As the year-end lists come flooding in for the best albums, films and stories of 2017, I figured I’d contribute to the holiday reading with a High Stress Therapy combined XI. Any player is eligible if they’ve featured in a game blogged on the website, while their place in the team is based on their influence on the game rather than how good they are as individuals.
Starting XI (3-5-2 Formation)
GK | Iker Casillas (FC Porto)
The former Spain international goalkeeper is a football legend after winning all of the sport’s greatest prizes – often on multiple occasions. And even at the age of 35, he showed why he’s considered one of the best players that’s ever featured between the sticks during Porto’s clash with title rivals Sporting Lisbon.
Casillas produced some outstanding saves to help his team to a 2-1 win, with the most spectacular coming at the very end. Sporting had a corner in added time which found Sebastian Coates. His powerful header was going in before Casillas produced stunning skills to palm the ball away one-handed. It was probably the best save I’ve ever seen in real life and more than merits his position as number one in this team.
RWB | Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
It’s been another year of phenomenal progression for the Bayern Munich youngster. A regular at right-back for both club and country following the retirement of Phillip Lahm, Kimmich has flourished in the role. At international level, he’s already earned a spot in Euro 2016’s team of the tournament and also won the Confederations Cup this year as part of an experimental German squad of new caps and youth talent.
Just before the tournament kicked off, the team beat San Marino 7-0 in a World Cup qualification game. Kimmich provided four assists. His ability to pick a pass from a dead ball or cross are up there with some of the best in the world. And the guy’s only 22-years-old. The future looks very bright for him and German football.
CB | Manny Smith (Wrexham)
A lot of Wrexham fans were very excited when Manny Smith rejoined the club in the summer, having won the player of the year award back in 2015. He hasn’t disappointed this season either, as the Dragons have one of the meanest defensive records in the National League. His partnership with Shaun Pearson has been instrumental to that and both were going to feature in my end of year list until we conceded four goals at Macclesfield.
Smith wasn’t great in that match but he has been so dependable in the other Dragons games I’ve blogged about. He scored two goals in the away victory over Maidenhead to give us our first points of the season, while his performance against Tranmere – where we had 10 men for 90 minutes of football – was monumental in our 1-0 win.
CB | Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
The Belgian international has been dogged by injuries in recent years but can still boast two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup as part of his honours with Manchester City. Last season, they were vulnerable at the back for much of the campaign but looked so much more assured with their captain in the heart of their defence.
During their 5-0 win over Crystal Palace, Kompany and his defensive partner Nicolas Otamendi – who was heavily criticised for a poor season up to that point – made the whole backline more solid. Kompany also grabbed the second goal that put breathing space between the two teams just after half-time.
CB | Keith Lowe (Macclesfield Town)
Having kept a clean sheet in the Silkmen’s opening day fixture at the Racecourse Ground to ensure a 1-0 win, Lowe backed that up by also stifling Wrexham in the return fixture.
Having conceded after 10 minutes, it took Wrexham until the 73rd minute to find an equaliser. They fought hard in terrible conditions. Snow had fallen both heavy and light since kick-off. Lowe won headers and made a crucial block before Scott Boden scored later on. But when Macclesfield retook the lead moments later, Wrexham’s shoulders dropped. It could have been a different story if they’d equalised earlier. Lowe couldn’t stop the goal but delaying it proved vital in demoralising the away side’s spirit.
LWB | Fabio Borini (AC Milan)
AC Milan signed several players in the summer after being bought by new Chinese owners. I looked forward to seeing many of these – Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu to name a few. One which didn’t really phase me was Fabio Borini, who had just been relegated with Sunderland in the Premier League. However, the Italian proved to be a big influence in the Rossoneri’s Europa League match against HNK Rijeka.
Playing in a left wing-back role, Borini combined well with Silva for the opening goal of the game. Then when Milan went 2-0 up, the contest died somewhat. That was until the last 10 minutes when – out of nowhere – the away side found two goals. The Croatian fans went crazy, as did the home support… they were livid.
But they were to have the last laugh as Borini played a perfectly weighted pass over the Rijeka defence for teenager Patrick Cutrone to sumptuously chip in the winning goal.
See more: Milan – Ending On A High
CM | David Silva (Manchester City)
I think this is the one player who was a nailed down starter for this XI. What Silva did with the ball in the first half against Crystal Palace was something I’d never seen before. First he opened the scoring, which was pretty important enough. But from then on he played balls that I didn’t think were playable.
Had the front three of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus been more clinical, the Eagles could have been 5-0 down at half-time. Silva was the architect for them to be set free time and time again. He was taken off after 67 minutes having only just returned from injury with the game already out of sight for Palace.
He’s a legend at City – who nickname him Merlin for his midfield wizardry – but he’s also one of the best players the Premier League has ever seen.
CM | John Marsden (AFC Telford United)
Super Johnny Marsden (as the Telford fans called him) may not have the same skill sets as David Silva but he had a similar level of influence for his side in their 4-2 victory over Droylsden in the FA Trophy.
He looked the most threatening player for Telford throughout the contest and scored the goal which took them into a 3-2 lead – which was quite a finish on the half-volley. He also unselfishly set up teammate Marcus Dinanga for Telford’s fourth goal to really kill off the visitors. Super indeed.
See more: Telford – Seeing Familiar Faces
CM | Nathaniel Mendez-Liang (Cardiff City)
The Cardiff man enjoyed a great start to his career in South Wales by scoring four goals in five league games during August. And he also showed great form in the two games I watched him play.
Scoring the Bluebirds’ only goal against Shrewsbury in a pre-season friendly, he then turned provider in the league against Ipswich Town. He grabbed all three assists in his team’s 3-1 win. The first was a cross, the second was a through-ball and the third was from a parry after his shot was saved. He’s definitely played a crucial role in Cardiff’s surge up the Championship table.
CF | Scott Wilson (Macclesfield Town)
Already one of the National League’s top goal-scorers, Wilson extended his record by bagging a hat-trick for Macclesfield in their 4-1 win over Wrexham.
His movement and his understanding with strike partner Tyrone Marsh were the difference as they combined for two killer goals. The first put Wrexham on the back-foot with just 10 minutes played, while the second came moments after the away side just hit an equaliser.
Wilson got his third when he reacted quickest to a spill from opposing goalkeeper Chris Dunn to instantly end a game that Wrexham looked capable of turning around. Add that to the fact he did it on a cold, snowy day in front of the TV cameras, makes it hard to argue he didn’t deserve the match ball.
CF | Chris Holroyd (Wrexham)
I’ll be honest, there’s a bit of bias with this choice. Holroyd has played very well for Wrexham this year but only grabbed one goal in matches that I’ve blogged on. What a goal though. Not because of technique or skill but for importance and impact. It was my absolute favourite goal of 2017 and gave me my best away day of the year. Possibly even my life.
When Holroyd found the top corner at Tranmere Rovers, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Wrexham had 10 men since the 13th minute of the game and yet we were winning 1-0. At the title-favourites’ home ground. I began thinking we could steal a point from that position but we actually went on to win. Unreal drama and unreal scenes in the away end.
See more: Birkenhead – Derby Day Delirium
GK | Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield Town)
The Dane came close to dispensing Casillas thanks to a couple of great saves towards the end of his team’s 1-0 win over West Brom. But they were a late offering from the Baggies. Casillas did more in his match overall and his last-ditch save was on another level.
CB | Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Like Kompany, the Argentinian kept a clean sheet against Palace and grabbed his team a goal. However, his effort was adding gloss to the scoreline. Kompany put City in command.
CM | Shaun Whalley (Shrewsbury Town)
Whalley won and scored a penalty before assisting Louis Dodds for Town’s goals in a pre-season friendly against Cardiff. He would have been a starter had it been a competitive match as Shrewsbury’s quality shined even then. It’s no surprise they’ve taken League One by storm.
CF | Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (AFC Telford United)
The former Championship top goal-scorer nearly made the starting line-up until Wilson hit his hat-trick. He scored a brace on debut that twice brought Telford level in their FA Trophy match against Droylsden. However, having not played competitively for a number of weeks, his fitness was lacking and he faded towards the end when it looked like he could have grabbed a hat-trick of his own.
CF | Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
A late entry onto the bench after his game against West Brom on New Year’s Eve, the Chilean forward looked the most enterprising player on the pitch in a mostly dour game. His deflected free-kick sparked a mad end to the contest as the Gunners drew 1-1.
John Askey (Macclesfield Town) – Full credit to Askey, he lost a lot of key players in the summer and replaced them well. His Macclesfield side went top of a tight National League when they beat Wrexham in December and those six points they gained over us could be so important to where they finish this season.
I thoroughly enjoyed making this team list and reminiscing about the great goals, teams, players and places I’ve seen this year. My mental health has been managed a lot better in 2017 thanks to my trips. Going abroad really helped me when my girlfriend, Saffron, went to New Zealand and I’ve enjoyed many games with her since she returned. I’ve also been to a couple of matches with friends of mine and some of Saff’s family, which has been great.
Heading into 2018, I’m pleased to have some early fixtures to take in with two more friends. I have felt a bit down over this festive period as I haven’t seen many of my mates. It’s made me question my worth and work has also become a slog. But I’m feeling excited to see and write about new matches next year. Having this blog has pushed me to experience more games and visit more stadiums. I love writing about my experiences and it really does help my mind.
Thank you for reading any one of my pieces this year. I hope to bring some interesting tales from my various stadium visits in the new year.
All the best,