Football Features

The best Premier League players in every position across 2023

By Squawka News

Published: 14:39, 1 January 2024

Another year has come and gone.

Some things, however, remain the same. Manchester City are still English football’s undisputed king. Now they’ve conquered their Everest, by winning the Champions League, neighbours Manchester United continue to struggle, this past year marking a decade since they were last glorious.

With the much-despised ‘Super League’ rearing its ugly head again, many observers maintain the Premier League to be the gold standard when it comes to domestic competition, and playing a central role is the star-studded cast of players.

So, with that being said, coming up with a team of 2023 when reflecting on the year becomes a challenging task. But when delving into the stats, and trusting our eyes, an ‘XI’ comes to fruition. As follows are three lineups: a writer’s pick (with a maximum of two players per club), a Squawka Score team and one focusing on non-Big Six players.

The writers’ pick combined XI

Goalkeeper: Alisson – To say Alisson is back to his best would be an understatement. He’s been monstrous in goal for Liverpool this year. The shot-stopper boasts a 76.64% save percentage (the best in the Premier League with a minimum of 720 minutes); while keeping 16 clean sheets (most), producing 105 saves, and preventing 10.33 goals (which is a league-high).

Right-back: Kieran Trippier – He didn’t end 2023 on a strong note, but that doesn’t change the fact Kieran Trippier has been the league’s finest right-back, even with some credibly strong competition. The one-time Atletico Madrid full-back has been a creative machine (118 chances created) and no one more symbolises Newcastle’s re-emergence as a big-time player. In this past calendar year, Trippier has contributed with 10 assists, while making 6.83 ball recoveries per 90 and 11.25 final third entries. He’ll be hoping to regain that kind of form in the new year.

Centre-back: Thiago Silva – In a year where Chelsea’s struggles ramped up even further, there are few bright lights, which brings us to Thiago Silva who is playing well below his years. The 39-year-old Brazilian not only brings much-needed leadership but at times has been their most outstanding player. He’s produced no fewer than 137 clearances and 42 tackles while boasting a 93.54% passing accuracy. Not afraid to still get his hands dirty, the former Milan and Paris Saint-Germain man won 75.82% of his aerial duels as well as winning possession 98 times in the defensive third.

Centre-back: Gabriel – So much of the plaudits, and rightfully so, have fallen on William Saliba’s shoulders, but equally phenomenal for Arsenal in defence is Gabriel. Nothing illustrates that point more than his 103 clearances and 180 ball recoveries. He’s also established himself as a duel threat with him popping up at the other end.

Left-back: Pervis Estupiñán – His recent absence hurt Roberto De Zerbi’s side, especially from a proactive standpoint, Pervis Estupiñán when flying down Brighton’s left flank is a sight to behold. The left-back chipped in with three goals and eight assists via 50 chances created during 2023 but the Ecuadorian is not only focused going forward. He averaged 7.06 ball recoveries and 1.94 tackles per 90 solidifying himself as a complete modern full-back.

Defensive midfielder: Rodri – What more can be said about Manchester City’s metronome, who continues to enhance his case as their most valuable player, Pep Guardiola struck gold once again in this position with Rodri redefining the role. The champions look like a different team without him and that comes as no surprise as he owns a 91.67% retention rate while contributing with 8.37 ball recoveries per 90 minutes. It’s not just retaining possession where he excels the Spaniard recycles it proficiently (92.6% pass accuracy and 171 possessions won in the middle third which is the most among midfielders).

Central midfielder: Bruno Guimarães – There’s another ‘Bruno’ in town. Fernandes has been exceptional for Manchester United, at times standing out like a sore thumb, but it’s his namesake at Newcastle who slots here. Guimarães’ standout performances helped the Magpies end a two-decade wait to once again play in European football’s premier competition. Consequently, his stock has risen, but that’s only logical given in 2023 he won 7.19 duels per 90 minutes while creating no fewer than 51 chances from open play.

Central midfielder: Martin Ødegaard – Leading the Gunners to a first league title since the Invincibles was tantalisingly close for Martin Ødegaard, but the Norwegian playmaker stepped it up to another level. Gone are the days of being the next ‘wunderkind’, his brief stay at Real Madrid is now a distant memory, Ødegaard is very much Arsenal through and through. Cut from the same cloth as many other playmakers who donned the red-and-white Ødegaard ended 2023 having created 71 chances from open play while posting 17 goal involvements (12 goals, five assists).

Right-winger: Mohamed Salah – Form is temporary class is permanent. By his lofty standards, the 2022/23 season wasn’t a vintage Mohamed Salah year, but he’s now back with a vengeance. If anyone can keep up with the Norwegian machine currently programmed by City it’s the Egyptian king who is now firmly Liverpool royalty. Salah’s numbers are ridiculous: 71 chances created resulting in 15 assists. He’s scored 24 himself giving him a 0.99 goal contribution per 90 minutes.

Striker: Erling Haaland – Speak of the devil. Haaland never thought it’d be this easy, but the lethal blonde marksman is operating in another stratosphere. Never before had someone joined England’s premier competition and been this deadly in front of goal. Despite being sidelined to end 2023 he’s still finished with 29 goals (0.92 per 90 minutes) and nine assists. Outdoing such productivity in 2024 feels like a tall order, but are you going to bet against this machine?

Left-winner: Son Heung-min – We’ve seen Tottenham forward Son Heung-min go from being a supporting actor to holding down the lead role. Harry Kane’s departure midway through 2023 thrust Son even further into the spotlight and he’s not let anyone down. He can look back on a wonderful year — 19 goals and nine assists — even if Spurs has often struggled.

The Squawka Score combined XI

(NB: Players who have not featured in at least 50% of available minutes in either ‘half-season’ across 2023 were filtered out.)

Goalkeeper: Alisson (72%) – No surprise to see Alisson rank first when it comes to Premier League goalkeepers in 2023, halfway through Liverpool’s present 2023/24 campaign things would be looking differently if he wasn’t between the sticks.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (71%) – It’s been long felt Trent Alexander-Arnold’s future is playing in Liverpool’s midfield. We are not quite there yet, but he’s effectively an extra body with Jurgen Klopp utilising him in this hybrid role. Alexander-Arnold continues to amaze with his level of productivity (12 assists from 89 chances created in 2023) and passing game.

Centre-back: Thiago Silva (72%) – Having turned 39 in September the Brazilian centre-back is showing no signs of slowing down. As well as being incredibly strong defensively, it’s Silva’s impressive passing statistics that ensured his place in this starting XI.

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk (70%) – Another who is making fools of doubters. Van Dijk is arguably back to being the Premier League’s preeminent central defender. The colossus from Breda won 175 aerial duels and 42 tackles. His importance in building Liverpool’s attack is highlighted by his 79.35% forward passing accuracy.

Left-back: Oleksandr Zinchenko (67%) – One of the new age left-backs that pops into midfield, Oleksandr Zinchenko comes out well statistically in the Premier League in 2023, thanks to his previous life as a central midfielder. The Ukrainian averaged 6.17 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, 9.11 completed passes into the final third and a total of 33 chances created from open play.

Defensive midfielder: Rodri (79%)  – The native of Madrid missed four games for Manchester City in 2023 – they lost all four. His importance cannot be understated.

Central midfielder: James Maddison (74%) – There was nothing Maddison couldn’t do to keep Leicester City up, but chances of him playing Championship football seemed remote, Tottenham won his signature and before a serious injury sidelined him for the remainder of 2023 the England international was pulling up trees. Across both clubs he’s represented Maddison finished with 69 chances created while registering six goals and 10 assists.

Central midfielder: Phil Foden (75%) – The absence of Kevin De Bruyne is unquestionably among the major talking points; when fit the Belgian seamlessly makes this list, but injuries blighted his 2023 though City hasn’t been hurt as Phil Foden stepped up from a creative outlet. For one, the academy graduate provided 52 chances from open play with eight leading to goals. He also contributed with nine goals.

Right-winger: Bukayo Saka (70%) – In a short amount of time, Saka has gone from promise to Arsenal’s main attacking threat. His numbers in 2023 speaks for itself: 14 goals and 11 assists.

Striker: Erling Haaland (74%) – First name on this hypothetical teamsheet, Haaland’s monstrous 2023 may never be duplicated, but it’ll be fun watching him try.

Left-winger: Mohamed Salah (69%) – You rarely see Mo Salah operate down the left flank — he played just 23 minutes there this calendar year, to be precise – but not having the Egyptian forward in a Premier League ‘team of 2023’ list feels wrong given the eye-watering figures he produced.

The ‘non-Big Six’ combined XI 

(NB: Players who have not featured in at least 50% of available minutes in either ‘half-season’ across 2023 were filtered out.)

Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martinez (70%) – A switch was flicked when Unai Emery arrived in England’s second city to lead Aston Villa and no one exemplifies their newfound status more than enigmatic goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who claimed a joint-second 12 clean sheets while registering 114 saves and preventing 6.76 goals.

Right-back: Kieran Trippier (67%) – If not for the equally mercurial Alexander-Arnold he could have found himself in the XI above. Trippier nevertheless belongs in the conversation, if he isn’t the Premier League number one right-back, the Bury native is at worst second-best.

Centre-back: Esri Konsa (62%) – It will not be long before Konsa wins his first England cap. The multifunctional Aston Villa defender has stepped up in Tyrone Mings’ absence with Emery recently deploying him at right-back from his usual centre-back role.

Centre-back: Lewis Dunk (63%) – Two international appearances for England in 2023 highlighted what a strong year Dunk enjoyed. The first name on Brighton’s team sheet registered 70 clearances and 4035 touches (more than any defender) whilst enjoying a 91.35% passing accuracy. He also contributed with 6.66 ball recoveries per 90 during a period the Seagulls made their European football debut.

Left-back: Antonee Robinson (54%) – Not the flashiest even though Robinson enjoys marauding down Fulham’s left flank, the US international though has become somewhat of an interception machine with 94 in 2023, 26 more than second-placed Declan Rice.

Defensive midfielder: Douglas Luiz (61%) – It remains to be seen where Luiz is playing his football one year from now but as things are he’s making Emery’s side tick. At one point the Brazilian couldn’t stop netting at home. Indeed, this year the midfielder scored in six consecutive Premier League home appearances — against Tottenham, Brighton (twice), Everton, Crystal Palace and West Ham — something no Villa had player achieved before.

Central midfielder: Bruno Guimarães (73%) – Another standout Brazilian plying his trade in England’s top division. Guimarães could also be tempted away following a string of excellent performances with Barcelona among those reportedly interested.

Central midfielder: Pascal Groß (70%) – It’s never too late as Pascal Groß made his international debut for Germany in 2023 and on a second reflection it made sense. Gross, who can play in a multitude of positions, creates like it’s going out of fashion. He ended the year having produced 64 chances from open play while posting seven goals and 11 assists.

Right-winger: Bryan Mbeumo (59%) – There’s no question the bulk of Brentford’s attack fell on his shoulders heading into this season. Bryan Mbeumo was primed given what he produced to date. Injury prematurely ended a 2023 which saw the Cameroon international finish with 13 goals and 10 assists.

Striker: Alexander Isak (69%) – A real breakthrough year for the Swedish international who joined Newcastle in August 2022 from Real Sociedad where he developed into a genuine finisher. Alexander Isak ultimately bagged 16 goals while providing a solitary assist, though it’s fair to say the Magpies aren’t paying him to create.

Left-winger: Kaoru Mitoma (60%) – From relatively nowhere Mitoma established himself as Brighton’s weapon down their left wing and would be involved 16 times (eight goals and eight assists).