Top 5 Irish players from 2019/20 Premier League

Irish representation in the Premier League is up from last season, with fewer players going down. 21 Irish players featured in the English top-flight in the 2019/20 season with just two suffering relegation. The previous season saw three players relegated, with just 15 featuring in total. Let’s take a look at the top five Irish players from this Premier League season.

Matt Doherty

Many Irish fans have been calling for the Wolves right-back to replace Seamus Coleman in the national side. His performances this season have led to those calls getting only louder, with Coleman also struggling for consistent game time.

Doherty featured in 36 of Wolves’ Premier League games (starting 32), as well as starting eight of their Europa League games so far. The wing-back contributed to 12 of his side’s 13 clean sheets in the league but also impressed going forward. He scored four times and registered three assists. His goals came at crucial times too, including in narrow 3-2 victories over Man City and Tottenham.

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Every angle of Matt Doherty’s late winner against Manchester City. Video courtesy of Wolves.

Doherty was a crucial part of the Wolves team who often looked to overwhelm teams down their right-hand side. Although the onus was primarily on the powerful Adama Traore, Doherty’s attacking threat and defensive nous helped majorly. Almost half of Wolves’ attacks came down the right this season (42%).

Doherty made 55 successful tackles this season, joint-sixth highest in Nuno Espirito Santo’s team. He won the most aerial battles of all his teammates (133). His 47 clearances and 40 interceptions have him fifth in his club’s leaderboards in both areas.

Image courtesy of rte.ie.

The wing-back’s good form didn’t just start this season. He registered four goals and five assists in the Premier League last season. He has scored 15 goals and managed 15 assists in all competitions across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only defender with more goal contributions during that timeframe.

At 28-years-old, Doherty is in the prime of his career. He will be looking forward to European football for the second consecutive season when the delayed 2020/21 season commences. Will Stephen Kenny make him the first-choice right-back for the national side? We know Kenny will most likely employ a system with a front three. A 3-4-3 would suit Doherty perfectly, but the incoming manager may lean towards selecting Coleman if he opts for a 4-3-3.

John Egan

John Egan is next in the list worryingly full of defenders. The centre-back played all but two of Sheffield United’s Premier League games this season, his first in the English top flight. Egan was a key contributor to the Blades’ outstanding defence, the fourth-best backline in the league.

Image courtesy of skysports.com.

Egan made 27 blocks – the 15th most in the PL, and the most in the United squad. His 165 clearances are the eighth highest in the league, only two behind his teammate Chris Basham. He is behind only Chris Basham for interceptions too – his 58 are second at the club. His aerial dominance is also highlighted by his 134 aerial duels won (the third most at Bramall Lane) and his 76 headed clearances coming in at joint-14th most in the league.

Sheffield United conceded three goals in just four Premier League games this season. Two of these instances came against Man United when Egan wasn’t in the squad. Newcastle also put three past the Blades in a game where Egan was dismissed shortly after half-time. Egan played 90 minutes in the 3-1 final day defeat to Southampton.

Image courtesy of otbsports.com

The Irish defender is a pivotal part of an incredibly intricate defensive structure. Chris Wilder’s side are renowned for their ambitious overlapping centre-backs tactic. After working to great effect in the Championship during their promotion season, many fans were surprised to see the side continue to use this very risky tactic which sees the wide centre-backs of the three (usually Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell) overlap the wing-backs, leaving John Egan holding the fort at the back. The Corkman is essentially a puppeteer for that backline, crucially pulling the strings and making sure the team is defensively sound while maintaining their unique attacking threat.

Egan also found an eye for goal towards the end of the season. He netted a superb half-volley against Burnley before scoring a crucial late winner against Wolves three days later. The defender compared his goals to London buses and joked he was now ‘prolific’ after ending a 72-game goal drought with two in two.

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Watch John Egan’s superb late equaliser against Burnley. Video courtesy of Sheffield United FC.

Enda Stevens

Next up is another defender who knows how to play in a back three/five. Enda Stevens has, similarly to Egan, thrived under Chris Wilder’s defensive innovation at Sheffield United. The left-sided defender started every one of United’s league games, playing 36 full games. He got his name on the scoresheet twice and set up four goal for his teammates.

As far as the defensive numbers go, Stevens isn’t exactly the best in the business. His 81 tackles are the second-best at the club and 16th best in the PL. Disappointingly, Stevens does have more errors leading to goals (2) than anyone else in the squad. While his defensive contributions still can’t be underestimated, he impresses on the ball. He has the joint-most assists among his teammates with the third most completed passes (1,469). He completed 1.6 dribbles per game, at a success rate of 73%.

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Video courtesy of Sheffield United FC.

Enda Stevens, like most of his teammates, struggled to re-find his form after the restart but put in two outstanding performances in their big victories over Tottenham and Chelsea, registering an assist in both. The wing-back has also been nominated for the FAI Senior Men’s International Player of the Year 2019, along with teammate David McGoldrick and Fleetwood’s Glenn Whelan.

Blades manager Chris Wilder spoke highly of Stevens when he signed a new deal with the club earlier this year:

“Enda has become one of the top players in the division, in his position, in our opinion, and he deserves rewarding with a new contract, that’s what we’re trying to do at the moment. His performances have been outstanding for both club and country and he is an important and integral part of our team in and out of possession.”

Chris Wilder [via sufc.co.uk]

Aaron Connolly

Connolly burst onto the scene last October when he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Tottenham. He had a very impressive debut season in the Premier League without too much end product. His next league goal came nine months later in the final day victory over Burnley. As well as his three league goals, he registered one assist. Brighton rewarded him for his efforts with a new four-year contract on 30 July.

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Aaron Connolly scores twice as Brighton hit Spurs for 3. Video courtesy of Sky Sports Football.

Connolly is a pacey, tricky and nimble centre-forward. He used his youthful exuberance to bully Tottenham’s experienced backline last October, and though we haven’t seen any performances to this standard since, we have seen more glimpses of the quality the youngster possesses.

We saw his passing ability when he assisted Neal Maupay’s injury-time winner against Arsenal in June. Three days later, his speed and agility caused problems for Leicester’s James Justin who ultimately conceded a penalty to the Galway man. On the final day of the season, the forward showed his strength, perseverance and finishing ability to nudge his way past Kevin Long before slotting the ball beyond golden-glove contender Nick Pope.

Image courtesy of rte.ie.

Comparisons to Robbie Keane may be premature, but the hope and excitement are warranted. Connolly ended the season as Brighton’s third top goalscorer, more a reflection on the team’s struggles in the final third than the youngster’s abilities in front of goal.

David McGoldrick

McGoldrick is undoubtedly a player whose contributions could easily go under the radar. With just two goals and four assists in 28 league appearances, it’s unsurprising that many opposition fans underestimate the impact the striker has on Wilder’s side.

McGoldrick was a key part of Sheffield United’s high press. His energy and determination, along with strike partners Oli McBurnie and Lys Mousset, were the pivotal first line of United’s excellent defence. McGoldrick made 41 tackles in the league in the 2019/20 season, the ninth highest number for a striker despite missing 10 games and only playing six games from start to finish.

Image courtesy of rte.ie.

Sheffield United also enjoy controlling the game in the opposition’s half. McGoldrick plays a part in this by dropping deep to both regain and retain possession. The reduced time he spent on the pitch didn’t affect the impact he had in possession – he is 11th in the squad for passes (610) and touches (973). The Republic of Ireland international also recorded his highest pass completion rate (75%) since the 2014/15 season.

In front of goal, however, McGoldrick was statistically the worst finisher in the league. He had the worst goals to expected goals ratio, with his xG number almost 4.5 times higher than his actual return. He has never been a prolific goalscorer – the 15 he scored in the Championship last season was the second-highest of his career, and only the fourth time he exceeded 10 goals in a league season.

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