Possibly the best defensive fullback to ever grace England, Ashley Cole was nonetheless forever shrouded in controversy. Before that infamous cross-London move from Arsenal to Chelsea, Cole had won numerous trophies for the Gunners and was integral to their 4-4-2 system, where he was quite forward-thinking, often linking up with Robert Pires and Thierry Henry on the left-wing. However, when he moved to Chelsea to work with Mourinho, his attacking freedom was restricted, which allowed him to focus on the defensive side of the game - he improved, and memorably pocketed a prime Cristiano Ronaldo in 2006,

leading to the Portuguese saying that the Englishman "was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game." That kind of praise came from one of the greatest players of all time and should show you exactly how good he was.

LCM: Frank Lampard - West Ham, Chelsea, Man City

Probably the greatest ever midfielder to ever grace the modern English game. All-time top-scoring Chelsea player. Highest scoring midfielder in the Prem era. 4th all-time in assists. 3 titles. And Super Frank was absolutely decisive, scoring in all the biggest and most important moments, typified by his brace on the final day of the 04/05 season to win Chelsea their first league title in 50 years. But his best trait was probably consistency, remarkably reaching double figures from the centre of the park in 10 consecutive league seasons.

He was a decent defender, had a great first touch and unrivalled awareness and was always a threat from distance due to his cracker of a shot and could change any game within seconds. Lamps was beloved by almost all and was a top midfielder well into his mid-30s. If he is not a legend of the Premier League, then no one is.

CDM: Patrick Vieira - Arsenal, Man City

Patrick Vieira is the kind of player that would improve any team he joined. As a footballer, he was a contradiction. Very tall and powerful, yet quite agile and skilful. Strong in the tackle, yet passed with grace. For this reason, he will forever remain part of the discussion along with Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, and Roy Keane of who was the best midfielder in the PL era.

Vieira was the engine of Arsenal for many years, not letting anyone bypass their midfield, all the while violating the opposition’s with driving runs or killer passes. He was always the counter-balance, a one-man wrecking machine - but his ability on the ball should not be underestimated, and is what puts him ahead of others to make this list.

RCM: Steven Gerrard - Liverpool

Gerrard may be the only player in this XI to not have won a Premier League title, yet his talent and longevity should not be lost on you. He had everything - pace, strength, match intelligence, a thunderbolt for a shot, the ability to get past a man, and was a leader by both example and by voice. The Liverpool side he was a part of arguably underperformed on numerous occasions yet he was the star nonetheless.

He led from midfield, scoring many goals and providing his teammates assists week in week out. The Scouser was the ultimate captain, and outside of the league was key in their adventures to numerous trophies.

LW: Thierry Henry - Arsenal

Class, elegance, pace, power, and talent that had never been seen in such abundance. That was Thierry Henry. He never failed to produce a spectacular goal, game-winning assist, or sensational skill that got the crowd on his feet. But what separated Henry from the rest was that he had absolutely everything, and was by far the best player of one of the greatest sides the Prem has ever seen. He contributed a goal almost every single game he played in, a rate untouched by any other player to ever play in England. In addition to this, he holds numerous records, including the most assists in a single season(matched by Kevin De Bruyne this season).

Arsenal have longed for his second coming, with Aubameyang probably being the closest to that - yet since his departure, they haven’t been the same, and over the past few years have become the butt of all jokes in England.

ST: Alan Shearer - Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United

The Premier League’s record goalscorer spearheads this XI. Shearer was never the best link-up player, or great in the dribble, or even the most mobile. But like many strikers of his era, if the ball got to him in the box you were almost certain it would result in a goal; if it came to him outside there was still a good chance it was going in. He could finish with his right, left, his head in any manner - volley, tap-in, placed at the far post, smashed into the roof of the net - you name it, he could do it.

Despite this and a ridiculously prolific nature, he only managed one title in his 14 years in the Prem, playing for Blackburn Rovers and the perennial underachievers Newcastle United. Regardless of this, 260 goals and 64 assists ensure that Shearer will forever have legendary-status amongst all fans of the English game.

RW: Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United

Ronaldo was not in the Premier League for as long as the others on this list, yet he made one of the biggest impacts. From fleet-footed flashy winger without an end product and pretty poor decision making to a cold-blooded machine, obsessed with goals, assists, and winning. He won the golden boot once in a sensational 31-goal campaign, the player of the season award twice, and the Prem title itself 3 times. Ronaldo scored all kinds of goals and transformed into the most well-rounded attacker in the world whilst at United.

Had he stayed around longer perhaps he would be regarded as the greatest to ever play in England - but Henry’s longevity trumps Ronaldo’s relatively short prime in Manchester. The Portuguese international was the star of maybe the best Man United side to ever exist - and as such should be recognised as a true great in the UK.

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