When the evidence of league tables is deemed insufficient or unsatisfactory, fans of opposing teams will often debate a combined XI of the two teams to prove the point that their side is best – on paper. The bias is ingrained from the start and reinforced by the amount of time fans will watch their own side, analysing players’ strengths/becoming incensed at their flaws, rather than opposing teams.
In so many ways, I am unqualified to act as judge on the abilities of non-Spurs players. Living down under is a big disadvantage, being tactically illiterate is another. But ignorance rarely acts to constrain the voicing of football fans’ opinions so I shall let rip too.
Fifteen games in, this season has already seen different and fluctuating fortunes of the six London Premier League teams. There are twenty points between the top-placed club Chelsea and the bottom – QPR. As an example of the fluctuation, Spurs opened without a win in three, then won four in a row, lost four of the next five and are now back on a three-game winning streak. A run which correlated closely with Mousa Dembélé’s availability, or lack thereof.
So, in selecting a combined London XI based upon this season so far, I will be largely ignoring present form and mostly looking at the batch of games as a whole. I think at this stage we can disregard any QPR players from the list, and, given the competition for places, it’s difficult to make a case for any West Ham players too. This might seem harsh given their current top-half status and recent win over Chelsea, but these achievements arguably owe more to the team ethic instilled by Sam Allardyce rather than the consistent quality and performance of individual players. Looking at their effective midfield trio of Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame and Mark Noble, each has performed credibly and consistently without being stellar. That’s part of their strength, but they looked outclassed when they went up against Arsenal and Spurs this season.
Fulham have been inconsistent too. Coping well with the loss of Dembélé and Clint Dempsey in the summer, their stand-out performers have been Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz. Looking across London, it’s conceivable that Berbatov would illuminate any starting XI but where would you play him? If he plays as the front man in an in-vogue 4-2-3-1 then you’re pinning your main goalscoring hopes on a man with fewer league strikes (five) than Rickie Lambert and Steven Fletcher. Shifting him to a more withdrawn position would put him in competition for a starting berth with Chelsea’s Juan Mata, most pundits’ selection as player of the season so far.
That leaves the Big Three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs. There’s a sprinkling of quality in each of those teams, backed up with deficiencies in key areas. It should therefore be fairly simple to cherry pick the best players and provide them refuge in a strong London XI. Well, it would be if each team wasn’t so shaky at the back and wasteful up front. The only London-based striker with more than a goal every two games is Jermain Defoe (nine), yet the suspicion remains his colleague Emmanuel Adebayor would usurp his position at Spurs if he were only able to free himself of niggling injuries and ill-discipline. Based on this season’s evidence, Defoe – despite all his faults – has to make the cut though.
Petr Cech (Chelsea) – Solid but unspectacular, will be under pressure to keep his place in this team now that Hugo Lloris is getting a run of games at Spurs
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – Dependable performer who has added an attacking intent to his play and is a more rounded defender than Kyle Walker and Bacary Sagna
John Terry (Chelsea) – Missed half of Chelsea’s games but this absence only underlines his importance to his team’s solidity
Jan Vertonghen (Spurs) – Played the majority of games at left-back to cover for Benoît Assou-Ekotto but has shown enough already to prove his class
Ashley Cole (Chelsea) – Again, someone who has missed games but demonstrated his ongoing worth when present and unavailable
Sandro Raniere (Spurs) – The best tackler in the league and an indomitable force in the middle of the park
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal) – Revitalised as a deep-lying playmaker orchestrating play who edges out Dembélé and the fit-again Wilshere in the starting XI
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) – Recently been looking jaded but integral to Arsenal’s attacking play
Juan Mata (Chelsea) – Also starting to get ‘a bit leggy’ after his early season performances, Chelsea fans will be concerned that his effectiveness tailed off last season too
Gareth Bale (Spurs) – A rampant winger who would comfortably make a combined Premer League XI
Jermain Defoe (Spurs) – Doesn’t interact with the midfield as much as Berbatov, or provide a strong focal-point in the same way as Olivier Giroud, but almost guarantees goals in a combined team already boasting plenty of attacking options