Imagining a North vs South Premier League All-Star match
It's All-Star Weekend
This weekend will see the best players in the NBA, as voted for by fans, journalists and current players, face up in basketball's annual All-Star weekend. The exhibition match allows fans to see the likes of LeBron James and Steph Curry play together against the likes of Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving. The game is a celebration of the sport, played for no reason other than because it's a lot of fun.
And that got me thinking: what would an All-Star game in the Premier League look like? Which region has the best talent? Which big names would have to miss out?
The first step is to divide the teams into two sections: North and South. Let's just get this out the way: Leicester is not in 'The North' and Birmingham is not in 'The South', they are both in The Midlands. But there are 20 teams in the Premier League and I had to divide them somehow.
I did that by selecting the 8 most southern teams and the 8 most northern teams, leaving me with four Midlands teams to split up. Then I simply drew a line on a map to divide them fairly. Leicester and Wolverhampton are slightly further north than Birmingham, so that is where the divide shall lie.
If you have an issue with this, you should see how the NBA divides its teams into East and West. I don't make the rules. Well, I do in this case but still, it has to be that way.
I've also imposed a limit of three players per club, much like Fantasy Premier League, to avoid it being Manchester City vs Chelsea and Spurs.
Final disclaimer: It is based on this season only, so no Virgil Van Dijk. Sorry.
And so here are my Premier League North vs South All-Star teams, starting with The North.
Goalkeeper: Alisson, Liverpool
It was between him and Ederson but I want three Man City players outfield.
Right-back: João Cancelo, Manchester City
Whether he's played as an orthodox right-back, an inverted left-back, or in his unique hybrid role that sees him drift into a holding midfield position, Cancelo has been one of the players of the season. His positional awareness, security on the ball and ability to create chances from wide areas have been a big part of Man City's surge up the table. He fully deserves his place in this XI.
Right centre-back: Wesley Fofana, Leicester City
He might have only played 14 games in the league this season but Fofana's impact has been hugely impressive. With his calmness on the ball, ability to play through the lines and his athletic ability, Fofana has all the ingredients to become a world beating centre-back. And he's still only 20. Plus, none of Manchester United's centre-backs are worthy of a place in this team, and I can't pick Stones due to the self-imposed three-player limit.
Left centre-back: Rúben Dias, Manchester City
Throughout the 19/20 season, City's struggles could mostly be rooted back to their lack of a defensive leader. With Stones seemingly out of the picture for various reasons, Fernandinho was made to drop into the back line, playing alongside Nicolas Otamendi for more games than any City fan would have liked. This left them vulnerable in the air, and in the space behind the back line. But the arrival of Rúben Dias has completely transformed their defence, in much the same way Van Dijk's arrival did for Liverpool. Plus, he wears 'Rúben' on the back of his shirt which is really cool.
Left-back: Lucas Digne, Everton
I thought long and hard about this. I really did. But I just can't bring myself to include Andy Robertson in this side, despite him being one of Liverpool's better performers this season. Lucas Digne has impressed on a regular basis, playing in a few different roles for Everton. His crossing from wide and set-piece delivery has been one of Carlo Ancelotti's most dangerous weapons and for that, he makes it into this northern XI.
Holding midfield: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
He's injured at the moment, and he's had to play a few games in central defence, but despite everything thrown at Liverpool this season, Henderson has once again been one of their most consistent performers. Beyond the obvious traits of his energy and vocal leadership, his passing is still astonishingly underrated. The biggest compliment you can pay Henderson, is that when he doesn't play, you really start to notice everything he does.
Right-centre-mid: Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
Do I need to explain this one? Quite simply the best midfielder in the league, if not the world.
Left-centre-mid: Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United
The glue that holds Manchester United together, best exemplified by how lost they look on the ball when he doesn't play. This would be a slightly deeper role for him, but the threat of him and De Bruyne in tandem would pin any team back.
Right-wing: Mo Salah, Liverpool
Liverpool have been extremely unlucky with this season, but they should count themselves somewhat fortunate Salah has not been one of the names on the casualty list. 19 goals in 25 games, playing in a constantly changing, fatigued team? World class.
Left-wing: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
My first thought was to select Sadio Mané for this position, but upon further reflection, I felt Rashford was more deserving of the spot. The Man United forward has bagged nine goals and six assists this season, all the while feeding the nation's youth. It would be rude to leave him out.
Centre-forward: Patrick Bamford, Leeds United
For a long time I have been a Bamford skeptic. His loan spell at my club, Crystal Palace, convinced me he would never make it in the Premier League. But then he met Marcelo Bielsa, and somehow remembered how to score. With 13 goals already this season, he is on course to beat his goalscoring record from the previous year in the Championship, making me, and thousands of other doubters, look very silly.
Goalkeeper: Emi Martinez, Aston Villa
He was brilliant for Arsenal during Bernd Leno's absence last season, and he's been brilliant for Aston Villa this season. An honourable mention goes to Łukasz Fabiański, who has also been solid.
Right-back: Reece James, Chelsea
Chelsea have not lived up to expectations this season, but James has been one of their stand-out stars. His form, whether playing in a back four or as a wing-back, has put him in the frame to be England's starting right-back this summer, ahead of the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker. An honourable mention goes to Tariq Lamptey who was brilliant for Brighton before injury derailed his season.
Right-centre back: Ezri Konsa, Aston Villa
A bit rogue, you might think, this selection. But Konsa has quietly been one of the most consistently solid defenders this season. If he were left-footed, it would be Konsa getting the England call-ups over Tyrone Mings. Next time you watch Aston Villa, keep an eye out for how good he is defensively.
Left centre-back: Thiago Silva, Chelsea
There were concerns that he would not cut it at the highest level at the age of 36, but Silva has proved all the doubters wrong, showing that he's still a top level defender with and without the ball, and that we probably overstate how difficult playing in The Best League in the World actually is.
Left-back: Kieran Tierney, Arsenal
Tierney struggled for fitness in his first season at Arsenal, but this season has shown exactly why he was so highly rated during his time at Celtic. He has everything you'd want in a left-back - he can play on the left of a back three, as an orthodox left-back, or as a wing-back. It's a shame he tucks his shirt in though, he needs to sort that out. But I won't let it cloud my judgement.
Holding midfield: Declan Rice, West Ham
West Ham have been the surprise package this season. Somehow, David Moyes has led them to the top six, even the top four at times, and put them in genuine contention for an automatic European slot next season. Sure, they have a pretty decent squad, but a lot of people were expecting them to go down before the season kicked off. Their form has been truly remarkable. Underpinning that success has been the double pivot of Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček. Rice gets the nod here as he is better suited to the holding role, but a big shout goes to Souček, who has filled the vacancy of gangly, marauding, goalscoring midfielder left in the Premier League by Marouane Fellaini.
Right centre-mid: Mason Mount, Chelsea
During the Frank Lampard era, it was easy to label Mount as a teacher's pet. The team weren't performing well but he seemed to be undroppable. But in the past few weeks I have come to realise what many Chelsea fans had been saying all along: he is the real deal. There is a reason he has played 42 games and counting this season, starting ahead of the likes of Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz. His technical ability, spacial awareness, relentless running, and creativity make him one of the most well-rounded midfielders in the league.
Left centre-mid: Jack Grealish, Aston Villa
Don't let my admiration for Mount make you think I am no longer a member of the Grealish fan club though. Far from it. There are few players in the league who can hold a candle to Grealish when it comes to dribbling, taking a man on and sustaining a barrage of fouls from the opposition. And as he told JOE, his favourite position is to play as a left sided number 8, so that is where he shall play.
Right-wing: Bukayo Saka, Arsenal
He is Arsenal's best player, can play basically anywhere, and he's still only 19 years old. He's a joke.
Left-wing: Heung-min Son, Tottenham Hotspur
There was a time when I thought the Son-Kane combination was going to drag Tottenham to the league title. That is obviously ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight, but their link-up play has pulled Spurs through large spells of this season. 13 goals and 8 assists this season make it impossible to leave him out.
Centre-forward: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur
Having a manager who doesn't bother with any detailed attacking coaching and encourages his side to sit back and defend a one-goal lead instead of pushing for a second doesn't seem to have hindered Kane too much this season. He's had his annual injury, played in a defensive team, and still managed to rack up 14 goals and 11 assists, showing why he's the most complete striker around.
So those are the teams. Well, my teams. Who would win? At the moment, you'd have to say the northern boys look a stronger outfit, with the two best creators in the league and the division's top scorer. But the south would certainly run them close with their counter attacking threat.
Not that we need any more pointless football matches in the calendar, but I think I speak for everyone when I say this would probably be the most entertaining game of what has been a weird, draining, bizarre season of football.