Player of the Year: who might be on the shortlist?
Before we star this rundown of the POTY contenders, let’s roll a few truth grenades into your personal space. Deciding the season’s best player, before the season itself has actually finished is…well, ridiculous. Titles aren’t won in December, as the old adage goes, and, equally, the top individual prizes aren’t (or least shouldn’t) be doled out in April.
Imagine the scenario. Virgil van Dijk is voted Player of the Year. A reasonable enough choice. The former Celtic defender has been nothing short of a colossus for Liverpool this season and could well be remembered as the vital component for the Red’s first League title in nearly 30 years.
You’ll notice the word could doing a lot of heavy lifting here. There remains every possibility that Van Dijk’s form could take a catastrophic eleventh-hour nosedive. Cursed without Bran Stark’s kooky brand of all-seeing omniscients, we simply don’t know how things will turn out.
What’s to say the Dutchman doesn’t hump one into his own net against Newcastle next month, then get sent off against Wolves on the final day? Meanwhile in Manchester, Raheem Sterling has just crashed in back-to-back hat-tricks and City are on their way to their 4th Premier League crown.
Who would be more deserving of the award? Who’s had the more significant positive impact?
For those that bet on sports, never before has the ridiculousness of this premature accolade been more relevant than this year. With vapour thin margins between the country’s best sides, with every game and point so vitally important- it’s too early to be handing over prizes and immortalizing heroes. Without the context of the season as a whole to look back on, Player of the Year awards should have to wait.
And yet here we are…
‘I could’ve been a contender…’
If the clocks were to stop now and the votes cast, there’s certainly a handful players who’ve stood out above their peers. So why not let’s take a look at a few of them, with a sprinkling of honorable mentions towards the page’s end.
Since we’ve already mentioned him, Virgil van Dijk is the favourite among the bookmakers and there’s plenty to admire about the Dutchman’s style of defending. Combining the physical attributes of 6ft2 cage fighter, with the elegance and finesse of a golden era Italian libero, it’s easy to see why he’s valued so highly.
But for all those nebulous qualities for a defender at the top of his game, it’s perhaps easier to define Van Dijk’s influence with a simple stat: in the first 20 games of last season (before VVD’s January arrival) Liverpool conceded a respectably meagre 20 goals). In the first 20 games this season? Klopp’s men conceded just 8.
Elsewhere on Merseyside Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah are in contention for the award. Salah hasn’t quite lived up to his explosive maiden season but still has 23 goals in all competitions and appears to be coming into prime form at just the right time. Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher thinks that Mane is perhaps even more vital to Liverpool’s double assault on domestic and European glory. The best wide player Liverpool have had since John Barnes, according to Carragher. And who are we to argue?
In the blue half of Manchester there’s the usual abundance of talent worthy of recognition. In Kevin de Bruyne’s absence, Bernado Silva has emerged as the creative of hub everything good City have done this year, while Raheem Sterling continues to prove himself as one of the most dangerous attackers in Europe. Sergio Aguero just plain refuses to stop scoring, netting his 30th of season against Spurs in the week. In the red half, perhaps only Paul Pogba could be considered a legitimate challenger to the POTY crown and even his form has dipped notably in recent weeks.
North London entries
In Spurs’ corner, Harry Kane has had a reasonably prolific (if injury plagued season). 24 goals in all competitions isn’t an insignificant contribution. Some might argue that Moussa Sissoko has been Tottenham’s finest performer this season, but the chances of his name appearing on the shortlist are slim to non-existent. Heung-min Son, on the other hand, has every chance of making the cut, after another barnstorming campaign. His vital goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League have guided Spurs through to the semi-finals against Ajax. If I was curating the shortlist, I’d also have Jan Vertonghen on there. For my two-cents, he’s one of the top five centre-backs in Europe.
Their North London rivals haven’t had any standout turns as such; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has continued his impressive goalscoring form from last season and Bernd Leno has looked pretty solid in nets for the most part. But neither are likely to be in the fold.
At Chelsea, there’s only man in the frame: Eden Hazard. Maurizio Sarri’s first season in England hasn’t been without drama; perhaps a little more than he’d banked on. From insubordinate goalkeepers to almighty larruping at the hand’s of Guardiola’s City; it’s not been an easy ride for the former Napoli coach, particularly without his nerve-calming cigarettes to honk on. But the one constant has been Hazard. His goal against West Ham last week was a thing of beauty.
If we’re looking outside the top six. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been a revelation for Palace but will likely find more success in the Young Player category. At Wolves there’s been a raft of impressive debut seasons; João Moutinho, Raul Jimenez, Matt Doherty have all exceeded expectation while Ruben Neves will surely make the YPOTY list.
Leicester’s young English core have also impressed, particularly full-back Ben Chilwell and playmaker James Maddison in his first season of top-flight football. Bournemouth’s David Brooks has had a quietly spectacular season on the south coast, even if his teammates around him have struggled to find any kind of consistency.
Who’s your money on?