The Premier League title race has yet to be settled, but thought will soon turn towards the individual awards that are handed out at the end of every season. The Player of the Year accolade in particular carries more prestige than any other individual honour in football besides the Ballon d’Or and a number of players are in the running to claim it this year.
Mohamed Salah is favoured to finish as the Premier League’s top goalscorer this season, according to Cloudbet odds. Having already bagged 22 goals in just 30 appearances for Liverpool, the Egyptian driving the Reds towards their second Premier League title in three years. He might just be the best player in the world right now.
As a Player of the Year candidate, Salah’s case is clearly a strong one. Not only is he leading the Premier League for goals this season, nobody has registered more assists (12). He is also charting more shots per game (4.1) than any other player in the division. Salah is a one-man attacking hub.
All this highlights the importance of the decision Liverpool have to make on Salah’s future. As things stand, the Egyptian will leave Anfield as a free agent next summer with his current contract set to expire in 2023. Recent reports claim Salah and Liverpool remain far apart in their negotiations over an extension.
Liverpool have built their team through good coaching and shrewd recruitment, but they face a dilemma on whether to let Salah leave as he enters his 30s or keep him on a long-term contract. The sight of the 29-year-old lifting the Player of the Year award for the second time in his career might influence that decision.
Kevin de Bruyne
Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne is a key figure for a side chasing its fourth Premier League title in five years. While the Belgian has been seen as one of the best in English and European football for some time, he has taken his game to an even higher level this season.
Last summer saw Manchester City miss out on Harry Kane in its pursuit of a new centre forward following the departure of Sergio Aguero. This meant Guardiola entered the 2021/22 season without a designated number nine and de Bruyne is one of the players who has adapted his game to cover this deficiency.
At his current rate, de Bruyne is well on course to surpass his best goals tally (13) in a single Premier League season. Guardiola has pushed the 30-year-old slightly higher up the pitch and this has allowed him to offer more as a goal threat. He’s found the back of the net 11 times in 24 appearances.
Previously renowned for his vision and creativity on the ball, de Bruyne has changed his game to keep City competitive at the top of the Premier League. This says a lot about his talent and intelligence as a player. There isn’t a position in midfield or attack that de Bruyne can’t at least lend a hand to.
Son Heung-min (11.5 to finish as top scorer) deserves a mention as a Player of the Year candidate, even if he is something of an outsider to win. The South Korean has scored 17 times in 29 Premier League games for Tottenham Hotspur this season and has spearheaded his team’s somewhat unexpected top four challenge.
Of course, Son’s partnership with Harry Kane has been central to his success this season (Kane himself has 12 goals and eight assists in 31 games). If Son isn’t put forward for Player of the Year, it could be because he often struggles for service without Kane dropping deep and spraying passes forward to him.
Other outsiders could include Virgil van Dijk, who has returned from an injury-ravaged 2020/21 season to once again become a central pillar in defence for Liverpool, and Bernardo Silva, who has been Guardiola’s man for all weather this season.
Joao Cancelo and Phil Foden have also enjoyed excellent individual seasons with the latter now truly a key figure at the Etihad Stadium.
Klopp’s Liverpool wouldn’t be the same team without Trent Alexander-Arnold whose creativity and crosses from the full back position give the Reds a different dimension. The England international has 12 assists in 28 games and is setting a new standard for what is expected of full backs at the elite level.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 15 times in just 26 appearances, but there remains a debate over whether the Portuguese forward is the solution to Manchester United’s problems or the cause of them. It’s certainly true that the 37-year-old has struggled at times to fit into a high-pressing system that exposes his fading physicality at his age.
City and Liverpool’s contest at the top of the Premier League, and its ultimate outcome, will define the 2021/22 season, but on an individual level it has already been defined by the brilliance of several players.
De Bruyne and Salah stand out above all others, just like their respective teams do.