Tradition dictates that the PFA Player of the Year award goes to the key performer in a title- winning side (Eden Hazard, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante in the last three years), but there are occasional exceptions.
Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez won the award in consecutive seasons before Hazard without lifting a league title, while Steven Gerrard was also named in 2006 despite never winning a Premier League title.
Manchester City’s dominance over the Premier League suggests that Kevin de Bruyne is an understandable favourite this season, but Mohamed Salah is pushing De Bruyne all the way. The Egyptian arrived in England as a winger-cum-wide-forward intent on transforming his reputation in the Premier League after delighting Roma supporters. But even he didn’t see this coming.
Salah has now scored a league goal for every 85 minutes played this season, and scored with all four of his shots against Watford. If his goal tally is now marginally ahead of Harry Kane’s, his shot conversion rate is far beyond the Tottenham striker. The creativity isn’t bad either. In any other season, we would be crowning Salah as the best player in the country. De Bruyne and City’s coronation should take nothing away from the astonishing individual achievement of the year.
West Brom hardly inspired their manager and players to improve when they made it clear that Alan Pardew would be staying on until the end of the season whatever happened between March and May. Their reasoning was not that Pardew was likely to inspire a turnaround, more that there seemed little point in sacking him this late in the season when so few managers would agree to take over.
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Pardew has been a disaster. He was recruited for his ability to promote high morale within the squad that inevitably leads to improved performance, and has somehow taken West Brom backwards.
The incidents in Spain showed the discipline instilled by Tony Pulis has been lost, and so too has any belief. Score the first goal? Let the opposition back. Concede the first goal? Game over. The paradox here is that such dramatic underperformance will only lead to a financial reward.
With West Brom desperate for salvation, they gave Pardew a deal that runs until the end of 2019/20. Even if he is sacked this summer, the pay-off is likely to be a seven-figure sum. Sometimes, sympathy for sacked managers should be in short supply.
The argument was not that Stoke City did not show enough patience in Mark Hughes, but that they showed too much. By the time Hughes was eventually sacked, long after it looked possible for him to address Stoke’s slide, the club were in the relegation zone and all the traditional firefighters had been taken.
If that gave Stoke the option to take the ambitious, risky option, they opted to ignore it. In appointing Paul Lambert, Stoke turned to a manager out of work since being sacked by Wolves, Blackburn and Aston Villa in three consecutive seasons, with his spell at Villa Park being particularly testing.
Lambert has proved once again that it is incredibly tough to turn around your reputation in such circumstances. Stoke have drawn four and lost three of the seven games since beating Huddersfield Town at home in his first match.
They face Arsenal (away) and Tottenham (at home) in their next two league games, and still have to travel to Anfield. Stoke’s worst nightmare could be coming true, with Hughes appointed by Southampton.
Should Hughes succeed where Lambert failed, Stoke could be heading to the Championship while their former manager laps up the applause.
At a time when transfer fees have gone stratospheric, signing a 25-year-old attacker with 36 international caps for Brazil and four league titles from one of the richest clubs in the world for £25m could only be a no-brainer. But there were doubts about Lucas Moura. Neymar might have stated his disappointment at his fellow Brazilian leaving Paris, but the accusation was that Moura had flattered to deceive in France following his £38m move from Sao Paulo in 2012. One of the world’s most promising young players had plateaued.
Those doubts have already been erased, given the relatively low transfer fee. The Brazilian may only have played 31 minutes in the Premier League since his arrival at Spurs, but we have seen enough in his FA Cup appearances to believe he can be more useful than his predecessors Clinton N’Jie and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou. Moura is keen to take on his man and stretch the game, key to creating space for Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son. For so long, the biggest concern over Tottenham was their lack of squad depth. Now they have a Brazilian international with bags of Champions League experience and a point to prove knocking on the door for a starting role.
In explaining why Man United’s Champions League exit was hardly a surprise, Jose Mourinho made the argument of “football heritage”, with Sevilla successful in the Europa League in multiple seasons of late. On Sunday, Sevilla lost 2-1 to a Leganes team that had won one of their previous ten La Liga matches. Perhaps coach Asier Garitano figured that actually trying to attack Sevilla’s porous defence can overcome even the strongest football heritage.