The EPL season has just ended and Sky Sports journalists have made their choices for the bests.
Player of the season
Adam Bate: Jordan Henderson. He is not the best player in the Premier League, that is Kevin De Bruyne. But being the player of the season should mean something and being part of a meek title defence counts against him. Sadio Mane had my FWA vote but Henderson was a worthy winner too. His leadership of Liverpool and the Players Together initiative – as well as being the man to lift the Premier League trophy – means this will now always feel like his triumph.
Gerard Brand: Kevin De Bruyne. Yes, Liverpool won their first title in 30 years, but their quality is spread across almost the entire team. Individually, De Bruyne is miles ahead of the pack. His involvement in almost every City attack can be subtle – often if De Bruyne doesn’t get the assist, he is the man getting the secondary assist – or it can be devastating: a 30-yard screamer, an impossible through ball, or a nightmare first-time cross. De Bruyne is an artist and the Premier League is lucky to have him.
Kate Burlaga: Kevin De Bruyne. A runner-up rather than a champion this term but, quite simply, the best footballer in the land. He is the chief conductor who defies concepts of time and space on the turf; nonchalant yet devastating, powerful and balletic. A joy to watch, week after week.
Peter Smith: Sadio Mane. The case for Kevin De Bruyne is a strong one but Mane has been decisive in the key moments for the champions. There is a nice story in the symmetry between the 18 points Mane’s goals have won for Liverpool and the 18-point margin Liverpool finished with ahead of Manchester City. When the clock was running down or Liverpool were struggling to find a way through, Mane stepped up.
Nick Wright: Sadio Mane. The best and most decisive player in the team which won the title by an 18-point margin. Mane actually scored fewer goals than he did in the previous season, but what’s crucial is that they counted for so much. He stood up at big moments and changed games single-handedly. At his blistering best, he is practically unplayable.
Manager of the season
AB: Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool’s total of 97 points in the previous season, one in which they lost only one game, felt like a high watermark for this team. Instead, they went and topped it. That speaks volumes for the manager and his ability to maintain the momentum following the Champions League win. Notable mention for Chris Wilder but this was Klopp’s year.
GB: Jurgen Klopp. To fall short by one point and come back even stronger the following season takes something special. Liverpool had to hope City would drop off, which they did, but they made sure of the title by getting better. What impressed me most about Klopp was the range of tactical approaches, for instance opting for more possession from December to keep energy in his players’ legs and avoid the winter slump he’d become synonymous with.
KB: Chris Wilder. Jurgen Klopp has turned doubters to believers in spectacular style but while his Liverpool’s achievements are historic and undeniable, Wilder’s – in the context of expectation and resource – are remarkable. A ninth-placed finish has made a mockery of Sheffield United’s wage bill – the lowest in the league – and the ample sceptics who cast them rock-bottom before a ball was kicked. A points haul of 54 is almost as many as those of the sides who came up with them combined. They have done it with style and no little skill and Wilder’s success is a potent emblem of homegrown coaches doing it the hard way.
PS: Jurgen Klopp. What a record-breaking, history-making season it has been for Liverpool – and Klopp was the one who shaped it all. His team have achieved something no Liverpool side has managed in the Premier League era – and they did so thanks to Klopp creating a culture, a mentality and a brand of football which made them untouchable for the majority of the season.
NW: Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool did not shatter quite as many records as they might have, but it is a testament to their utter dominance that they were able to ease up with seven games to spare. To improve on a 97-point total is an extraordinary feat which demands an extraordinary manager.
Breakthrough player of the season
AB: Mason Greenwood. I recall asking Luke Shaw about the teenager at the club’s training ground in August and he was very open about his belief that Greenwood could go on to become one of the best players in the world. Still, I did not expect to see him begin to fulfil that potential so spectacularly and become the first English teenager since Wayne Rooney to reach double figures for goals in a Premier League season. A rare talent.
GB: Mason Greenwood. To score 17 goals before your 18th birthday takes something special. But more than the number itself, it’s the type of goals Greenwood scores. Left foot, right foot, tap in, counter attack, from range, wherever and whatever. The youngster is one of very few teenagers that doesn’t need acres of space to score – an extremely promising trait for a forward.
KB: Mason Greenwood. “This kid is on another level,” reckons Gary Neville and who could argue on the evidence so far? The 18-year-old, who started 10 of the last 12 games of the season, ended a breakthrough campaign with 17 goals – only bettered at his age by Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs. An instinctive finisher with a cool head, two capable feet and a sharp turn of pace.
AB: Mason Greenwood. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer labelled him a ‘specialist goalscorer’ – and he should know one of those when he sees one. But everyone watching Greenwood’s emergence this season must be excited by what’s to come. At 18 he’s scored 17 goals in his first full season. Particularly since the restart, his sharpness in front of goal has been frightening; confident, precise, powerful – and off either foot. The potential is huge.
NW: Bukayo Saka. The circumstances have not been easy given Arsenal’s struggles, but that only makes Saka’s emergence more impressive. He was outstanding at left-back in the first half of the season and since then he has excelled everywhere from central midfield to right wing. Such tactical intelligence is almost unheard of for an 18-year-old and his composure in the final third is something else too. He finishes the campaign with four goals and 11 assists in all competitions. A dazzling future awaits.
Signing of the season
AB: Bruno Fernandes. Others could be included on this list but it would feel like a technicality to go with Danny Ings and Raul Jimenez, who had loan deals made permanent, or Dean Henderson whose temporary stay at Sheffield United was extended. Better to choose the man whose arrival in the Premier League simply transformed Manchester United’s season.
GB: Bruno Fernandes. I’ll admit, when Fernandes arrived I wondered what the fuss was about. Linked with the Premier League for two years, I assumed if he hadn’t arrived earlier, he wasn’t worth the clamour. But it quickly became clear that Fernandes has a priceless footballing eye, and a demeanour that energises all those around him. At 25, his peak years are ahead of him, and Manchester United have a gem.
KB: Allan Saint-Maximin. The bright spot in a torturous Newcastle season. Bruno Fernandes rescued Manchester United’s season but Saint-Maximin just have might preserved his side’s Premier League status. Only one win came from 12 games in which the headbanded Frenchman did not appear. There is room for improvement when it comes to his own output – three goals and four assists – but his unpredictable, high-octane play has been key to his side’s survival for another season. Those thrilling dribbles, whatever their outcome, have made him box office for opposition fans too.
PS: Bruno Fernandes. When was the last time a January signing completely transformed the fortunes of a top six side? After his arrival Fernandes had more goal involvements (15) than any player in the Premier League. But perhaps more impressive than his eight goals and seven assists was the way he raised the standard of the players around him, changing the mood and the narrative at Old Trafford. From booed off against Burnley to unbeaten in 14 and finishing third – Manchester United’s season was saved by Fernandes.
NW: Bruno Fernandes. There is no competition here. Manchester United’s season was in a state of drift but his arrival in January changed everything. They went unbeaten from then on, with Fernandes contributing eight goals, seven assists and a whole lot more than that in 14 appearances. A world-class addition and a genuine game-changer.
Goal of the season
AB: Heung-Min Son. There were all types of great goals from the overhead kick of Alireza Jahanbakhsh to the volleys half and full by Harvey Barnes and Kevin De Bruyne respectively. But sometimes the cheapest thrills are the best and watching a chap run past half a team takes some beating. It has to be the visceral joy of watching Son cut through Burnley.
GB: Jordan Ayew. This goal hasn’t received the love it deserves. Ayew’s last-minute strike in Palace’s 2-1 win over West Ham in December had three major components; the determination to pile into a crowded box from the right wing, the skill to change direction and then nip past three opposition players with four touches, and the pure cheek to chip the ball over Roberto for the win. Sublime.
KB: Heung-Min Son’s hold-your-breath burst from deep inside his own half would be a worthy winner. Anthony Martial’s pirouette and dinked finish against Watford was special, too. But De Bruyne crackerjack against Newcastle edges it. The chest control was perfect, the body shape textbook and the power generated startling. That it thwacked the goalframe on its way in only added to the visual impact.
PS: Heung-Min Son. “Even before this goal my son calls him Son-aldo, Son-aldo Nazario – and today he was Son-aldo Nazario!” Jose Mourinho purred with delight in his post-match press conference after Heung-min Son’s stunning individual effort against Burnley, comparing the goal with a Ronaldo special for Barcelona. To watch Son take off from the edge of his own box, reach top speed, slalom pass Burnley defenders, and then – with his lungs surely on fire – have the composure to slot the ball past Nick Pope was something special. There was no stopping him.
NW: Kevin De Bruyne. I had to mention him somewhere and his goal in Manchester City’s draw with Newcastle in November is tough to beat. Its execution – the chested control, the thunderous connection – was utterly perfect, and it gets Tony Yeboah bonus points for crashing in off the underside of the bar then bouncing up into the roof of the net. An aesthetic delight from a magical player.
Game of the season
AB: Wolves 3-2 Manchester City. Keen to choose from matches that I went to for this one. Had the pleasure of seeing some emphatic performances from Manchester City’s 5-0 thrashing of West Ham on the opening weekend to the controlled violence of Liverpool’s 4-0 domination of Leicester in December. But the best match and best atmosphere was at Molineux that same month when Wolves came from two down to beat the champions.
GB: Man City 1-2 Man Utd, December 7. From minute one this was played at 100mph and never dropped to the speed limit. United showed what potential they have in the final third, and concerns over City’s defensive vulnerabilities were confirmed. It had mistakes, quality, controversy and rivalry – an outstanding spectacle.
KB: Sheff Utd 3-3 Man Utd, November 25. Might have fallen off some radars but a proper game, this; one that bubbled from first minute to last as Bramall Lane bounced on a November night. The Blades swaggered into a 2-0 lead, to Gary Neville’s astonishment, before eight ruthless second-half minutes turned the contest on its head. All that and then one final twist as Oli McBurnie bundled in an last-gasp equaliser that eventually survived a VAR check. “Won, lost, got a result,” was Chris Wilder’s low-key verdict but this one had everything. Special mention to Leicester’s 9-0 thumping of Southampton: a jaw-dropper that would prove catalystic for the Saints.
PS: Liverpool 3-1 Man City. The anticipation was huge. The outcome pivotal. The match thrilling. Liverpool came flying out of the blocks and despite giving up chances at the other end, they were 2-0 up inside 13 minutes. There were stunning goals, mistakes and controversy – who can forget Pep Guardiola’s penalty appeals – and at the end of it all Liverpool had taken a huge step towards their first Premier League title. A City win would have reduced the gap to three points. Instead Liverpool pulled nine ahead of the defending champions in front of an Anfield crowd turned up to the max – and they powered on to glory.
NW: Chelsea 2-2 Arsenal. I was lucky enough to be at Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Ajax in November but the pick of the Premier League games I covered came at the same ground two months later. It started with a David Luiz red card and ended, implausibly, with a left-footed equaliser from right-back Hector Bellerin. Throw in a Gabriel Martinelli wondergoal and it really had everything. A breathless game played in a frenzied atmosphere.
Moment of the season
AB: First goal overturned by VAR. Gabriel Jesus became the first player to have a Premier League goal ruled out following a check by the video assistant referee against West Ham on that first weekend. It was a strange old feeling in the ground that day with Sergio Aguero’s twice-taken penalty also leaving plenty of people perplexed. The brave new world was upon us.
GB: Spurs sacking Pochettino and hiring Mourinho. In the space of a few hours, there was a new era at Spurs, and the Premier League had Jose back, with all the entertainment he brings. Harsh on Poch? Perhaps, but it signalled a distinct change in tack from Spurs. Whether it brings silverware or not remains to be seen.
KB: After the devastation of a global pandemic, the images of football’s sanitised return amid wider social discord will never be forgotten. The game, the most important of unimportant things, was back, but not as we ever knew it. And then, after the pages of protocol and all the anxious uncertainty, players at Villa Park and the Etihad took a knee for racial equality in front of the world.
PS: The Premier League restart. It is perhaps a shame for Liverpool that their season of brilliance will also be remembered as the year in which football – and the world – stopped. The coronavirus pandemic put football and the importance we place on it in the spotlight. But while the lockdown reminded us the outcome of football matches doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, it also underlined the joy, community and connection the game brings to our lives.
NW: There were plenty of standout moments in this extraordinary season but it’s hard to look beyond the images of players kneeling in support of racial equality following the death of George Floyd in police custody in America. Impactful and important.