Saturday brought the six-man shortlists for this year’s PFA awards, with Liverpool and Man City unsurprisingly dominating the nominations.
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane will compete with City’s Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, and Bernardo Silva, as well as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, for the Player of the Year award.
Sterling and Silva have also been nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, as has Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, West Ham sensation Declan Rice, and Bournemouth schemer David Brooks the other nominees.
As always, some deserving candidates had to be culled to make the final list, with one name in particular a glaring omission as 2017/18 player of the year Mohamed Salah has missed out.
The Liverpool star headlines our list of the biggest snubs from this year’s awards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
Last year’s winner. This year’s current joint-top scorer. There’s no doubting the fact that Salah hasn’t quite hit the levels of last season, but he should be judged on this season only, not what he’s been able to achieve in the past.
Did the Egyptian who’s been constantly compared to Lionel Messi get the Messi treatment here? Missing out for being simply very good instead of magically brilliant?
A seven-game goal drought right when Liverpool were slipping up in the title race may have gone against him, with the wonder goal he scored in a 2-0 win over Chelsea last weekend coming long after his colleagues’ votes had been counted.
Salah will also be entitled to wonder why Silva has made the shortlist ahead of him, with the same number of assists (seven) and three times as many goals (19 to six).
Son Heung-min, Tottenham
The case for Son is similar to that for Salah. The South Korean star recorded 12 goals and six assists in the league this season, again more than Silva – who has the advantage of playing for City, alongside the likes of Aguero and Sterling.
Son has star team-mates as well, but Dele Alli has been injured for long spells this season, Harry Kane has, too, and there have been times when Spurs’ No 7 has been the central figure for his team. Even Salah hasn’t had the same weight of responsibility that the former Bayer Leverkusen playmaker had thrust upon him.
Of course, Son isn’t challenging for a title the way Salah and Silva are. That narrative is already costing one player whose candidacy should be taken more seriously, with Hazard a longshot to win this award despite leading the league in combined goals and assists this season. It’s done for Son as well, if a tad unfairly.
Goals in all competitions over the last three seasons:— bet365 (@bet365) April 17, 2019
Mohamed Salah - 86
Son Heung-min - 59
Sadio Mane - 55
Raheem Sterling - 54
Eden Hazard - 53
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
And if Son doesn’t have the benefit of a narrative where he’s driving a title challenge, at least he’s on a team that is many neutrals’ favourite, and allowing Tottenham to stand its own in the big six despite having a budget and wage bill dwarfed by the rest. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doesn’t even have that going for him.
Yet, the Gabon striker is one of the biggest reasons Unai Emery has been able to take an Arsenal side that seemed in decline when he came in last summer and revitalised them as top-four contenders. He’s a strong contender for winning the Golden Boot in his first full season in the Premier League.
Aubameyang’s tendency to miss big chances may have gone against him – his penalty miss against Tottenham when he could have won the derby for the Gunners was likely fresh on the minds of his colleagues when they voted – but on his goals and their impact, he’d have a case to be included in the six-man shortlist.
Since Aubameyang's transfer to Arsenal in January 2018, he has scored 33 goals and has 11 assists to his name.— P™ (@Cechque) April 15, 2019
Also has scored more goals in the pl (28) than any other player in the league during that time.
Exceptional player.. pic.twitter.com/cPrx6yHm2J
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Crystal Palace
The PFA needs to reconsider its criteria for the young player of the year award. Sterling and Silva, both nominated for the senior gong, turn 25 later this year, and though they still qualified for this category because they were 23 at the start of the season, including them in the shortlist robs others of recognition, like Crystal Palace’s talented right-back.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has withstood every test a young defender can face in the league. Playing for a side battling relegation, the young Englishman has come out of duels against the best wingers from the top six clubs with his reputation enhanced, as he’s rarely beaten defensively and provides an attacking thrust.
The 21-year-old has made more tackles than any other defender in the division. Of the 129 tackles he’s attempted, only nine times has he been dribbled past. And he’s just as good going forward, succeeding in two-thirds of his dribble attempts (54 out of 81) and adding two assists.
Wan-Bissaka should be one of the favourites for this award, not on the outside looking in.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the first player in Europe's top five leagues to make 100+ tackles this season.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 2, 2019
Still only *seven* players have successfully dribbled past him. 😳 pic.twitter.com/kJyNoXiBFM
Ruben Neves, Wolves
Ruben Neves isn’t flashy – apart from when he’s scoring spectacular goals. The man who famously has scored all his Wolves goals from outside the box is often occupied with simply ticking over possession, leading to accusations that he’s simply a “sideways-pass merchant”.
Yet Neves’ composure on the ball and ability to control a game for Wolves, who have surprised many sides this season by coming straight up from the Championship and competing to be the best side outside the top six, cannot be valued highly enough.
Much like some of the players who have made his role famous – Michael Carrick and Sergio Busquets come to mind – the young Portugal star doesn’t play too many Hollywood passes, instead choosing to keep it simple. And that’s what Wolves need him to do.
The 22-year-old is being linked with the likes of City and United, so there’s clearly an appreciation for what he brings to his team. For long stretches of the season he was being considered the best player outside the top six. It’s a surprise more of his fellow players didn’t vote for him.
Happy Ruben Neves day! 🚀— Wolves (@Wolves) April 11, 2019
A once-in-a-lifetime goal, on this day last year!
Harry Winks, Tottenham
Like Neves, Harry Winks’ style rarely grabs headlines. However, he’s been instrumental to Spurs’ success this season, as one half of one of the Premier League’s more surprising effective midfield partnerships alongside Moussa Sissoko.
His ability to find space to receive the ball, get into dangerous positions, and keep control under pressure are all hallmarks of a complete midfielder. When he scored his only goal of the season, against Fulham, Winks started the move by winning the ball in his own half before ghosting in to grab an injury-time winner.
He’s also come out of games against the likes of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Man City having held his own or even, at times, looking the best midfielder on the pitch. Usually, that’s enough to get the hype train going.
Winks hasn’t gotten the recognition he’s deserved this season, but he is set to be a special player.
He’s no Frenkie De Jong, but gwarn Harry Winks. Second best tempo controller in Europe pic.twitter.com/k8f4MSv8BE— Alex (@highpressmess) April 12, 2019
Phil Foden’s early goal, his first in the league, gave City the lead and in another quality encounter between the two sides – though with little of the thrill and drama of Wednesday’s European game – both teams passed up presentable opportunities to add to the goals tally.
The result sees City go top of the league and Tottenham drop vital points in the race for a top-four spot.
Here’s a look at how the players rated.
Ederson 8 – Maintained a high level of alertness and made some crucial saves.
Kyle Walker 6 – Got forward regularly but had some awkward moments defensively and possibly got away with a handball.
John Stones 6 – Was almost punished for an early mistake by Son and occasionally got exposed.
Aymeric Laporte 7 – Fortunate to get away with an early pull on Eriksen but made some important challenges.
Oleksandr Zinchenko 6 – Offered support to attacks but not a dynamic performance.
Ilkay Gundogan 6 – Composed in possession but did not provide much protection for the defence.
Kevin De Bruyne 6 – Could not replicate the brilliance of his performance on Wednesday before being forced off injured before half-time.
Phil Foden 7 – Justified his inclusion with an early goal and some smart, creative play.
Bernardo Silva 8 – Delivered a superb cross to open up Spurs for the early goal and his runs were a constant danger.
Raheem Sterling 6 – A quiet afternoon by his standards although he was unfortunate to be denied a goal by Gazzaniga.
Sergio Aguero 7 – Set up Foden early on with a nice cushioned header and kept the Spurs defence occupied.
Fernandinho 6 – Brought some solidity to midfield as City were forced to reshuffle following De Bruyne’s departure.
Leroy Sane 6 – Came on to freshen up the attack but could not get into his stride.
David Silva n/a – Had little impact after coming on for the last five minutes.
Bernardo Silva's game by numbers vs. Tottenham:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 20, 2019
5 tackles made
4 chances created
And he gave his MOTM award to Phil Foden. 👏 pic.twitter.com/XIBqAznHjJ
Paulo Gazzaniga 7 – Making his first Premier League start since September, Gazzaniga produced a fine save to deny Sterling.
Juan Foyth 7 – Foyth was deployed in an unusual right wing-back position and put in a solid performance.
Toby Alderweireld 8 – Another mightily impressive performance from the Belgium defender, who produced a goal-saving block from Aguero.
Davinson Sanchez 5 – The Colombian left Aguero unmarked for first goal and was generally the weakest of Spurs’ three defenders.
Jan Vertonghen 7 – Could maybe have given a penalty away in the first half but was assured after the break.
Ben Davies 6 – Given the runaround in the first half by Bernardo Silva, the left-back did improve after the break.
Eric Dier 6 – Playing his first game since March, Dier was rusty but did offer some steel in midfield.
Dele Alli 6 – Again playing with a cast on his hand, Alli’s best moment came when he produced an outrageous piece of skill to beat three City players.
Christian Eriksen 7 – Spurned his side’s best chance in the first half when he shot straight at Ederson, but otherwise pulled the strings.
Lucas Moura 6 – The Brazilian had a quiet game, but could have snatched an equaliser with better composure.
Son Heung-min 7 – City were again petrified of Son’s pace and he was Spurs’ most attacking threat, having three good chances in the first half.
Victor Wanyama 6 – Put in a solid shift.
Danny Rose 6 – Played in an unusual midfield role and put himself about.
Fernando Llorente 5 – Could not make an impact.
Christian Eriksen has created 3+ chances in his last 5 Premier League games:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 20, 2019
🎯 4 vs. Southampton
🎯 5 vs. Liverpool
🎯 5 vs. Crystal Palace
🎯 6 vs. Huddersfield
🎯 3 vs. Man City
Reliable creator. 🇩🇰 pic.twitter.com/pgayUBIwh4
*Copy provided by Press Association Sport
The Manchester City vs Tottenham trilogy of three games in 12 days came to an end on Saturday with City getting some measure of revenge for their Champions League exit after a gritty 1-0 win that took them back to the top of the Premier League table.
Phil Foden’s first Premier League goal was enough to give City three vital points in a contest which failed to achieve the impossible – living up to, or topping, Wednesday’s second leg of the Champions League quarter-final – but was a significant result in its own right.
Here’s a look at the game’s talking points.
LAPORTE EPITOMISES CITY RESOLVE
If City had to choose between winning the Premier League and the Champions League, there’s no doubt they’d pick the latter. And the fact that they were in contention for a historic quadruple made their European exit on Wednesday doubly painful – and that’s before accounting for the dramatic circumstances in which it happened.
Considering that, the ability of Pep Guardiola’s side to refocus, put their Champions League heartbreak behind them, and beat the exact same opponents to stay in control of the league title race is incredibly commendable.
Aymeric Laporte epitomised City’s resolve. At fault for two Spurs’ goals in midweek, the Frenchman was forced to make his Twitter account private after the social media abuse he received.
But on Saturday, there was one excellent goal-saving tackle early, and several other moments of quality against the dangerous Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura. He wasn’t perfect, but he preserved City’s win.
TOTTENHAM LEFT RELYING ON UNLIKELY EUROPEAN TRIUMPH?
The good news for Tottenham even after this result is that all four of their remaining games are against teams outside the top six, with three at home.
The bad news is that winning all four may no longer be enough to secure a top-four spot. Arsenal and Chelsea, notoriously poor travellers, each have two away games left, while Manchester United are stuttering – and, with Chelsea and City left to play, have the toughest schedule – but Saturday’s loss means Champions League qualification is out of Spurs’ hands.
At least, it is just from the league placing route. Tottenham have given themselves two bites at the cherry by reaching the Champions League semi-finals. Ajax will be a tough out, and if they do achieve that, it’s Barcelona or Liverpool in the final – but perhaps a miracle run is actually their best shot of ensuring a spot in Europe’s premier club competition.
VAR ABSENCE KEENLY FELT
VAR provided the drama on Wednesday, with the goal which won Tottenham the tie allowed to stand after a lengthy review and City’s would-be winner chalked off for offside after a check of the screens.
Its absence was keenly felt on Saturday. Both sides had one penalty shout each denied, and though Jan Vertonghen’s tackle of Bernardo Silva may not have resulted in a spot-kick upon review, Kyle Walker’s handball when Dele Alli was looking to bring the ball down certainly would have.
The naysayers will argue that both were 50-50 decisions while VAR should be used only for clear and obvious errors, but the case for video review has been made repeatedly this season. Perhaps the result here may not have changed, but considering the clear errors that have been made in matches affecting the title, top four, and relegation races, anything that cuts those out needs to be welcomed.