The PFA Team of the Season was dominated by Manchester City and Liverpool players (plus Paul Pogba). But Daniel Storey's selection spreads the recognition a shade wider.
It has been an odd campaign for goalkeepers. Alisson has been excellent, but with the odd misstep. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Hugo Lloris, David de Gea and Jordan Pickford have all been slightly worse than last season. Which leaves Ederson, the best goalkeeper in the league, and Fabianski, the most underrated. Fabianski wins out, for the sheer volume of saves and consistency. Arsenal managing to sell both him and Wojciech Szczesny for total fees of £14m is some effort.
Probably the hardest decision to make in the team, but Wan-Bissaka pips Kyle Walker and Wolves’ Matt Doherty. Getting angry about award lists is a fool’s errand, but Wan-Bissaka is unfortunate not to make the Young Player of the Year shortlist. In his first full season a senior professional, he has been the revelation of this Premier League season, an old-school full-back for whom defending comes first. Sadly for Palace, the natural next step is to an elite club.
One of the Premier League bargains of the last five years. Much has been made of Jurgen Klopp’s investment on expensive signings that solve obvious issues within his squad, but spending £8m on then-Championship side Hull City’s left-back was a masterstroke. Robertson is defensively sound and exceptional when overlapping and crossing, but more importantly than that, he has bought into Klopp’s ‘work hard’ ethos and become an instant cult hero. Nobody comes close to pushing him out of this team.
One of the great muddles of European football: How one of the most expensive and most proficient central defenders in the world is yet to receive an international cap.
Didier Deschamps has a strong selection of left-footed centre-backs, but it seems bizarre to ignore the defender who most represents Pep Guardiola’s vision for Manchester City.
John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany have all rotated this season, but Laporte has played almost 1,000 more minutes than any of them. He’s composed, he’s positionally excellent, and his passing range is mighty useful.
The game-changer of this Premier League season; no player has made a greater difference to their club’s performance level and league position from 2017/18 to 2018/19. There were scoffs of laughter from rival supporters when Liverpool chose to spend a world record fee for a defender on Van Dijk, but only he and his club are laughing now. If the speed, aerial ability, threat from set pieces and positional masterclasses weren’t enough, he’s also a leader by personality and by example. The best central defender in the world on this season’s form.
The surprise choice of this team, and one of only three players from outside the top two — that alone reflects Manchester City and Liverpool’s Premier League dominance — but if Watford are the surprise team of 2018/19, Capoue has been the foundation on which the success was built. Add together tackles and interceptions (what we might label the ‘Kante rating’), and Capoue has a figure of 169, which is 78 higher than any of his teammates. It’s this all-action spoiling, passing and running that really makes Watford tick.
Hardly the most glamourous cog in the shiny Manchester City engine, but Fernandinho’s impact on Guardiola’s team is immense. He breaks up play, commits those clever tactical fouls that opposition supporters hate and Guardiola pretends don’t exist, surges forward with the ball when the situation demands and is comfortable tucking back into a full-back position to allow Walker or Oleksandr Zinchenko to push forward. How his manager only wishes he was five years younger.
If Guardiola appreciates Fernandinho, he adores Bernardo Silva. It is Bernardo who carries his manager’s flame on the pitch, a total footballer in the true, historic sense of that phrase. Not only is he comfortable drifting in from the right, in behind a centre-forward or in central midfield, he ends up doing all three roles wherever you pick him, but it’s the way in which Bernardo — still eligible for the Young Player of the Year award — demands the ball and responsibility in the toughest situations that really stands out.
Liverpool’s best attacking player this season, which is some feat when you consider Mohamed Salah’s impact at Anfield. There were doubts when Liverpool signed a wide forward from Southampton who was prone to infuriating inconsistency; Phil Thompson criticised his former club for paying “far too much” for Mane. The emphatic response lies in Mane’s year-on-year improvement and 18 league goals this season. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, Mane has scored against them all. Don’t bet against him adding Barcelona to that list.
It might seem a little odd to be proud of a professional footballer, someone with incredible wealth, a job that many thousands would love and a lifestyle to match, but I feel proud of Sterling. Proud for turning himself into the best footballer he can be. Proud of him for taking on sections of the English tabloid media. Proud of him for leading the fight against racism. Proud of him for becoming a leader when his only responsibility is to be a footballer. This has been the best season of Sterling’s career, and nobody deserves it more.
A toss-up between Aguero, Son Heung-Min and Mohamed Salah, for very different reasons, but the Premier League’s top goalscorer wins out, not least because he has scored those goals around injury niggles at a rate of one every 112 minutes. He isn’t perfect (damn those hamstring muscles), but Aguero has changed his game to fit the demands of his manager and in doing so lost none of his goalscoring prowess. In the second half of his career, that’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
Alisson, Lucas Digne, Eden Hazard, Son Heung-Min, Mohamed Salah, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alexandre Lacazette, Matt Doherty, and Ryan Fraser