As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches its deadly reaches to all four corners of the globe, it is growing increasingly more likely that the Premier League season will not continue. As the global community enters into an unprecedented social and economic landscape, sport will take a back seat on the public’s priority list.
Rather than focus on the negative stories around the sporting world, it felt best to focus more on the good we have seen this season and show our appreciation to the showcase of epic proportions our footballers put on for us this season. With the Premier League’s end-of-season awards unlikely to go ahead, it felt right to anoint my own unofficial winner of each award in the coming days.
It is very hard to pin-point nominees for this award, as there are so many exceptional players who could easily stake a claim for this award. How do you justify not including Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk or Raheem Sterling? How do you value the worth of players like Jack Grealish, Oliver Norwood or Wilfred Zaha? Who may not be the best players in the league, but their influence on their respective teams is undoubted? However, there are 5 players who I feel stand tall against the rest of the league as the 5 greatest and most influential in the Premier League.
Sadio Mane – Liverpool
First on the list is arguably the best player on one of the best teams in the history of the Premier League. For a fair chunk of the season, Liverpool were posing a serious threat to the Arsenal Invincible’s and at the forefront of their effort was Sadio Mane. Playing on the left of Liverpool’s feriocious front-three, Sadio Mane offers so much to the overall game of Liverpool. His energy and pressing is key to Liverpool’s defensive game, whilst offensively, he is the perfect balance between Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, as the player who is able to both create and score very comfortably.
Whilst Mane can be the victim of his own unselfishness at times, often trying to force a pass to a team-mate rather than taking a shot for himself, his impact on this great Liverpool side cannot be understated. With 14 goals and 9 assists, Mane sits 6th in the League for goals and equal 4th for assists, as well as being equal 2ndin overall goal contributions, with 23, Sadio Mane is without-a-doubt one of the league’s best players.
Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City
Who would have thought that when Jose Mourinho sold Kevin De Bruyne, he would go on to become one of Europe’s finest footballers?… Quite a few people actually. Similar to Liverpool, Kevin De Bruyne was closing in on a record-breaking season, with 16 assists and very high chances of getting many more.
De Bruyne is one of the great multi-faceted players in the league. He is deadly from set-pieces, one of the best crossers, an exceptional passer, a thunderous long-distance shooter and a defensive game that was growing stronger with each game. His influence on any given game is remarkable, and every time he receives the ball in even the smallest pocket of space, he draws anxious panting from even the most astute defender. With 8 goals and 16 assists, De Bruyne leads the league in goal involvements. Such is his influence over this City team, that the only two games he missed this season, were both Manchester City losses.
Jamie Vardy – Leicester City
At 33-years-of-age, Jamie Vardy is continually proving to fans around the globe that sometimes the prettiest flowers bloom the latest. However, there is not much beauty to the way Vardy plays. He is a dogged presser of opposition defenders, a chaser of long-balls and above all else, a fantastic finisher with an eagle’s eye for goal. 19 goals and 4 assists in 26 games this season, Vardy is the spearhead of a youthful and vibrant Leicester City team. He is the aging jewel in a grand-old crown, the wide old Jedi leading a team of Padawans to the promise land of European football. He is the purest of strikers, one cut from the cloth of the past, a striker with an ability to score all types of goals, and when he isn’t scoring, he still has the confidence and ability to directly or indirectly influence the game in other ways.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
It has been incredible to see the meteoric rise of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold over the last three seasons. From promising central-midfield in youth football to one of the world’s best right-backs, Trent, as Liverpool fans so affectionately call him, is one of the most influential footballers in the world. His ability to create from both deeper and more advanced positions has seen the young fullback muster up 12 assists so far this season, equalling his own record for single-season assists by a Premier League defender and setting him on the path to convincingly break his own record. Trent’s crossing ability is of particular note, specifically from deeper positions, however, his long-ball ability is one of his greatest assets, with his long cross-field balls to Mane a common feature of Liverpool’s games.
Like his team, Trent was on-track for a record-breaking season, who knows how many assists he would have finished on this season. His offensive threat, particularly the creative side of his play, has seen Trent himself as one of Liverpool’s more influential players, as well as one of the best fullbacks in world football.
Jordan Henderson – Liverpool
The wildcard selection out of all nominees, the Liverpool captain isn’t the prettiest player to watch, and unlike his predecessor he doesn’t score the most goals or provide the most assists, but his influence is undisputed. Across 25 games, Jordan Henderson has chipped in with 3 goals and 5 assists, which are respectable numbers given the fact that his primary role isn’t to score or create, it is to dictate. Liverpool’s lone loss this season came when Henderson was sidelined with a hamstring injury, again showing how vital his leadership and presence is on the Liverpool side.
Being one of the only remaining players from Liverpool’s unsuccessful title challenger in 2013/14, Henderson’s experience and level-headedness is primary to the success Liverpool has sustained, and his comfort in possession provides his teammates with a safe and reliable out-ball when in trouble. Additionally, Henderson’s ability to dictate play from the deep and seemingly always play the right pass into a more creative players feet are two of the major contributing factors to Jordan Henderson taking his spot on our nominees list, and it is fair to say he deserves his place.
There can only be one winner in football. To decipher who deserves to be crowned player of the season from this crop of great players is a difficult endeavour, but one that has to be done, nonetheless. Do you select Jordan Henderson’s strength in possession, leadership and presence? Do you pick the impressive goal-scoring exploits of Jamie Vardy? Do you crown Trent, the assist king and best fullback in the world, as the league’s best player? Is it De Bruyne and his overall brilliance? Or is it Sadio Mane, the perfect mix of all things great about Liverpool?
In my eyes, despite a pretty close challenge by Kevin De Bruyne, the Player of the Season has to be Sadio Mane. Whilst he is not setting the scoring charts alight nor is he providing the most assists, but he is providing a balance of both, as shown in his goal contribution stats. In a Liverpool front-three that is arguably one of the world’s finest, he is their finest player. He combines the skill and selflessness of Roberto Firmino and the ruthlessness and finishing of Mohammed Salah into one complete player. He is the crown jewel in a Liverpool team that has been by-far-and-away the best team in the league this season and so very deserves the Player of the Season crown that will be bestowed upon his head at the end of the season.
One of the biggest questions coming into the season was, would Liverpool be able to win their first title for 30 years? They were well on their way to it prior to COVID-19’s interception and Sadio Mane was one of the main reasons why.