There have been some absolutely sensational attacking midfielders. But Kevin de Bruyne v Bruno Fernandes for top spot is the headline.
10) Jesse Lingard
Loads and loads of contenders for this list. And yeah, I know, I can’t believe I left out that player from your team either. So biased. You can put Marcus Rashford here if it makes you happier, or James Maddison, or even Gareth Bale after the way he finished the season. Riyad Mahrez perhaps. Even a low-key season for Sadio Mane still ended with 19 goal involvements. Matheus Pereira made a bold bid for this kind of list in a dreadful and dreary West Brom side, but we are going to totally let heart rule head here and deem Lingard’s spirit-lifting, career-saving, joy-filled half-season at West Ham worthy of inclusion. He proved to be the final piece of the puzzle to propel West Ham into Europe and his nine goals and five assists from 16 games was as close to Kane levels of output as anyone could manage.
Do pure numbers get him in? No, they do not. Do we care? No, we do not. There were heroes and great stories throughout this Leeds squad, of course, but there was no player more fun than Raphinha. Your Bamfords and Your Dallases and Your Phillipses were all great, but no player was more emblematic of the whole joy and chaos of Leeds than Raphinha. Of course, that success has elevated him into the category of player alongside Jack Grealish and Kane who must be constantly linked with a move to a Big Club by a media that has spent the last few days lamenting the fact that the four richest clubs finished in the top four once again.
8) Harvey Barnes
Fantastic when he was playing, yet looked even better when he wasn’t. Leicester were never quite the same after his injury, even after Maddison returned from his own. Barnes was absolutely flying before he was sidelined against Arsenal, having racked up six goals and three assists in his previous 11 appearances. Despite intense competition he would have been higher up this list and very nearly as importantly in the England squad and most likely the Champions League were it not for that knee knock.
7) Phil Foden
Don’t want to exaggerate or get over-excited or indulge in pointless hyperbole but he’s going to be the best player in the world isn’t he? Absolute nonsense of a player.
6) Mason Mount
A season to win over the doubters. Gareth Southgate was right about him. Frank Lampard was right about him. A lot of other people were wrong about him. We liked it when a lot of grown adult journalists worried that Thomas Tuchel might not nurture or value Mount’s prodigious talents because as a German – i.e. a foreigner – he would have no knowledge or interest in the young English playmaker. This was astonishing projection. Anyway, where were we? Oh, yeah. Mason Mount: good at football. Fact.
5) Mohamed Salah
Where does one draw the line between AM and striker? Is striker the same as forward? Does any of it really matter? Have we put Salah and his 22 goals in this list purely so when we do the top 10 strikers we can note with incredulity that there is not one representative from the top four among them? I prefer not to speak.
4) Heung-min Son
Scoring 17 goals and having 10 assists yet not topping either list at your club is quite something, but he probably won’t worry too much about that. Another stunning season for the South Korean, and when you consider that no other club in the division had a second-top scorer with more than 12 goals it really does boggle the mind that Spurs were so very, very bad. Son and Harry Kane scored 40 goals between them (14 of them assisted by the other) – which was seven more than the top two scorers at any other club. What a ridiculous waste to have all that going on a) in front of that defence and b) under that manager.
3) Jack Grealish
Restricted to just 26 appearances by injury yet still (joint) second only to Kane on the assist list. Became an even better, more rounded and more threatening opponent for the long-awaited arrival of some assistance thanks to a shrewd summer of business from Villa, yet even in this vastly improved side he still stood head and shoulders above the rest. Perhaps only Kane provides the same level of stop-at-all-costs threat so far above that of his team-mates, and Villa’s season fell away dramatically in his absence.
His own statistics are there for all to see – 3.1 key passes per game (2nd only to De Bruyne); 2.5 dribbles per game (4th). But really the potency and uniqueness of Grealish’s specific flavour of menace is shown in how opponents treat him. Only 10 players in the whole Premier League were fouled on average two or more times per game this season. No other player was fouled more than three times a game. Grealish was fouled 4.2 times per game.
2) Kevin De Bruyne
In a non-vintage season in which he managed only 25 appearances, De Bruyne still had an assist count bettered only by Kane and another Premier League winners’ medal. Still sees and picks out passes nobody else can. Still the best in the league at what he does.
1) Bruno Fernandes
One of only four players to reach double figures for both goals and assists (did we mention two of the other three play for Spurs? We did? Just checking, because it remains absurd) and his 29 total goal contributions were bettered only by Kane. And unlike Kane’s exploits, Bruno’s actually mattered as Manchester United claimed second spot with something to spare after getting their slump out of the way early in the season. Along with the obvious talent and the tangible results in goals and assists, Bruno also brings a drive and leadership to United that feels almost as important as anything else. At a club where too many behind the scenes appear happy with on-field mediocrity, Bruno burns bright with ambition.