So the Premier League season is over and, as such, it's time to deal with the greatest prize in sport: The SB Nation Soccer Alternative Team of the Year. As ever, there's only one rule: Players who were named in the actual PFA Team of the Year aren't eligible.
This season, in keeping with current trends, our team is playing an extremely fashionable 3-4-2-1. Blame Brendan Rodgers. He started it. With his tea and his toast.
Jordan Pickford, Sunderland
There is something bleak and noble about goalkeepers at the best of times. But to watch Jordan Pickford this season has been to witness something beyond the usual. Something appalling.
He has spent his season oscillating between furious panic (whenever his team don't have the ball) and bleak dread (whenever they do, because they're definitely about to lose it). And all those saves, however impressive and momentarily pleasing, were made in the understanding that in the long run, everything is entirely futile. You could see it in his eyes. He knew. Each stop was merely a pinch of salt, bringing out the flavour of the miserable soup.
His has been the kind of suffering that, in days gone by, might have inspired a religion or two. Instead, it'll likely earn him a move to Everton, which is almost certainly better than being nailed to a cross.
Michael Keane, Burnley
Beyond the obvious direct competition, it's often hard to compare football teams, even from the same league. Which is more impressive? Chelsea striding to a league title using quite a few players that won their last title just two seasons ago? Or Burnley, short on both glamour and budget, spending much of the season in no danger of relegation? Antonio Conte, with Roman Abramovich standing behind him, or Sean Dyche, with Joey Barton standing in front of him?
More pertinently for our purposes here: Gary Cahill, with David Luiz next to him and Thibaut Courtois behind? Or Michael Keane, who had to spend at least one game this season trying to concentrate while the warmed over corpse of Paul Robinson — yes, that Paul Robinson — tended net behind him?
A question of taste, perhaps. But since Chelsea got the trophy, Conte got Manager of the Year, and Cahill earned himself a place in the actual, proper team of the year, Keane will have to make do with this consolation prize. We'll get a certificate sorted and send it out to him.
Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham Hotspur
Pressed for a decision between the excellent Vertonghen and his equally excellent defensive partner, Toby Alderweireld, we had to fall back on a tiebreaker. One of the old classics. No, we didn't flip a coin, or roll a die. We imagined both players dressed in full formal Elizabethan costume, from pointed shoes to voluminous breeches to feathery hat, and picked who we thought would look most at home.
Sadly for Toby, Vertonghen strolled it. He does, after all, have the face of a man who, following a brief, scandalous affair with one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting, would die leading a small and unspectacular rebellion against the Crown. All while wearing a ruff.
Mamadou Sakho, Crystal Palace
"Walk on. Walk on. With hope in your heart. And you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone. Unless, that is, you fail a drugs test and get suspended for a major European final, then find out that the whole procedure was a mess and you almost certainly should have been free to play, then lose your discipline on a preseason tour. Then you'll get bombed into the reserves and loaned out to Crystal Palace ..."
Maybe we're being harsh. Maybe what Sakho did in preseason was grotesque and unforgivable. But it certainly looks like Sakho's head went a bit in circumstances that would completely justify one's head going a bit, and Liverpool — who like to make a big thing out of solidarity, togetherness, and all the rest — took the harshest possible line with him. Even though it meant playing Ragnar Klavan. Even though it meant playing Dejan Lovren.
Happily for Sakho, he was able to rebuild his playing reputation at Palace, under the guidance of a man who knows a thing or two about doing something silly and paying a considerable price. "Don't worry Mamadou," said Big Sam, probably. "At least they didn't catch you with a pint of wine."
Victor Moses, Chelsea
Victor Moses' talent has been obvious ever since his time at Wigan, which is why Chelsea bought him in the first place, but over a series of vaguely unsatisfying loan spells there's been a sense that nobody really knew what to do with him. Turns out, he was just ahead of his time, waiting for Antonio Conte to bring the concept of a "wingback" over from Italy. You could almost say that after many years in exile, Moses has finally found the promised land ... no? Too much? Ah well.
Granit Xhaka, Arsenal
The alternative team of the season isn't just here to recognise who has been good. We're also concerned with the slightly more nebulous but arguably more important question: Who has been emblematic? Who has embodied their team, for good or ill? And, amidst fairly stiff competition, we think Granit Xhaka has been Mr. Arsenal 2016-17.
It could be the silly bookings, the lapses in concentration, and the occasional pass that flies between two confused looking colleagues. It could be the fact that neither he nor his manager seem to know quite what he's doing, beyond mucking around in the middle somewhere and seeing what turns up. It could even be his facial expression when things go wrong: Furrowed brow, open mouth, a constant reproach to a universe that by rights should be making much more sense.
And it is, in fact, all of those things, because all of those things taken together, shaken, and served over a muddled plane banner, are Arsenal.
Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
Again, a man emblematic of his club at this precise moment in time. Fellaini's continued presence in United's squad tells a story of the muddled post-Ferguson years, and a squad that has been built and rebuilt by several men who didn't really know what they were trying to do. His continued presence in United's first team, meanwhile, speaks eloquently of Jose Mourinho's priorities. He doesn't care if a player is good, particularly. He doesn't even care if he's actually harmful to the team. As long as he does what he's told.
Leroy Sané, Manchester City
... is ridiculously good, isn't he? The complete modern footballer, at just the tender age of 21. He's quick, he's versatile, he's got enchanting feet, he can finish, he can dive, and he's called "Leroy." Sickening, really, this kind of perfection. Hopefully he has awful taste in music, or a nagging toothache that never really goes away. Maybe he's really rude to waiting staff. The swine.
Christian Eriksen, Tottenham Hotspur
When it came to the attacking midfielder slots in the actual team of the year, poor Eriksen never stood a chance. Not against the more aggressively spectacular Eden Hazard or Sadio Mane. Not against the more prolific Dele Alli, who also gets bonus points for being young and English. And, to be honest, if we'd been able to choose any of them we probably would have done. Nothing personal, of course. He had an excellent season. Just ... quietly.
Gylfi Sigurðsson, Swansea
Ah, Gylfi. Essentially, he's the Christian Eriksen you'd get for Christmas because "well, it's basically the same, isn't it," and you'd cry, you selfish bastard, because it's not the same, it's not, it's not the proper one. Never mind how expensive the proper one is. Never mind all your other presents. Never mind all the effort everybody went to. The whole day would be ruined. How could you?
... er, anyway, he kept Swansea up.
Zlatan Ibrahimović, Manchester United
Couldn't not be, really. Manchester United fans have Ibrahimovic to thank for 28 goals and the fact that they've won one cup and are in the final of another. Everybody else, meanwhile, owes the large Swede a hearty back slap for making some very silly people look very silly indeed. Overrated? Not all that? Couldn't hack it in England? Aye, right.
Manager: Bob Bradley
Well, that was all very strange indeed.
Last season's team is here.