This year’s PFA race is hotly contested. Whereas in previous years, one or two have separated themselves from contention, this year’s award is still up for grabs, perhaps due to the tight nature of everything this season, the title race, the race for top 4, even the relegation battle. Below are MY 6 nominees for this year’s award and why I think they each deserve it. There will be omissions and off the bat apologies to Bernardo Silva, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba. But there can only be 6 so without further ado, my nominees for the 2018/19 PFA Player of the year. All stats from WhoScored unless stated.
Sergio Aguero: Goals: 18; Assists: 6
In his 8th premier league season, Sergio Aguero is producing arguably his best ever season on the shores of England, perhaps even in his career. This year’s premier league’s top goal scorer with 18 has lit up the division and it now seems like a lifetime ago when his position was under threat from Gabriel Jesus. He has cemented himself as City’s no.1 goal getter and this season may be his masterpiece. A Premier League legend, Aguero has only failed to hit 20 premier league goals twice in his 8 seasons at City and one of those saw him score 17 in only 23 games. With 18 this season, it seems unlikely Aguero does not smash pass this threshold this season and yet, despite this remarkable consistency, Aguero has only ever made the year end team of the year once, the same number of times as Jamie Vardy and less than the likes of Gary Cahill and Fabricio Coloccini. He has perhaps suffered from his consistency, as it seems like he is almost expected to crack the 20 goal barrier and so not much fuss is made when he hits that target year after year after year. Arguably Manchester City’s greatest ever player with 227 goals and definitely the scorer of City’s greatest ever goal, Aguero has seemingly put it all together in his 8th season, averaging 107 minutes a goal, the best record for any player with at least 10 goals in the league this season. His 24 goal involvements this year are tied for best with Salah, Sterling and Hazard and his defensive work, being the first line of the press orchestrated by Pep Guardiola, has gone unnoticed. While a team of the year position seems nailed on, it is the player of the year Aguero should be shooting for and, with his peformances this season, only a fool would bet against him.
Sadio Mane: Goals: 17; Assists: 1
The evolution of Saido Mane is complete. In his third season on Merseyside, the Senegalese winger has scored a career high league goals with 17 and already has 20 goals in competition. Mane is one of 4 players on 17 goals, one behind league leader Aguero, a scenario not many would’ve envisaged after Liverpool broke their world record at the time to sign him from Southampton. The potential was always there. He is after all the holder of the fastest premier league hattrick, a record that stretches back to his Southampton days. But I’m not sure if even the most sever of optimist penciled him in as a consistent 20 goal a season player, to say nothing of a potential golden boot winner. He has now scored 20 goals in all competitions for the second straight season, something he had never done even in the weaker Austrian league during his time at RB Salzburg. It is not only going forward he excels. For all forwards in the league, Mane is 4th in tackles with 32, 10 more than his more defensively heralded teammate Firmino as well as being in the top 10 for interceptions for a forward this season. Mane is putting it all together recently and, with Salah struggling to notch that 50th goal, he has been Liverpool’s main man in recent weeks scoring 9 goals in his last 9 games to keep Liverpool’s title charge chugging along. At 26, Mane is squarely in his prime and is producing like when athletes hit that sweet spot of physical ability and mental acumen, leading to the best season of his career and a season many did not think he had in him. Saido Mane is one of the leading candidates for the PFA Player of the Year and that is a sentence I did not expect to type in 2019.
Raheem Sterling: Goals: 15; Assists: 9
After a second straight phenomenal season, it may be time to fully accept that Raheem Sterling is one of the world’s best players. He has never looked convincing, with his unique running style and a seeming inability to strike a ball clean but what you cannot argue about is goals and Raheem has a bucket load of them. Since the beginning of last season, only Harry Kane, Mo Salah and Sergio Aguero have scored more than Sterling’s 33 in the league such is the company he is keeping. He has taken the instructions bestowed unto him by one of the greatest coaches of his generation and replicated the success onto the pitch. Despite the constant barrage of negative press he receives for seemingly trivial actions, Sterling has kept his head down and constantly kept working. He has evolved from his young player of the year nominations in years past and transformed himself into one of the best in the league regardless of age. His ability to beat a man has always been present since his days from Liverpool but it’s the final product that has truly taken his game to a next level. Before last season’s 18 goals, Sterling’s career high in the league was 8 and his first two seasons in City blue did little to project this explosion as he mustered a measly 6 and 7 goals, 7 coming under Pep Guardiola in his first season. But as Pep settled into England, Sterling seemed to settle into the system and then hit 18 goals last season. With 15 this season and with more than 2 more still to play, only a fool would bet on him not improving further his career high. His 9 assists are tied for 3rd in the premier league and he is the only player in the top 6 for both goals and assists as he lies 6th in the league in goals. He is also 3rd in the league in successful dribbles a game averaging 2.5 successful dribbles and 7th in the league in key passes. He is also tied for 6th in big chances created this season as per Premierleague.com. He has been an all-round offensive force. His detractors may try to take away from his goals, claiming most of them are tap ins but this is celebrated as cerebral movement with the likes of Cavani and formerly Ruud Van Nistelrooy. How you get your goals matters not one iota, a 3 year tap in is worth the same as a 35 yard screamer. Sterling has worked on his game and turned his greatest weakness, his final ball, into one of his greatest strengths. The combination of his ability to beat players and play the requisite final ball has made him one of the most devastating players in the premier league. Sterling has graduated from one of the best young players in the league to simply one of the best and it has been a pleasure to watch.
Mo Salah: Goals: 17; Assists: 7
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t and Mo Salah’s numbers tell a very impressive story. One season after breaking the premier league record for goals scored in a season with 32, Mo Salah picked up right where he left off with 17 goals and 7 assists, tying for the most goal involvements in the league this season. He is not on his torrid pace of last season but then again that was literally the greatest goal scoring season the league has ever seen. He should not be punished for being unable to replicate it and it seems like he is. Fans seem almost disillusioned with his performances this season despite him being second in the league in goals by 1 and tied for 8th in assists. He is seemingly performing against himself because, when compared to the other players in the league, he has clearly been one of the best 6. He leads all forwards with through balls at 14, despite being his clubs major goal threat and is also 7th in the league in completed dribbles a game at 2.1. He is also second in the league in big chances created (per Premierleague.com) to Ryan Fraser, despite the fact that creating chances isn’t the strongest part of his game. His detractors only seem to have one point to dispel from his nomination – he was better last year. He may not be the all world destroying force he was last season, but Mo Salah has been extremely impressive regardless and what he is lacking in goals he is more than making up for in his all round play. One goal shy of being the quickest to 50 goals for Liverpool, the Egyptian forward is well on his way to becoming a premier league and Liverpool legend and, at 26, is firmly in his prime.
Fernandinho: Passes completed: 1,884
Fernandinho’s impact is seemingly only quantified when he is injured. The base of the 3 in midfield, Fernandinho is perhaps the champions’ most important player. A ball winning metronome, Fernandinho has the double bonus of being able to adequately win the ball back and keep it under intense pressure, a pre-requisite to play for Guardiola. The position he plays has always been of great importance to the Guardiola system considering how he deploys his fullbacks. Manned by Busquets during his time in Cataluña and Vidal during his stay in Bavaria, Fernandinho has been entrusted as the man to carry out the job in Manchester and he has done it to a tee. Extremely skilled at toeing the line, not only is his ability to win the ball back extremely important, so is his ability to accumulate fouls without getting booked. For a team that dominates possession as thoroughly as City do, they are always susceptible to counter attacks and he is the reason that they do not happen as frequently as they should. Whether nicking in to steal the ball back, legally or illegally, Fernandinho is the lynchpin for City’s transition. To play for Guardiola however, you can be no brute and he is also tasked with being the link between the defence and the attack. You’ll often find him in the middle of both centre backs, almost like in a 3, collecting the ball from Ederson to start the attack. He keeps City’s tempo high and, at 33, is in exceptional physical shape. It is no coincidence that the 3 games that Manchester city have lost to non-top 6 opponents, he has only started one.
Virgil Van Dijk: Clean Sheets: 17, Goals conceded: 18
If in December 2017 you had told any Liverpool fan or football fan that Liverpool will be competing for the title the this season off the strength of their defence and not their scintillating attack, having the best defensive record in the league, keeping 17 clean sheets and conceding the least goals in the league after 31 games (18 goals), anyone would’ve called you a liar. But since the record breaking arrival of “Rolls Royce” Virgil Van Dijk, nothing has been the same.
The Dutch man is currently the bookies favourite for the award and it’s easy to see why. Since Van Dijk’s arrival on Merseyside he has hardly put a foot wrong and the stats are there to back this up. Van Dijk has excelled both with and without the ball, he leads the Reds in clearances, blocks, interceptions, duels won, aerial duels won and passes completed he is big and strong enough to dominate the likes of Benteke and Mitrovic in the air, fast enough to hunt down Kylian Mbappe and Adama Traore on counter attacks, his pass completion is only bettered by Jorginho’s in the league, he has chipped in with big goals, technically gifted, coordinated and possesses exceptional leadership skills which have resulted in his team mates choosing him as their third choice captain after Jordan Henderson and James Milner. In the 8 games VVD has worn the armband, Liverpool have won all 8 games. Van Dijk is already set to be rewarded with a new contract which should see him become the clubs second highest earner after Mo Salah and it will be no surprise if he is rewarded with the arm band on a full time basis in the near future.
Liverpool’s defence has been disrupted by injury on multiple occasions this season, with Joe Gomez out since December, Matip and Lovren both missing spells as well, which saw Liverpool have to make due with Fabinho at Centre back instead of his preferred role just in front of the defence, one thing has remained constant and consistent, Van Dijk. If he keeps this up he is well on his way to becoming one of the best centre backs the division has ever seen, all he needs now is the silverware to back up this claim.
Paul Pogba: 11 goals and 9 assists in the league is simply outrageous form for a central midfielder. Finally looking like he’s settled in at United but can’t ignore his first half performance under Mourinho. Perhaps next season? Bernardo Silva: Silenced any doubters that he wouldn’t hold up to the physicality of the league. Elite on the wing, in a midfield 3 or as a no. 10, he regularly covers the most distance in a City match; My pick for young player of the year. Son-Heung Min: In a Tottenham season decimated by injuries, he has been their standout performer. 3 goals off his career high in the league, he took up the mantle when the likes of Kane and Alli were injured. Eden Hazard: Somewhat tailed off after a red hot start to the season, he is tied with some of the nominees with 24 goal involvements (13 goals, 11 assists). Can’t deny his talent but there just always seems like there’s more he could give. Has the talent to score 20 premier league goals but the closest he has ever come is 16. Could this be the year?
My pick: An even split between Van Dijk and Raheem Sterling. These two are vying for the league as well as the title of the league’s best players and the margin is razor thing. Gun to my head, I would plump for Sterling at the moment as his side are ahead but there is more than enough time for this to change.
By Kingsley Mayuku