PFA Player of the Year Candidates: Who Deserves it?

Eden Hazard

The Belgian international is one league goal away from making this his highest-scoring season since arriving in England. He’s been outstanding this campaign and has certainly played a big part in guiding Chelsea to their fourth league title and Conte’s first in English football.

He was voted the PFA player of the year in Chelsea’s victorious 14/15 campaign in which the Blues effectively strolled to the title with little resistance, and it would be anything but ridiculous to suggest the player has gone up another level since then.

The season after, Hazard disappeared, as did all of the Chelsea players. It is certainly an unwanted blotch on his Chelsea CV, but it could be quite reasonably argued that his stale performances were down to a loss of ability. As proved to be the case, it was the manager in charge, current United boss Mourinho, that had been a key factor in many of the players’ dip in form.

If Real Madrid managed to pry Hazard from Conte, it would take some doing to replace him. He said recently that he was happy at Chelsea, and it’s safe to assume similar sentiments will be uttered by the Belgian from now until the end of the season, when he is likely to have yet another Premier League medal around his neck.

In all fairness, what else would he, could he say when asked about his future?

Chance of winning: 7/10

 

Harry Kane

The Tottenham forward is just one league goal away from reaching his own personal milestone: should he net again (which could easily happen this weekend against Bournemouth where he is likely to return to the starting eleven) it will mark three consecutive Premier League seasons in which he has managed a total of twenty goals or more.

It’s been another remarkable season for Kane, but also for Tottenham. It’s unbelievable the job Pochettino has done with this team and the club as a whole since taking over. If you had been told three years ago that for the next two Premier League campaigns, Tottenham would be the closest challengers to the title favourites, you would have probably enjoyed a nice hearty chuckle.

Harry Kane has been the beating heart of this rise. If Pochettino wants to continue to build on the club’s ambitions, keeping Kane at the club is of top priority. Sure, during his recent injury spell, Tottenham refused to crumble, with other players such as Son and certainly Deli Alli stepping up and proving that this team is anything but a one-man side.

But with Kane in the side, holding up play, finding the correct positions and scoring some outstanding goals, Spurs are a real force.

The title is yet to be won this season, albeit it could be decided should Chelsea beat United on Sunday, but Tottenham have been the only other team this season who have shown any real consistency and will to catch the leaders up. Harry Kane deserved all the plaudits he will undoubtedly get.

Chance of winning: 8/10

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

There is no doubt that Ibra has been United’s best player this season. With United lacking a prolific forward for the last couple of years, Zlatan has come in and done his part in a side that is not enjoying a massively successful season under Mourinho.

At thirty-six years of age, the Swede has proved all doubters and sceptics wrong. He has scored seventeen goals in the Premier League, twenty-eight in total; a remarkable return for a player who many saw as possibly on the wane and not up to another season in a top European league.

The issue with Ibra has been the number of games he has gone quiet, where he has had very little impact going forward and essentially been anonymous. He is certainly the kind of player who can pop up out of no where to produce a bit of magic, but the problem is that United, and Mourinho, need a striker who can have more say in games.

This is not to dump all blame on Zlatan however. United have managed to draw twelve games in the league so far, more than any other team, and that is down to an regularly mis-firing front line, with other players besides Zlatan being at fault.

The reason Zlatan will not win the PFA player of the year is simply down to the fact that he has exceeded most people’s expectations, but the trouble is those expectations were rather low to begin with.

However, this is not at all to downgrade his efforts this season; he has been tremendous and without him, it’s worrying from a United fan’s perspective where the team would be without his goals.

Chance of winning: 7/10

 

Romelu Lukaku

As the Premier League’s current top scorer, the big Belgian, still in his early twenties and with more yet to learn about his craft, Lukaku has propelled himself to being one of the best strikers in the country.

He is a nightmare for defenders, most of whom he can bully with ease, pulling them all over the field and allowing space for the likes of Barkley and Mirallas. But his finishing is his finest tool. He has bagged twenty-three goals this season, a record high for him in England.

One major criticism of Lukaku is that he does tend to go quiet in a number of games in which he is desperately needed, notably in games against bigger teams. He’s scored twice in two games against Man City, and once against Spurs, a game which they lost. Apart from that, Lukaku has failed to score in any other games against sides in the top six, and they only have Chelsea left to play in that bracket.

With the PFA player of the season accolade normally given to a player of a top four team or that of the eventual champions, it’s difficult to see Lukaku picking up the award, even if he ends up as top scorer.

However, his efforts certainly will not go unnoticed, and it will be interesting to see whether Koeman and the Everton owner can convince Lukaku to stay in Merseyside for at least one more season.

Chance of winning: 6/10

 

Alexis Sanchez

If there was an award handed out to players who have looked like the only ones who give a damn amongst their under-performing teammates, then Sanchez would be a top candidate.

He has been Arsenal’s best player this season, but in the last month or two, even he has dropped off the boil a tad. This could be massively worrying for fans, as he was their last hope in regards to maintaining a top four spot. But, in light of recent results, just snatching a top four place surely is not enough to save what has been an ultimately negative season for the Gunners.

In the last eight league games, Sanchez has scored three goals and provided two assists.

It is hard to see how the Chilean could sign a new contract and remain at Arsenal, especially if Wenger decides to stick around. Not to delve too much into the subject, but Arsenal are only going backwards under Wenger, and for a player of Sanchez’s ability and hunger, a move away has to be the call.

You don’t win the PFA award for carrying a team through a terribly mediocre campaign. You deserve heaps of credit and recognition, but Sanchez has his teammates and manager to thank for not being more competitive this season.

Chance of winning: 4/10

 

 

N’Golo Kante

The only downside to Kante’s incredible overall performance this season is that he may not be around for too long.

It’s difficult to imagine the likes of Real Madrid not coming in for the French midfielder, and it is even more difficult to imagine a scenario where Kante would be able to say no and remain at Stamford Bridge.

He has gone from the unsung hero at Leicester who helped them on the way to a historic league win, to the player who in most people’s eyes has been Chelsea’s most important player this season and will for the second year in a row be an integral part of a league-winning side.

He has been many people’s shout for player of the year for a while now. Other names crop up for sure, but no one has had a bigger influence on a side, been a more important asset than N’Golo Kante.

It will be a most refreshing thing should Kante win PFA player of the year. It would remind a lot of people that football is by no means all about scoring goals.

With the Ballon D’or for the last ten years been only concerned with handing the prestigious award to players whose main achievement has been in the goal-scoring department, Kante’s triumph would also serve to puncture a hole in this current climate in which the under-appraisal of defenders and midfielders is commonplace and the over-appraisal of goalscorers is rife.

Kante deserves this award because he has upped his game, he has stepped up another level in his performances. We all knew how good a player he had been for Leicester once the title was theirs. He then made the move to Chelsea, where he has been even better and announced himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe.

As well as that, the Frenchman will probably be challenging for league titles and competing in the Champions League for the rest of his career.

Chance of winning: 10/10

 

DAVID NEWMAN

 

 

 

Arsene Wenger: Now is the Time

It’s an utter falsehood to say that Wenger would be in danger of tarnishing his legacy if he extended his stay at Arsenal. The falsehood, in this case, doesn’t pertain to the suggested absurdity of sacking a manager following a history of incredible success; Ranieri being a prime and very recent example.

With Arsenal’s longest-serving and present manager, the argument in that statement arises when the notion of a manager who is yet to tarnish a legacy is made.

The second half of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal can be neatly summarised by his landmark thousandth game in charge; an achievement which his counterpart in the dugout last night at the Emirates has just recently marked, though Carlo Ancelotti has done this with several different teams as opposed to just one. Even still, if you were to adopt an outsider’s point of view and consider the question “which of the two managers would naturally command a noteworthy performance from their team on their thousandth game; the long-term, faithful manager who has won numerous trophies, or the new guy, yet to complete a full season with his side?”, it’s safe to say most would gun for the former.

On the 25th February, Bayern hosted Hamburg in the Bundesliga, the match which marked Ancelotti’s one-thousandth game as a professional manager. The team went out and marked the occasion by winning 8-0.

On the 22nd March 2014, Wenger’s landmark achievement ended with a 6-0 demolishing away to Chelsea.

That tells you all you need to know about this Arsenal team in recent years.

Last night, yet another Champions League campaign came to an abrupt end in the last-sixteen phase. It’s certainly not something the club and its fans are unaccustomed to, with so many previous seasons mirroring this pattern. But with the growing speculation about Sanchez, their best player, wanting to leave and possibly becoming frustrated at Arsenal’s lack of winning mentality, and just the sheer brutality with which Bayern disposed of the London club, it feels more than just disappointment this time around.

It’s definitely starting to feel like this will be Wenger’s last season, and the man himself might well know it.

After the match he said he was “sorry for all the fans who had paid a lot of money to come and watch” which was rather telling. It’s not often a manager or players in interviews will acknowledge the truth that fans pay very good money to watch football, and that when they pay to see their team lose, it can be mightily frustrating.

I don’t remember Wenger saying the same thing when they lost 6-0 away to Chelsea, 8-2 to Man United, 4-3 to Liverpool at home, 2-1 to Watford at home…he didn’t even say it when they lost the first leg 5-1 in Munich last month.

Wenger will have been thankful there were dodgy decisions made by the officials last night, because without them, he’d have had nothing else to say in his post-match interviews other than to apologise to the fans.

Reports say that there is a two-year extension sitting on the table, waiting for Wenger to ink his name onto it. But, as I feel most Arsenal fans would also say, it’s difficult and maybe even impossible to call upon any shred of evidence to suggest he deserves more time at the club, especially with their best player not looking at all likely he’ll stick around come the summer.

What could be worrying for the fans is that it’s them that Wenger must convince that he can improve the situation by staying another season. The boards, Arsenal owners, have not needed much convincing at all for a number of years; simply that Wenger’s track record of maintaining a top-four spot is good enough to keep him in charge.

This Arsenal team, with this manager, are being overtaken by the other teams at the top and left coughing from the dust that billowed in their wake. Since Pochettino took charge of Tottenham, even they look now more likely to win the league than Arsenal.

Wenger, should he make the ludicrous decision to actually keep on going as Arsenal manager, could be in serious danger of falling short of the title to their London rivals down the line.

It honestly felt more than likely, that if Leicester had fallen short last season and Tottenham emerged victorious, Wenger would have walked. That could be what it takes at this stage for Wenger to finally see sense and step down.

The top four is looking no-where near a certainty, their Champions League run has come to another predictable end thanks to an utterly embarrassing 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern, Sanchez is probably not going to extend his contract, Ozil may well do but judging by his last performances he could be better off leaving, the Arsenal fans are growing increasingly angry, with more and more banners turning up at the Emirates, and to top it all off, Wenger, in his warped judgement, may just decide to sign that two-year extension. You never know.

The smart move would be for Wenger to leave, to perhaps even announce it within the next few weeks. If he did, the team might feel the best way to see off Arsenal’s most successful manager ever, would be to string some commendable performances together and play like a team worthy of a manager of Wenger’s longevity.

It probably won’t happen, and no one but Arsene Wenger himself will know what he plans on doing. One thing is for sure though; whatever he decides, it won’t be met with indifference.

 

WRITTEN BY DAVID NEWMAN

PSG 4 – 0 Barcelona: French Champions give best performance of their season, and could prove crucial for Barca’s future

The last time Barcelona were dismantled 4-0 away from home in the Champions League, a similar thought had entered the mind: was this a passive performance from the Spanish giants, or was it their opponents simply having too much for them to deal with.

When the game ended, and Bayern Munich with their 4-0 cushion knew they had essentially booked their place in the 2013 Champions League final, there was a strange feeling of something great coming to an end. It certainly felt as though the mighty Barcelona, with their mighty Messi, would be making way for teams like Bayern Munich in terms of European dominance.

As it happened, it wasn’t exactly the case. That summer, Neymar signed from Santos, a player widely regarded to be the next big thing. Then the following year, after the World Cup ended, Luis Suarez signed from Liverpool. Together with the talismanic Messi, the three have formed possibly the most dangerous and potent front line in history.

In May of 2014, in walked former Celta Vigo manager Luis Enrique to take over from the short lived Gerardo Martino. That 14/15 season, after a difficult start for Enrique – who the Spanish press were convinced had not won over the likes of Messi and reported rumblings of disquiet from within the camp – brought their first treble since 2009.

Crisis? What crisis?

Now, here we are in 2017, as we enter the knockout stages of another Champions League campaign, and it’s happened to Barcelona again.

Enrique’s side came up against a PSG team who for once in the last four years are not walking to the French league title without much resistance. The first leg was played at the Parc De Princes on February 14th, during a month when usually the current French champions have their sights on European progression, with their domestic chores having already been seen to for another season.

PSG dominated the game, they were hungry for the ball – something which they usually are in European games but the energy tends to ebb in the second half – they were relentless in possession and without the ball too. All in all, they wanted to win more.

Unai Emery was no doubt brought in for his European experience and because he had the trophies to show for it. Three Europa League titles on the bounce was enough to convince the rich Qatari owners that this was the man who could bring to PSG what Laurent Blanc was unable to; European calibre.

In regards to this match in Paris, the original question rears its head again; was this Barcelona on an off day, or PSG on a very “on” day?

Barca’s flatness can’t be ignored. You’ll never see a more anonymous performance from two players who many regard respectively as the best player and best striker on Earth. Suarez and Messi were invisible. Their only real attacking threat came from the third prong of the trident. Brazilian Neymar showed flashes of his brilliance and wicked pace, but it just wasn’t enough.

It must have been a terribly frustrating night for Neymar. He looked like the only player who was in some way up for it, who wanted to push for that precious away goal. His frustration can be summed up when at one point he burst up that left wing, cut inside, bombed past two or three players and played a beautifully timed and weighted pass to Andre Gomes, putting him in on goal, but the Portuguese couldn’t convert.

Barcelona’s deficiencies could be talked about at length, but I think it was the calibre of PSG’s performance that proved the vital component in this resounding victory.

Three or four players from the Paris could have earned the man of the match accolade. Had Marco Verratti not been unfortunate enough to pick up an injury at the hour mark and be subbed, he would have easily earned it.

The Italian is fast being recognised as one of the best young midfielders in Europe. His composure on the ball, his vision and passing ability, the way he wriggles away from challenges with a terrifying ease, he could remind the average football viewer of a younger Iniesta, and I do believe the young Paris player could soon end up at the club where the World Cup and European Cup winner made his name as one of the best players ever to grace a pitch.

Perhaps the only plus side of Verratti making an early exit was that it gave the crowd an opportunity to show their appreciation for the Italian’s wonderful performance with a thunderous round of applause that had the air of unending respect and adulation.

Adrian Rabiot saw out the full ninety minutes, and he was absolutely tremendous throughout. Both defensively and going forward, the young Frenchman put in possibly his best performance for the club. He won tackles all over the pitch and showed a real determination when engaging in attacks. The guy just didn’t stop working. He picked up a yellow card very early into the game, which normally would be the kind of thing to make a midfielder ease off his subsequent challenges and be more careful, but the way Rabiot played for the rest of the game, you’d never have guessed he was in the book since the tenth minute. He and Verratti ran the show.

Kimpembe had a great game at the back in the absence of captain Thiago Silva, who is the real source of stability and experience in that defensive line. Very late on, he made a tackle from within his own box that if mistimed, could have resulted in a penalty and an away goal for Barcelona. But it was perfectly executed, and alongside Marquinos in central defense, the pair kept an in-form Suarez from doing much at all.

The star of the show was Di Maria, who scored a brace and is certainly looking back to his world-class best, which certainly wasn’t the case during his brief time at United, during which Di Maria had subsequently admitted he was constantly played out of his favoured position by Van Gaal. With new-ish siging Draxler operating on the opposite wing, and Cavani playing up front, the three gave a real balance and freshness to the side going forward and were a nightmare for Barcelona’s back line throughout the match.

A performance such as this will really make people sit up and take notice of PSG. If they put in performances like this every game, they’ll win the thing.

The tie is not over yet however. If there is one team in the world you would back to overcome a four-nil deficit (even providing that such a feat has never been achieved in the Champions League knockout rounds before), it would be Barcelona. But because of the ease with which some of the goals came in the first leg, PSG will probably back themselves to score at the Nou Camp, thus effectively sealing their place in the quarter-finals, a stage in the competition which they are yet to surpass since the Qatari investment group bought the club in 2011.

With the Ligue 1 title still within their sights and a very positive re-start to the European campaign, it could turn out to be a very successful first season for Emery.

Does this spell the end for another glorious reign at Barcelona? With a very early European exit looking likely, and with a seven-point gap between themselves and Real Madrid being a big possibility once Madrid have played their games in hand, this season may very well be Enrique’s last. But, as with the damaging defeat at Bayern Munich (and the eventual 7-0 aggregate score resulting in the second-leg loss), this defeat to PSG in particular could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It could be the sign that perhaps another change is needed.

WRITTEN BY DAVID NEWMAN