After an absolutely crazy 249 days and 370 matches where the truly unpredictable became an everyday occurrence, we are approaching the final matchday of the Premier League season.
Although the title has long been decided and the relegation battle was concluded rather prematurely, there is still a lot to play for as spots in each of the three European competitions are still up for grabs.
Before that, though, the Football Writers’ Association were kind enough to announce their Footballer of the Year. In that vein, let us take a look at the five players who impressed most in the 2020/21 season of the Premier League:
5. İlkay Gündoğan
We’re starting slightly controversially (although there will inevitably be debates at every position), as İlkay Gündoğan gets a spot in our list ahead of the likes of Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Luke Shaw.
Looking at his season on paper, 11 of Gündoğan’s 13 league goals came in that incredible run between December 15 and February 13, which has caused many to conclude that he has been inconsistent.
However, it is important to dig deeper than the stat sheet and try to understand why the German midfielder had such a spike of goals in this particular period of the season.
The answer is quite simple: Manchester City were missing Kevin De Bruyne due to injury at the time, and with their striker-less system in full flow, Gündoğan was promoted to a more attacking role in midfield.
He still had to get the job done, though, and boy did he do that in some style with 11 goals in 10 matches, where his incredible footballing intelligence was on full display as his late runs to the edge of the box often yielded great rewards for his side.
Gündoğan has not been bad in the rest of his 28 league appearances; he has operated in a less glamorous role deeper in midfield that caused him to evade the public eye.
He continued to operate at a very high level, averaging 61.2 passes at an accuracy of 91.7% through the season while also helping defensively with 1.6 tackles and interceptions.
If anything, Gündoğan’s spells at either end of midfield displayed his incredible versatility and adaptability, which should further make a case for his inclusion in this list.
4. Mohamed Salah
Liverpool’s season has been underwhelming, but they still have a very realistic chance of sneaking a Champions League spot for next season, and a lot of credit for that should go to Mohamed Salah.
While defensive injuries spilt over to cause problems in attack for Liverpool this season as midfielders were dragged away from their natural positions, their attackers were not particularly good either.
None of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota have entered double digits in terms of league goals this season, with the latter often sidelined through numerous injuries while the other two developed an acute case of failing to take big chances, underperforming their xG by a league-high 5.5 and a marginally more respectable 3.6 respectively.
Salah, however, has continued to shine with a joint league-high 22 goals from an unmatched xG of 20.7. Without his goals, Liverpool would be way down in 12th in the league as they have been worth 21 points overall.
Although his scalps include a hat-trick and three braces, the Egyptian forward has been quite consistent, with his longest goal-drought lasting only four league games.
It’s quite obvious that Salah has been hugely responsible for helping salvage what has been an otherwise horrendous season for Liverpool, and on that basis alone, he has to be in this list.
3. Bruno Fernandes
If Salah is important to Liverpool, Manchester United without Bruno Fernandes this season would have been about as clueless in attack as 10 theoretical physicists discussing string theory.
The Portuguese midfielder’s 18 goals and 12 assists account for 42.25% of his side’s league goals, which make him the second-highest individual contributor for any side in the competition.
While it is true that half of his goals have come from the penalty spot, it is important to remember that converting spot-kicks is not an easy business by any stretch of the imagination (just ask Man City). Fernandes is one of the best at it with an incredibly high conversion rate of 90% this season thanks to his well-perfected technique.
The ex-Sporting man’s underlying numbers are quite impressive too. Nine goals from 7.8 npxG (non-penalty xG) and 12 assists from 11 xA show that he is not only getting the results, but he is consistently creating chances at such a high rate.
His status as United’s highest progressive passer as well as progressive pass receiver underlines the lack of support he has received in midfield, where he has often almost single-handedly shouldered his team’s attacking responsibility, furthered by the fact that he has not missed a single league game, failing to start just two too.
Fernandes was named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year at United once again, and that says all you need to know about his importance to the club.
2. Harry Kane
The only man who has scored as many league goals as Salah and has a greater involvement in his side’s exploits in front of the opposition net is one of Tottenham Hotspur’s very own (for now at least) – Harry Kane.
The English striker has been phenomenal this season, topping not only the goal-scoring charts with 22 but also leading the way for assists with 13, accounting for a part in a whopping 70.31% of Spurs’ goals.
Kane’s consistency has, of course, been absolutely exceptional as he has never failed to return with a goal or assist for more than two games this season.
Admittedly, there has been some slight overperformance in both metrics where his expected tallies are 19.9 and 7.3 respectively, but we can blame José Mourinho for that.
His 3.9 shots, 1.4 key passes and as many dribbles all per match in 34 Premier League starts to show that he has certainly tried hard enough to reach these numbers, and ultimately, he did benefit from Spurs’ Son-infused xG overperformance run early on in the campaign.
Either way, what Kane has done in such an otherwise disappointing side is nothing short of exceptional, and he would have been the best player in most seasons, but not this time, as his potential future teammate has outshone everyone else.
1. Rúben Dias
We started our list with a Man City player, and we will conclude it with a man from the title-winners. In agreement with the FWA, our clear standout player of this Premier League season is Rúben Dias.
As far as new signings go, they don’t get much better than this. Dias joined a Manchester City squad that was in utter disarray at the back. He just slotted in, and Pep Guardiola suddenly had one of the best backlines in Europe at his disposal.
In a squad that includes Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling, to name a few, the Portuguese international has established himself as a leader among men, marshalling a defence where John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko and João Cancelo have been resurgent partly thanks to his influence.
With him on the pitch, Manchester City have only conceded 21 goals while keeping 14 clean sheets, seven of which came back-to-back.
Dias is also quite handy with the ball at his feet, racking up 84.4 passes per match on average at an outstanding accuracy of 93.2%, which is not bettered by anyone else in the league.
Revolutionising a once-helpless defence in your first season abroad while being eligible for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award is not ordinary, but Dias is not supposed to be ordinary either.
Stats courtesy WhoScored and Fbref.