Premier League title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City dominate the six-man shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award, with Virgil Van Dijk and Raheem Sterling the front-runners.
Centre-back Van Dijk joins Reds team-mate Sadio Mane on the list, while England forward Sterling is included alongside fellow City players Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard completes the nominees for the 2018-19 campaign, with the winner scheduled to be announced on Sunday, April 28 at the PFA’s annual awards ceremony in London.
City duo Sterling and Silva, both 24, also make the shortlist for the Young Player of the Year award. They are joined in that category by Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, Bournemouth winger David Brooks and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
For the women’s award, Manchester City trio Steph Houghton, Nikita Parris and Keira Walsh have been shortlisted, in addition to Chelsea duo Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-yun and Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.
Dutch forward Miedema, the Women’s Super League top scorer with 27 goals, Walsh and Cuthbert are also nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, along with City forward Georgia Stanway, West Ham striker Alisha Lehmann and Bristol City goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley.
Van Dijk, signed from Southampton for £75million in January 2018, has been an ever-present rock at the heart of the Premier League’s tightest defence this campaign. He has helped Liverpool keep 18 clean sheets and concede only 20 times, while also chipping in with three goals.
Senegal international Mane – included ahead of last year’s winner Mohamed Salah – has also enjoyed a stellar season for Jurgen Klopp’s side, hitting 18 league goals as the Anfield club attempt to end a 29-year wait to be champions.
Sterling is currently the bookmakers’ second favourite for the award behind 27-year-old Van Dijk and has been key for Pep Guardiola’s defending champions, having contributed 17 goals and nine assists going into the weekend.
Aguero and Silva have also been integral parts of the division’s best attack this term.
Argentinian Aguero, City’s record goalscorer, has registered 19 of the club’s 86 goals and provided seven assists, while Portuguese Silva, who has become increasingly influential at the Etihad Stadium, has managed six goals and seven assists.
Creative forward Hazard, the only candidate to have previously won the award (2015), has been directly involved in more top-flight goals than any other player this term, scoring 16 and setting up 12 for Maurizio Sarri’s Blues.
There is guaranteed to be a new name on the Young Player of the Year award.
Alexander-Arnold has contributed to Liverpool’s defensive solidity and also provided seven assists from right-back, while the fine form of Hammers midfielder Rice led to his England debut following his change of allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.
Wales international Brooks has scored seven times and assisted five goals during an impressive debut season in the top flight after swapping Sheffield United for the south coast. Rashford, meanwhile, has managed 10 goals and six assists for Manchester United.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested Manchester United‘s top-four rivals may have an advantage by still being in European competitions.
United’s Champions League adventure was brought to an end by Barcelona in midweek but Tottenham progressed to the semi-finals, while Arsenal and Chelsea are in the last four of the Europa League.
The four English teams are jockeying for third and fourth in the Premier League and a place in next season’s Champions League, with only three points separating third-placed Spurs from United in sixth.
Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea face a more crowded fixture list in the closing weeks of the campaign because of their European exertions, but United boss Solskjaer does not feel that will hinder them.
“It will probably give them a boost playing those games, that’s what you want as a player,” he said.
“We would have loved a semi-final to play in but that’s not the case. We’ve got to focus on the games we’ve got.”
United’s 3-0 humbling at the Nou Camp – bowing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage after a 4-0 aggregate defeat – was a fifth loss in their last seven matches in all competitions.
They have been beaten in three of five since Solskjaer was announced as the permanent manager following a very impressive interim spell, in which he revived their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next term.
Despite their recent slump, Solskjaer insists there has not been a drop-off from his players.
He said: “I don’t think so, that’s football margins. Since I’ve come in we’ve lost two league games – against Wolves and Arsenal, those games we shouldn’t have talked about losing.
“Of course there are games where we won where we maybe didn’t deserve to, it evens itself out.
“Players now know what’s going to happen, they know what I expect, we know as a club what we’re looking to do.
“Look at where we were when we came in on December 19 and where we’re at now – I think anyone would have taken that in the squad and at the club. Now we’ve got five games to see if we can finish it off.”
United’s trip to Goodison Park to tackle Everton on Sunday kicks off a potentially pivotal eight-day period for United, who host the Manchester derby next Wednesday before welcoming Chelsea to Old Trafford.
Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic are in contention following recent spells on the sidelines while Ander Herrera is back in training ahead of the visit to Merseyside.
Midfielder Jesse Lingard knows Everton – battling to finish seventh to claim a potential Europa League spot – will present a difficult challenge.
He said on United’s official website: “I think it will be a tough game. Both teams are fighting for something for the end of the season. It’s just as important for them as it is for us, so we’ll need to be on top form.
“We know what’s on the line and what’s there to be had. Top four is massive, to obviously play in the Champions League next season. It’s a massive competition and United always deserve to be in there.
“Defeats (like the Barcelona one) can tend to linger but we know we have a big week ahead so Ole has tried to take our minds off it and concentrate on Everton, (Manchester) City and Chelsea. They are the three big games that we need to win.
“We’ve got to be at 100 per cent in every game with the mindset to win and get three points, which is the most important thing.”
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With the memory of their Champions League classic still fresh, Spurs can dent City’s season further if they derail their title push at the Etihad.
Having knocked Pep Guardiola’s men out of Europe’s premier competition on Wednesday, Spurs can strengthen their hopes of making the top four with another win.
However, boss Mauricio Pochettino knows a change of mindset will be needed.
“The Premier League is different and we are fighting for different things,” he told his club’s official website.
“Manchester City are trying to win the Premier League and, for us, it’s so important to be in the top four for next season.”
With Liverpool having what appears on paper to be an easier run-in, City know that they can afford no slip-ups in a bid to defend their title.
There is considerable pressure on them as a result, but also on Spurs who, if they win, can put four points between themselves in third and Arsenal and Chelsea, who sit fourth and fifth and do not play until Sunday.
“We need to assess the players and need to be sure we are going there competing with fresh legs with the possibility to fight and challenge them again,” Pochettino added.
“That’s why we’re working so hard now to try to assess the players in the right way and try to mix players who can be competitive and have the possibility to win.”
To get the result he needs, after such a taxing night on Wednesday, the Argentinian admits he may have to field some fresh faces.
“City have an unbelievable squad, they can change and rotate the starting 11 and keep the same level on the pitch,” he said.
“With all the circumstances and some injuries, maybe we need to think about playing with younger players, not without experience, but with plenty of energy and keeping the same ideas – to be brave and try to compete.
“It’s going to be tough but we need to think about recovery and try to design the best strategy to try to be competitive.”