First, a caveat: We have limited ourselves to just three players from each Premier League club so if you want to add another Liverpool player (to pick a team entirely at random) then you need to take one away…
10) Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace/Manchester United)
Whether the 90s full-back stylings of Wan-Bissaka are suited to a title or even a top-four challenge is debatable, but Manchester United bought a ridiculously good tackler from Crystal Palace for £50m and they now have a ridiculously good tackler. The transition has been entirely seamless. Whatever the opposition, Wan-Bissaka plays exactly the same: He runs, he tackles, he tackles, he runs, he generally fails to do a whole lot with the ball.
Eight chances created in 15 Premier League games is a risible return going forward, but all full-backs cannot be measured against Trent Alexander-Arnold; some have to be measured against other defensive-minded full-backs. And for Crystal Palace and now United, Wan-Bissaka has been peerless. The best one-on-one defender in the Premier League bar none.
BREAKING: Aaron Wan-Bissaka ejected from a polling station in Manchester as he failed to put a cross in the box
— Raj Chohan (@rajsinghchohan) December 12, 2019
9) Joao Moutinho (Wolves)
Not everything can be measured in statistics; some players simply have to be measured in class, and Moutinho is serenely swimming in the stuff. Waving and not drowning. He has been nothing short of magnificent for a Wolves side which has picked up as many points as Tottenham in 2019, providing a vision and first touch unsurpassed in the Premier League. The best £5m any club has spent in the last 18 months? We await your arguments while armed with a wand of a right foot.
On Sunday he was simultaneously the most decorated and the most assured footballer on the pitch as Wolves were cruelly beaten by Champions League finalists Tottenham. And the most excellent news is that he has committed to this unashamedly provincial club until 2022 in what he described as “a very easy decision”. Bravo.
8) Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Some made a case for Andy Robertson, but Alexander-Arnold has the numbers on his side; nobody has surpassed his 15 Premier League assists in 2019. Obviously it helps that he takes set-pieces, but it really, really helps that he takes set-pieces extremely well. And then there are those 50-yard cross-field balls; not to forget the low, devastating crosses whipped into the box. In terms of delivery, Kevin de Bruyne is his only real rival on these shores.
Jamie Carragher is not alone in pin-pointing his defensive flaws, but he is a) still only 21 and b) pretty much exactly good enough defensively to win the Champions League and threaten to walk away with the Premier League. It’s hard to argue that his lack of defensive nous is fatally costing the team which has picked up the most points of 2019.
#mufc use fullbacks, Liverpool use wingbacks.
If I’m building a fullback, I build Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
If I’m building a wingback, I build Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Appreciate brilliance, it’s not difficult.
— ً (@utdrobbo) December 9, 2019
7) Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Simply the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League on current form, the Nigerian has notched more tackles and interceptions than any other player across Europe’s leading leagues. He is a tackling machine because he “smells danger”, according to beneficiary Brendan Rodgers, who has extensively praised the footballing brain as well as the legs of the man bought to replace and eventually match N’Golo Kante.
Leicester have possibly the most balanced midfield of any Premier League club – with Youri Tielemans providing the box-to-box brilliance and James Maddison the arrogant magic – with the £17m bargain from Genk very much the fulcrum. Without him, would Leicester be the third-best team of 2019? No Ndidi.
6) Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Nobody could claim that the Belgian was integral to City’s 2019 title win – one goal against Cardiff and two assists against Crystal Palace do not a hero make – but he makes this list because he has been the wizard of this particular pre-Christmas spell. Nine Premier League assists have been supplemented by six goals, all of which were basically brilliant.
Against Arsenal on Sunday he was phenomenal. To borrow words from 16 Conclusions from that 3-0 win: “If he wasn’t stupefying Arsenal players with his every touch, he was doing so without even putting a foot on the ball. To watch him allow Foden’s pass across his body, thus fooling Guendouzi and opening up the space for him to score City’s third, was to watch a predator toying with his prey.
“It was sumptuous and sublime: the goals, the assist, the passes, the movement. Even the insouciance in his jogging and running was captivating. You could almost excuse Arsenal for having to stop and watch every time he was on the ball.”
Mock @GNev2 for his strange noises all you like, but I think De Bruyne’s exhibition of technique last night evoked many, many exotic sounds from the mouths of football fans globally.pic.twitter.com/ePIIszBkIb
— The Tactical Times (@Tactical_Times) December 16, 2019
5) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Both Sadio Mane and Jamie Vardy have scored more Premier League goals in 2019, but both Sadio Mane and Jamie Vardy have played rather more Premier League football in 2019. Meanwhile, the ridiculously consistent Aguero has casually scored a Premier League goal every 100 minutes, which puts him close to Robert Lewandowski levels of productivity.
In the title run-in of last season, Aguero scored against Liverpool and then almost effortlessly claimed hat-tricks against Arsenal and Chelsea to contribute to a run of 12 goals in 16 starts. In the first six weeks of this season, he added another eight goals to set the early Golden Boot pace in those heady days when we thought we might actually get a title race.
4) Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Last year’s No) 4 retains his place after claiming another Premier League title as well as two other domestic trophies, the PFA Young Player of the Year award and the FWA Footballer of the Year gong. All while simultaneously fighting/enabling racism, depending on your club allegiance. A nomination for BBC Sports Personality of the Year was a testament to his impact on and off the pitch. For the last word, we give you Kyle Walker:
“I call him Martin Luther King in training. He did have a dream and he’s making the dream come true.”
3) Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Last year’s winner has proved fallible in 2019 but even a fallible Van Dijk is probably the best centre-half in the world. Whether paired with Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez, the Dutchman glides through games constantly re-setting the bar for defending in the Premier League. That he is the only centre-half on this list is no coincidence; he is head and shoulders above the rest, even those whose price tags should merit parity.
There were arguments made for Philippe Coutinho and any/all of the Reds’ front three, but we named Van Dijk our Liverpool signing of the decade because without him, Liverpool would be entertaining but flawed also-rans. With him, they are the champions-elect.
These two men perfectly highlight the importance of Sir Alex’s quote “Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles”. Before VVD, Liverpool were conceding 1.3 goals/game under Klopp with a CS in just 32% of their games & after VVD, it dropped to 0.5 with CS in 57% of their games pic.twitter.com/9J7TVK5603
— Nouman (@nomifooty) December 13, 2019
2) Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
The scorer of 28 Premier League goals in 2019. Twenty-eight. His ascent from nowhere to Premier League title winner is the story of the decade and earns him a place in the roll call of the 2010s. But nobody could have predicted – when Claude Puel was putting his “child” on the naughty step – that he would end this decade, at the age of 32, as the top flight’s most prolific marksman.
Coach Rodgers has sensibly told him to preserve his energy and operate largely on the shoulder of the last man and within the lines of the box, which must be a pleasure when Tielemans, Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Ricardo Pereira and Ayoze Perez are looking for those darting runs. “It’s like having two strikers up there,” says Rodgers, comparing Vardy to his former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. Leicester’s biggest challenge of the next two years is replacing the irreplaceable.
1) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
The best player in the world right now? Certainly the best player in the Premier League in 2019, when he has been available for every single Premier League game; such is his form that Jurgen Klopp has only once left him on the bench for a much-needed rest. He certainly ran him into the ground at the end of last season, when he scored 14 goals in 18 games as Liverpool chased that elusive title.
After taking Senegal all the way to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, Mane simply came back to Liverpool and nonchalantly scored four goals in his first four starts and has not really eased off since. He is fast, he is skilful, he is unselfish, he is extraordinary. When Roberto Firmino falters and Mo Salah stumbles, Mane mostly delivers.
This is your year, fella.