Picking the PFA awards

by Nathaniel Shaughnessy

Luis SuárezEvery year this day rolls around bizarrely early in my opinion. Whilst the PFA player of the year is admittedly settled now and nothing could be done to rob Luis Suarez of his long overdue prize there is still much to be fought for in terms of young player of the year and indeed, team of the year – and I honestly feel these last seven games could have made a real difference to the result.

Firstly, the goalkeeper accolade is anybody’s game with Petr Cech and Wojcech Szczesny in a dead heat for the Golden Glove going into the final seven games, with Szczesny just edging out his more experienced rival according to the Squawka performance index – although he has conceded 13 more goals all in all.

Defensively, there is still much to be decided with Arsenal’s defenders arguably losing any claim to a place following the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea (the third time they’ve conceded five or more goals) despite otherwise having by far and away the best defensive record in the league against the smaller teams.

Yet, if they were to keep five clean sheets in their last seven games and steer Arsenal to a third place finish now then surely the leadership of Per Mertesacker would deserve a place alongside John Terry as the centre back pairing.

Indeed, as so often with these awards your likelihood of winning one largely comes down to the timing of your form. Perhaps more so than your level of consistency across the whole season.

For example; who could deny that last season Theo Walcott deserved a place in the team – with his efforts in the Christmas period practically dragging Arsenal back into contention for that fourth place spot. He finished the season with 14 goals and 11 assists – significantly more than Eden Hazard (9 and 13) yet due to hitting form closer to the time of the voting the Belgian was voted in and Walcott missed out.

Admittedly, I am an Arsenal fan – hence the focus on Arsenal players who I think would be/have been unlucky. Yet there are players from all over the country. Who deserve honorary mentions and may well have made the cut if a) the vote was done at the end of the season when the battle for survival had ended and perhaps one or two great escapists had emerged, and b) would have almost certainly been in it had their form coincided with the last five games before this vote was taken.

Adam Johnson’s January scoring run springs to mind but he will doubtless be joined on the unlucky-to-miss-out bench by the likes of Curtis Davies, Jay Rodriguez, Kevin Nolan and Emmanuel Adebayor – all of whom might’ve made it had their respective spells of form been a more recent memory in the mind of the voters.

My team of the year is as follows, but I have made a special effort to try to include players based on their performances across the whole season:

GK – Wojcech Szczesny

He has kept 13 clean sheets in the league, one less than Petr Cech, yet has arguably faced harder opposition up to this point and Arsenal’s last 5-6 games present an opportunity to rack up four or five more clean sheets and win the golden glove (if that award is actually still in existence). Furthermore, it is difficult to implicate him with much blame at all for any of Arsenal’s three thrashings this season with perhaps one goal of the seventeen being Szczesny’s fault (Oscar’s second and Chelsea’s fifth). Other than those games he has been quite remarkably improved between the sticks, not only being assured and racking up clean sheets at will, but also in producing several match winning saves – with Van Persie’s late volley at the Emirates springing to mind as one of many.

RB – Seamus Coleman

A remarkable breakthrough season for the Irishman. He has come to prominence this year and has done it with a bang, scoring six goals in the league and otherwise creating 33 chances whilst only racking up one yellow card all season. He has been simply superb. Fail to qualify for the Champions League and Everton will surely have their hands full trying to hold onto him with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and even neighbours Liverpool all reportedly in the market for a right back.

CB – John Terry

Surely one of the first names on the team sheet when the votes are tabulated, it is genuinely quite difficult to see how any player in the league (apart from maybe Rio Ferdinand) could not pick him. He has been an absolute rock for Chelsea to the extent that Roy Hodgson should be practically on his knees begging Terry to come out of international retirement. What makes it even more impressive is that his career seemed on its last legs midway through last season.

CB – Per Mertesacker

This was probably the most difficult position to pick as it is hard to include a player who has sat at the heart of a defence that has conceded five goals or more on three separate occasions. However, what is perhaps most surprising is that it is very difficult to implicate Mertesacker with that much blame. Against City three of the goals were the fault of Nacho Monreal, against Liverpool two were Monreal’s fault, one was Koscielny’s and one was Sagna’s and against Chelsea, two were Kieran Gibbs, two were Sagna and one was Szczesny. The rest were pretty much blameless. Of course, Mertesacker was poor in all of those games – as was the whole defence – but certainly not the source of the problem. Otherwise he has been outstanding. He has organised Arsenal’s defence expertly and up till February was probably one of the best players in the league. Once again, this comes down to performances across the whole season, and not just in the lead up to the voting which is why Mertesacker gets in.

LB – Cesar Azpilicueta

Leighton Baines will most likely get it, and I don’t doubt that he is the best left back in the league, but based on this season alone I’m not sure he’s done quite enough. Defensively, I think there are others who have perhaps outshone him, Kieran Gibbs, Luke Shaw and Alexsandar Kolarov all deserve notable mentions and Cesar Azpilicueta has been a mainstay in the most solid defence in the league – keeping Ashley Cole out of the team, an internationally regarded world-class left back, despite being played out of position. Furthermore he has a defensive score of 366.22 according to Squawka – the highest in the league whilst only picking up one yellow card and committing zero defensive errors. Baines will probably be there but I wonder if this is fully deserved on the merits if his performances this seasons. Azpilicueta, Shaw, Gibbs and Kolarov would all be unlucky to miss out behind him.

CDM – Yaya Toure

Similar to Terry, it is difficult to see how any Premier League player could really miss this guy out. He has, in my opinion, been the best midfielder in world football this season. The Ivorian powerhouse offers everything. He has scored 17 goals in 28 appearances with five man of the match awards and five assists on top of this – but even without this attacking contribution would justify his selection in the team purely on the stability that he offers City in the middle of the park. A remarkable player.

CDM – Aaron Ramsey

Ramsey is one that I expect might miss out due to the timing of the voting. Yet in the first 18 games of this season, the scale of his revival was practically unwritable. Eight goals and six assists in 18 games in the league, as well as the most completed passes, tackles, interceptions and highest pass accuracy of all premier league players in the time before his injury made him a fantastic all round player. One of the stand out players of the first half of the league season. It is true that he has played ten fewer games (due to injury) than his rivals for this second holding midfield slot (Fernandinho, Gerrard et al) but I can’t help feeling that if he’d missed the first ten and played games 11-28 the way he played the first 18 games no one would even be questioning his selection.

RAM – Adam Lallana

Would be very unlucky not to start the first game of the World Cup this summer. He is an absolute model footballer, with his work rate and rise from playing league one football as recently as 2011 a testament to the value of hard work. Here’s a stat – he has completed 50 key passes in 31 games. Another great season for the Englishman. ]

LAM – Eden Hazard

I was absolutely disgusted to see Hazard get into the PFA team of the year 2012-13 but will have no complaints following his inevitable inclusion this time around. His all round game, including his defensive work rate and decision-making has just come on leaps and bounds. Through the Christmas period he dragged Chelsea across the line in several separate games and if they are to win the league they have Hazard to thank in large parts for it.

CF – Luis Suarez

The second best player in the world at the moment behind Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst recognising his ability, few could’ve predicted the season Suarez would’ve had – and all after missing the first five games of the season. He is set to break records for goals/game ratio, goals scored in a season, goals/assists combined total and many more…

ST – Daniel Sturridge

This is a selection which I think will largely come down to timing. Indeed, Sturridge’s form since the turn of the year cannot simply be ignored. Had Sergio Aguero not had injury troubles I expect I’d be putting him in but at the time of writing Sturridge has scored five more goals in six more games and thus just about creeps in. This is one of the main reasons I find it bizarre that the team is picked with seven games more to go as so much can change – but at this stage Sturridge edges it.

In terms of the individual awards:

PFA Player of the Year

1. Luis Suarez
2. Yaya Toure
3. Eden Hazard

PFA Young player of the Year

1. Aaron Ramsey
2. Ross Barkley
3. Raheem Sterling

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