Garth Crooks is the lead football journalist for The Times and has been covering the sport since 1983. He’s a regular panellist on BBC 5 live, writes a weekly column in The Sunday Times, and regularly appears on Sky Sports to discuss Premier League matches.

Garth Crooks’ team of the year is a list of players that he thinks are the best footballers in the world. The players have been chosen based on their performances and ability to impact matches. They are as follows: Ederson, Rudiger, Rice, Saka, Antonio and

Garth Crooks' team of the year: Ederson, Rudiger, Rice, Saka, Antonio


The Premier League has provided us with another another thrilling season.

Last season, Manchester City recovered the Premier League championship from Liverpool, finishing 12 points ahead of Manchester United, and Pep Guardiola’s team is currently in first place.

This year has seen a lot of surprises, wonderful acquisitions, and the return of supporters to stadiums, yet there have been some Covid-19 difficulties in recent weeks.

Take a look at my team of the year, and at the bottom, you may make your own.

Garth's TOTY

Ederson is the goalkeeper (Manchester City)

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson

Ederson: The Golden Glove winner in 2019-20 and 2020-21, Ederson is enjoying another strong season in goal for Manchester City, despite conceding three goals against Leicester.

With a galaxy of stars in front of him, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly how excellent Ederson is. With the ball at his feet, I can’t think of a finer goalkeeper in the world, let alone his saves between the sticks and distribution.

The ideal goalie for today’s game.

What if I told you that Ederson has the most clean sheets in the Premier League in 2021 than any other goalkeeper (23).

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), and Antonio Rudiger (Manchester City) (Chelsea)

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Dias, Antonio Rudiger

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool allowed eight goals in four games in February and March 2020, but it didn’t prevent them from winning the league or Trent Alexander-Arnold from making my team of the year.

The England full-back was also the subject of a farcical debate about whether he is talented enough to start for his country. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no question about that.

For the second year in a row, this youngster is talented enough to play for Real Madrid, much alone Liverpool, and he makes my team.

What if I told you that In 2021, Alexander-Arnold produced 108 chances in the Premier League, with just Filip Kostic (123) of Eintracht Frankfurt and Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich creating more in Europe’s main five leagues (110).

Ruben Dias is without a doubt Manchester City’s finest center-back since Vincent Kompany. City had struggled to find a suitable substitute for their former captain, but in Dias, they have discovered a defender with the same defensive ability and who is much more comfortable on the ball.

Dias has provided much-needed grit to the defense, something that some of the other centre-backs lacked. John Stones and Nathan Ake may be bullied, but Dias is not one of them.

What if I told you that Dias, along with teammate Bernardo Silva, was on the winning side in 32 Premier League matches in 2021, the joint-most of any outfield player.

Frank Lampard’s worst blunder during his brief management tenure at Chelsea was refusing to play Antonio Rudiger. Since Thomas Tuchel’s arrival, the German international’s presence in a Chelsea jersey has been beneficial.

Rudiger was surplus to needs under Lampard, but since Tuchel’s arrival, the defender has won the Champions League and established himself as one of the most sought-after defenders in the world. When Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid want to sign you, that kind of qualifies you.

What if I told you that In the Premier League in 2021, Rudiger has the most clean sheets of any defender (18).

Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), and Reece James (Manchester City) are among the midfielders (Chelsea)

Bernardo Silva, Declan Rice, Ilkay Gundogan, Reece James

Bernardo Silva: Not only does he make my team of the year, but he’s also been my man of the season so far. This young man has been having a ball. Silva has spent the last two years as a junior partner at De Bruyne, Gundogan & Co.

There was even talk that the Portugal international’s skills weren’t needed at City anymore, and that he may depart. What changed was Gundogan’s injury, which came after he had already lost De Bruyne.

Silva has been great while they were away and continues to be so now that they are back.

What if I told you that In 2021, Silva was directly involved in 16 Premier League goals (nine goals, seven assists), his joint-highest total in a single season in his Premier League career (also 16 in 2018 with Manchester City).

Declan Rice: This boy is destined for a larger club based on his recent performances. He handles the midfield for West Ham well for such a young kid, and he has been the ideal substitute for Mark Noble as captain.

Rice has been heavily subsidized by manager David Moyes. The guy never fails to produce and is one of the reasons the Hammers have been forced to play in Europe this season.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he was named first on Gareth Southgate’s teamsheet.

What if I told you that In the Premier League in 2021, Rice advanced the ball 2,148 meters, the most of any midfielder.

Ilkay Gundogan: He did an outstanding job carrying the can while De Bruyne was injured and missed the most of the season – and it was a huge can.

Throughout their title-winning season, the German was outstanding, scoring some memorable goals.

Gundogan’s goals were always stunning, but his position in Manchester City’s setup was much more important than his goal-scoring ability.

What if I told you that With 15 goals in the Premier League in 2021, Gundogan was Manchester City’s top scorer.

Reece James: Arguably the best player in the Premier League this season. Strong, well-balanced, and capable of striking the ball with both feet. He’s also nimble and very competitive.

There’s no telling where this youngster may go if he can improve his consistency. However, there is no reason for the player to leave Chelsea with Tuchel and at such a large club.

What if I told you that Only Mason Mount (80) and Mason Mount (seven) created more opportunities and assisted more goals for Chelsea in the Premier League in 2021 than James (created 56 chances, assisted five goals).

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, Manchester City’s Phil Foden, and Michail Antonio are among the forwards (West Ham)

Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Michail Antonio

Bukayo Saka: He’s dealt excellently with the heartbreak of missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final. Saka, of course, benefited from the overwhelming love he got from Arsenal supporters around the nation whenever he played for the Gunners.

The Arsenal midfielder has been brilliant this season and is without a doubt the team’s top player. His two goals against Norwich demonstrated why Arsenal has put together an incredible run and is now comfortably in the top four.

He’s just 20, and he’s still too young to wear the captain’s hat, but it’s only a matter of time.

What if I told you that Saka played the most minutes (2,798) and had the most assists (six) of any Arsenal player in 2021.

Phil Foden has been a surprise in a Manchester City jersey for someone so young. In terms of the Champions League, he seemed to be tailor-made for the tournament.

The kid seems at ease in the City lineup, calm and seldom upset. I do, however, see a fault. He works under a manager with very high expectations, and Foden looks to enjoy the nightlife, much to Pep Guardiola’s chagrin.

After being dropped for the game against Newcastle due to being at a nightclub over the holiday time and the most rigorous fixture schedule in the football calendar, Foden was re-instated in City’s starting lineup against Brentford. Foden will have to change his lifestyle if he wants to be a part of Guardiola’s future plans for City.

What if I told you that Foden scored 12 goals and assisted on seven others in the Premier League in 2021, more than any other player under the age of 21.

Michail Antonio: He may have cooled down lately, but the amount of energy he puts into a game is unsurprising. Watching him raise a life-size cardboard cut-out of himself after tying Paolo di Canio’s goalscoring record at West Ham earlier this season says it all.

The Jamaican international has continued to terrorize defenses this season, adding to his record of goals.

After losing three games in a row, Antonio played a key role in West Ham’s 4-1 victory against Watford. With him in the side, West Ham seem like a different team, and it’s to his credit that he’s carved his name into the club’s record books with the likes of Di Canio.

What if I told you that In the Premier League in 2021, Antonio was the only West Ham player to score 14 goals and provide ten assists.

Choose your XI from our list and tell your friends about it.


Choose a formation. Team members should be confirmed.

The crooks in charge of the situation

Regular readers would know how much I like Thomas Tuchel as a coach.

Outside of a football club, I’m not sure I’d let him run my bath! How can he, or any other coach with the resources he has, ever imply that the Premier League’s Christmas schedule is “unfair” and that his team is “struggling” after suffering additional injuries?

This is a team with perhaps the finest lineup in the league. Tuchel wants the rest of the nation to feel sorry for him because Chelsea can afford to have someone like £97 million striker Romelu Lukaku on the bench, put him on and batter the living daylights out of Aston Villa away from home.

Tuchel was aware of our Christmas schedule before he accepted the position. The epidemic has undoubtedly worsened the situation, but it has done so for everyone. Furthermore, the Premier League’s regulations are quite clear. You play if you have 13 fit players and an additional goalie, and you have every right to do so.

Jordan Henderson also made an impassioned pitch for improved player welfare.

Meanwhile, Guardiola and Manchester City, who thrashed Leicester 6-3 over the weekend only to see the Foxes come back to upset Liverpool 48 hours later, have hinted that if something isn’t done to safeguard players’ well-being, players may strike.

I’m not sure why, since gamers have never had it so good before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Antonio Conte added to the drama by saying that talking to the Premier League about the situation was like talking to a brick wall.

Then he went on to orchestrate Tottenham’s 3-0 win against Crystal Palace in what was perhaps their greatest performance of the season, followed by a point at Southampton when VAR deprived them of victory despite outplaying the hosts, making his statements appear completely ludicrous.

What is evident is that teams vying for domestic and international titles, or even a top-four finish, believe their talented squads are nearing their limit. Clubs seek to keep the edge that their huge funds have provided them by setting the calendar to suit their requirements.

The Premier League should stay true to its principles. The clubs had already sold the schedule to the broadcasters and had no trouble accepting the television money at the time.

They must now uphold their end of the contract and keep their commitments, even in the face of adversity.

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