Let’s have some fun! Put away your thoughts of Neymar’s poorly ankle and metatarsal and Samir Nasri’s Los Angeles doping expeditions, and let’s focus on a brilliant idea put forth by Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku: a football all star game! Red Rom proposed a North v. South battle consisting of players voted in by the fans. I don’t trust fans so I’ll do all the heavy lifting and give you my squads. Keep in mind this is for the 2017-18 season only and please brush up on your British geography before you call foul on which players helm from where. #geographypolice
THE NORTH XI
Manager: David Wagner (Huddersfield Town)
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Defenders: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Ben Mee (Burnley)
Midfielders: Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Nemanja Matić (Manchester United), David Silva (Manchester City)
Forwards: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Bench: Ederson (GK, Manchester City), Jamaal Lascelles (Def., Newcastle United), John Stones (Def., Manchester City), Aaron Mooy (Mid., Huddersfield Town), Fernandinho (Mid., Manchester City), Romelu Lukaku (Fwd., Manchester United), Sadio Mané (Fwd., Liverpool)
What a ruddy quality side that is. I selected Wagner as gaffer to really get this quick and prolific side moving. His Huddersfield team plays good football going forward and remains disciplined. Maguire is a beast and anchors this back three ideally with the reliable Mee and original gangster/best right back in the Prem Valencia alongside. Pogba would need to swallow up defensive duties in the middle as well as careen forward to unlock the final third patrolled by the magician you-know-who of the South (hint: his name rhymes with Mn’Golo Manté). Agüero gets taken for granted nowadays and even finds himself on the bench when Gabriel Jesus is fit, but he remains one of the deadliest strikers breathing. A no-brainer flanked by world class attacking talent Maldini era Milan would struggle to stop.
Of course there’s always some snubs to be aware of whenever any sort of all star team is assembled. Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope is having a really solid and consistent season behind a resolute Clarets defensive four. Virgil van Dijk is coming into his own and finding his feet since his January transfer to Liverpool. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard has been magnificent this season and would find it unfortunate to be left out. And Everton’s Oumar Niasse has begun to play well up front and score goals for the flailing Goodison Park club. All of the above would be no stranger to the 18 strong lineup.
THE SOUTH XI
Manager: Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Defenders: César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham), N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
Forwards: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Bench: Hugo Lloris (GK, Tottenham), Laurent Koscielny (Def., Arsenal), Andreas Christensen (Def., Chelsea), Abdoulaye Doucouré (Mid., Watford), Dele Alli (Mid., Tottenham), Heung-min Son (Fwd., Tottenham), Álvaro Morata (Fwd. Chelsea)
Ooof. This is a sturdy lineup. Back to front. Eddie Howe is a players’ manager and would perfectly get this squad gelling and staying in shape. This is really a 3-5-1-1 with Hazard lying deep roaming behind Kane. It was tempting to just pick the entire Tottenham Hotspur XI but I think this is a good mix to battle against an absurdly slick North front 7. Duffy having a superb season and oftentimes overlooked when discussing Brighton’s successes this term. The midfield 5 should suffocate any attack with Zaha and Alonso running rampant on the wings. And…yeah…as I was alluding to earlier, Ballon d’Or candidate Kane on the pitch so they should be all set.
West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic in a rich vein of form right now unlucky not to make the bench. Arsenal’s new talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t played nearly enough to warrant a slot but would fit in seamlessly up top. But if I’m being honest, outside of Chelsea and Tottenham players, I wouldn’t accommodate any whining from other teams trying to get a look-in here.
With that, I’m backing the North to pip this just slightly. They are simply too strong with the City and Liverpool attackers purring. And the North bench is stronger man for man. I do think the Hazard-Kane duo would terrorize the North back line, but with Matić holding deep and covering, I believe they would hold firm. Plus, de Bruyne linking up with Salah could defeat any team on the planet at the moment. That alone edges it for me.
The North wins!