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Premier League team of the season
Premier League fans have been treated to dazzling displays from some of the world's best players over the last nine months. And with the season at an end, we unveil our team of the year:
Asmir Begovic (Stoke/BIH)
The £15 million-rated Bosnian underlined why the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have been linked with a close-season move for him as he produced a series of fine performances, played all 38 league games and managed to keep 12 clean-sheets in a struggling side.
Pablo Zabaleta (Man City/ARG)
In a season of underachievement at Eastlands, the Argentina right-back was one of the few to emerge with any credit. His muscular approach frustrated many wingers and he also found time to charge forward to good effect.
Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd/ENG)
The 34-year-old's return to form defied critics who claimed he no longer had the pace to play at the highest level. Finally pain-free thanks to an intricate fitness programme, the centre-back may have snubbed an England recall but he was an assured presence as United romped to the title.
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham/BEL)
Relatively unheralded when he arrived from Ajax last year, the versatile Belgian has emerged as one of the best defenders in the league. Capable of filling in at full-back, he shone brightest at centre-back and chipped in with six valuable goals.
Leighton Baines (Everton/ENG)
Long regarded as a key component of Everton's back-four, the dynamic left-back enjoyed the best season of his career and also impressed for England. Could follow David Moyes to Manchester United if the departing Toffees boss gets his way.
The Spaniard thrived as the Blues played a more fluid style designed to showcase Mata's talents. As well as an eye for a killer pass, Mata, who netted 20 times this term, also displayed stamina as he featured in 66 of Chelsea's 69 matches during a marathon campaign that brought third place and Europa League glory.
Michael Carrick (Man Utd/ENG)
After spending much of his time at Old Trafford as the forgotten man in United's midfield, Carrick finally took centre-stage with the kind of influential displays his admirers have always felt him capable of.
The 31-year-old's smooth passing and astute reading of the game were pivotal to United's title success, especially given the erratic form of his fellow midfielders.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal/ESP)
While many of Arsene Wenger's recent overseas signings have failed to adapt to the Premier League, there was no questioning the impact of the diminutive Spaniard following his £15 million move from Malaga.
Whether playing wide or in a more central role, the 28-year-old was at the heart of all Arsenal's best moments, scoring 12 times including a hat-trick at Reading, as they finished the season strongly and took fourth place.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham/WAL)
Almost single-handedly kept his team in the race to qualify for the Champions League with a series of brilliant displays and jaw-dropping goals that earned him both the Players' and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards.
The Wales winger was granted more freedom to play in-field by Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas and he responded with 26 goals, many of them long-range strikes and none more remarkable than the last-minute winner against West Ham that illuminated a dank night at Upton Park in February.
Unquestionably the bargain of the season, Michu, who cost just Â£2 million from Rayo Vallecano, announced his arrival in the Premier League with two goals on his debut in a 5-0 win at QPR and never looked back.
The Spaniard ended the season with 22 goals, including one at Wembley as Swansea beat Bradford 5-0 in the League Cup final to win the first major trophy in their 100-year history.
Robin van Persie (Man Utd/NED)
After losing the title on goal difference last season, United boss Alex Ferguson responded by prising the Dutch star away from Arsenal just as champions Manchester City were prepared to pounce and in the process effectively regained the Premier League crown before a ball was even kicked.
The £24 million deal revitalised United as van Persie scored on his Old Trafford debut against Fulham, netted a hat-trick in his third match at Southampton and went on to finish as the league's top scorer with 26 goals. No wonder Ferguson hailed him as the most significant signing since his swoop for Eric Cantona.
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