Squad numbers are a big deal. They are sacred. That’s why it irks us to no end that most players are no longer numbered by position in the Premier League anymore.
The key word there was ‘most’. Squad numbers and their corresponding position have evolved over time and ultimately been of increasingly less use, but there are a select bunch in England’s top flight who still don the squad number that perfectly fits their position on their back. And we love it.
In celebration of those heroes who scratch our squad number brain itch, we’ve crafted a 2023-24 Premier League XI based on how perfectly the player fits their squad number.
Note — we’ve gone with a traditional 4-4-1-1, number 10 playing slightly behind the striker formation. None of that modern-day 4-3-3 rubbish. Let’s begin.
1. Emi Martinez
Listen, Allison Becker is an outstanding goalkeeper, perhaps the best in the league.
But Emi Martínez is also an incredible goalkeeper. He’s won the World Cup and, crucially for our archetypal number 1, he is batsh*t insane. No goalkeeper should be mentally stable. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him putting a penalty taker off by hanging from the crossbar upside down like a rabid bat.
Martinez is in the team.
2. Kieran Trippier
Tripps gets the nod at number 2. One of the best right-backs in the league, if not the world, a brilliant crosser, a solid defender (mostly), and a great free-kick taker.
Crucially, he nicks in ahead of Kyle Walker because Walker occasionally plays centre-back — DISQUALIFIED.
4. Virgil Van Dijk
If our number 4 is going to be a centre-back, it’s going to be VVD, isn’t it? No further comment.
5. Fabian Schar
Tough competition for the number five, including the likes of Lewis Dunk, Ibrahima Konaté and Joachim Andersen.
John Stones is disqualified because he’s a habitual midfielder now, and might end up playing left-wing for Pep at this rate.
Schär just about scrapes in, though, because he will, without fail, suffer a head injury on either the 30th minute or the hour-mark of every single game he plays. It’s a thing. You can set your watch by it. That is a very number-five trait to have. Welcome to Perfect Squad Numbers FC, Fabian Schar.
3. Tyrick Mitchell
Surprisingly slim pickings at number 3. Liverpool seem to have a new policy of making defensive midfielders their number 3, Spurs don’t have a number 1, 2, or 3 for reasons best known to themselves, and a few centre-backs seem to think it’s okay to just pop the number three on their shirt these days.
Well, it’s not.
Mitchell earns his place ahead of Rico Henry, Marc Cucurella, and Aaron Creswell because he’s the most exciting. Creswell is unlucky to miss out as he does feel very number three-y, but Tyrick wins it for us.
7. Raheem Sterling
Okay, hear us out. Bukayo Saka and Michael Olise play on the right and are supreme number 7s. But they’re both left-footed. They both cut inside whenever they can.
Sterling can play on the left or through the middle, it’s true, but he also plays on the right, and that is the correct place for a right-footed number 7.
Neco Williams of Nottingham Forest has a claim to this spot but he is often a right-back, and we will not have a right-back wearing number 7 in our team — not on your nelly.
6. Douglas Luiz
A central midfielder who is comfortable on the ball and not afraid to put himself about when necessary. Extraordinary lack of competition for this spot, perhaps only challenged by Ross Barkley, who just feels like the human embodiment of the number eight.
Luiz is in without question.
8. Dominik Szoboszlai
“What about Martin Ødegaard?!?! Enzo Fernandez?! Bruno Fernandes?!”
Sure, they’re great. But Szoboszlai loves pingers and he kicks the ball really hard. Classic eight material.
He’s in. Argue amongst yourselves.
11. Jack Harrison
The only left-footed eleven in the Premier League who actually plays on the left relatively frequently.
Jeremy Doku and Gabriel Martinelli are out because they’re right footers and that defeats the point of our beautifully traditional effort, here.
1o. Morgan Gibbs-White
This wasn’t an easy choice.
Here’s the shortlist and why they missed out: Eberechi Eze — sublime player, plays a little bit too deep to be our 10; Anthony Gordon — can play as a striker or a classic 10 but spends most of his time on the wings; James Maddison — see Eberechi Eze; Lucas Paquetá — a very close second, but Gibbs-White feels like the most classic number 10 in the league at the minute right now.
He could easily play as the second striker in an old school 4-4-2, he’s extremely creative, makes assists, scores goals, dribbles, and passes. He’s got everything a number ten should have and he’s a maverick.
9. Erling Haaland
The big Norwegian freak is an absolute goal magnet and would happily spend his days camped out inside the opposition penalty area, ready to eat defenders alive and smash in goals with every part of his body if he was allowed to.
Pep Guardiola naturally makes him do a bit more running than that, but ultimately his job is the same. Do goals and do lots of them. A nailed on pick.