Terry, Fabregas & Costa all in as Chelsea dominate Team of the Season
Chelsea landed the Premier League title but would they be a match for ESPN FC's team of the season? Gab Marcotti, Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol pick the season's best XI.
Goalkeeper: A no-brainer to start with -- David De Gea is a unanimous choice after a sensational season at Manchester United. He has some 2014-15 showreel to post to Real Madrid; incredible saves from Bryan Oviedo, Raheem Sterling and Glenn Murray among the standout moments. All our pundits are on the same page when it comes to assessing De Gea's impact and here's Gab Marcotti to explain: "Simply put, without him, United would be watching next season's Champions League on TV. And the Glazers would be asking very serious questions of Ed Woodward and Louis van Gaal."
Right back: As ever, it didn't take long for discord to break out and we have a tense tussle on our hands at right back. In the blue corner, Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea's Mr. Reliable. In the red (and white) corner, Nathaniel Clyne, who has had a formidable campaign on the south coast. Messrs Nicol and Mariner like the cut of the Serbian's jib and highlight his four goals in the campaign while Marcotti says Clyne has upped his defensive game this campaign. For his goals, graft and part in securing the title, we'll go for Big Ivan.
Centre back: He's finally got his hands on the Premier League trophy, having last lifted it in 2010, and John Terry is another unanimous choice from our panellists. Chelsea's captain has been the proverbial rock for Jose Mourinho this season, returning the Blues to their stingy best and getting back on the goal trail, to boot. Mariner said: "Everyone thought he was finished at this level. Wrong. What a leader of men." And Marcotti adds: "Arguably his best ever season. Form didn't dip even as the team showed signs of fatigue in the second half of the campaign."
Centre back: Nicol gives Gary Cahill the nod to partner Terry but our other two have plumped for Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny. Marcotti and Mariner are united in their belief that the Frenchman makes those around him better and Arsenal look a far more solid unit when his name is on the sheet. The 29-year-old's pace and desire neatly complement Per Mertesacker's height and physical presence. "You notice Koscielny more when he's not around, which is an excellent benchmark of his value," adds Marcotti.
Left back: A second Blue in our defensive four arrives at left back in the shape of Cesar Azpilicueta; an ever so slightly silkier version of Ivanovic at right back but no less industrious. The Spaniard edges out Aaron Cresswell, who was put forward by Marcotti after a fine first season in the top flight at West Ham. Nicol, a wily defender in his time, calls Azpilicueta "old-fashioned," while Mariner says: "He is never exposed, possesses pace, joins in attacks and is a superb one versus one defender."
Centre midfield: Nemanja Matic has struck a chord with our panellists this season. Marcotti has been especially smitten throughout the whole campaign. It's not a stretch to claim that when fit, he's the first name on Jose Mourinho's team sheet, such is his effectiveness in disrupting opposition attacks. He also offers a deft touch in his own offensive operations. Marcotti calls him the "human shield," while Mariner says he is "the blueprint for the holding midfielder," and Nicol adds Matic is "positionally outstanding."
Centre midfield: The blue tinge in our Team of the Season grows ever thicker with the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas alongside Matic. Marcotti offered up the name of "Mr. Intensity" Morgan Schneiderlin, who enjoyed a supreme season with Southampton but he did also select Fabregas alongside Mariner. His snapshot of the Spaniard's season reads: "Assist leader, strength of character, the passing king," while Marcotti said: "A record number of assists playing in a new team and in a new role. Lived up to the billing with minimum fuss (well, until the second to last game of the season and that stupid red card)."
Left midfield: Marcotti hasn't gone for Alexis Sanchez in a wide midfield role but his fellow pundits have. The Chilean has been so electric in flashes this season there's probably still a section of Arsenal fans in disbelief they actually managed to sign him. Just like De Gea, his highlight reel could be a YouTube sensation and if Arsene Wenger stumps up the cash to buy a truly world-class striker, Sanchez could potentially elevate Arsenal to genuine title candidates. Nicol admires his positivity and says he loves to watch the 26-year-old play and Mariner says Sanchez brings "Skill, energy, quality on the ball, work rate, assists and goals."
Right midfield: On the right-hand side, the PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard. This season he has underlined his burgeoning reputation as one of the game's sublime talents and he is the benchmark of flair in a Chelsea side that can leave itself open to criticism for a workmanlike obsession. Marcotti was impressed by his dedication to the ethic that Mourinho demands in a defensive sense while adding, ominously, that he "Can only get better." Mariner lauds his ability to "break the lines" and Nicol says his strength on the ball scares defenders to death.
Striker: Three into two won't go, so someone in the Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa triumvirate is in for a big disappointment. It won't be the Argentine, though, the Premier League's Golden Boot winner with 26 goals in the bank. There have been fallow periods and the odd spell of injury yet Aguero remains as potent as ever. Marcotti says he "Rarely flagged despite City's ups and downs this season," and Mariner says it is testament to Aguero's goal-scoring prowess that he managed to cement his place as leading striker despite those injury blips. Nicol is in complete agreement.
Striker: The final slot in our Team of the Season goes to Diego Costa. Marcotti bangs the Kane drum, talking up his 30 goals across all competitions but stops cruelly short of calling him the future of English football. Mariner and Nicol, though, have shunned the Spurs' hope in favour of an altogether more abrasive character. The former says that no one wants to play against Costa and Nicol says: "He scores goals and upsets people in equal measure." A tally of 20 in his first Premier League season is some achievement.
Manager: Let's end as we mean to go on next season, by upsetting people. Chiefly in this instance; Steve Nicol, Paul Mariner and a certain Jose Mourinho. Yes, the Chelsea juggernaut charged relentlessly to the title, conceding the fewest goals, scoring the second most and maintaining a formidable record against the top sides. But that's what Mourinho is supposed to do.
Cast your mind back to early August and the doom and gloom surrounding Southampton. Given the exodus of players, some even thought they might go down. They didn't, they finished seventh and may still squeak into the Europa League. Here's Marcotti to tell you why Ronald Koeman is our Manager of the Season: "Overhauled squad, newcomers everywhere, Jay Rodriguez out for the season, no experience whatsoever in the Premier League and they play some of the best football around, finish seventh and defend about as well as anyone? You kidding me?"