How every Premier League team would look if they lined up with 1 to 11 squad numbers
*Previous version of this article missed out Fabinho and Emi Martinez, please accept our apologies and blame the Premier League's website. Thanks.
Burnley made history on Saturday
No, they didn't break the record for the most headed clearances, or the least possession in a game, or any of the other stereotypes attached to Sean Dyche's side. Burnley made history by becoming the first team in 23 years to field a starting eleven in which every player wore a number between 1 and 11. And even better, every number correctly corresponded with its associated position.
In the age of permanent squad numbers and rotated squads, this is obviously extremely rare outside of international football, so fans went pretty mad for it.
In a rare moment of shirt number satisfaction, Burnley line up today in their usual 4-4-2 with 1-11 shirt numbers 😙👌 pic.twitter.com/eVkAvXAGqF
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) August 21, 2021
And it got us thinking, how would every other Premier League side look if they lined up with the same squad numbers, in the same positions? My prediction: a bit all over the place.
Before we begin, I just want to clarify: In this silly little game, centre-back numbers are 5 and 6, not 4 and 5, because that is what Burnley have done, and that is what the England national side do. Thank you.
There are only three glaring problems in this side, most significantly Lucas Torreira playing wide left.
Partey could fill in at centre-back if called upon and Ben White has played in midfield before. You'd worry for Ødegaard's defensive workload a bit, but on the whole, this is probably one of the more tolerable line-ups to come from this experiment.
Konsa also has to play in midfield because tradition dictates so. But the rest of the team is pretty much bang on. Ollie Watkins can play out wide and McGinn will do a job as a narrow right-winger. Douglas Luiz might struggle in the air, though.
Some key players have to drop out for Brentford, including their best two attackers in Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney, as well as their defensive leader Pontus Jansson. They also suffer from the same fate as Arsenal and Brentford in having a defender in midfield and a midfielder in defence. But we are playing this game by the traditional 4-4-2 numbers. I'm not changing it.
Brighton & Hove Albion
After Ben White's departure, Brighton's number 3 is currently vacant, meaning in this weird game that I'm increasingly beginning to question, they line up with nobody playing left-back and an actual left-back at centre-back. Again, they've got a defender in midfield, but the rest of the team is as close as you can reasonably hope for when it comes to balance and suitability.
Scroll back up, we know what Burnley's looks like.
The only player who would really, really struggle in this side is Jorginho. And that serves him right for wearing number 5 in midfield. Antonio Rudiger isn't a full-back but is often dragged into wide areas when playing in a back three, and with Kanté in front of him, he'd have all the help he needed.
The front two in this XI is pretty terrifying too. A strong contender for the best side in this experiment.
NOBODY IS OUT OF POSITION. Not one player! I mean, it's not a great team, and maybe Eze is a bit high. But he can drop into the hole. This is the closest we've got to number perfection yet. It's beautiful.
It's that old midfield and defence issue again. When did we decide that the imported tradition of 6 in midfield trumped the number 4, which then got relegated to centre-back? It feels like it must have happened in the past five years. Definitely not pre-2010. Anyway, they don't have a left-back, so Allan and Gray are going to have their work cut out.
It feels like sacrilege to put a Marcelo Bielsa team into a 4-4-2 shape, but I'm in this far and I'm not stopping now, so here goes.
The defence is beautifully satisfying. At long last, another centre-back who wears number 6. Raphinha playing off Bamford would be a dangerous front two, but they'd probably struggle in midfield with Adam Forshaw all on his own.
The defence is quite painful to look at. Why they didn't decide to give Fofana the 5 shirt and Bertrand the 3 when he arrived this summer, I do not understand. But here we are. No, I won't swap them over.
The rest of the team works pretty nicely. You'd trust Caglar Soyuncu to deputise in midfield in an injury crisis, and the front four is how they line up most weeks anyway.
Am I out of touch? No, it's the numbers that are wrong!
How does a club who have won the Premier League and the Champions League in recent years not have a number 2? That is unforgivable.
What's worse than a centre-back wearing number 4? You guessed it: a centre-back wearing number 3. Also, not having a number 4 at all. But even worse than that is how none of Manchester City's three goalkeepers wear number 1. None of them.
The funniest part of this line up is not Edinson Cavani playing out wide, or even Paul Pogba playing at centre-back. It's the fact that Phil Jones, ten years after joining the club, still has the number 4. He is reportedly so attached to this number, or determined to return to the first team set-up, that he refused to give it up for new signing Raphael Varane.
The less said about numbers 2 and 3 being given to centre-backs, the better.
So close to perfection, if you can use that word to describe a team managed by Steve Bruce. It's so close, but a left-footed centre-back wearing number 2? Yuck.
There are less offensive teams in this piece, and there are more offensive teams. Much like real life Norwich City, it's just about fine, but it's definitely going down.
After selling both Jannick Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand to Leicester, Southampton's 3 and 4 shirts are now vacant. Everyone else is more or less in their right position, though. Except for Oriol Romeu, who is once again, breaking the 4/6 rule.
There's a lot to like here. The full-backs, the wingers, a number 6... in defence! But That has largely been undone by Cristian Romero and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg wearing the wrong numbers, and the absence of any number 9.
Other than the customary midfielder in defence crime, this team is near enough satisfactory when it comes to squad numbers. My only real gripe is the fact that both 3 and 11 are won by left-backs. Aleksandar Kolarov has a lot to answer for in making that acceptable.
West Ham United
Using only numbers between 1-11, West Ham can just about field a 7-a-side team, assuming Winston Reid is fit. Bin.
Severely lacking in the middle of the park, having to field a left-back as a lone centre-back, this team would get ripped apart. Still, I suppose we should just be grateful Rui Patricio isn't wearing the number 11 in goal anymore...