There is no doubting that the six nominations for the PFA Player of the Year award are a strong collection of ruddy good players. But f**k it, we thought, why not show some love for some others. Here are six players who can count themselves unlucky not to have got the nod:
Dele Alli (Tottenham)
Alli may not have been the Premier League’s best player this season, but none have had as much impact. Speaking last summer to FourFourTwo, Alli was focusing only on starting league games for Tottenham.
“Mauricio Pochettino has told me that everyone will go in at the same level in pre-season, that I’ve got a chance, and I’m really grateful for that,” Alli said. “He’s given me the chance to impress and I’m just going to try to take it as best I can.”
It’s fair to say the 19-year-old has done just that. Alli has scored eight league goals and registered nine assists, starting 26 games of Tottenham’s unlikely title challenge. No English player has more assists and, of the 19 Premier League players to contribute at least five PL goals and assists this season, Alli is the youngest by almost three years.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Lukaku was named on the Young Player of the Year shortlist for the second time, but surprisingly missed out on the nominations for the main gong. On the morning before those nominations were announced, the Everton striker was actually fifth favourite to win the thing.
This year’s list has been sourced exclusively from clubs in the top six, but it’s hardly Lukaku’s fault that Everton sit in 12th. Talk to Roberto Martinez, Tim Howard and various other less guilty parties about that.
Lukaku has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season despite not enjoying European football, 18 of which have been in the league. That total might be fewer than both Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, but Lukaku is level with them on 17 if you exclude penalties and has played fewer minutes than both. He also has six assists to Kane’s one, and created more chances than both of the nominated pair.
David de Gea (Manchester United)
‘Where would Manchester United be without De Gea?’ is one of those wistful rhetorical questions, like ‘Can you get a cat to walk with smarties tubes on its legs?’ and ‘I wonder how long it would take to circumnavigate Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ego?’ Yet it’s also a question often repeated by supporters eternally grateful for last summer’s dodgy fax machine and not-at-all deliberate delay tactics on United’s part.
The answer to the rhetorical question might well be ‘Liverpool’, who have allowed nine fewer shots on target than United and yet conceded 12 more goals. It’s unarguable that United’s top-four hopes would be dust without their fabulous goalkeeper. He might just be the best in the world right now.
Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
With 1,643 minutes, De Bruyne has spent only 57% of Manchester City’s league season on the pitch. Slightly ridiculously, the Belgian is still their joint-second highest goalscorer, their second-highest assist provider and their highest chance creator. That last statistic is just weird.
De Bruyne has been supreme, with serious credentials to call himself the Premier League’s best player. During his first full season in England he has assisted goals at a quicker rate than Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet, created chances more often than Mahrez and now scored 15 goals in all competitions. Ridiculous.
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)
Because Matt Stead says so, and I agree with every word:
‘Remove each of the six players on the shortlist from their clubs and place them in a different side with a different system, and the same results are by no means guaranteed. Take Alderweireld out of Tottenham and place him in the starting XI at Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool – any other side but leaders Leicester – and the 27-year-old would improve them markedly. Just as he has at Spurs, just as he did at Southampton. During the current dearth of outstanding defenders, Alderweireld stands very much alone.’
Virgil van Dijk (Southampton)
Well, not quite alone. A left-field suggestion, you may think, but those who have watched Southampton regularly will have no hesitation in telling you just how wonderful Van Dijk has been during his first season in England. It’s hard to believe that he’s still only 24.
Van Dijk became the most expensive player ever to be sold by a Scottish club when he joined Southampton last summer, the rest of the top three formed by players making the exact same journey (Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster). He has wasted no time in proving why Ronald Koeman was right to stump up the £13m after missing out on Alderweireld.
“He is strong, he’s fast and he’s important in the way we like to build-up from the back,” Koeman said said last month. “He is good at short passing and he has a good long pass. He is also a good header of the ball, has a good shot and is a good free-kick taker.” Apart from that…