Romelu Lukaku’s suggestion of an All-Star Premier League game, akin to the format NBA uses, has raised plenty of interest and critique in the past week.
While the implementation of such a game is much more difficult and unlikely to materialise as a one-off game, it does one no harm to debate on possible XIs. After all, for us Fantasy Football aficionados, selecting a best XI should be a piece of cake. But is it really?
It’s easy to reduce selections to a ‘Manchester City and the rest’ North XI vs ‘Tottenham Hotspur and the rest’ South XI, so for fair representation (or what counts for fair), we will be capping off the number of players per club to three.
Does that make things more challenging? Definitely. Does that mean these are the best XIs? Of course not; football is all about debate and there are many ways to go about this.
Lining up in a 4-3-3 to accommodate as many outstanding attackers as possible, the North XI is a pretty intimidating prospect for any opponent.
Although Ederson runs him close (as does Jordan Pickford if we’re trying to include other Manchester United players), David de Gea takes his place in between the sticks.
Andy Robertson certainly provides solidity at left-back; he trumps Luke Shaw due to his form in recent times, while Benjamin Mendy is certainly not a must-have over other Manchester City players.
When you’re a club with outstanding players across the XI (like Manchester City), the difference makers in attack are those that will get selection. This is why John Stones does not make the XI, although Kyle Walker does: he’s certainly the best RB in the league.
Eric Bailly comfortably slots into the side alongside Jonny Evans, who can certainly perform solidly enough.
Moving up, Wilfred Ndidi makes the cut as the deeper midfielder in the trio, beating out Aaron Mooy and Jack Cork for the role (Matic and Fernandinho aren’t in contention, naturally).
His two partners in midfield are obvious choices: Paul Pogba and Kevin de Bruyne, both of whom bring creativity and something different to the side.
In attack, Leroy Sane gets the nod at left-wing over Anthony Martial, a marginal decision but a fair one.
There’s an abundance of options up front: there’s Sergio Aguero, Jamie Vardy, Gabriel Jesus, Oumar Niasse, Peter Crouch, just to name a few, but we go with the under-rated Roberto Firmino for his all-around game.
It’s a similar story on the right, but Mohamed Salah beats out the likes of Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez every day of the week. We’re sorry, Riyad.
Honorary shout-out to Romelu Lukaku though: it’s ironic that he doesn’t fit into anybody’s North XI but we can afford him a substitute’s role. It’s the least we can do for him.
We all make sacrifices in the goal for the greater good: Lukasz Fabianski takes the best-goalkeeper-of-the-rest crown with ease.
At left-back, Ryan Bertrand makes our job much easier. Nacho Monreal has developed into a steady centre-back (or what counts for steady at Arsenal), while Toby Alderweireld edges out his Belgian team-mate Jan Vertonghen on the basis of balance. No team can be complete without Mr Dependable, Cesar Azpilicueta.
Centrally, N’Golo Kante can take on the role of two midfielders, covering for his attacking colleagues. That includes the majestic Christian Eriksen, the lazy Mesut Ozil and the difference-maker, Eden Hazard. Just imagine what service they can provide for President Kane and Arsenal’s misfiring hero, Aubameyang.
We are certainly missing out some big names here - Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Willian and Mousa Dembele - but this team is just about the best South could probably put up, keeping our restrictions in mind.
How, though, do these teams match up area for area?
Aside from the obvious gap in quality between both goalkeeper, these two defences aren’t too far apart.
The North XI does provide much more dynamism in attack in the form of their full-backs. In an All-Star game, that’s what we all want.
At the same time, the South XI have more experience and stability across their back line.
The North just edge the scales on account of de Gea, a real shot-stopper who can keep his side in the game for the entirety of 90 minutes.
This is tricky one to call. Kante is miles ahead of Wilfred Ndidi in terms of being a ball winner in midfield, but Pogba and de Bruyne can certainly make up for the Nigerian’s shortcomings.
The South XI boast three skilled playmakers in Eriksen, Ozil and Hazard and, if they can find ways to link up without moving into the other’s space, they just about edge North. It’s tight though.
Sane, Firmino, Salah. That’s an attack boasting just about everything you want in a front three.
Citizen Kane and Aubameyang are formidable in their own right though, but looking at the overall picture, the North XI appear a tad too strong in this department.
The South XI represent Tottenham in many respects: creativity in abundance, yet falling short of North/Manchester City.
In real terms, it would be interesting to see how this format would be implemented in terms of team selection: some restrictions would have to be in place to avoid one team dominating the XI.
The key here is entertainment: you don’t want Mourinho playing a deep block here, that isn’t the motive.
For sheer value, the North XI would take this game: they appear to have a bit more balance than the South.
The game would certainly interesting but whether it would turn out to be a clash of the ages or a nullification of styles would be dependent on a lot more. What would Lukaku have to say about that?
Disagree with our selections? Let us know by commenting below.