The safest bet of the season is that the PFA player of the year award will end up at Chelsea, with Eden Hazard poised to pick up the honour a second time in the unlikely event of N’Golo Kanté missing out.
Kanté, perhaps because his contribution was overlooked last year in favour of the more obvious attacking assets of Leicester’s title-winning team – Riyad Mahrez took the PFA award and Jamie Vardy the football writers’ version – is such a short-odds favourite for the players’ vote he is scarcely worth backing. That seems fair enough, if he ends up making a significant contribution to two title campaigns with different clubs in consecutive seasons, and Chelsea’s situation as champions elect is presumably the reason why they are the only club with two players on the shortlist.
In the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United, Alexis Sánchez at Arsenal and Romelu Lukaku at Everton the reasons for the nominations are obvious. All three have been outstanding this season, with no one else coming close. As the only English player on the list Tottenham’s Harry Kane perhaps ought to have been accompanied by another in Dele Alli. Both have been equally successful – it would be hard to say that one has been better than the other – and both are in the running for the young player of the year award.
Alli is almost as firm a favourite for the junior award as Kanté is for the senior one, yet the player Spurs signed from Milton Keynes Dons is no longer up and coming, he has arrived. In all probability Alli will end up with something at the awards ceremony, whereas Kane will miss out, but it is a pity the pair’s contribution to another impressive Tottenham season will not be jointly acknowledged. Spurs, along with Chelsea, are possibly the only team to deserve a double nomination; the story everywhere else is one man standing out from the crowd.
It would be ironic were Sánchez to win an individual award when he has spent much of the season looking pained at Arsenal’s inconsistency, and although Ibrahimovic has unquestionably been a great success for United his prominence possibly reflects José Mourinho’s view that everyone else has been coming up a little bit short.
Absentees from the shortlist include Paul Pogba, who has only occasionally looked like the world’s most expensive player, and anyone from Liverpool or Manchester City. Jürgen Klopp’s philosophy is one of team rather than individual effort, though Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino can consider themselves unlucky after some match-winning performances. While Leroy Sané deservedly represents City on the young player shortlist, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne have been overlooked.
As ever, there is a bias towards attacking players and goalscorers, with no defenders or goalkeepers on the senior list. Defenders who might have been considered are Chelsea’s David Luiz and Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, though Michael Keane of Burnley has made the young player list.
Among the senior candidates Kanté is the most defensive selection and a deserving one for that reason alone, though his calmness, intelligence and extraordinary anticipation have been just as much a feature of this season as Mahrez’s invention last time round.