Stellar selection: the Irish Examiner's top Premier League players and managers

Ten of our writers picked their top 25 Premier League players. Awarding 25 points for a top finish and one point for 25th, we calculated an overall Irish Examiner ranking.
Stellar selection: the Irish Examiner's top Premier League players and managers

Ten of our writers picked their top 25 Premier League players.

Awarding 25 points for a top finish and one point for 25th, we calculated an overall Irish Examiner ranking.

1. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City, above) 238 points

WAS well on his way to an end of season decorated with personal awards as well as group accolades when the curtain fell forcibly on the Premier League show.

The Belgian has been an absolute menace this season, with many beginning to consider him the planet’s third best player behind the eternal duo of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

He is fast becoming an all-purpose leader on the park for City, driving, carrying, cajoling, and leading by example.

If his City career continues to follow the trajectory it is on currently, he will surpass Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, and even David Silva in the pantheon of modern-day Manchester City greats.

Simon Curtis

2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool), 224 points

Because of Salah’s goal rate, and Firmino’s hipster acolytes, Sadio was often the unsung hero of this forward line — but this season finally saw him move more into the spotlight.

It’s the importance of his goals that sticks out. Whenever there is talk of a Liverpool striker moving to Spain for ridiculous money, it’s nearly always Mane that’s mentioned. Flattering, and hopefully groundless, speculation.

Fans loved him for his childish glee in copying virtually all Firmino’s goal celebrations. This year he’s had to come up with his own. It’s quite the accolade to be the first name on a teamsheet that good, but somehow he’s managed it.

Steven Kelly

3. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), 218 points

Liverpool became competitive once they stopped going to sleep and shipping goals.

They spent a record fee on a top-class central defender. It’s not rocket science that the two things happened simultaneously, yet that still doesn’t do justice to Van Dijk’s overall impact.

It isn’t about what he does personally, it’s about the influence he has on others. He doesn’t look like the kind of man you’d want to disappoint too often. He’s at the epicentre of Liverpool’s pragmatic era (pragmatic for Klopp, anyway), and once Alisson also joined, everyone needed to up their game. He reads the play brilliantly and has the recovery speed for those rare moments he doesn’t.

Steven Kelly

4. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), 175 points

He's not there for his defending, really.

The unlikely inventive core of a team that’s always created a plethora of chances, his defensive capabilities aren’t really important, since Liverpool are on the front foot 90% of the time anyway.

There’s often been gossip about a future switch to midfield, or he could just gradually improve his all-round game. It’s not like the 21-year-old he doesn’t have time on his side.

He’s an unnaturally gifted player, who could only be held back by a lack of dedication or ambition — and there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that so far.

Steven Kelly

5. Sergio Aguero (Man City),168 points

Another City player for whom the risk of season 2019-20 being declared void must produce bouts of the tremors.

With a flow of goals like a running tap, the Argentinean had already reached No. 4 in the all-time Premier League scorers’ list, is the highest non-English scorer, and has the record for the most hat-tricks, just for good measure (12).

That individual awards have evaded him during his years in England is quite astonishing,though he holds the record for monthly accolades too. We are unlikely to see his type again.

Simon Curtis

6. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal), 161 points

IT is a fair measure of how far Arsenal have fallen that Aubameyang is their only nominee with a prayer of featuring in the top 25, with youngster Bukayo Sakathe only other Gunner to merit even one token nod among 66 players chosen.

Since he arrived at the Emirates, the Gabonman has chiefly offeredthe reliability of his goals.

But late last season something seemed to click and the Thierry Henry hiding inside him has since regularly burst to life.

Not quite Henry standard overall but has earned a career swansong at one of the Champions League big-hitters.

Larry Ryan

7=. Raheem Sterling (Man City), 150 points

UNLIKE his two colleagues in the top 10, Sterling was not having his most productive season, when the action came to a halt.

Sterling’s improvement under Pep Guardiola has been well documented, an inconsistent, fragile talent gradually blossoming into an all-action, fearless front runner.

Sterling’s greatest asset this season has been an enduring ability to keep trying in the face of unpromising odds.

As Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka said recently: “He just keeps running at you. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t get past you in one challenge, he keeps coming back for more.”

This strength of conviction is a welcome attribute to the many Sterling already possesses.

Simon Curtis

7=. Harry Kane (Tottenham), 150 points

If you believe the gossip-mongers and some pundits, Harry Kane has to leave Spurs in order to progress.

Never mind that the 26-year-old is captain of England, one of the top earners in football and played in the Champions League final less than a year ago, the likes of Chris Sutton, Paul Merson, and Dimitar Berbatov – legends at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United – would love to see Kane leave Tottenham. But would Kane be guaranteed the biggest prizes if he moved to Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, or Old Trafford? Recent history suggests not. The player himself gives the same ambiguous answer to the question of his commitment to Tottenham. “I love it here but you never know.”

What else can he say?

The key to Kane’s future is his fitness — this is the fourth successive season disrupted by a serious injury — and Tottenham’s ambitions. Bringing in Jose Mourinho suggests Daniel Levy wants to win trophies, but poor investment in the squad may hamper that.

One thing is sure. If Kane says he wants to leave, the world’s top clubs will all want one of the world’s top strikers. But can anyone match Levy’s €250m valuation? That is the bigger question, perhaps.

Gerry Cox

9. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), 147 points

Two seasons ago he was scoring well over 40 goals. Nobody expected it. Nobody, therefore, had a right to want expect him to keep on doing it, especially when he’s being wrestled by sumo defenders who know only too well the damage he can inflict if he ever gets away from them.

Yes, he can be a frustrating little bugger sometimes, but he is racking up serious stats at a club that lauds its past strikers like Hunt, Fowler, and Rush. When this all ends, he’ll belong in such company on merit and the staggering numbers will tell their own story.

Steven Kelly

10. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 128 points

HE’S like one of those directors, such as Scorsese, who people suddenlynotice did not get the credit he deserves and then gets nominated for all the awards. Better late than never.

He has been this good for years, better even, it’s just too many experts dug their heels in and refused to accept they were wrong.

Maybe the accolades go over the top now, but it still won’t affect him. The whole team moves to a faster beat when he’s in it.

Whenever they fire up the season again, he’ll do what Steven Gerrard could not and it will be all the sweeter after the dismissive claptrap he’s had to endure for far too long.

Steven Kelly

Bubbling under: 11-25

11. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) 116

12. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) 115

13. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) 101

14. Marcus Rashford (Man United) 94

15=. Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) 82

15=. Son Heung-min (Tottenham) 82

17. James Maddison (Leicester City) 64

18. Dean Henderson (Sheffield United) 60

19. Alisson Becker (Liverpool) 58

20. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) 57

21= Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) 47

21=. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) 47

23. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester) 43

24. Bruno Fernandes (Man United) 36

25= Danny Ings (Southampton) 34

25= Adama Traore (Wolves) 34

Honourable mentions

Bernardo Silva (Man City)

Richarlison (Everton)

Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Ricardo Pereira (Leicester)

Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)

Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United)

John Egan (Sheffield United)

Ederson (Man City)

John Fleck (Sheffeld United)

Harry Maguire (Man United)

Klopp and Wilder take management plaudits while others wait for season to end

Liam Mackey, soccer correspondent

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

Admittedly it’s a late, late entry — but what about the remarkable job Nigel Pearson has been making of an apparent mission impossible at Watford?

That said, you’ll always find the crème de la crème at the top, which is where Jurgen Klopp and his brilliant Liverpool team deservedly belong.

Exhilarating football, brimming spirit, and a real sense of connection between club and community — all of that is personified in the personality of the boss at Anfield.

And, in these times of restricted movement, if you had to be quarantined with just one Premier League gaffer — social distancing strictly applied, of course — who better than the wise, witty and, worldly German? (When he’s not all riled up, of course).

Overachiever of the season: Sheffield United

Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves have to be in the running for the way the players responded so admirably to his productive man-management and enlightened football philosophy, as they vibrantly brushed aside opponents and, along with them, the notion that the top flight has to be a grind for a recently promoted side.

But, not least because probably less was expected of another of their fellow ex-Championship sides, I’ll give the gong to Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, an outstanding example of a collective which has been moulded into more than the sum of its parts.

And with John Egan, Enda Stevens, and David McGoldrick all featuring prominently for the club this season, Ireland too have reason to be grateful for the success of the steely yet stylish Blades.

Who’s happy to void? Man City, Man United, and Everton

We hardly need to detail the varied nature of the specific and intense rivalries involved but — if this campaign is not to be completed and Liverpool do get awarded the title — you just know that the supporters of the other Reds, and the two shades of Blue, will forever be banging on about Devon Loch while gleefully pointing apoplectic Koppites in the direction of the big fat asterisk in the records for the 2019/20 Premier League season.

Daniel Storey, soccer writer

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

The biggest pre-season question for the title race was whether Liverpool would be wounded by their inability to pip Manchester City in 2018/19, or if they would use that defeat as motivation to go harder and longer this season.

In hindsight, we should have known. Klopp possesses an almost unique ability to inspire his players to buy into the philosophy.

Without investing significantly in the playing staff last summer, Liverpool resolved to go again and have blown away the well-heeled competition like nothing we have ever seen in the Premier League. That has made Klopp king.

Overachiever of the season: Sheffield United

Chris Wilder just missed out on the manager of theseason award, but that only means that we can lavish more praise on them here. A promoted club that were among the favourites to finish bottom of the Premier League at the start of the season are level on points with sixth, and have a realistic shot at European qualification if the season restarts.

Despite all the video analysis and scouting toolsavailable to Premier League clubs, most have still been surprised by Sheffield United’s ingenious tactical approach and the hunger and determination that Wilder demands from every member of his squad. There is a Clough-esque element to his ability to bruise the noses of the richest and best.

Who’s happy to void? David Moyes

When Moyes was sacked by West Ham in 2017 to be replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, the club publicly stated that they wanted to move in a different direction. Moyes had won nine of his 31 matches in charge and West Ham felt, not unreasonably, that they could do better. By turning back to Moyes again, they had taken a step backwards.

Moyes was appointed with West Ham in 17th and they are currently 16th, outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone. They have taken five points from their last nine league games. Were the season to end now, not only would West Ham stay in the top flight but the club would probably have to stick with Moyes for the new season. A manager who barely deserved to beappointed would have a shot at sticking around.

Tony Leen, sports editor

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp is, by his own admission, a “really, really bad loser” and it grated a little to hear him dissSimeone and Atletico after Liverpool’s European Cup exit. But nobody’s perfect, not even someone with pristine choppers like Klopp. He’s not far off, though. What a team and a culture he has built at Liverpool; the anxiety for rivals is that other stellar names will find his charms and the project he has put in place at Anfield irresistible if the club owners decide to build from a position of strength.

Overachiever of the season: Some talk on the Wild side

The obvious one is Chris Wilder at Bramall Lane. Hold that thought for a moment. At 72, Roy Hodgson is still winning Premier League games, 10 of them for Palace in a truncated season — that’s more than Arsenal. Hodgson has Palace in 11th. Nuno Espirito Santo is a place above Wilder’s Blades in sixth, albeit with a game more played, proving last season wasn’t the fluke many assumed it to be. Convinced? Nah, me neither. Let’s go Wilder.

Who’s happy to void? Wobbling with a capital W

Of course this depends on whether the Premier League (and their TV paymasters) are OK with putting a full point stop on the season as it stands. Man United would make the Champions League on the basis that Man City’s Uefa ban is upheld, but the Glazers would survive without the euro dosh. Whether Londoners Watford and West Ham would have the capacity to rebound from relegation from the Premier League is a more fundamental issue. As things stand with the league in deep freeze, they are one and two goals respectively above the drop zone (ie goal difference).

Chris Hatherall, soccer writer

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

There are times when, despite the urge to provoke debate, or to disrupt the accepted narrative, you simply cannot ignore the obvious.

Choosing a manager of the year for 2019-20 is one of those occasions.

Chris Wilder at Sheffield United and Brendan Rodgers at Leicester deserve a mention, but to look beyond Jurgen Klopp would be like walking past Pele in a bid to find Darren Bent.

That’s not meant to be a slight to either Wilder or Rodgers, whose work has been outstanding; it’s just that Klopp has been so far ahead of everyone else that, like Brazilian legend Pele, he’s in a category of his own.

Overachiever of the season: Sheffield United

It’s not often a club comes up from the Championship and bamboozles experienced managers with tactics they have never seen before.

Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United have done that, with an attacking style of play that often features overlapping centre-backs, backed up by outstanding physical fitness, immaculate lines, and tactical intelligence.

The end result has been a surprisingly enthralling watch during a serious chase for European places.

Not bad for a team which started the season as 2500-1 for the title, is largely devoid of big names, and was widely tipped for relegation.

Who’s happy to void? West Ham

This hiatus could help disperse a festering undercurrent of frustration at the London Stadium where club’s owners David Sullivan and David Gold have been subject to protests, and where the team, yet again, has under-performed.

The club spent more than €80m last summer in a bid for a Europa League push — but instead, they are in a relegation battle.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini was sacked in December, and replaced by David Moyes, but things haven’t improved, and the next transfer window can’t come quickly enough.

No wonder vice-chairman Karren Brady famously called for the current season to be declared null and void in a bid to keep the Hammers up.

Chris Wilder: appearances deceive.
Chris Wilder: appearances deceive.

Ian Winrow,soccer writer

Manager of the season: Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder’s appearance deceives. The Sheffield United manager may avoid the sharp-suited style of some managers and he certainly steers well clear of the technical jargon employed by others.

The Yorkshireman’s record, however, speaks volumes and his side’s remarkable progress on their return to the Premier League, three seasons after they were promoted from League One, has been built on tactical dexterity and is all the more remarkable for the fact that three of the side that climbed out of the third tier, Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham, and John Fleck, have missed just three league games between them this year. Claims they would run out of steam have proved unfounded and, should the season resume, a Champions League place is a genuine possibility.

Overachiever of the season: Nigel Pearson

Pearson’s impact at Vicarage Road has been such that it’s hard to recall how desperate Watford’s plight was when the former Leicester manager was unexpectedly handed the chance to resume his career in the Premier League after five years in football’s hinterland.

The Hornets were rock bottom of the table, having won just once and collected eight points in 15 league games when Pearson was appointed as the club’s third manager of the season.

Relegation appeared inevitable but the transformation was soon apparent with the engaging 56-year-old winning five of his 14 league games including the stunning 3-0 defeat of Liverpool shortly before the shutdown, to move out of the bottom three.

Who’s happy to void? Jose Mourinho/Tottenham

The bounce that followed Mourinho’s appointment in November had long been forgotten and the Portuguese was once again forced to fend off questions about his methods when the season was suspended. Injuries didn’t help, but Spurs’ campaign was undeniably in decline. Since then, chairman Daniel Levy has done a good job of losing public goodwill with his early decision to furlough non-playing staff while there was already big pressure to spend big in the transfer window. A clean slate gives Mourinho the chance to start afresh with a fully fit squad and claim credit if the club starts moving forward.

Special mention to Gareth Southgate who was facing the prospect of heading into a home Euros without injured strikers Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford.

Larry Ryan, columnist

Manager of year: Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp, of course. When a team is essentially unbeatable, while rarely appearing to play all that brilliantly, the manager must take even more of the credit.

He hasn’t reimagined the game quite like Pep Guardiola, but he has forged a formidable unit out of players that any of the top sides could have afforded.

And he has cracked the trick of keeping energy levels up. Even Poch couldn’t maintain that.

The furlough farrago was the first negative PR that has cone out of Anfield in an age and much of that is down to Klopp’s charm. Maybe when it emerges that he hugged the moneymen into a U-turn we can give him even more credit.

Overachiever of the season: Chris Wilder andSheffield United

If Chris Wilder is reformatting his CV during the shutdown, in the referees section will surely sit — bold and embossed — a testimonial from Pep Guardiola, “I am incredibly impressed. When people say you can improve watching other games, other teams and managers, this is the one. I like it. As a manager you see some teams and you can improve. This is the one.”

Always good too, for an emerging gaffer, to have a novelty to hang his hat on. And Wilder has his overlapping centre-halves.

Plenty of managers have had one-off joy with promoted sides, but Wilder looks to have more about him.

Who’s happy to void? Jose Mourinho

The shelf-life of a Mourinho project looks to be shortening with every spin. So knocking a few months off this campaign might just buy him a little extra at the other end. And perhaps it will be more difficult for him to alienate players via Zoom.

Talk to many of the Tottenham faithful and there is a sense they are tolerating Mourinho on the basis he might just bring them silverware.

So no more cups being handed out this year will be another bonus.

And if the season is scrubbed and Spurs somehow find themselves back in the Champions League, expect Mourinho to find a way to take credit.

Darren Norris, soccer writer

Manager of the season: Chris Wilder

Jurgen Klopp would be the obvious choice but it was pretty obvious before the start of the season that Liverpool were a formidable side likely to get even better. It also seemed pretty obvious that the newly-promoted clubs would struggle but, while that proved the case with Norwich and Aston Villa, Sheffield United have silenced the doubters in spectacular fashion, sitting above the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal and bang in the mix for a place in Europe.

That’s a truly spectacular achievement on the part of Chris Wilder, a man who seems to have a low tolerance for excuses.

Overachiever of the season: Adama Traore

There was a time not so long ago when Adama Traore would drive you demented. Blessed with incredible raw pace and power, he seemed to have two of the three

ingredients to be a serious player but, all too often, he fell woefully short on the third, end product. But this season, the 24-year-old has finally put it all together, a return of four goals and seven assists in the Premier League only beginning to tell the story. It’s no wonder the Wolves man is one of the most fouled players in the top flight, there’s simply no other way of stopping him.

Who’s happy to void? Arsenal

Three managers, a captaincy debacle, and a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium mean Arsenal will be glad to see the back of this season. After a reasonable first season, the Unai Emery era unravelled quickly with his inability to communicate effectively and his lack of leadership on the captaincy issue proving his downfall. Freddie Ljungberg couldn’t stop the bleeding before Mikel Arteta got the nod full-time. Consistency remained an issue under the new man but he certainly talks a good game and that gives Arsenal fans hope that better days lie ahead. That said, he has a lot of sorting out to do.

Nick Callow,soccer writer

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

Last season’s Champions League success did not begin to satisfy the appetite of the Liverpool boss. He used it as an incentive to go one better and close what was only a narrow gap on Premier League champions and got his players at their peak form the very start of the season.

This current suspension or not, Liverpool were as good as champions by Christmas, but Klopp never took his foot off the gas. A master motivator, a keen tactician, and a supreme communicator to players, fans and, media alike.

Running him close were Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder for his feats with a newly promoted side, Nuno Espirito Santo for taking Wolves a step forward despite starting the season in the Europa League when most of hisrivals were on the beach.

And an honourable mention for new Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta. His side are the only league team in England unbeaten in 2020.

Overachiever of the season: Sheffield United

Chris Wilder’s side were seventh in the table, two points off a possible Champions League place and with a game in hand over nearest rivals Manchester United when the Premier League shuddered to a halt.

United came up as the least fanciest of a trio including Norwich City and big-spending Aston Villa.

The latter pair will be fighting to avoid relegation when play resumes, but Sheffield United will only be looking up.

They play attractive football, have an unbreakableteam spirit, and an innovative, likeable manager. They deserve to be where they are, if not higher. It is a fairytale rivalled by only Leicester City’s remarkable title win under Claudio Ranieri in recent seasons.

Who’s happy to void? Tottenham

The wheels were coming off for Jose Mourinho as his side followed crashing out of Europe by sliding down the Premier League table with hopes of qualifying for Europe’s elite competition again next season fading fast.

Their FA Cup departure ended with England international Eric Dier confronting fans in the stands. A draw and two defeats from their last three games tells the story, but Mourinho can use this premature end to a season as a chance to pretend he was on the verge of making things better with star players such as Harry Kane returning to fitness.

A diminishing transfer market and lack of funds available at many of the bigger clubs makes it more likely he will be able to hang on to Kane too.

Gerry Cox, soccer writer

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

Sometimes we try to be too clever when the answer is staring us in the face, but Jurgen Klopp has overseen a season like no other in the history of the Premier League era. There may be a side that went unbeatenin the league, and another that played more thrilling football, but to be 25 points clear at this stage isbreathtaking. Liverpool have monstered the league, and Klopp is the reason why. Relentless, demanding, and brilliantly inspiring the team he has built from scratch in five years. There is no-one who comes close to his perfection as a manager this year.

Overachiever of the season: Tammy Abrahams

I was publicly outed by my work colleagues whenAbraham first got an England call-up two years ago, having gone on record as saying I thought I, in my 50s, was more deserving of international football. Ungainly, indisciplined, downright ugly in style, I genuinely thought Abraham had reached his level with a so-so Aston Villa side in the Championship. That was until the start of this season when he started banging in goals for Chelsea, leading the line in style, and keeping out the vastly more experienced Olivier Giroud.

I still think he has a long way to go to catch the likes of Harry Kane and even Marcus Rashford for a place in the England front line, but I am glad to say TammyAbraham has proved me wrong. And he is one helluva nice guy to deal with, too.

Who’s happy to void? Karren Brady

West Ham would be ecstatic to avoid the embarrassment of looming relegation, as Karren Brady admitted shamelessly by pushing the idea of voiding the season. Only goal difference keeps them out of the bottom three, and they were on a woeful run of form. It’s a truism that games in hand are meaningless if you are not picking up points, and the majority of their remaining games are against teams from the top half of the table. Brady may be unlikeable but she was right to call for voiding the season The Hammers look doomed if it restarts.

Tommy Martin, columnist

Manager of the season: Jurgen Klopp

The modern football manager must be half-poet, half-engineer. They must design and build high-endsystems of athletic performance, data-based machines with functioning, durable parts. But they must also give them a reason to perform; a why, as well as a how. Klopp is the ghost in the machine for Liverpool. They are cleverly constructed, the perfect modern mix of power, speed, and tactical nuance, but they also play as if they have some higher purpose. Klopp’s genius has been to join the club’s component parts together in one relentless, questing organism; and that, to quote another poet, has made all the difference.

Over-achievers of the season: Chris Wilder and Sheffield United

There is absolutely no way that a club that had spent 13 seasons outside the top flight should, upon their return, stomp their way toward the higher reaches of the table with such scant respect for the niceties of the Premier League pecking order. But that is what Sheffield United have done, with mostly the same collection of Dickensian-sounding no-names (Baldock, Basham, and Fleck, etc) that got them there. They have provided real tactical novelty with the gambolling runs of their overlapping centre-halves and, over it all, Chris Wilder, whose central casting Yorkshireman persona belies a sophisticated managerial mind.

Who’s happy to void? Tottenham

Oh, Tottenham. If ever there was a club that would eagerly vote for the 2019/20 season to be scrubbed from the record books, it would be last season’s beatenChampions League finalists — although the seeds of their wretched fall from grace were sown long before this campaign. MauricioPochettino’s sacking felt inevitable, as his hold over a flagging squad began to slip, but reaching for Jose Mourinho’s tired schtick only hastened the sense of a club losing direction. Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son might still have dragged them out of the mire — when they got injured, all hope was lost.

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