The All-Star Weekend is pretty much the only consistently fun thing about basketball.
It is almost totally devoid of narrative, like Always Sunny, you can just dip in and out whenever you want. It is just pure fun: tying all of the best parts of the sport and the league up into one neat, four-day-long bow. Not only do you get to see Slam Dunk Contests (cool) and celebrity matches (a bit like a Soccer Aid, mixing up current talent and legendary ex-players, although Michael B. Jordan has played twice and Michael Actual Jordan has played zero times) and, the best bit, the All-Star Game itself.
All of the best players in the league—split up into two conferences, East and West, obviously, because America is fucking massive—playing together. Imagine how good that would be if we had it in football?
They tried it before the 1998 World Cup. Europe v the Rest of the World. And look at the teams.
The day Ronaldo & Batistuta played together...pic.twitter.com/tFup0KIreN— Football Mumble (@football_mumble) February 1, 2019
Europe: Heimo Pfeifenberger (AUT, Werder Bremen), Søren Colding (DEN, Brøndby), Alessandro Costacurta (ITA, Milan), Fernando Hierro (ESP, Real Madrid), Dominique Lemoine (BEL, Espanyol), Krasimir Balakov (BUL, VfB Stuttgart), Paul Ince (ENG, Liverpool), Patrick Kluivert (HOL, Milan), Zinedine Zidane (FRA, Juventus), Alen Bokšić (HRV, Lazio), Marius Lăcătuş (ROM, Steaua Bucarest)
Rest of the World: Hong Myung-bo (KOR, Shonan Bellmare), Javier Margas (CHI, Universidad Católica), Hussain O. Sulimani (KSA, Al-Ahli), Noureddine Naybet (MOR, Deportivo La Coruña), Marcelino Bernal (MEX, Monterrey), Hidetoshi Nakata (JAP, Bellmare Hiratsuka), Adel Sellimi (TUN, Nantes), Nwankwo Kanu (NGA, Inter), Gabriel Batistuta (ARG, Fiorentina) Ronaldo (BRA, Inter), Antony de Ávila (COL, New York MetroStars)
Look at them! Madness. A few icons, a couple of "Who... is that?" picks to make up the numbers. ROW pumped Europe 5–2, obviously.
Anyway, imagine if we could transplant that to the Premier League. You’d have to somehow wrangle the teams to let you squeeze a few extra minutes out of their precious assets, shake a few shekels out of their beloved bags of money, but let’s indulge in the fantasy for a moment. Teams from North and South in the Premier League face off over one of those dead weekends on the much mooted Winter break. Money for charity, or whatever. Something nice to make sure everyone turns up.
So let’s pick our teams.
Two Conferences. North v South. Wolves, Leicester City, and Cardiff are designated as The North to make ten Northern teams v ten Southern Team. Wolves and Leicester are the most Northern of the Southern teams, and Cardiff definitely feels a bit like the North when you go there.
Choose your XI. In each XI, every team must be represented but one team is allowed two players.
This was harder than I expected, even with rules I literally sat there and devised myself.
NORTH: DE GEA (MNU), YEDLIN (NEW), BAMBA (CAR), VAN DIJK (LIV), CHILWELL (LEI), CORK (BUR), DE BRUYNE (MCI), MOOY (HUD), SALAH (LIV), JIMÉNEZ (WOL), RICHARLISON (EVE)
SOUTH: FABIAŃSKI (WHU), WAN-BISSAKA (CPFC), DUFFY (BRI), AKÉ (BOU), SESSEGNON (FUL), DOUCOURÉ (WAT), HØJBJERG (SOU), ERIKSEN (SPU), HAZARD (CHE), KANE (SPU), AUBAMEYANG (ARS)
The North was the trickier bit: lopsided in terms of quality and with fewer automatic picks. Not gonna lie, neither Yedlin, Bamba, Chilwell nor Cork is likely to get into the Premier League Team of the Year, but building from de Gea onwards with Van Dijk bossing it at the back with De Bruyne in front with Salah ahead of him is an exciting prospect. The South was mostly just my Fantasy Football team: three hitmen up top, a class number ten, then... well, fill in the blanks with whatever is left after that.
So imagine it’s All-Star weekend and somehow we’ve managed to amass this array of talent onto one pitch without the Class A players begging off with mystery illnesses. It’d be the perfect solution to the league’s much mooted “one extra game played abroad” idea, with it being an inherently saleable product and, importantly, one you’d actually like to watch. With all that in mind, and these teams lining up: who wins?
Well, I’ll tell you something: that Southern defence is getting fucked. Good going forward, but Duffy left on his own at the back, the rest of them gone walkabout while the boys from the North bear down on him, and there’s nothing he can do but let the wave consume him. The South have got it going on up top with pace throughout the team and a well-balanced midfield, but it’s pretty difficult to have the requisite firepower in attack without having a very porous backline. Fabiański is going to be a busy man.
Who’d make it into your teams?
NORTH: ETHERIDGE (CAR), BARDSLEY (BUR), MAGUIRE (LEI), VAN DIJK (LIV), KENNY (EVE), MOOY (HUD), NEVES (WOL), DE BRUYNE (MCI), RASHFORD (MNU), AGÜERO (MCI), ALMIRON (NEW)
SOUTH: KEPA (CHE), WAN-BISSAKA (CPFC), DUNK (BRI), DIOP (WHU), SESSEGNON (FUL), CAPOUE (WAT), OZIL (ARS), WARD-PROWSE (SOU), SON (TOT), KANE (TOT), BROOKS (BOU)
"Here we are then, the lads. The Northern lads. Different terrain, different climate, different currency up there, you see, and boy do this lot know it. Webbed feet, most of them, because of the rain, and roughed up hands they use to climb the hills of a day. It’s rough up North, they say.
Neil Etheridge made some good saves against Wolves earlier in the season, and is objectively attractive, so that’s good enough for me. Phil and Jonjo at fullback: solid. Harry and Virgil and centre-back: rocks. Bloody rocks. “Head it, Harry,” Virg will say. And Harry, Harry shall head it.
Now, imagine them three in centre midfield. Neves pinging those passes nobody else can see, Mooy buzzing around like a little bald buzzer (nipping and tucking and knocking and moving) and De Bruyne pulling those strings AOTS. A string here, a string there: GOAL. You’ve seen it all before.
Up front is pure fire. Agüero down the middle with Rashy and Almiron zooming around him. The zoomy fellas. Goals.
Down in the South it’s a little less exciting. Kepa Arrizabalaga Revuelta is the most expensive keeper in the world, and therefore the best. Sessegnon is a striker, Wan Bissaka is a true ball playing, attacking full back, and Diop and Ake are both very average. Average is ok sometimes.
Capoue works laterally, Ward-Prowse frantically, and Ozil is the no.1 exhibition match player. And up top it's Son and Kane. Like Yorke and Cole and Bull and Mutch and Salas and Zamorano, Son and Kane: peas in a pod. Goals in a basket marked 'Goals' with Brooks carrying it around on his youthful shoulders."
NORTH: DE GEA (MNU), BARDSLEY (BUR), PELTIER (CAR), VAN DIJK (LIV), DURM (HUD), DE BRUYNE (MCI), SHELVEY (NEW), NEVES (WOL), VARDY (LEI), SALAH (LIV) RICHARLISON (EVE)
SOUTH: KEPA (CHE), WAN-BISSAKA (CRY), DUFFY (BRI), AKE (BOU), SESSEGNON (FUL), WARD-PROWSE (SOU), RICE (WHU), GUENDOUZI (ARS), HAZARD (CHE), KANE (TOT), DEENEY (WAT)
“The Southern teams are extremely boring, once you've used up Chelsea and Spurs there's no a lot going on. I really wanted to pick Hector, but I'm not sure how we're judging this, and I can't imagine being out for the season will bode well in the rankings. The Northern team was a lot more fun, though. I've put Lee Peltier in. Remember him?! Haha.”
NORTH: DE GEA (MNU), WALKER (MCI), LASCELLES (NEW), TARKOWSKI (BUR), ROBERTSON (LIV), MOUTINHO (WOL), MOOY (HUD), SIGURDSSON (EVE), VARDY (LEI), PATERSON (CAR), MANE (LIV)
SOUTH: LLORIS (SPU), WAN-BISSAKA (CRY), RUDIGER (CHE), DUNK (BRI), DAVIES (TOT), RICE (WHU), RAMSEY (ARS), WARD-PROWSE (SOU), BROOKS (BOU), BABEL (FUL), DEENEY (WAT)
“North: The obvious picks for Liverpool would have been Salah and Van Dijk. I know. But Robertson and Mane have an amazing thing going on together, so they're my double choices. Up top with Mane is Callum Paterson, signed as a defender, used as a battering ram. In the South, I just tried to get as many Welsh players in as possible, tbh. Davies can act as a third CB while Wan-Bissaka can go on some big runs on his side. Rice, Ramsey and Ward-Prowse are a perfect blend of tacklers and passers and runners with Ramsey as my focal point behind the striker. David Brooks is there to create space for his right-back, while Babel has somehow changed from crap winger to man who can head the ball. So him and Deeney will just run into defenders and try to cause all sorts of mischief? I guess?”
NORTH (4-3-1-2): DUBRAVKA (NEW), DIGNE (EVE), VAN DIJK (LIV), TARKOWSKI (BUR), ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (LIV), NDIDI (LEI), NEVES (WOL), MOOY (HUD), REID (CAR), RASHFORD (MNU), STERLING (MCI)
"One thing that’s clear is that the north is king when it comes to quality central midfielders. As such, Paul Pogba and Fernandinho make way to allow for one of the most frightening strike partnerships imaginable. The midfield three that did make the cut would, you’d imagine, would work extremely well together. Wilfred Ndidi will be responsible for a generous share of the defensive work required, but that’s the case for him under Claude Puel anyway and he’s proved more than capable. Ruben Neves will dictate from deep as he does so well and Aaron Mooy is so much better than all of his current teammates that it’s almost impossible to overlook him. Martin Dúbravka between the sticks probably brings about the biggest question mark over what is a very well-balanced team, but playing behind 50% of the league’s best defence negates that massively."
SOUTH (4-2-3-1): KEPA (CHE), HOLEBAS (WAT), AKE (BOU), ALDERWEIRELD (TOT), WAN-BISSAKA (CRY), ROMEU (SOU), TORREIRA (ARS), ANDERSON (WHU), GROß (BRI), SESSEGNON (FUL), KANE (TOT)
"This is definitely a team that would look to win turnovers high up the pitch and catch the opposition out before they could set up into their defensive shape. In Ryan Sessegnon and Felipe Anderson we have two very talented creators who both absolutely love a tackle, and Lucas Torreira is one of the league’s finest in terms of knowing when to step out and try to win the ball high up the pitch. Oriol Romeu is probably the least obvious pick and many would go with the likes of Danny Ings or Nathan Redmond, but the Spaniard has missed just 30 minutes of league football since Ralph Hassenhuttl took over the Saints – and if he’s good enough for Ralph, he’s certainly good enough for me. Pascal Groß is tasked with stitching together counter-attacks and putting the aforementioned widemen in behind to cut back to Harry Kane - who is comfortably the easiest pick of all here."
ELI MENGEM (who forgot pretty much all of the rules despite being explained them but he's our mate, although both teams would be, technically, totally ineligible)
NORTH: HART (BUR), ROJO (MNU), SMALLING (MNU again), JONES (another MNU), SHAW (somehow more MNU), DEFOUR (ANOTHER BUR), WALCOTT (EVE), LENNON (...BUR), LALLANA (LIV), LUKAKU (MNU), ORIGI (LIV)
SOUTH: GOMES (WAT), BELLERIN (ARS), BERTRAND (SOU), CHAMBERS (FUL), KOVACIC (CHE), HUGHES (WAT), DEULOFEU (That's three from WAT), BARKLEY (CHE), MKHITARYAN (ARS), WICKHAM (PAL), CHICHARITO (WHU)
"I chose the teams as a collection of players, who arrived into the game under a hail of praise, promise and predictions of being the ‘next big thing’ for their prospective clubs, competitions or positions, but who ultimately ended up loan at those clubs you’ve heard of but can’t quite locate on a map, like Levante or Sassuolo or Watford.
While, admittedly, a few on the list have picked up the odd trophy here or there, that’s usually more through the good fortune of warming the bench of successful squads.
The exception to all of this of course is Bellerin, because he is an exception to everything and I love him a lot and would love to just hang out with him let alone work with him in a football sense, and I would pick him for absolutely every squad I could, except for the squad of my least favourite players.
The collective disappointment of their underwhelming careers would create an honest, open minded, encouraging environment that would create a tight bond and an optimistic outlook even after Joe Hart chests in an own goal or Lukaku heads the ball the wrong way at an open net.
I don’t really know much about tactics and formation, I don’t think anyone really does and that’s why the longest serving manager in PL is Eddie Howe and why Ranieri lost to the Faroe Islands with Greece right before he won the PL with Leicester, but if I had to say how they would play, I would say 'pretty good'."