With the end of the 2010s upon us, it's time to reflect–specifically looking back at the best the Premier League had to offer over the last 10 seasons with a Team of the Decade.
This is a team picked while trying to balance two not necessarily congruent criteria: ability at a player’s peak and substance of contribution. If we were picking a side from the Premier League now, for instance, the choice in goal would probably be between Ederson and Alisson, but neither makes the squad here, because the contribution of others over the decade was greater.
Jan. 1, 2010, of course, is a largely arbitrary point, but only performances after that have been taken into account: Ashley Cole is an example of a player who at his best would have walked into this side, but although he didn’t leave Chelsea until 2014, his best came before 2010. Equally, younger players such as Trent Alexander-Arnold are disadvantaged by having played only a couple of seasons.
Furthermore, the team has been picked on the basis it is a team and that it might play a match. It is not a list of the 11 best players, so there is no awkward attempt to, for instance, try to fit in both Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane.
Premier League Team of the 2010s
GK: David De Gea, Manchester United
Ederson and Alisson would probably contest the goalkeeper’s slot if a team were being picked today, but both miss out of the grounds of longevity. Similarly purely on form this season would have no place for David De Gea who has become weirdly accident-prone over the past year or so. He made errors immediately after his arrival in English football in 2011 as well but for six season in between he was superb, his sharp reflexes and mastery of one on one situations helping Manchester United to a league title, FA Cup and Europa League – and doing much to slow the decline of the past couple of seasons.
RB: Kyle Walker, Tottenham/Manchester City
Alexander-Arnold is redefining even further the role of the right back, a creative force who plays high up on the right-hand side where his crossing ability can be seen to its best advantage, but because he only became a regular presence in the Liverpool side in 2017-18, he misses out to Walker. Although never as good on the ball as Alexander-Arnold, Walker is a very modern fullback, always looking to get forward and with the pace to get back should a long diagonal be played in behind him. He played a major role in Tottenham’s rise and has his own two league titles and an FA Cup with Manchester City.
CB: Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
Kompany had all the classic attributes of a central defender: he read the game well, was strong, timed his tackles well and was good in the air, but more than that he was a great captain and leader, exuding calmness and authority over 11 years at Manchester City. In that time, he saw City transformed from an also-ran that lived forever in United’s shadow to a superclub backed by the sovereign wealth of Abu Dhabi. His goal against Leicester City last season, a case study in a player seizing a moment, was decisive in winning his fourth Premier League title with City.
CB: Virgil van Dijk, Southampton/Liverpool
Van Dijk may only have been at Liverpool two years, but, despite that, his influence has been so great that he makes it into the team. It’s hard to remember any other signing who has made such an extraordinary impact as the Netherlands international. When he arrived in January 2018, Liverpool was a good side that played with a recklessness that habitually undermined its ambitions. Since then, it was developed into a mature team that presses thrillingly from a solid base. Liverpool reached the Champions League final in his first season, won the Champions League in his second and will almost certainly win the league in his third.
LB: Leighton Baines, Everton
Left back was the hardest position to judge. Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra began the decade well, but both left the Premier League too soon to make unarguable cases. Andrew Robertson has been magnificent for Liverpool, but only recently. Danny Rose, Aleksandar Kolarov and Marcos Alonso have all had excellent individual seasons, but in the end the nod went to a player who has performed consistently throughout the decade, albeit without winning anything. Baines joined Everton in 2007 and has been reliable ever since, while also offering consistent threat with his set plays.
MF: Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea/Manchester City
Of all the decisions Jose Mourinho regrets in his career, the greatest, surely, must be his failure to offer De Bruyne sufficient pitch time during his second spell at Chelsea. The Belgian left for Wolfsburg in January 2014, then in the summer of 2015 he joined Manchester City, where he has been instrumental in two league titles, combining prodigious energy and commitment with a right foot that can be both a hammer and a wand.
MF: N'Golo Kante, Leicester City/Chelsea
The greatest football story of the decade in the Premier League was Leicester’s league title success in 2015-16, a barely credible achievement in this era of the superclubs. Key to that was the presence at the back of midfield of Kante, a player whose pace, stamina and reading of the game made it appear at times as though there were two of him. Fernandinho can consider himself a little unfortunate not to get the holding role, but Kante won the league in successive seasons with two clubs.
MF: Yaya Toure, Manchester City
There was a strong argument for David Silva on the left side of the midfield three, and he and De Bruyne, operating as what Pep Guardiola called “free eights,” do play well together. In the end, though, Toure, a more complete player, won out. He could play deep, he could play high, he ate up the ground with his languid running style and he had the skill and imagination to conjure goals from almost nothing. He owns three Premier League titles and an FA Cup, as well as almost singlehandedly turning the 2014 League Cup final.
F: Raheem Sterling, Liverpool/Manchester City
When Sterling left Liverpool in 2015, he was a player of immense potential. There had been stunning moments, as when he sat down two Manchester City defenders and the goalkeeper before scoring in a 3-2 win in April 2014, but he often seemed to snatch at chances or make the wrong decision. Under Guardiola, he has become much calmer and incisive and delivered on that promise, helping City to two league titles and an FA Cup. He's done so while operating as a very modern wide forward, offering both creativity and a goal threat. Mohamed Salah misses out here largely due to longevity.
F: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
There were perhaps more candidates at center forward than in any other position. Cases could be made for Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Kane or Jamie Vardy, but Aguero gets the selection on the grounds of consistency over a protracted period. Since arriving at City in 2011, he has scored in double figures in every season and has failed only twice to reach 20 goals. He also scored the most dramatic winning goal in Premier League history coolly slamming in the finish that gave City the 2011-12 league title at the death.
F: Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Deciding who should play on the left came down to an almost impossible choice between Hazard and Sadio Mane. Mane was excellent for Southampton and has arguably been Liverpool’s best attacking player this season, but in the end, Hazard’s two league titles won out. His reluctance to fulfill his defensive responsibilities might have counted against him, but his close technical ability and capacity to generate goals from nothing outweighed that.
GK: Petr Cech, Chelsea/Arsenal
Cech’s best years were in the previous decade but he as a model of consistency at Chelsea and still helped them to two league titles in the 2010s.
D: John Terry, Chelsea
Like Cech, Terry was better in the previous decade, but he remained a colossal figure for more than half the 2010s, winning two league titles.
MF/D: James Milner, Liverpool/Manchester City
Milner can play either fullback position or in midfield, and has become deadly from the penalty spot. To call him a utility man risks underplaying how good he is in so many positions.
MF: Fernandinho, Manchester City
The Brazilian very nearly dislodged Kante from the side. His true value is perhaps only being seen this season as his retreat into the back four has exposed City’s midfield.
MF: David Silva, Manchester City
Like Kompany, Silva was there for all four Manchester City titles in the decade, his quick feet making him a brilliantly incisive passer of the ball.
F: Mohamed Salah, Chelsea/Liverpool
Who to pick as the backup wide forwards? Again, Mane is unfortunate to miss out, but, for all his qualities, he has never had a season quite as breathtaking as Salah’s in 2017-18.
F: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Kane is a marvelously complete striker, a prodigious scorer of goals and leader of the line who is also adept at dropping deep.
Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool
Essentially it was a choice between Klopp and Guardiola. Both have maintained an extraordinarily high level, with Guardiola winning two league titles in his three completed seasons and setting two points records, while changing the culture of English football. But Klopp, whose Liverpool will surely win the title this season, has the better head-to-head record against Guardiola and, without the same degree of outrageous finances, has effected a radical change in a club that seemed to be drifting without spending nearly as much as its counterparts.