The Premier League Team of the Decade

A significant and historic decade in the Premier League has come to an end, one where we witnessed the fall from grace for two of England’s footballing giants.  Elsewhere, a Blue Moon rose and a new red machine has emerged from the ashes along the River Mersey.   We saw records broken, miracles occur, and the coronations of two champions of Europe.  Naming a team of the decade for such a significant time period is quite the task.

When building an all-encompassing “team of the decade”, individual and team honors do have to be considered, but it cannot be the sole decider.  While Chelsea and Manchester City dominate the title winners’ list this decade, the talent on display throughout the league deserves plaudits of its own.  I have tried to remove any recency bias, but I have also tried to prioritize players who were at the height of their powers during this decade and performed at a high level for several seasons.  Some of these selections are quite obvious, but there are also a few that are controversial, where tough decisions had to be made.  I will pair each selection with their league stats this decade and some reasoning as to why they made the cut over other options.

Team of the Decade

GK: David De Gea, Manchester United

295 Appearances, 103 Clean Sheets

Premier League Champion 2012/13

UEFA Europa League Winner 2016/17

FA Cup Winner 2015/16

EFL Cup Winner 2016/17

FA Community Shield Winner 2011, 2013, 2016

PFA Team of the Year 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

FIFA FIFPRO World XI 2018

Premier League Golden Glove Winner 2017-18

UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season 2015-16

David De Gea’s decade with Manchester United has been bookmarked with struggles in confidence and high profile mistakes that have hurt Manchester United.  In between that time, De Gea has been the unquestioned best goalkeeper in the Premier League and among the best in the world.  Arriving as a skinny 21-year-old from Madrid in 2011, De Gea was given the tall task of filling the void left by the departure of club legend Edwin van der Sar.  While he needed time to mature to fill such a massive role, he eventually rose to the challenge, becoming United’s savior on numerous occasions.

Known for his above average ability to make strong saves with his legs, as well as his arms, De Gea has racked up a highlight reel of incredible, world-class stops.  Having won Match of the Day’s save of the season on numerous occasions, it is fair to assume De Gea has single-handedly rescued results for United multiple times every season.  Most famously, he was a stone wall between the posts in the 2017-18 season, helping to guide Jose Mourinho’s over performing United team to a second place finish, earning his first Golden Glove award in the process.  His high-level performances throughout the decade allowed him to earn this spot over legendary shot-stopper Petr Cech and newer names such as Ederson, Alisson, or Thiabut Courtois.  It is interesting to consider how differently De Gea’s career could have gone had a broken fax machine not stopped his move to Real Madrid in 2015.

RB: Branislav Ivanović, Chelsea

217 Appearances, 21 Goals, 14 Assists

Premier League Champion 2014/15, 2016/17

UEFA Champions League Winner 2011/12

UEFA Europa League Winner 2012/13

FA Cup Winner 2011/12

EFL Cup Winner 2014/15

PFA Team of the Year 2014/15

UEFA Champions League Team of the Season 2014/15

Ivanović is a relic of a previous age, hailing from a model of defensive-minded fullbacks that are disappearing in this era of football.  A strong player who was tough in the tackle and positionally sound, he was a key cog in the Chelsea defense that was the backbone in the teams that were crowned champions of England and Europe.  At the height of his powers, he was among the best fullbacks in the world and possibly the best defensive fullback in the Premier League, despite being a preferred snack for Luis Suarez. 

Right back is a position with quite a bit of competition in this team.  While there are more attack minded players who put up more impressive stats, such as Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Seamus Coleman, and players who could rival Ivanović’s longevity, namely Pablo Zabaleta, Ivanović earns this spot through his defensive talent, importance to the Chelsea defense, and the impressive list of honors he picked up during his career.

CB: Vincent Kompany, Manchester City

206 Appearances, 15 Goals, 4 Assists

Premier League Champion 2011/12, 2013/14, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2010/11, 2018/19

EFL Cup Winner 2013/14, 2015/16, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Community Shield Winner 2012, 2018

Premier League Player of the Season 2011/12

PFA Team of the Year 2010/11, 2011/12, 2013/14

One of the first signings City made under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour, Kompany was a constant presence in the City defense for the entire decade and among the best center backs in the league at that time.  He was a central figure behind the emergence of Man City as the global power they are now, and it is not an exaggeration to say he is one of City’s most important ever players and their greatest ever club captain.

A center back known for his strength, aerial ability, and positional sense, Kompany was one of the common threads that has linked together City’s title-winning teams of this decade.  City fans will remember him fondly for his ability, his leadership, his love for the club, and his personality.  His two most iconic goals, one in the Manchester Derby in 2012 and one against Leicester City in 2019, are two of the biggest goals in Manchester City’s history and fitting bookends to his time at the club.

There is not much else to say here, Kompany is a surefire lock to get into this team.  One of the best players in his position this decade and one of the most important players in the best club side of this decade, Manchester City.

CB: Virgil van Dijk, Southampton + Liverpool

138 Appearances, 11 Goals, 2 Assists

UEFA Champions League Winner 2018/19

UEFA Super Cup Winner 2019

FIFA Club World Cup Winner 2019

PFA Player of the Year 2018/19

Premier League Player of the Season 2018/19

UEFA Men’s Player of the Year 2018/19

UEFA Defender of the Season 2018/19

PFA Team of the Year 2018/19

UEFA Team of the Year 2018

UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season 2017/18, 2018/19

I know what you are thinking.  This is not John Terry.  How could you include van Dijk?  You said you would avoid recency bias, yet include van Dijk for having a good 18 months?  Here me out.  I know this is one of the more controversial, if not the most controversial, selections in this team, and it was really only going to be van Dijk or Terry, but there are good reasons for van Dijk’s inclusion and Terry’s exclusion.

It is not an exaggeration to say that van Dijk is the best center back in the world and among the best players in the world right now.  He is a player who drastically changed Liverpool’s team the moment he stepped into the defense.  His ball-winning abilities and footballing IQ are off the charts, and his ability on the ball is remarkably good for a center back.  He is a massive reason as to why Liverpool came a point away from winning the league last season, rightfully earning PFA Player of the Year because of it, and he is a massive reason as to why they won the Champions League last season and look set to coast to the league title this season.  He won UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and finished second to Messi for the FIFA Player of the Year Award and the Ballon d’Or.  He is legitimately among the best players in the world right now.  None of that can be ignored in naming this team.  Even before his time at Liverpool, he was a very competent center back at Southampton.  While he was not the player he currently is, he was still among the better center backs in the Premier League and among the best in his position outside of the “Top Six” teams.  It is quite unfair to say he has only had a good 18 months, van Dijk has been a high level player for several years and is deserving of a spot on this team.

Now I am not saying that John Terry is not a legend.  If I were naming an all-time Premier League team, he would be one of the first names on the team sheet.  However, Terry was at his best in the 2000s.  This is when he was among the best center backs in the world and won the individual honors to demonstrate it.  He was still a good player in the 2010s and even won some titles with Chelsea, but he was not at his best, and was slightly overshadowed by Gary Cahill, the aforementioned Ivanović, and Cesar Azpilicueta in a Chelsea defense that was better than the sum of it’s parts.  Including a declining John Terry in this team is quite a struggle for me to get behind, especially when compared to a generational talent in his prime such as van Dijk, and I had a similar issue with other players in Terry’s generation.

LB: Leighton Baines, Everton

253 Appearances, 27 Goals, 38 Assists

PFA Team of the Year 2011/12, 2012/13

Yeah, I will admit some might consider this an “out of left field” pick, but it was honestly one of the easier decisions in this team.  While Ivanović was a relic of a previous era, Baines acts as almost a precursor to the modern age of attacking fullbacks.  While his list of honors and trophies is significantly shorter than anyone else on this list, his ability and talents earn him his place.

Baines has been a stalwart of Everton’s defense this entire decade.  Until the recent arrival of Lucas Digné, Baines was seemingly in the Everton team every week and was one of their most reliable performers.  His loyalty to Everton, his boyhood club, meant he may not have gotten as much attention as he would have at a “Top Six” club, despite being among the best left backs in the history of the Premier League.  He was a defensively sound player, but he was especially celebrated for his attacking prowess, crossing, and ability from dead balls.  He racked up an impressive 11 assists in the 2010/11 season, becoming joint-Premier League record holder for most assists by a defender in a season, equalling former Everton fullback Andy Hinchcliffe, a record that he would joint-hold until it was broken by Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2018/19.  He was incredible from dead ball situations, scoring several stunning free kicks and racking up one of the best penalty conversion rates in league history.  Quite simply, Baines is among the best players in his position and one of the most under-appreciated players in Premier League history.

While he deserves to be in this team on merit and ability alone, Baines is also aided by left back being a fairly weak position to choose from.  Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra were the two best left backs in the league in the 2000s, but their decline in the 2010s and their departure from the league early in the decade means it is difficult to consider them for this team.  César Azpilicueta was a very good player for Chelsea in the mid-to-late 2010s and did play at left back on several occasions, but his best position was as a right back or a center back in Antonio Conte’s back three.  Andrew Robertson is undoubtedly the best current left back in the league, but he is too recent of an arrival and has not hit the van Dijk-levels of ability and dominance necessary to get into this team.  Baines is the clear choice.

MF: N’Golo Kanté, Leicester City + Chelsea

155 Appearances, 10 Goals, 10 Assists

Premier League Champion 2015/16, 2016/17

UEFA Europa League Winner 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2017/18

PFA Player of the Year 2016/17

Premier League Player of the Season 2016/17

FWA Footballer of the Year 2016/17

PFA Team of the Year 2016/17, 2017/18

FIFA FIFPRO World XI 2018

UEFA Team of the Year 2018

UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season 2018/19

He had to be in, surely.  Even outside of being one of the most likable players in football, he is the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League and one of the best in his position in the world over the last few years.  He was an integral part of Leicester’s miraculous title-winning season and carried that form to success at Chelsea and a World Cup win with France.

Kanté’s meteoric rise began in 2015, when Leicester paid £5.6 million to secure the Frenchman’s services from Ligue 1 side SM Caen.  Kanté’s shy personality and diminutive figure led some unknowing club officials to believe he was a new youth team player, not a first team signing.  He slotted into the Leicester team perfectly, forming a midfield partnership with Danny Drinkwater, and demonstrated an unnatural endurance and ability to record and win a high number of tackles.  It seemed as if he was everywhere at the same time.  This tackling skill, paired with an underrated passing ability, strong positional sense, and tireless work ethic made Kanté a central figure in Leicester’s title win that season, narrowly losing out on PFA Player of the Year honors to teammate Riyad Mahrez.  The next season, he moved to London giants Chelsea, where he continued his immense form, winning another league title and finally securing his Player of the Year honors.

Kanté’s rise to superstardom is quite inspirational, and there is no doubt he deserves the status he holds as arguably the world’s best defensive midfielder.  Despite his relatively short amount of time spent in the league compared to other midfield players, he is deserving of a spot in this team.

MF: Yaya Touré, Manchester City

230 Appearances, 62 Goals, 32 Assists

Premier League Champion 2011/12, 2013/14, 2017/18

FA Cup Winner 2010/11

EFL Cup Winner 2013/14, 2015/16

FA Community Shield Winner 2012

PFA Team of the Year 2011/12, 2013/14

CAF African Footballer of the Year 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

BBC African Footballer of the Year 2013, 2015

In a decade that featured incredible talents in the midfield, it is easy to forget about Yaya Touré, but he is certainly deserving of his spot in this team.

Touré came to Manchester City from Barcelona in 2010 and immediately became a key cog in the City midfield.  An incredibly versatile and well-rounded midfielder, Touré seemingly could play any role he needed to, but functioned best as a goal scoring center midfielder alongside the creative David Silva.  Touré was one of the best players in his position in the league and the best African player in football during his time with City, and his role as the heart of City’s engine room was crucial to their success in the early 2010s.  He will be remembered as a City great, and maybe they will remember his birthday, too.

Touré is probably the one player in this midfield who could be swapped for someone else, since Kanté and Silva were pretty safe locks.  Yes, Touré got in over Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs, who were very good in the 2010s but nowhere near their prime 2000s levels.  Cesc Fabregas fits into a similar situation as the previously mentioned group, having been a great player in the early 2010s but not near his 2000s best and having rapidly declined throughout the decade.  Paul Pogba and Mesut Özil have had moments of brilliance for Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively, but those have often been overshadowed by inconsistencies, meaning they cannot be included in this team.  Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, and Philippe Coutinho have/did not spend enough time in the Premier League to be able to challenge Touré’s claim on this spot.  The two serious contenders for this position were Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho, and both made this decision difficult.  Kevin De Bruyne is a world-class midfielder who does deserve a spot in this team, but I narrowly gave the edge to Touré due to his incredible versatility and skill-set.  Fernandinho is among the best defensive midfielders in the league at present moment and is an incredibly important player to Pep Guardiola’s system, but it was not until Guardiola’s arrival that he truly reached the level necessary to be in contention for this team, so Touré gets the nod for his longevity and instant impact.  It was a tough choice, but Touré is ultimately deserving of this honor.

MF: David Silva, Manchester City

297 Appearances, 57 Goals, 89 Assists

Premier League Champion 2011/12, 2013/14, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2010/11, 2018/19

EFL Cup Winner 2013/14, 2015/16, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Community Shield Winner 2012, 2018, 2019

PFA Team of the Year 2011/12, 2017/18

Based on his surprisingly short honors list, you would not think that David Silva is among the best Premier League midfielders of the decade or one of Manchester City’s all-time great players.  His lack of individual honors demonstrates how underrated of a player he has been in the last decade, despite his incredible technical skill and importance in City’s title winning teams.

Silva, alongside Vincent Kompany and Sergio Agüero, has acted as the thread that links together the City title winning teams of this decade.  He arrived from Valencia in 2010, and it took some time for him to settle and find his ideal position in the City midfield.  Once Silva was established in the team, he quickly became one of the best creative midfielders in the league and one of City’s most crucial players.  His incredible technical skill and ability to operate in the half spaces between midfield and defense made him a superstar immediately and earned him plaudits from around the league.

Silva’s consistently high level of performance throughout the decade, paired with his importance to Manchester City throughout different managers’ tenures, makes him a lock for this team.  He is among the best creative midfielders the Premier League has seen in recent memory and is one of Manchester City’s greatest ever players.  His departure from City at the end of this season will signal the end of an era for the Cityzens.

FW: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

245 Appearances, 85 Goals, 54 Assists

Premier League Champion 2014/15, 2016/17

UEFA Europa League Winner 2012/13, 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2017/18

EFL Cup Winner 2014/15

PFA Player of the Year 2014/15

PFA Fans’ Player of the Year 2018/19

FWA Footballer of the Year 2014/15

Premier League Player of the Season 2014/15

Premier League Playmaker of the Season 2018/19

UEFA Europa League Player of the Season 2018/19

PFA Young Player of the Year 2013/14

FIFA FIFPRO World XI 2018, 2019

UEFA Team of the Year 2017, 2018

PFA Team of the Year 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2016/17

UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season 2018/19

Eden Hazard is quite possibly the most exciting and skillful player to play in the Premier League this decade, and he is also one that, despite the hefty honors list and stats he carries, may not have been as appreciated as he should have been while he was at Chelsea.

Hazard arrived at Chelsea in 2012 as a 21-year-old wunderkind with the world at his feet.  Having taken Ligue 1 by storm with Lille the previous five seasons, he inherited sky-high expectations when he joined the reigning European champions, and he most definitely lived up to them.  His trickery, speed, and finishing ability earned him comparisons to Lionel Messi, and he quickly became one of the best players in the world while in West London.  He was a quick, skillful, and dynamic player who found a home on the left wing, allowing him to cut inside on his preferred right foot to shoot or pick a pass.  He also had the ability to be deployed as a split striker or center forward, allowing him to dictate play from the middle of the pitch and provide for his teammates.  He regularly got near or surpassed the 15+ goals and 10+ assists benchmark while at Chelsea, and he was clearly the club’s most important and influential player. 

Given his incredible skill and footballing ability, he naturally garnered interest from the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but Hazard would choose to play seven seasons for Chelsea, allowing him to cement himself as arguably the best attacking player in the Premier League this decade and a club legend at Chelsea.  He is practically guaranteed a spot in this team.

FW: Harry Kane, Tottenham + Norwich City

200 Appearances, 136 Goals, 20 Assists

Premier League Golden Boot Winner 2015/16, 2016/17

PFA Young Player of the Year 2014/15

PFA Fans’ Player of the Year 2016/17

PFA Team of the Year 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

I will readily admit that this was the most difficult selection of this entire team.  Kane is not the absolute lock in this team that Hazard and Agüero are, and there is quite a bit of competition for this position from the likes of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Romelu Lukaku, Jamie Vardy, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah, among many others.   It really was a tough choice; the Premier League has been fortunate to have such a large amount of quality forwards playing in the last decade.

Ultimately, it came down to Harry Kane and Robin van Persie, and I chose Kane.  What Kane lacks in honors and titles, he more than makes up for in goalscoring and sheer consistency.  It took time for him to be an established player in the Spurs team, but once he broke through he could not stop scoring goals.  He quickly banished the “one season wonder” moniker by following up a 21-goal first full season with Spurs by scoring 25, 29, and 30 league goals in the next three seasons.  He won Golden Boot twice, PFA Young Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year, and was a consistent fixture in the PFA Team of the Year, solidifying his claim to being arguably the best number nine in the league right now.  He was the most influential figure in Spurs’ title challenging seasons and their journey to the Champions League Final last season.  He lacks the trophies that most other players on this list have, and he is one of two players on this team to not have won a major domestic or European trophy, but the consistency he has played at since he broke onto the scene at Spurs is astounding, and he is definitely one of the best strikers in the league at present moment.

The choice between him and van Persie was quite close.  Both players are the only two to win the Premier League Golden Boot multiple times this decade, and they are two of only four players to score 30+ league goals in a single season this decade, the other two being Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah, who both did not spend enough time in the league to warrant selection for an all-decade team.  They each have won a PFA Player of the Year award, although van Persie won the more prestigious Players’ Player of the Year honor.  The major drawback to each is van Persie has a league title that Kane does not and Kane does not have the major decline that van Persie does after his title-winning season at Manchester United.  Ultimately, I decided that Kane’s consistent near-20+-goal-a-season goalscoring record and constant presence in the PFA Team of the Year is more important for selection into a team focused on individual merit than van Persie’s league title with a very good Manchester United team.

FW: Sergio Agüero, Manchester City

254 Appearances, 174 Goals, 45 Assists

Premier League Champion 2011/12, 2013/14, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2018/19

EFL Cup Winner 2013/14, 2015/16, 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Community Shield Winner 2012, 2018, 2019

Premier League Golden Boot Winner 2014/15

PFA Team of the Year 2017/18, 2018/19

“It’s finished at Sunderland.  Manchester United have done all they can.  That Rooney goal was enough for the three points.

Manchester City are still alive here…

Balotelli…

AGUEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again, so watch it, drink it in.

They’ve just heard the news at the Stadium of Light.  Two goals in added time for Manchester City to snatch the title away from Manchester United.”

I know all of you just read that in Martin Tyler’s voice.  The most iconic bit of commentary in Premier League history describing the most iconic goal in Premier League history that capped off arguably the most unforgettable title race in Premier League history scored at the Etihad Stadium on May 13, 2012 by this man, Sergio Agüero.

Agüero was not the first or last marquee signing made by Manchester City under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group, but he is easily the most important player they purchased.  Already a notable rising star due to his time at Atletico Madrid, Agüero arrived at City to lofty expectations and surpassed every one of them.  He is Manchester City’s all-time leading goalscorer and unquestionably their greatest ever player.  He joint-holds the Premier League record for most goals scored in a single match, scoring five goals against Newcastle United in 2015 in only 23 minutes and 34 seconds, a Premier League record time.  He is the league’s sixth highest ever goalscorer and highest ever non-European born goalscorer.  While he only won Golden Boot once and never won PFA Player of the Year, it is impossible to dispute his right to be in this team.  City’s greatest ever player, an all-time great Premier League number nine, one of the best to play his position in the Premier League era, and the scorer of the most iconic goal in league history to win City’s first league title in 44 years.  He is a lock to be in this team.  It is not up for discussion.

Manager of the Decade

Pep Guardiola, Manchester City

134 Matches, 100 Wins, 17 Draws, 17 Losses

Premier League Champion 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Cup Winner 2018/19

EFL Cup Winner 2017/18, 2018/19

FA Community Shield Winner 2018, 2019

Premier League Manager of the Season 2017/18, 2018/19

League Managers Association Manager of the Year 2017/18

Named 5th Greatest Manager of All Time by France Football 2019

Yes, I know, he is a very recent manager, but it is impossible to argue with the results he has had at Manchester City since arriving in 2016.  He is the fastest manager in league history to reach 100 wins.  His City team was the first English team to ever finish with 100 points, doing so in the 2017-18 season, and they were the first men’s English team to complete the domestic treble, winning the league, FA Cup, and EFL Cup in the 2018/19 season.  His 2017/18 City team also scored 106 goals throughout the league season, setting a Premier League record.  His tactical genius and incredibly assembled team took the Premier League by storm, having created one of the best teams in the league’s history.  It is also worth noting that he benefits from the early retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and managerial decline of Arsene Wenger, but Pep’s significant achievements in his short amount of time in England are enough to earn him the title as manager of the decade.

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