Romelu Lukaku selflessly made a terrific suggestion to the Premier League last night, suggesting that it was time the Premier League staged a kind of All-Star weekend, featuring a clash between an XI assembled from the North of England and the South.
Here’s an idea for you guys... the nba has all-star game! Don’t you guys think we should organise one in the @premierleague.. The north vs the south! And the fans vote... what do you guys think? @premierleague @FA 😏😉
— R.Lukaku Bolingoli9 (@RomeluLukaku9) February 26, 2018
It's a selfless pitch by Lukaku in the sense that we're not entirely sure he'd make the North's team on merit. If it was a public vote, perhaps: Ed Woodward is always bleating on about Manchester United's mighty and fervent social media following, and United fans have always been eager to swarm a public vote. (See when they ensured that Mario Balotelli was voted Liverpool's player of the season for 2014/15).
But who would make the teams? Here are our picks for the squads, along with suggestions for some possible competitions.
(The dividing line, by the way, is below Leicester and West Brom for an even split of ten clubs each).
The North (4-3-3)
Coached by Pep Guardiola
Picking from Man City, Man United, Everton, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leicester, Stoke, Huddersfield, West Brom and Burnley.
No doubt about the goalkeeper: David de Gea. We will now admit our glaring bias and include Seamus Coleman at right-back, who nudges in ahead of Kyle Walker. The North have somewhat of a weakness at centre-back. Curiously, perhaps the player who best meets the criteria of form, experience, talent and fitness is West Brom's Johnny Evans, who we are pairing with Liverpool's Virgil Van Dijk. (Those unfortunate to miss out here are Eric Bailly, Vincent Kompany, and James Tarkowski).
One suspects that Benjamin Mendy would make the grade if he had been fit all season, but as that hasn't happened, Liverpool's Andy Robertson gets our vote at left-back.
We reckon that Fernandinho is a slightly better option that Nemanja Matic at the base of the midfield, where he will definitely be partnered by Kevin De Bruyne. As for the other spot in midfield? It is tempting to break the City midfield monopoly with Paul Pogba, but we think it would be a travesty if David Silva didn't find a spot in this team somewhere.
Mo Salah has to play on the right of the front three, leaving two more places up for grabs. The left-sided attacking choice comes down to Leroy Sane v Alexis Sanchez, and we're going to go for Sane on the basis of form across this season. As for the striker? Lukaku is in the conversation, but we'd have Roberto Firmino or Gabriel Jesus ahead of him. But we still reckon Sergio Aguero is worthy of inclusion ahead of all of them.
Our seven substitutes, by the way, are Ederson, Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Kyle Walker, Nemanja Matic, and Roberto Firmino.
The South (4-2-3-1)
Coached by Mauricio Pochettino
Picking from Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Brighton, Swansea, Southampton, Bournemouth, and Watford.
Thibault Courtois gets our vote in goal. Hector Bellerin is that most rare of footballers - an Arsenal defender who is actually fairly good. He is included at right-back, alongside the brilliant Spurs duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Ben Davies and Ryan Bertrand are perhaps unfortunate to lose out to Marcos Alonso for the left-back slot.
No doubt that N'Golo Kanté deserves his place at the base of the midfield, although Southampton's Mario Lemina is a reasonable alternative. Spurs powerhouse Moussa Dembele also deserves a spot.
Harry Kane is obviously going to play up front, but what of the three behind him? Eden Hazard is definitely on the left of that three, and in spite of Willian's superb form, we think that a fully-fit Wilfried Zaha should land a gig on the right-wing. That leaves us with an embarrassment of riches as to who will play in the hole behind Kane. Alli? Eriksen? Lanzini? Glenn Murray?
Let's go with Mesut Ozil. On his day, etc...
Substitutes: Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies, Andreas Christensen, Mario Lemina, Willian, Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Right, on to some of the competitions...
Competition 1 - A game of football
In spite of Man City's dominance of the Premier League, we reckon that the South would win out, given that they have plenty of attacking threat (Hazard and Kane) along with a much more solid defence.
Winner: The South
Competition 2 - Crossbar Challenge
Difficult to predict this one. You'd fancy De Bruyne, Pogba and Silva to hit the crossbar on request, but judging by his recent performance against Barcelona, Willian could single-handedly shade it for the South.
Winner: The South.
Competition 3 - Gratuitous showcases of skill
The North turns its lonely eyes to Paul Pogba's stepovers to impress the voting public. They're back in it.
Winner: The North.
Competition 4 - All-Star FIFA
Haul a couple of sofas and a TV into the centre circle, with the top player on each side going head-to-head in a game of FIFA. Pogba seems to think about real football through the prism of the game, having once referred to Paolo Dybala as "square R2, the button that you have to push on a PlayStation to do a shot on the turn - he always gets goals like that", so we fancy him to single-handedly haul the North to victory here.
Winner: The North.
Competition 5 - All-Star Red Arse
5 players from each side gather in a circle, with the aim to keep the ball off the ground. The player who first miscontrols it must stand facing a wall, bend over, and brace themselves for a few ferocious shots before being eliminated. The last player standing wins it for their team.
Winner: Bloody hell, we have no idea. It seems the kind of game that Mesut Ozil could win by himself, so let's say the South.
Competition 6 - All-Star Yellow Card Pleading
5 players from each side are given one minute to make the most of a tackle and then plead to the referee to book the supposed assailant. The winners are those that prise the most yellow cards from the referee's pocket.
Winner: This provides an acceptable vehicle for Alexis Sanchez' irascible gesticulating, so we're giving it to the North.
Here are the limits of our imagination. In the event of a draw, let's have a penalty shoot-out.
Is there a better option?