The alternative 2020 awards: Bruno Fernandes doing a Cantona

The alternative ‘if Liverpool didn’t exist’ season awards 
The alternative 2020 awards: Bruno Fernandes doing a Cantona
Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes scores his side's first goal of the game from a penalty during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester. 

The 2019-20 campaign will be remembered for two things; Liverpool and coronavirus — and any awards night would surely be filled with the names and memories associated with the Kop’s first title win in 30 years.

But what if Liverpool were not there? Who else contributed to a memorable season?

Here we look at the stars who shone but didn’t win a championship medal… 

Most entertaining player: Adama Traore (Wolves) 

Adama Traore. Photo: Michael Steele/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Adama Traore. Photo: Michael Steele/NMC Pool/PA Wire

There is no more thrilling sight than Traore, with the arms of a bodybuilder and the feet of a gazelle, turning on the after-burners to leave opponents in his wake. At times he is so good that he’s simply unstoppable; and this season he has added a final ball to his repertoire.

Biggest impact:  Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) 

Bruno Fernandes. Photo: Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Bruno Fernandes. Photo: Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

He’s only been here since January but the Portuguese star’s impact on United’s team and season has been profound. Eight goals, seven assists and some nerveless penalties tell the story, but there’s far more to it than that. United fans are already comparing him to Eric Cantona for the way he has changed expectations at Old Trafford.

Most over-rated:  Dele Alli (Tottenham) 

Dele Alli. Photo: Warren Little/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Dele Alli. Photo: Warren Little/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Chelsea’s Calum Hudson-Odoi was a candidate but fell into the ‘underachiever’ category. Instead the award goes to Tottenham’s much-vaunted but often mentally absent Dele Alli. There were early signs of a renaissance under Jose Mourinho, but the overall picture is of a player whose reputation is bigger than his performance.

Most under-rated player:  Oliver Norwood (Sheffield United) 

Oliver Norwood. Photo: Peter Powell/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Oliver Norwood. Photo: Peter Powell/NMC Pool/PA Wire

You could probably pick any one of Sheffield United’s hard-working starting 11, but midfielder Oliver Norwood has flown almost entirely under the radar. The 29-year-old has played more than 40 games and contributed three goals, but his real value comes in an excellent array of passing skills and a level of consistency few midfielders can match.

Surprise package:  Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) 

Jack Grealish. Photo: Oli Scarff/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Jack Grealish. Photo: Oli Scarff/NMC Pool/PA Wire

People always knew Grealish had talent — that’s why Spurs tried to sign him and the Republic fought to keep him. But nobody realised he would be this good. To say he has been Villa’s player of the season is a huge understatement; he’s looked a class above everyone around him. Creating goals, scoring goals, carrying the ball with him, drawing fouls; he makes an impact in every game.

Best value signing: Allan Saint-Maximin 

Allan Saint-Maximin. Photo: Michael Regan/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Allan Saint-Maximin. Photo: Michael Regan/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Signed from Nice for £16m, Saint-Maximin has turned out to be a bargain — and you feel there is untapped potential still to mine. Quick, direct, tricky, exciting, it’s no wonder he’s a hero with the Toon Army. Three goals and four assists sound like a relatively modest return but his attacking energy has carried Newcastle.

Result of the season: Norwich 3 Manchester City 2 

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shakes hands with the Norwich City players after the Premier League match at Carrow Road, Norwich last September. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shakes hands with the Norwich City players after the Premier League match at Carrow Road, Norwich last September. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

City hadn’t lost since January when they visited Carrow Road in September 2019 to play a promoted team who were everyone’s favourites to go straight back down. There couldn’t have been a bigger mismatch. And yet, Norwich stunned everyone by winning with goals from Kenny McLean, Todd Cantwell and Teem Pukki.

Goal of the season: Heung-Min Son v Burnley, December 2019 

Heung-Min Son. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Heung-Min Son. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

Tottenham’s player of the year was outstanding all season, but this goal was from a different planet. The South Korean picked up the ball just outside his own penalty area and just kept on going. It took 12 seconds and 12 touches to travel the length of the field, weaving past defenders, but he guided a shot past Nick Pope to help Spurs win 5-0.

Tweet of the season: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) 

Rashford's open letter to MPs urging the UK government to continue paying for school meals for disadvantaged children over the summer led to a change in policy. Rashford's response was memorable: "I don't even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together. THIS is England in 2020."

Cock up of the season: Goal line technology goes AWOL, Aston Villa v Sheffield United, June 2020 

Oliver Norwood. Photo: Rui Vieira/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Oliver Norwood. Photo: Rui Vieira/NMC Pool/PA Wire

There have been own-goals, missed tackles and missed penalties; but no player has made a bigger gaffe than the officials when Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood scored against Aston Villa on the first day of Project Restart. Television pictures showed the ball clearly crossed the line, but goal line technology didn’t beep and VAR didn’t intervene as the game ended goalless.

Worst performance of the season: David Luiz, Man City v Arsenal, June 2020 

David Luiz. Photo: Michael Regan/NMC Pool/PA Wire
David Luiz. Photo: Michael Regan/NMC Pool/PA Wire

The Arsenal defender is a player the media loves to deride, and he had a day to forget against City at the Etihad in June. Having come off the bench, he made a terrible error to allow Raheem Sterling to score the opener, gave away a penalty and then got himself sent off. The kind of hat-trick that gives you nightmares. He went on to concede five penalties across the season – a record.

Best attacking display: Southampton 0 Leicester City 9, October 2019 

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers gestures on the touchline during the match with Southampton. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers gestures on the touchline during the match with Southampton. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Sensational Leicester tore poor Southampton apart at St Mary’s. The goals were spread around; three for Ayoze Perez, three for Jamie Vardy, and one each for Ben Chillwell, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison. The last of those came in the 85th minute, emphasising just how ruthless the Foxes were..

Most improved player: Danny Ings (Southampton) 

Danny Ings
Danny Ings

Supporters of the former Liverpool man will tell you he always had potential to be a top goalscorer, but nobody could have predicted his remarkable rise to stardom this year in an inconsistent Southampton side. Ings, back from two serious knee injuries, has scored 25 goals in all competitions, including 22 in the Premier League. A remarkable story.

Manager of the year: Chris Wilder (Sheffield United) 

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder (right). Photo: Jason Cairnduff/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder (right). Photo: Jason Cairnduff/NMC Pool/PA Wire

What Wilder has done with his Blades since earning promotion is nothing short of remarkable. Not only has he taken them to the top 10 but also won an army of fans for his positive attitude and innovative tactics — had anyone heard of overlapping centre-backs before this campaign?

Best recovery: Ralph Hassenhuttl (Southampton) 

The best headline for Hassenhuttl’s recovery programme at Southampton read ‘from 0-9 to cloud nine’ and that sums things up perfectly. When the Saints went down to that record home defeat against Leicester, they were 18th in the table and sinking fast. But somehow their German manager has turned things around and even masterminded a victory over Man City.

Best behind closed doors player: Kevin de Bruyne (Man City) 

Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne

It’s no surprise that De Bruyne, the best player before lockdown, was also the best without a crowd. His record since Project Restart included goals against Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea and Norwich. That’s 15 goals in all this season plus 19 assists.

Best young player: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) 

Mason Greenwood. Photo: Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool/PA Wire
Mason Greenwood. Photo: Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Ten Premier League goals and 34 appearances in his first full season show Greenwood is going to be a United superstar, and he is only 18. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already described him as the best finisher he has worked with.

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