Yet another incredible football season has reached its conclusion. The beautiful game has not failed to disappoint, providing the fans with some jaw dropping – as well as heartbreaking – moments over the last nine months.
We have witnessed some brilliant one-off individual displays and a few consistent performers. We’ve had breakout players, impressing at a young age and veterans proving that age is just a number.
As part of our end-of-the-season awards for Europe’s top-five leagues, we’re honouring the Player of the Year and Breakthrough Player of the Year (stars aged 23 and under who made significant strides in 2018/19).
Here, we look at the winners from Premier League.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool, 27 years old
It was between Virgil van Dijk and Raheem Sterling for this one. But the colossal impact the former has produced upon arrival at Anfield tips the scale in his favour. Liverpool’s defence required a major overhaul but little did anyone think that the arrival of one Dutchman would change it all. Van Dijk – the captain without the armband – has operated with high efficiency at the heart of Liverpool’s defence. He has averaged just one tackle per game, owing to astute positioning and the tendency to get in front of the attacker and cut out the supply. Van Dijk has also been an immense figure while defending set pieces. The 27-year-old reads and wards off any aerial threat, ensuring goalkeeper Alisson has much less to worry about. The fact that he has not been dribbled past even once despite going up against the likes of players like Sterling, Eden Hazard, Son Heung-min and Bernardo Silva speaks volumes of the season Van Dijk has enjoyed.
Best performance: Clean-sheet at Goodison Park
Among other immense performances, Van Dijk’s masterclass in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park stands out as his best of the season. Performing at the top level in one of the biggest derbies in Europe is not as easy ask and the centre-back responded very well.
What next for Van Dijk?
“One-season wonder” is a rather lazy term thrown around to describe a player who has exceeded expectations in that particular season. The expectations from the most expensive defender ever were certainly high and the fact that Van Dijk still managed to exceed it means that the bar is only set higher now. He will be tasked to replicate or even better his performance from this season and guide Liverpool to their first league title since 1990. The objective remains the same, but the pressure and expectations will only make it harder.
Honourable mentions: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City).
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Crystal Palace, 21 years old
Wan-Bissaka has been a revelation at Crystal Palace this season and has managed to turn heads of top English clubs. It’s been just over an year since the 21-year-old made his debut and the rate at which he has matured into a top defender is impressive. With 3.7 tackles per game, the Englishman has emerged as one of the better tacklers. Only Idrissa Gueye and Wilfred Ndidi have better numbers. Wan-Bissaka has also managed to record the highest interceptions per game among full-backs, proving the point that he is a well-rounded defender. Much like players such as Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, Wan-Bisaaka started his career as a winger and the attacking instincts have been kept alive by the youngster. But the stand-out feature of his game has to be his flawless tackling. His high tackles to fouls ratio of 6.33 serves is evidence to the fact that he’s an efficient and clean tackler of the ball. Wan-Bissaka has been consistent this season and a move to a top English club is very much on the cards.
Best performance: Assist+clean-sheet against Fulham
Wan-Bissaka ensured that Crystal Palace got off the mark on the first game of the season, with an assist and a complete performance in defence in their 2-0 win over Fulham.
What next for Wan-Bissaka?
Although Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is desperate to keep Wan-Bissaka at the club, he did admit that any offer for the right-back will be assessed like any other. This means that it’s extremely likely he will be plying trades for one of the big six next season. The two Manchester clubs have emerged as possible suitors but it will ultimately come to the youngster’s best judgement. Regardless of where he moves, the price-tag is bound to be hefty.
Honourable mentions: Declan Rice (West Ham), James Maddison (Leicester City)
Riyad Mahrez vowed to establish himself at Manchester City after his crucial goal helped settle the title race in their favour.
Algeria international Mahrez, who won the Premier League with Leicester in 2016, became City’s record signing last summer when he joined from the Foxes for £60milion.
The winger has started only 14 Premier League matches this season, but the last of those came at Brighton in Sunday’s title decider.
And Mahrez responded to his surprise selection with the vital third goal, skilfully leaving Lewis Dunk on his backside before lashing the ball into the top corner.
He said: “It’s not easy to come to a team, a squad, who won everything last season.
“But I’m very confident about myself and never doubt my quality. I knew when I had my chance I would take it. I scored, I helped the team, we played very good, and we deserved to win the league.
“I’m very happy here. It’s not that because I don’t play I’m going to go somewhere else. It’s part of the game. I need to stay strong because it’s part of my personality. I’m never going to go away from teams.
“That’s easy to do but I’m very confident about my quality and there’s another season next season. I know the league. I did a lot of things in this league already.”
City eventually ran out 4-1 winners to pip Liverpool to the title by a single point.
Glenn Murray briefly made it twitchy for the visitors when he headed Brighton in front but goals from Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan ensured City retained their crown.
“It’s a great achievement but we have to give credit to our opponents, Liverpool,” added Mahrez.
“They are an amazing team as well. They deserved to win the league as well but we were a bit better – we have 98 points and they have 97. It’s amazing.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Getting to the top takes steely determination, incredible hard work and immense sacrifice. Staying there takes a lot more.
After the events of an energy-sapping season, no one is more aware of that than Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side steamrolled the competition in the previous campaign, obliterating records along the way and apparently in fierce contest with themselves. The Spaniard laid down a marker with an emphatic first Premier League title under his belt. There can be no question though that retaining the crown has been a far greater achievement.
The reasoning behind that has as much to do with City’s unreal consistency and single-minded focus as it does with Liverpool‘s rabid hunt for a first league title in 29 years and a first-ever in the Premier League era.
At one stage over the winter, the Reds held a seven-point lead at the summit after the festive period handed City three defeats in four games. The meeting at the Etihad was pivotal and Guardiola’s side dug deep to inflict Liverpool’s only defeat of the season, with his players lauded in the aftermath, not for their technical brilliance or silky passing but a dogged resilience and physicality that seemed to overpower the visitors.
That performance set the tone for City’s phenomenal run as they chased down the pretenders to the throne. There was one more blip to deal with. Newcastle beat them 2-1 but after Liverpool could only take a point at Leicester City, the champions put their heads down and never let up.
A sensational 14-game winning streak is what eventually secured the title, outdoing Liverpool’s run of nine successive wins. To achieve back-to-back titles, City have had to be near-perfect, notching up a remarkable 198 points from a possible 228.
“To win the title we had to win 14 games in a row,” said Guardiola after lifting the trophy at Brighton.
“This was the toughest title in all my career, by far.”
There was a time when Manchester United fans took their recurring success in England’s top flight for granted but in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, the true extent of his achievements have been laid bare by campaigns since.
United successfully defended the title six times during his tenure, and since winning three on the trot between 2006 and 2009, City have now become the first team to retain the crown – a decade later.
This season’s triumph is their fourth in eight years but while that speaks volumes of their sustained strength in the division, an eye-opening fact was quickly doing the rounds as their accomplished group of players celebrated with the away support at Brighton – they’ve now drawn level with Sunderland with six league titles each.
Liverpool 18/19 Premier League season:— The Anfield Buzz (@TheAnfieldBuzz) May 12, 2019
- 1 defeat.
- Least goals conceded
- Most clean sheets.
- Golden Glove winner.
- 2 Golden Boot winners.
- PFA POTY winner.
- PL POTY winner.
- 3 players with 10+ goals.
- 2 players with 10+ assists.
- 97 points.
Truly a special season. pic.twitter.com/tnXGSevphk
That puts things into perspective. Aston Villa (7) and Everton (9) sit above them in that regard while the distance to Arsenal (13), Liverpool (18) and United (20) is daunting. No one is suggesting Guardiola will remain in the blue half of Manchester for the next couple of decades and attempt to knock their neighbours off their perch, so to speak, but his success must be viewed as only the beginning.
The endgame for City is to build an empire and be counted among the greatest teams in England but that is only achieved if their winning streak can stand the test of time. In doing so, they may even usurp Ferguson’s United as standard-bearers given the greater number of teams vying for supremacy in the current era.
Winning the title is in itself a huge undertaking but it pales in comparison to building an empire. Guardiola has taken the first painstaking steps towards doing just that at City.
But with the Citizens’ rule barely in place, it seems destined to face further threat from a Reds rebellion. How they continue to cope with such resistance will define their reign.