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If the PFA Player of the Year award was handed out now, who would get it?
It’s an interesting question as we gallop into the second half of the campaign. Would Liverpool’s dominance necessitate one of their players gets it, or is their collective brilliance a hindrance in that regard?
Perhaps there’s a brighter star shining elsewhere, standing head and shoulders above his team-mates?
Let’s dig around and compare the cases.
Remember: The PFA Player of the Year award is given to the player who is adjudged to have had the best year in English football—that’s Premier League and both domestic cups, but not Champions League or Europa League competition.
10. Danny Ings, Forward, Southampton
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Twenty-three games into the Premier League season, Ings has 14 league goals, three more than Mohamed Salah, who he famously bet he’d score more league goals than last term. He’s scored in 14 different games in all competitions this term, helping Southampton to a recent unbeaten run that included wins over Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
The key to his surge in form is undoubtedly fitness: He’s injury-free for the first time since his Burnley days and his performances have levelled up in response. He’s showing the sort of talent that prompted Liverpool to sign him in 2015. He’s pressing for 90 full minutes, linking play expertly and scoring all sorts of different goals.
That’s led to calls for him to be involved with England in Euro 2020, and with Harry Kane now injured, a March trial surely beckons.
9. Mohamed Salah, Forward, Liverpool
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Ever since setting foot on Merseyside, Salah’s been phenomenally productive.
Goals and assists have flowed from that prolific left foot of his; defenders have failed to stop him doing what he wants to do—even if they know the exact move he’s about to make.
His goal on Sunday iced a 2-0 win over Manchester United that sent Liverpool 16 points clear at the top of the table. He raced clear on the counter and finished one-on-one. It was classic Salah.
He’s up to 11 goals and five assists in the league now. He’ll bag plenty more and throw his name into the hat for this award in the process.
8. Raul Jimenez, Forward, Wolves
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Jimenez is Wolves’ iron man.
Sixteen combined Premier League goals and assists speaks to both how consistently effective he’s been and how consistently available he is.
Even with Europa League football and domestic cups clouding the schedule, he’s played the large majority of minutes and led the line with aplomb.
Wolves have had to grind through some results this season, and that’s only been possible because of Jimenez’s form in front of goal.
Being ever-present in a good side and continually making the difference is a surefire way to involve yourself in the Player of the Year conversation.
7. Wilfred Ndidi, Midfielder, Leicester City
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Ndidi has missed Leicester City’s last three games.
Their results in that span? 1-1 at home to Aston Villa, 1-2 at home to Southampton and 1-2 away to Burnley.
Coincidence? Not a chance.
He’s been integral to their fantastic season to date, holding the base of midfield with a blend of silk and steel. He brings a physical edge and covers so much ground, sweeping up in midfield and dominating in duels—his combined 7.1 tackles and interceptions per game leads the league.
Perhaps the knock on his game in the past was that he wasn’t as proficient with the ball, but with that side of his game improving too, there’s no real weakness to point at. He’s a player every team in the league would take in a heartbeat.
6. Sergio Aguero, Forward, Manchester City
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It’s easy to let Aguero’s brilliance pass you by; you’ve become so accustomed to it, it doesn’t feel fresh or exciting.
But it’s crucial not to let the familiarity of him putting teams to the sword every week mean you don’t appreciate him—and this advice comes from a writer who forgot to add Aguero into this list until the final sweep of names across the league.
This weekend’s brace against Crystal Palace took him to 15 league goals this season, and he’s managed that from just 13 starts. Manage the same number in his next 13 starts and he’ll break his own record and trouble the league record of 31.
If any striker from this free-scoring 2019-20 campaign can do it, it’s probably Aguero.
5. Jamie Vardy, Forward, Leicester City
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Vardy’s 17 Premier League goals from 23 games has seen him shoot to the top of the scoring charts—a position he’s held for months.
It’s been an incredible campaign for him so far, one that’s represented something of a renaissance, as he resembles the striker who tore his way to a title in 2016 once again.
That he’s this good in 2019-20 feels like a particularly big success, given he’s now playing in a side that dominates possession and territory—rather than one that sits back and explodes into space regularly.
He’s still able to scamper away on the break on occasion—and when he does so he’s as deadly as ever—but he’s adapted and improved his all-round game bit by bit in order to play a different role.
Should he stay injury-free, the record of 31 league goals in a campaign could be under threat.
4. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Defender, Liverpool
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It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest Trent Alexander-Arnold is redefining what we should expect from full-backs this coming decade.
He mixes quick thinking, eagle-eyed passing, pinpoint crossing and an ease in possession that reminds of his teenage years spent in central midfield. Add all of this to his improving defensive skills, and it’s clear Liverpool have a new-age full-back on their hands.
There have been games this season where he has just taken over. The 4-1 win against Leicester City—a legitimately top side—became the Trent Alexander-Arnold show: two assists, one goal and absolute domination from the flank.
If there’s a knock against him it’s that there have been some games in which his defensive frailties have been outlined (Crystal Palace, for example).
3. Virgil van Dijk, Defender, Liverpool
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Virgil van Dijk won this award last year, becoming the first defender since John Terry to do so in 2005.
A huge swell of support got him over the line, helping him beat Raheem Sterling to the trophy, but that is lacking this time around.
Perhaps because a defender made such waves it felt a bit like a novelty, creating a narrative that people got swept up in.
Perhaps because his brilliance has been normalised, leading to the same sort of apathetic appreciation that saw Sergio Aguero miss the PFA Team of the Year six years in a row.
Perhaps because Liverpool have kept fewer clean sheets this season than last, creating a perception that performance levels have dropped.
That last one would really sting if true, because he’s been consistently superb as usual. That’s why he remains in this conversation—even if he’s not the favourite.
2. Kevin De Bruyne, Midfielder, Manchester City
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Now finally injury-free, De Bruyne has spent this season reminding everyone of the fact he’s an elite-tier playmaker capable of deciding any game.
Statistics tell around half the story: His 14 Premier League assists from 21 appearances means he’s on track to break Thierry Henry‘s record of 20; while his 3.7 key passes per game is the best by a distance (next is Emiliano Buendia at 3).
The other half of the story comes from watching him: the way he coasts upfield, dribbles in powerful fashion and the way he cuts across the ball as he measures it into the box. No one can stop those deliveries.
1. Sadio Mane, Forward, Liverpool
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Mane spent the second half of the 2018-19 season dragging Liverpool through games, becoming the most reliable goalscoring source in a side that contained Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He kept the title challenge alive and excelled elsewhere too.
It would have been reasonable to expect him to cool off a little in 2019-20, sharing the burden a little, but he hasn’t: This campaign has been full of vital Mane goals and assists—a particular purple patch coming through December and January.
What he has become is a fearsome forward: Tricky but impactful, capable of brilliant moments but also constantly involved in games. He’s become clutch, too, so often delivering for the Reds at the death, such as his 94th-minute winner for the Reds against Aston Villa earlier in the season.
On the evidence we have to this point, Mane’s been the outstanding player of the campaign, spearheading the outstanding team. If the award was handed out today, he’d win it.
Honourable Mentions: Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester), Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).
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All statistics via WhoScored.com.