With all three Premier League relegation places sealed and with just three matches remaining in the UEFA Champions League, it’s fair to say the club season is coming to a dramatic end.
For England, it is reaching its conclusion also. The final scene for the Three Lions is their Nations League tournament in a month’s time. England’s season started with defeat to Spain in September, where Marcus Bettinelli and Adam Lallana were in the England squad. How far from making the March edition were they? What this shows is just how much can change in the ten months of a domestic campaign.
However, some players and teams are able to find incredible consistency over a season. Their quality and output is consistently good. Who then have been the best England players throughout this fantastic club season? Not for England, and not last season. These are the most impressive current England internationals throughout the club season. So there is no space for Jamie Vardy or Aaron Wan-Bissaka here. Here are our Top 6.
Seeing off some very tough competition to seal that sixth position is West Ham’s midfield revelation Declan Rice. In the news permanently for about six months because of his drawn-out nationality crisis, the London-born holding-midfielder finally decided to switch nationalities from Ireland to England in February. Just weeks later, after his transition was accepted by FIFA, he was called up for the first time by Gareth Southgate, appearing in both of the team’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers.
For West Ham United, Rice was pulled at half-time in his side’s opening Premier League game this season. They were 2-0 down to Liverpool and eventually lost by four. It was a nightmare start for the then-teenager, but since then he has homed in on his strengths and put together a quite brilliant set of performances. Very few young players enjoy breaking up play and passing in simple ways but Rice excels at these skills.
Between West Ham’s fifth and 36th games of the season, Rice played the full 90 minutes in every single match – 32 in a row. That’s wonderful first-team experience for a young player held in high regard by many of the most informed managers and pundits.
In the same way that Jamie Vardy is Leicester’s talisman and Troy Deeney is Watford’s, the Bournemouth fans invariably look to Callum Wilson when they desperately need a goal. A graduate of the Coventry City academy, he gained promotion with Bournemouth in his first season at the club – scoring 20 league goals in the process. Barring a few horrid injuries, he’s been absolutely deadly in the Premier League ever since. This season has been his best in the top flight, as he has notched 14 goals and ten assists.
Under Eddie Howe, Bournemouth have become renowned for their attacking interchanging and quickfire counters. That means that the scorer of the first will quite often turn provider for the second. Hence, Wilson consistently finishes high up in the club’s assist charts too, rare for a centre-forward. It’s a mark of his importance to the Cherries that of the eight matches he has missed through injury this term, the club have picked up just a win and a draw. He became a full England international as a debut goalscorer against the USA in November. On his 2018/19 form, it’s very easy to see why.
Harry Kane’s worst season, statistically, as a Spurs regular is already over for him, and yet he features in fourth place here. Those that saw Harry Kane during his failed loan spells in the Championship are simply watching an entirely different animal these days – an animal borne of tireless work and a ruthless appetite for goals.
As one of the world’s best out-and-out strikers, Kane is often overlooked on his ability to pick out inch-perfect long passes and dribble his way out of tight situations. These are skills that he is brilliant at. His height and stature seems to fool many in the football industry – Harry Kane is not only a Number 9, but an incredibly intelligent and unselfish team-player, too.
The England captain has suffered more than his fair share of injury problems this season, and so 24 goals in 39 matches in all competitions is a very profitable return. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have again over-achieved this season, reaching the Champions League semi-finals, despite zero signings in the summer and in January. It’s in this competition that Kane has been at his best – scoring five times and assisting once in just eight appearances. His season may be over, but it’s been another very good one for the nation’s best player.
The finest attacking teenager anywhere in Europe, Jadon Sancho has been positively electric this season. For the whole season, Sancho has been sat at, or a few steps off, the summit of Europe’s assist charts. Currently on an incredible 19 in all competitions, the 2017 U-17 World Cup winner has also chipped in with 11 Bundesliga goals. Dortmund have pushed Bayern Munich all the way in another thrilling title race in Germany, and Sancho has been as consistent as anyone for the so-called Black & Yellows.
A cult favourite across the continent for his flicks and tricks and love affair for a nutmeg or two, Sancho has had a stunning breakout season. His England career began in October with a cameo appearance in Croatia and since then he has gone on to play three times more under Gareth Southgate’s management. It looks very likely now that Dortmund may be pipped to the Bundesliga title by Bayern. However, Sancho is a huge factor as to why they are still in the title race at all – he has been one of their best players this season.
When England were in Russia doing a divided nation proud last summer, teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold was probably the country’s third-best right-back. Now, he may well be the country’s best full-back, and has already become the world’s most valuable. Liverpool’s season has been a fairy-tale one, whether they win a trophy or not. A huge proportion of the team’s goals have been sourced from their two British full-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Alexander-Arnold has already been named in the Premier League Team of the Year, his 11 league assists and glorious free-kick goal at Watford providing the clear highlights. But the youngster has improved hugely in defensive areas too and is a folk hero in Merseyside as a local lad and academy graduate. In a season where Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker have looked error-prone and off the pace, Trent Alexander-Arnold has looked world-class at times and suitably solid at others.
Was the PFA Young Player of the Year and FWA Player of the Year ever not going to top this list? Raheem Sterling is enjoying the best season of his career and is now quite-rightly widely regarded as a world-class footballer. The 2014 Golden Boy winner has taken off since his transfer from Liverpool and a contributing factor to this is his composure and often ruthlessness in front of goal over the past two seasons.
Each and every Premier League winning squad has that one player that they look to in times of trouble. This season, whether City win the league or not, Sterling has been that player. In another inspiring campaign at the Etihad, he has posted 17 goals and twelve assists in the league, adding a further six goals and five assists in the three cup competitions.
A key player for England in recent internationals too, Raheem Sterling is about as experienced as any 24-year-old in Europe, and has at least another eight years ahead of him at the very highest level. He has become a player that Guardiola and Southgate now depend on hugely for their respective sides, and his form this season has shown he can handle this sort of pressure. He’s been England’s greatest player over the 2018/19 club season.
Honourable mentions go to the likes of Jordan Henderson and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who probably came closest to featuring of those that missed out. Ben Chilwell and Joe Gomez had stunning starts to the season but were less effective or, even worse, injured at other moments, whilst Michael Keane, James Ward-Prowse and young Callum Hudson-Odoi also deserve a mention for strong campaigns.
Barring injuries, this list may well indicate who travels to Portugal as part of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad and who misses out. After all, the UEFA Nations League Finals are just around the corner now – less than a month away. England fans will be praying these six can pick up where they left off, over in Portugal.