Who makes the Premier League Team of the Season based on Opta data?

What an exciting Premier League season it was. Twists, turns, points deductions, upsets, and more goals than we all knew what to do with.

Then, Manchester City won it again.

There was more to the 2023-24 campaign than City’s historic fourth consecutive title, though. Here, with the help of Opta data, we pick our team of the season.

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Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martínez

What a little scamp he is. Aston Villa’s number one had another impressive campaign, as did Villa, who finished fourth and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

Emiliano Martínez’s most memorable moment of 2023-24 might have been his antics in the penalty shootout victory over Lille in the Europa Conference League, but in the Premier League he was mostly just an impressive goalkeeper.

The Argentine conceded 48 goals in 34 games and made 95 saves at a save percentage of 66.4%. That might not seem all that remarkable, but when you consider the famous high line Unai Emery’s team plays with, Martínez was given one of the toughest of tasks.

Of goalkeepers to play at least 11 games in the Premier League this season, only Wolves’ José Sá (8.5) had a better overperformance against his expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded than Martínez’s 4.8, meaning he conceded roughly five goals fewer than he would have been expected to, or almost nine (8.8) if you exclude own goals, which do not carry an xG value.

Emi Martinez xGOT 23-24

Right-Back: Ben White

The former Brighton man was a model of consistency for Arsenal, playing in all but one of their 38 league matches in 2023-24.

With Jurriën Timber out injured, Mikel Arteta deployed Ben White at right-back all season. He was as productive as you’d want any right-back to be, providing four goals and four assists in the Premier League. Only Tottenham’s Cristian Romero (5) scored more goals among defenders in the league this season.

White was a real creative outlet for Arsenal down their right side, creating 37 chances from open play; Kieran Trippier (39) was the sole Premier League defender to lay on more opportunities to teammates.

Ben White chances created 23-24

Left-Back: Nathan Aké

We know, we know; Aké hasn’t played left-back for champions Manchester City as often as Josko Gvardiol, but we’re trying to build a team here and the versatile Dutchman has earned his spot, so like Pep Guardiola has often done in the past, we’re playing him down the left.

As you can see from his heat map below, Aké often drifted down the left side with the ball even if playing as the left-sided centre-back as Man City dominated the ball and tried to stretch the pitch on their way to another Premier League title.

Nathan Ake heat map

Aké played 29 times in the Premier League for City this season, recording four goal involvements (2 goals, 2 assists). Of his City teammates, only Rodri (55) achieved more than his 47 aerial duels won, while no outfield player in sky blue could match his overall duel success rate of 66%.

Centre-Back: William Saliba

If anyone was in doubt as to the difference Saliba makes to Arsenal, they shouldn’t be any more. The Gunners fell away in the title race last season when the Frenchman was out injured. He stayed fit this time, and their title challenge went right up to the final day.

Arsenal had the best defence in the Premier League this season, and Saliba was at the centre of that, quite literally. The centre-back was an ever-present in the league, becoming the first outfield player to play every minute for Arsenal in a single Premier League campaign.

He won possession 213 times, more than any other Arsenal player and more often than any other centre-back in the league. He also won an impressive 72 of his 121 aerial duels. As a collective, Arsenal conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Premier League (29) and had the lowest expected goals against (28.4).

William Saliba possession won

Centre-Back: Manuel Akanji

For all their money spent over the years, you could certainly make an argument that Akanji has been one of Man City’s best value acquisitions. He makes our team of the season for a second campaign in a row.

Akanji played in 30 Premier League games this season and maintained an impressive 93.8% passing accuracy. That may not seem surprising given Man City’s obsession with keeping the ball, but only Rúben Dias and Mateo Kovacic (both 94.1%) had a better pass completion percentage for them this season.

Manuel Akanji pass map v West Ham

Arsenal conceded fewer goals, but no team faced fewer shots than City (293), which was in no small part down to the preventative measures taken by the likes of Akanji, who regained possession 5.1 times per 90 minutes played.

Central Midfield: Rodri

The man who arguably sets the bar for midfielders in world football these days. Rodri was sensational once more in helping Man City get another Premier League title, and his metronomic consistency was on display in 2023-24.

Rodri averaged 111.3 passes per game, almost 11 more than any other player in the league to play at least 10 games, while 15 players averaged more than his 7.2 possession wins per 90; when you consider how much of the ball City have, that tally suggests Rodri works hard to win the ball back on the rare occasions they don’t have possession.

His 3,359 successful passes were 388 more than anyone else in the Premier League, while his 4,112 touches were 486 clear of the rest. Rodri also recorded 17 goal involvements in his 34 league appearances (8 goals, 9 assists), his most in a Premier League season by eight (9 in 2021-22).

The final-day win over West Ham that clinched the title was also the 50th consecutive Premier League game in which Rodri has played for City and not lost (W41 D9). In the history of the competition, only Sol Campbell between November 2002-October 2004 has ever had a longer unbeaten run (56 games). To show how important he has been for City, the four Premier League games in which Rodri didn’t feature this season included all three of their defeats in the competition (W1).

Rodri led the league for attacking sequence involvements, with 274, made up of 56 shots, 47 chances created and 172 involvements in the build-up to a shot.

PL attacking sequence involvement 23-24

Central Midfield: Declan Rice

Arsenal needed a Rodri of their own, and they got it last summer in Declan Rice. The £100million arrival from West Ham may have cost a lot of money, but he has been worth every penny so far.

His winner at Luton Town in December – timed at 96:23 – was Arsenal’s latest winning goal on record (since 2006-07) in an away game in the Premier League. That felt like the moment Arteta’s side showed they believed they could challenge for the title, and Rice was the man responsible. He had also hit a late winner against Manchester United earlier in the campaign.

Rice managed 15 goal involvements (7 goals, 8 assists) in his debut season at the Emirates, with a passing accuracy of 90.7%. In the 2022-23 campaign he made more interceptions than anyone (63), and while that reduced to 44 this season, with nine players making more, you have to bear in mind that Arsenal have a lot more of the ball than West Ham, so there are fewer opportunities for interceptions.

They might have just missed out on the title, but you feel with a team that is growing all the time, Arsenal and Rice might be ready to come to the boil in 2024-25.

Attacking Midfield: Cole Palmer

A man who has to be in the conversation, along with Rice, for the best signing of last year’s summer transfer window, Cole Palmer managed to drag an inconsistent Chelsea side into a relatively respectable sixth place.

Some eyebrows were raised when Chelsea spent what they did to bring Palmer in from Man City towards the end of last summer’s window, but he repaid that faith and then some.

Palmer ended the season with 33 goal involvements (22 goals, 11 assists), more than any other player in the league. That made him just the third Chelsea player to score 20+ goals and provide 10+ assists in a Premier League season after Frank Lampard (22 goals, 14 assists) and Didier Drogba (29 goals, 10 assists) in the 2009-10 campaign.

Cole Palmer goal involvement 23-24

The 22-year-old opened the scoring nine times in the Premier League in 2023-24, the joint-most by a Chelsea player in a single campaign along with Gianfranco Zola (1998-99), Drogba (2006-07) and Eden Hazard (2014-15).

Attacking Midfield: Martin Ødegaard

One of 11 players to reach double figures for Premier League assists this season, Martin Ødegaard had a quality campaign and can consider himself unlucky not to have ended it with a winner’s medal.

The Norwegian had 18 goal involvements (8 goals, 10 assists) and only Bruno Fernandes (114) and Pascal Groß (103) created more chances than his 102.

His off-the-ball work was also supreme. No player won possession in the final third more often than Ødegaard (41), while only Dominic Solanke (1,242) recorded more pressures than his 1,147.

Martin Odegaard possession won final third 23-24

Like Akanji, Rodri and Rice, Ødegaard makes our team of the season for a second year in a row. We’re not sure it’ll be much consolation for a second-place finish in the league again, but if he keeps showing these levels of consistency, Ødegaard can have hope for better luck next year.

Attacking Midfield: Phil Foden

This was the season when Phil Foden went up a level; in many people’s eyes, he was the best player in the Premier League in 2023-24, hence why he was crowned Player of the Season.

Only three players across the league scored more than his 19 goals, while he also added seven assists. It was nine better than his previous best season (2022-23) for goal involvements.

Only six players created more chances than Foden’s 73, while just three players won possession in the final third more often than his 35.

Phil Foden goals 23-24

Foden scored two hat-tricks (vs Brentford and Aston Villa) and put on a virtuoso display when he scored twice against Manchester United in a vital 3-1 win at the Etihad in March. None of his 19 goals were from penalties either, meaning only teammate Erling Haaland (20) scored more non-penalty goals than him in the Premier League.

Foden accentuated a brilliant campaign with a first-half brace to put City in cruise control on the final day when they needed to beat West Ham to seal the title. Now, for Gareth Southgate to figure out how to get the best out of him for England this summer.

Striker: Ollie Watkins

“Excuse me, lads; you’ve spelled ‘Erling Haaland’ wrong.”

No, we haven’t. The Man City striker was excellent again this season and topped the scoring charts, but Ollie Watkins pips him in our team this season.

Emery’s Villa were brilliant for much of 2023-24, with Watkins leading the line and racking up 32 goal involvements (19 goals, 13 assists). Only Palmer (33) recorded more.

Ollie Watkins goal involvement 23-24

The former Brentford man also finished top of the assists chart, two ahead of the next most (Palmer – 11), while his 19 goals were the joint-most by a Villa player in a campaign in the competition (level with Christian Benteke in 2012-13). Watkins also became the first player to score two hat-tricks in a single season in all competitions for Villa since Andy Gray in 1976-77.

The first player to reach double figures for both goals and assists in the Premier League this season, and the first player to achieve this for Aston Villa in a top-flight campaign since Dwight Yorke in 1995-96, Watkins certainly had a campaign remember.

Next season he’ll get to test himself on the grand stage that is the Champions League; a fitting reward for a fine 2023-24.

PL 23-24 TOTS Analyst

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