PFA Player of the Year nominees: Ranking the favorites, as Liverpool quartet dominate list
The nominees list for the 2020 PFA awards has been released, with the PFA Player of the Year understandably generating the most attention.
Having completed a grueling and interrupted Premier League campaign, it is time for players who distinguished themselves to get rewarded for their performances, with the final winners announced on Tuesday.
While several individual awards are handed out every season, none have as much prestige or pedigree as the PFA Player of the Year award, with the fact that it is decided by fellow professionals giving it a more special standing in the eyes of the winners.
Handed out since 1974, the award is decided by votes of the professional footballers in the league and was first won by Norman Hunter, while Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk is the current holder, following his stunning display at the heart of the Reds’ defense last year.
A roll call of winners of the award reads like a who’s who of English football, with stellar names like Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, and John Terry all having claimed the prize in the past.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant that this year’s edition was postponed from April and there were doubts over whether a winner would be announced, but a full list of nominees in the various categories was released on Friday.
Apart from the PFA Player of the Year, other awards to be decided including the PFA Young Player of the Year, PFA Women’s and Young Women’s Player of the Year.
The full list of nominees
PFA Player of the Year
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)
Jordan Henderson (Liverool)
PFA Young Player of the Year
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
PFA Women’s Player of the Year
Beth England (Chelsea)
Kim Little (Arsenal)
Sophie Ingle (Chelsea)
Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal)
Guro Reiten (Chelsea)
Ji So-Yun (Chelsea)
PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year
Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea)
Lauren Hemp (Manchester City)
Chloe Kelly (Manchester City)
Lauren James (Manchester United)
Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City)
Georgia Stanway (Manchester City)
A breakdown of the nominees for the PFA Player of the Year
A cursory glance at the list of nominees for the PFA Player of the Year reveals the glaring fact that just two clubs are represented.
Liverpool were runaway winners of the league last season, finishing 18 points clear of Manchester City, who themselves finished 15 points ahead of third-placed city rivals Manchester United.
The Reds are represented by the quartet of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and captain Jordan Henderson, while the Cityzens have Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling flying the blue flag.
With just four days to go until the announcement of the winner, we shall be ranking the nominees’ chances of winning the award, based on their performance last season, as well as highlighting players who were unjustly left off the list.
Virgil Van Dijk
It might be hard to conceive right now but just two short years ago, the thought of Liverpool having a rock-solid defense was laughable at best.
The Anfield side had impressed with their attacking brilliance under Jurgen Klopp, but they were constantly let down by porous defending, with individual errors and lapses in concentration costing the Merseysiders dearly.
However, since the purchase of Virgil Van Dijk (for then-record fee of £75m from Southampton) in January 2018, Liverpool have been instantly transformed and posted the best defensive record in each of his first two full seasons on Merseyside.
The Dutchman was crowned the PFA Player of the Year in 2019 for his efforts and it was his stellar defending at the back that helped the Reds end their three-decade wait for league glory.
Last season, Van Dijk was still at his sublime best, and was an ever-present in all 38 of Liverpool’s Premier League matches.
His defensive contributions were as stellar as ever, with 15 clean sheets,40 interceptions, 162 clearances, 23 tackles, 239 successful duels helping the club to a maiden Premier League title.
The 29-year-old also showed his attacking impetus and weighed in with five goals, while he also led the way in the league for completed passes last season, with 3,259 passes.
Although he has mostly been in the shadows of striker partner Mohamed Salah in the last three seasons, it cannot be argued that Sadio Mane is one of the most crucial components of the Liverpool team.
The reigning African Player of the Year flourished last season and was often on hand to bail Liverpool out of dire situations, with crucial winning goals coming in tight victories over Norwich, Wolves, West Ham, and Aston Villa while he also won a last-minute penalty to dispatch Leicester City 2-1 in October.
In total, Mane scored 18 goals and registered seven assists and although this was not enough to see him among the favorites for the award, the Senegalese international is good value for his nomination.
Raheem Sterling broke his personal record for his highest-scoring campaign (25 goals in 2018/19), with 31 goals in all competitions last season.
Of these, 20 came in 33 Premier League appearances (also a personal record) as City saw their title defense crumble before their eyes.
The England international started the season in spectacular fashion, scoring a hat-trick in 5-0 defeat of West Ham on the opening day, while goals against Tottenham and Bournemouth brought his tally to five in his first three matches.
Another hat-trick was registered in the 5-0 decimation of Brighton on matchday 35 and despite coming up short on a collective level, Raheem Sterling can look back fondly on what was a wonderful personal campaign (although he would still be haunted by that miss against Lyon in the Champions League).
The last two years have seen a spectacular trajectory for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has gone from being an understudy to Nathaniel Clyne to becoming arguably the best right-back in the world and an established starter at international level.
Arnold, who was trained in the Liverpool academy, has won plaudits for his excellent crosses and although his defending still leaves a lot to be desired, the 21-year-old more than makes up for this with his brilliant runs forward.
Alongside Andrew Robertson, Arnold acts as the chief creative outlet for Jurgen Klopp’s men and he has also become something of a set-piece specialist in recent months.
Last season, the England international made the most passes into the box (509), while he also set a new record for most assists in a season for a defender, with 13 assists ( breaking the previous record of 11 set by Robertson just a year before).
Arnold’s standout performance of the season undoubtedly came in the 4-0 trashing of then second-placed Leicester City where he scored a goal and registered two assists in addition to winning a penalty in a man-of-the-match display in December.
In total, he had a goal contribution of 17 and is the runaway favorite for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, although his chances of winning the senior accolade are a bit slimmer.
Jordan Henderson had his watershed moment when he captained Liverpool to Champions League glory in June 2019 and just a year later, he became the first Reds captain to lift the Premier League title.
This was a long way from the player who faced severe criticism early in his Reds career following his arrival from Sunderland and many believed he was not good enough for elite level football.
Henderson rose above all the criticism to become club captain following the departure of Steven Gerrard in 2015 and despite the huge boots he had to fill, he has discharged his duties admirably.
Last season, the 30-year-old was almost unplayable in the middle of the park for Jurgen Klopp and effectively filled in at different positions when he was called upon.
Henderson’s leadership and on-field guidance came in very handy, helping his teammates maintain their head and never-say-die mentality and was named PWA Player of the Year for his incredible efforts last term.
While he might not get as much rave reviews as his more flashy and technical teammates, Henderson’s workmanlike tenacity and energetic displays are crucial to Liverpool’s successes and proof of his importance lies in the fact that all three matches that the defending champions lost last season came in the absence of their dynamic skipper.
Kevin de Bruyne
Kevin de Bruyne is undeniably the forerunner for a maiden PFA Player of the Year award and with all due respect to other nominees, no player maintained as much consistency throughout the season as the Belgian international.
The former Wolfsburg man has been the most creative midfielder in the world over the last few years and he brought his creative A-game to the fore last season, acting as the chief creator for Pep Guardiola’s side in midfield.
De Bruyne had the most goal-involvements in the last campaign, with 33 goals and equaled Thierry Henry’s long-standing record for most assists in a season with 20 assists provided for his teammates.
The 29-year-old begun the season with eight assists and two goals from his first eight matches and ended the campaign with two spectacular goals and an assist in the 5-0 victory over Norwich City on the final day.
Even though most of the Manchester City players underperformed around him, Kevin de Bruyne boosted his personal reputation and distinguished himself with his uncanny ability to create chances on a platter for his teammates, with his precise crossing, pristine vision and exquisite passing setting him apart from everybody else on the field.
In many ways, he is the quintessential definition of a ‘complete player’ and he brought all his abilities to the fore and his shooting precision from range with both feet helped him to settle several contests, while he was also installed as City’s penalty taker midway through the campaign.
He led the way for big chances created last season (with 33) and won the Playmaker award for the second time in his career, while he was also deservedly named Premier League Player of the Year last month.
Despite their dominance of the Premier League over the last decade, no Manchester City player has been named PFA Player of the Year but Kevin de Bruyne is primly placed to become the first player from the club to win the award.
The unjustified exclusions from the PFA Player of the Year nominees
Although the final list of nominees cannot exactly be faulted, there are some players who would feel disappointed to have been left off the list for the PFA Player of the Year nominees and we shall be making a case for some of these players.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a world-class striker for the last five years and has banged in goals for fun since his days with Borussia Dortmund.
The 31-year-old won the Premier League Golden Boot in his first full season at the Emirates and matched his tally of 22 goals in the just concluded season and although this was one short of Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy, it takes nothing away from what was a spectacular campaign for Auba.
In many ways, the Gabonese international was a ‘one-man army for Arsenal, and his clinicality was evidenced by the fact that he finished second on the scorers’ chart, despite playing for a side that ranked 15th in terms of chances created.
Nick Pope (Burnley)
For most of the season, Nick Pope was the forerunner to win the Premier League Golden Glove but unfortunately lost out to Manchester City’s Ederson on the final day.
It is testament of Pope’s abilities that he pushed world-class goalkeepers like Ederson and Alisson (who have better defenders in front of them), despite playing for a side that finished 10th and his form led to calls for him to become England’s number one at the expense of the error-strewn Jordan Pickford..
In total, the 28-year-old kept 15 cleans sheets, and made the fourth-highest number of saves (120), while his standout performance undoubtedly came in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, where Nick Pope was the deciding factor as the Reds dropped points at Anfield for the first time in over a year.
Very rarely do goalkeepers get individual accolades (just two goalkeepers have been named PFA Player of the Year) but Nick Pope did enough to be nominated for the award.
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
As recently as eight years ago, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football and did not appear on the league pyramid until he was 25.
Despite this, the former England man has made up for lost time and recently joined the hallowed list of players to have scored 100 Premier League goals last season.
Vardy made a name for himself as the driving force behind Leicester City’s fairytale title win in 2016 and set a new record for most consecutive games scored in with 11.
Despite turning 33 last January, Jamie Vardy has shown nos signs of slowing down and went on a run of scoring 11 goals in eight consecutive matches as the Foxes soared up the table.
Although they ultimately fell short in their quest for Champions League football, their star striker ended the season with a maiden Golden Boot and should have been included on the list of PFA Player of the Year nominees.
The Premier League would resume on September 12, with Liverpool hosting Leeds United and Arsenal facing Fulham, while the Manchester clubs have been given a break due to their European exertions.
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