I know what you’re thinking... Nobody talks about the ‘teammates of the season’. Individual awards are the major end-of-season talking points, but football is a game of on-pitch combinations and partnerships. Kevin De Bruyne would not have broken the record for most assists in the Premier League, for example, if he was creating chances for Joelinton.
As the creator of the Teammates brand and quiz app, I feel it’s my duty to change the post-season discourse. Here is a statistical run-down of the top 10 teammates of the 2019/20 PL season.
10. Nathan Redmond – Danny Ings
Danny Ings has the movement and high-pressing of Nathan Redmond to thank for his 22 league goals. For Ings to score so many seemed improbably even half-way through the season, but a change in formation to two strikers and two out-and-out wingers made the Saints an attacking force. The pair’s link-up play was very good on the left side, especially on the counter-attack, as Ings drifted wide to join play as a second striker rather than leading the line as a CF, but many of Ings’ goals came as a result of Ings and Redmond pressing the opposition into making mistakes.
9. Jonny Evans – Çağlar Söyüncü
Evans and Söyüncü were not just solid defensively, but very comfortable in possession, with good distribution. Only Liverpool and Chelsea boasted a centre-back pairing with more passes per game. No surprise, then, that Leicester kept 12 clean sheets with Söyüncü and Evans ever-present and their poor defensive showings in their crucial final two games of the season against Tottenham and Man United were when the partnership was interrupted due to poor discipline. Before that, Leicester overperformed defensively, conceding just over a goal a game. Leicester had one of the league’s meanest defences, particularly in the first half of the season. No Maguire, no problem.
8. Fred - Nemanja Matic
Possibly the least hyped and least talked up partnership on this list, but the form of Fred and Matic kept Paul Pogba out of the Man Utd team for the majority of the season, and Man Utd fans could have no complaints. Highlights from the two central midfielders’ season include the league double over Man City, when they made City’s attacking stars look ineffectual due to their pressing and ball-protection. They were the base from which United’s exciting front four could build attacks. Both players had exceptional pass completion stats- at least 87%. Consistent if not eye-catching.
7. Harvey Barnes – Jamie Vardy
James Maddison was the star of the show in the early weeks of the season, but as his form dropped off in the winter months, Harvey Barnes was able to provide the service for Vardy to run away with the ball- and the Golden Boot. Barnes set up Vardy to score 5 times over the season, once he established himself as a starting player on the left wing. Perhaps Maddison’s dip in form coincided with Leicester’s change to a more wing-heavy style due to the emergence of Barnes, whereas Tielemans and Maddison were the main threats from a central position in the early part of the campaign.
6. Trent Alexander-Arnold – Mo Salah
You might be confused as to why these Liverpool players are so far down on the list, so here’s why. If this was a list of the best two players from any Premier League club, then these two would come out on top. Individually, Trent and Salah were arguably the two stand-out players in the league along with Kevin De Bruyne. The only thing stopping them being the best teammates is exactly that- their individuality, as this is the top 10 combinations of on-field teammates.
They are equally brilliant at their roles but rarely combine on the pitch, as Mo Salah most often combines with Firmino or the midfield while Trent crosses into the box and bypasses the Egyptian. A quirk in the stats is that Trent did not directly assist any of Salah’s goals last season- he finished the season as 2nd top assister in the league. A case for their indirect understanding is that positionally Salah makes space for Trent on the right wing by going in-field as an inside forward. The effectiveness of this is most obvious when they didn’t line up together on the right of Liverpool’s title-winning team and something was missing. Their position on the pitch is much deeper without the other.
5. Bruno Fernandes – Anthony Martial
It’s safe to say that Bruno Fernandes transformed Man United’s attack, knitting the midfield and strike force together and providing the creativity to supply the potent triumvirate of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood. This much we all know, but it was Fernandes’ forward passes to Martial that gave United the most joy in their successful conquest in reaching the top 4. Fernandes to Martial was the joint 5th most often assist-goalscorer combination in the Premier League last season despite only being teammates from January.
4. Virgil Van Dijk - Joe Gomez
Liverpool’s best centre-back partnership would have ran away with top spot in another trophy- the best teammates this season - and among the very best in Premier League history if they had both played throughout the season. Gomez was out of favour as Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were surprisingly above him in the pecking order, until Gomez claimed his spot back in December. Since then, Gomez and Van Dijk kept clean sheets in exactly half the games they started in (12/24). Not quite the 7 from 12 of 2018/19, but still the league’s leading centre-back pairing when on the field together.
Gomez and Van Dijk had a combined average passes per game of 156.8 last season, the most of any teammates.
3. Kevin De Bruyne – Sergio Aguero
Yet again these two starred as City’s most reliable players, this time in an unreliable team. Kevin De Bruyne assisted 6 goals for Kun Aguero, the second most assists supplied to any single goalscorer. It was a nearly league season overall for Aguero and Guardiola’s men, as Aguero again missed out on winning the golden boot due to injury; De Bruyne was also unfortunate to miss out on the individual awards due to Man City being second-best to Liverpool. De Bruyne did equal the record for the most assists in a season, however, with the help of Aguero’s penalty box instinct.
2. Andy Robertson – Sadio Mané
Robertson and Mané form a wing partnership that is much more traditional to that of the opposite flank in Klopp’s system. The pair stay wide until they enter the attacking third, then they cause havoc by overlapping, underlapping and switching positions at lightning pace.
The numbers back up the effectiveness of their visual movement, though not always in terms of direct assists and goals. Robertson and Mané did directly combine for 4 goals, but more often Robertson will pass to Mané, then the Senegalese winger will assist another player or vice versa. Liverpool had various combinations to break down the opposition’s block, but most of them stemmed from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané’s wing play.
1. Adama Traore – Raúl Jiménez
The perfect combination of pace, crossing ability and finishing, Traore and Jiménez were the teammates behind Wolves once again finishing 7th in the Premier League in Wolves’ second season back in the Premier League. Their two highest rated players on WhoScored combined so often and yet they could not be stopped. They combined to score 10 goals, as the League’s most prolific duo. Traore assisted 7 of Jiménez’s PL goals from wide right, the most successful assist-goalscorer contribution, while Jiménez assisted 3 of Traore’s 4 league goals. Nuno Espirito Santo will be hoping his main men stay at Wolves and stay fit next season so his side can break into the top 6.