When the six-man shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award is announced, there is always one glaring omission. This is not the first season in which Sergio Aguero has been overlooked – although it is more difficult than usual to state the Manchester City forward’s case.
This time last year, we named Alli on our alternative Player of the Year shortlist; he had scored eight goals and registered nine assists in 26 Premier League games by that point. Twelve months later, and the reigning Young Player of the Year, likely to retain that crown, has 16 goals and six assists in 30 appearances.
The timing of the nominations leads to even more consternation. The 21-year-old has scored five goals and assisted three in his last six league games, while Alexis Sanchez has scored just once in five. That considerable swing in form came after votes were tallied in February, and might well have been Alli’s undoing.
With Harry Kane among the six nominees and the football world apoplectic at Dele Alli’s omission, Christian Eriksen plays his familiar role: Tottenham’s under-appreciated star. The Dane has not enjoyed remarkable peaks of form, but nor has he suffered the troughs of his peers. Eriksen has played at an unrivalled level of consistency throughout the season, providing a league-leading 11 assists, and creating more chances (89) than any other player. Mauricio Pochettino has dubbed the 25-year-old Tottenham’s “brain”, and it is not difficult to see why.
Like water, the internet and an Adam Lallana Cruyff turn, the Liverpool midfielder’s significance can often be taken for granted. It is only when he is absent that his importance can be truly examined. Facing the Reds without their midfield action man is to face a lion without its teeth.
Jurgen Klopp is Anfield’s professor, but there is no doubt as to the identity of his most-improved pupil. Lallana embodies the pressing, counter-attacking nature of an impressive Liverpool side, and he deserves more acclaim.
From “being controlled by a 10-year-old on the PlayStation” to helping control most forwards who have crossed Chelsea’s path this season. There is an argument to say that David Luiz is protected at the centre of a Premier League-leading defensive three, but there were once arguments that claimed the Earth was flat and Adam Sandler deserves lead billing in Hollywood.
Much like Eriksen at Tottenham, Luiz is easily overshadowed at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard is the star turn and N’Golo Kante is the player for the neutral, while Diego Costa is the goalscorer. As has been the issue for Luiz throughout much of his career, his face often doesn’t fit.
But the Brazilian has undoubtedly been wonderful since returning in the summer. Cesar Azpilicueta has been as reliably excellent as expected, and Gary Cahill has performed well under Antonio Conte, but Luiz is the clown who killed the laughter.
The Arsenal striker pairing that never was – Thierry Henry and Alan Smith – believe Sadio Mane is the signing of the season, and it is not difficult to see why. His transfer fee acts as a counter argument, but he makes the Premier League’s most potent attack tick.
Liverpool have scored 68 goals in the top flight this season – at least three more than any other side. Mane’s statistical contribution is 13 goals and five assists, but his movement, pace and direct running have created many, many more. His club’s worst run of form this season coincided with his absence at the turn of the year; it remains to be seen how they will cope without the injured forward for the rest of the season.
Since joining Manchester City in 2010, David Silva has been named in just one PFA Premier League Team of the Year. To be overlooked for individual acclaim is not unfamiliar territory for one of the most talented players this country has ever been blessed to host.
Silva’s omission was predictable, of course. Outside of the confines of the Etihad Stadium, his importance to Manchester City is rarely appreciated, while it is difficult to claim that a midfielder for the team currently in fourth place should be named alongside the elite. But perhaps that is the salient point: Where would City be without him?