MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18: Robin van Persie of Arsenal tangles with Vincent Kompany of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
The tradition of an All-Star game is something that exists in every major sports league in the United States* and this usually occurs near the half-way point of the season in each of these leagues -- with the NFL being the lone exception. This is something that obviously does not occur in the English Premier League, nor most other football leagues around the world. However, with the league season at the exact half-way point -- with the exception of Spurs and Everton -- I thought it would be fun exercise to come up with hypothetical 'All-Star' teams. Truth be told, this idea came from We Ain't Got No History -- the excellent Chelsea fansite here on the SB Nation network -- as it was their invention of this last season that inspired me to do it for this season. Even our own Rio Ferdinand has suggested replacing the annual Community Shield for an All-Star game.
* This occurs in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS
Generally, these All-Star teams are made from the conferences or divisions that the leagues are divided into. However, since the Premier League has a single table and no such divisions, this hypothetical All-Star game will be divided into a North vs. South matchup. The geography of England makes this convenient.
It is important to keep in mind that players are not being selected on actual ability, but rather for their performances thus far this season and also for their tactical fit. For example, I don't think Yakubu is a superior player to Dimitar Berbatov but the Blackburn center-forward is having a better season so he is chosen. Also, Yaya Toure is having a better season than Michael Carrick but the latter is chosen to partner alongside Chiek Tiote because he is a better tactical compliment.
For each of these sides, I will select a starting XI and a seven player bench. The manager for the north will be Roberto Mancini since City sit highest in the table for the North teams. For the same reason, Harry Redknapp will manage the South. The shape that the North will play in will be the 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 shape that Mancini uses at City. The shape that the South will play in will the 4-3-3ish one that 'Arry has deployed as of late for Spurs. There is even a mascot... none other than Mario Balotelli! He would even provide a fireworks show at half-time.
Goalkeeper | Tim Krul - Much of Newcastle's tremendous start to the season is due to the stellar defense at season's beginning and perhaps the standout player of that group is their keeper. The Dutchman has been selected over City and England No. 1 Joe Hart.
Center-backs | Vincent Kompany (c), Phil Jones - The City captain has been a rock in the back for the league leaders and is an easy choice. Jones has played all over the pitch this season: center-back, right-back, and central-midfield. The United youngster has had a standout season and I had to figure out a way to get him into the starting XI -- so center-back it is. Kompany can provide sound positioning in the back while Jones could surge forward with selective runs.
Right-back | Micah Richards - The City right-back is a solid defender and provides the added benefit of being a threat when going forward -- his impressive 5 assists thus far in league can attest to this. It's quite surprising that England manager Fabio Capello hasn't given him another look in recent months.
Left-back | Jose Enrique - Of all the purchases that Liverpool made during 2011, it is perhaps their left-back that has been the most astute buy. Enrique has arguably been the best left-back in the league this season and he supplements his strong defending with the ability to whip in crosses when he maraudes forward.
Central-midfielders | Chiek Tiote, Michael Carrick - Lucas is actually first-choice as my ball-winning midfielder but since he is injured, Tiote is chosen as his replacement. Perhaps Carrick exhibits a United bias, however, a deep-lying playmaker is needed to compliment Tiote and the United midfielder fits that need. After a slow start to the season, Carrick has found his form in recent months -- in both league and in Europe.
Central-attacking-midfielder | Wayne Rooney - Wazza is my choice to play in the space between the lines as a withdrawn striker or as a central-attacking midfielder -- withdrawn striker better describes him as an attacker but CAM does well to explain how his work-rate often allows him to act as a third central-midfielder when his side is out of possession. The ability to score, to provide incisive passing, and his ball-winning ability makes him an ideal choice.
Right-attacking-midfielder | Nani - The United attacker is capable of playing on either flank. However, he tends to stay near the touchline more when deployed on the right so he is selected here so that he can provide a bit of width. This is especially important when considering who is going to be chosen on the left side of attack.
Left-attacking-midfielder | David Silva - The City playmaker is also capable of playing on either flank but he is chosen here so that Nani can provide some of the previously mentioned width. He has the tendency to drift inside and into the space between the lines. Silva's ability to combine with Rooney in this area of the pitch will be key.
Center-forward | Yakubu - United saw up-close this past weekend the virtues of this burly center-forward. Yakubu has 12 goals in league this season -- good for 5th best. This is even more impressive when you consider that he's doing it for a team as awful as Blackburn Rovers
Bench | Joe Hart, Leighton Baines, Antonio Valencia, Yaya Toure, Daniel Agger, Demba Ba, Sergio Aguero - Steven Taylor is actually my choice as first-choice deputy at center-back but since he is injured, Agger is his replacement. Valencia provides the benefit of providing direct wing play -- a contrast to the other wide attackers -- and also the ability to fill-in at right-back if needed.
Goalkeeper | Michel Vorm - The Swansea goalkeeper has been one of the signings of the season thus far. He's a superb shotstopper and his excellent technical ability on the ball allows him to play as a 'sweeper keeper'. A perfect fit for Brendan Rodgers' tactics.
Center-backs | Thomas Vermaelen, Younes Kaboul - Vermaelen is an easy choice but choosing his partner was a tough task. Kaboul has been solid for most of the season and I liked him better than my other choices. No back-up left-back is chosen for the bench but Vermaelen can provide cover there if injury strikes at Wembley (the site of this fictional match).
Right-back | Kyle Walker - The Spurs' youngster has arguably been the standout right-back in the league and he's recently been given the opportunity to become first-choice for England. He's a decent enough defender but his incredible pace allows him to be dangerous when surging forward into attack. He provides a nice compliment to the chosen right-sided attacker with his overlapping runs.
Left-back | Benoit Assou-Ekotto - I wasn't thrilled about this pick as well but he's also having a solid season for Spurs. In addition, with the decline of Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra, the choices at left-back in England's top-flight are limited.
Central-midfield | Alex Song, Scott Parker (c), Luka Modric - In this midfield trio, Song is the holding player while Parker and Modric have the freedom to get forward. Parker's ball-winning ability, decent distribution, and heart of a lion mentality makes him a good choice for the engine room -- and as skipper. Modric ability is obvious and he's arguably the class central-midfielder in the Prem. Song is a solid ball-winner but I bet most of you didn't know that his 0.7 successful through-balls per match leads the league.
Right-Forward | Juan Mata - The Chelsea playmaker is deployed on the left more often for Andre Villas-Boas but he is capable of playing on either side or through the middle. Mata would be the main link between midfield and attack and he likely would drift inward in search of the ball between the lines. For this reason, Walker would provide the previously mentioned width with overlapping runs when Mata goes inside and drags his marker with him.
Left-Forward | Gareth Bale - The Welshman is a tremendous left-sided winger that provides pace, power, and clever crosses. Recently, Redknapp has liberated Bale and the attacker has been superb in a 'free role' in attack. In this 4-3-3, he would have the freedom to roam across the attack line in search of space.
Center-Forward | Robin van Persie - The first name on the team sheet for me. His 17 goals lead the league and his 5 assists is tied for being 7th best. The Dutchman is unquestionably the player of the season thus far. A 4-3-3 shape likely suits van Persie better than a 4-4-1-1 since he likes to drop deep and link play. A withdrawn striker could crowd his natural space.
Bench | Wayne Hennessey, Branislav Ivanovic, Leon Britton, Clint Dempsey, Rafael van der Vaart, Daniel Sturridge, Emmanuel Adebayor - Little Leon Britton has quietly been superb this season for the Swans in a holding role -- he deserves recognition. Adebayor is perfect cover for RvP while Dempsey, van der Vaart, and Sturridge all provide nice options off the bench if a change in shape or a surge of attack is needed. Ivanovic's main asset is that he can provide solid cover at both center-back and right-back.
Key Matchup | Silva vs. Walker? - Perhaps the area of the pitch where Silva and Walker would do battle in is where the key match-up would take place. Walker could be the key man in this match if Silva fails to track the right-back's marauding runs. On the flip side, Nani could drift over and create overloads down the left side of the North's attack and this threat would be exacerbated if Walker were to get caught ahead of the ball when his side loses possession.
Feel free to comment below, a topic such as this will always have debate. Which omitted players do you feel would be deserving? Which players on this list aren't deserving? Who would win this hypothetical matchup?
Who would win this hypothetical 'All-Star' game?
North (61 votes)
South (25 votes)
86 total votes