With the end of the season fast approaching, the time has come for players and pundits alike to start thinking about their nominations for the Premier League annual awards.
The crowning of titles such as Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Manager of the Year are well coveted in the English game, with the list of previous winners a who’s who of Premier League royalty.
With the deadlines fast approaching, the writers at 101 Great Goals have had their say on who should be recognised in the 2021/22 season.
Player of the Year – Mohamed Salah
Ben Browning: Traditionally, this award is reserved for players who have won the league title, and while Liverpool may still manage this feat, it is Manchester City who are in the driving seat.
However, it is impossible not to opt for Mohamed Salah. Even after missing a month’s worth of football for the Africa Cup of Nations, the Egyptian still sits pretty atop both the goalscoring and assist charts (with 21 and 13 respectively).
While Liverpool’s ethos is very much about the team, the individual brilliance of Salah time and time again has been the difference-maker, and even with his contract situation looming large over his head, he has continued to perform.
Andrew Thompson: There is not much left to say when it comes to Salah. Already well on his way to hero status at Liverpool, he has once again proven that he can go toe-to-toe with the best in the business both at home and abroad this season, but in the Premier League he has remained a leading light for Jurgen Klopp’s men as they embark on what could end in a historic quadruple.
Currently topping the league in both goals (22) and assists (13), Salah has been sublime for much of the season where few could stand and be counted in the same breath. Despite a lull in form, his presence on the pitch is such that Liverpool still benefit from his mere existence. When you’re that good, you know you have done something right.
Conor Laird: This year, it just feels impossible to ignore Salah’s credentials as the Premier League’s Player of the Year.
Kevin De Bruyne has of course been superb, with the Manchester City midfielder’s penchant for stepping up when his side need him most just another testament to his long-standing brilliance, but managing just 21 league starts across the season to date certainly works against the Belgian.
Sky Blues teammate Joao Cancelo, meanwhile, has too continued to light up the English top-flight, with Heung-min Son, Declan Rice and Virgil van Dijk also deserving of a special mention.
But Salah, as Liverpool continue to hunt down Man City at the division’s summit, should be considered the clear frontrunner for the prestigious POTY accolade, with his dazzling individual effort in Liverpool’s showdown with Manchester City back in October a candidate for Goal of the Season.
Josh Barker: Several players have impressed over the course of the 2021/22 campaign. Heung-min Son is in the midst of arguably his best-ever season in a Tottenham shirt, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo has remained a threat in front of goal despite being in the twilight of his career.
In reality, though, there is only one choice for the 2021/22 Premier League Player of the Year. That is Mohamed Salah.
The Liverpool forward has dominated every side he has faced this term and is on course to finish the campaign with the most goals and most assists in the English top-flight. Even during his ‘bad’ spell following the African Cup of Nations, Salah still managed one goal and one assist in five league games – with that assist helping Liverpool secure a huge point against title rivals, Manchester City.
Young Player of the Year – Bukayo Saka
Ben Browning: Crystal Palace’s Connor Gallagher and Manchester City forward Phil Foden both merited careful consideration for this award, but I have opted for Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka to scoop up this accolade.
Having missed a crucial penalty in the final of Euro 2020, it would have been understandable for the then 19 year old to struggle to recover, but Saka has done the opposite. In fact, his 11 goals make him his side’s top goalscorer, while he has also provided five assists in Arsenal’s hunt for a top four spot.
He is so much more than his goal contributions however, with his ability one-on-one now marking him out as one of the most feared wingers in the English top flight, and this season has taken him from an outside shot for the Euro 2020 squad to a shoo-in for the 2022 World Cup squad.
Andrew Thompson: Arsenal fans (yes, I too am one) have earned their stripes when it comes to Hale End product Bukayo Saka.
For long periods of time, many were waiting for the shoe to drop when it came to the England youngster and expected him to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. His missed penalty at the Euro’s could have broken his confidence, but instead, the London-native used it as fuel to become one of the most vaunted young players in Europe this season. Still just 20-years-old, he is now one of the key pieces of the Mikel Arteta puzzle at the Emirates and unquestionably one of the most influential in the team.
He’s been brilliant even when he was running on fumes, and the fact that he sits in the top 10 in the Premier League in goals speaks to his progression.
Conor Laird: Behind Phil Foden in the current bookmakers’ odds for the prize, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka earns my vote for the Premier League’s Young Player of the Year.
Showcasing remarkable mental fortitude in bouncing back from his personal role in the English national team’s finale heartbreak at Euro 2020, Saka has taken his game to another level this term, currently sitting on 16 direct goal contributions in the English top-flight, just shy of one every two games.
Add to this the fact that he has often been tasked with carrying an otherwise laboured Arsenal attack on his 20-year-old shoulders, and the YPOTY debate, in my opinion, sways very much towards the Gunners’ gifted wide-man.
As has proven the case with Manchester City teammate De Bruyne, Phil Foden’s case for the award should be dampened by the fact that he has managed just 21 starts -10 less than Saka – a testament to the latter’s altogether more considerable importance to his side’s endeavours on a weekly basis.
It would too be remiss, though, not to highlight the efforts of Chelsea youngsters Reece James and Conor Gallagher, the latter of course in the midst of a hugely productive loan spell with Crystal Palace.
Josh Barker: Bukayo Saka headed into the 2021/22 season on the back of an incredibly disappointing Euro 2020 that saw the winger miss a crucial penalty in the final against Italy.
Given his age, it would not have been at all surprising to see Saka’s confidence destroyed by that experience. However, the Arsenal star has responded to the setback by having a superb 2021/22, carrying Arsenal’s Champions League hopes firmly on his back.
The youngster has stepped up to the plate in north London in the absence of a goal-scoring striker, netting 11 and assisting five in the Premier League. Said return also makes Saka the highest-scoring player in the Premier League aged 21 or under this season, with Emile Smith Rowe, Saka’s teammate, next on that list with 10 goals and two assists.
Manager of the Year – Jurgen Klopp
Ben Browning: It had to be David Moyes that scooped up this award, having continued his extraordinary turnaround with West Ham this season. The Hammers, who lost Jesse Lingard in the summer after he helped them to fifth place last season, have continued to impress despite operating across four competitions with a threadbare squad.
It may still all come undone at the final stages, and the London club could still miss out on European football next year. But, the football that the club have played, and the atmosphere that they have been able to create around a notoriously fickle club, is all down to one man.
Andrew Thompson: Even if Liverpool do not go on to win the Premier League this season in their attempts to catch and leapfrog rivals Manchester City, the season that the Reds have produced under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp surely puts him as the winner here. There are many that feel the Merseyside outfit are the better side by comparison, and the fact that they are still in the hunt for a quadruple speaks to just how good they have become under the former Borussia Dortmund headmaster.
His passion for what he does is unmatched, and the connection he has made not just with the fans, but all of his players, speaks volumes. For a manager that many felt was out of his depth in his first season at Anfield, how Liverpool have evolved during his tenure could be on the cusp of culminating in history making.
Conor Laird: Of the three categories, this one proved the most difficult to call.
Though the eventual outcome of the title race will prove who, all told, is most deserving of the status of Premier League Manager of the Year, for me, it is Jurgen Klopp who JUST pips Pep Guardiola to the post.
His ability to keep Liverpool challenging on all fronts throughout the season while playing such a high intensity brand of football has been taken for granted in some quarters. Not only has Klopp pushed his side to close the gap on City to a solitary point at the summit of England’s top tier, but he has done so whilst bagging the League Cup, booking a spot in the finale of the FA Cup, and setting one foot in the Champions League’s showpiece occasion, too.
Add to this the remarkably impressive manner in which the German coped with the AFCON-based absences of both Mohamed Salah AND Sadio Mane, and has managed to keep a squad brimming with talent both motivated and happy with life at Anfield, and the arguments in Klopp’s favour just outweigh those for Guardiola.
When it comes to other names worthy of a special mention, Newcastle’s explosive resurgence under the watch of Eddie Howe should not be overlooked, Bruno Lage has thoroughly impressed overseeing a threadbare squad at Wolves, whilst the ultimate winner of the top-four race between Antonio Conte’s Tottenham and Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will too be deserving of widespread commendation.
Josh Barker: Outside of the top two teams, few managers have impressed that much. Mikel Arteta could be in with a shot at Manger of the Year should he get Arsenal into the top four.
Elsewhere, though Patrick Vieira may be in the conversation, especially after some great results against Manchester City Arsenal and Tottenham and Crystal Palace are currently six points away from the points total Roy Hodgson managed in his last campaign with arguably a worst side.
So, this leaves a toss-up between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola and, simply because of how well Klopp has navigated four competitions at once, he edges it this year.