Welcome to theguardian.com review of the 2019-20 Premier League season. We have nominated some contenders for this category but this is just to get the discussion going: offer your suggestions below the line …
Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
We’re not going to get 100% agreement on Liverpool’s best player of the season. We’re just not. Jordan Henderson? A relentless force of nature, leader of men, a better passer than usually given credit for, and the choice at the FWAs. Trent Alexander-Arnold? His crossing and dead-ball delivery register 11 on our Beckhamometer, with more assists in the last two seasons than Kevin De Bruyne, and he’s a local hero to boot. Virgil van Dijk? The man radiates such Zen authority, he’s even been able to calm the turbulence within Dejan Lovren’s addled noggin, on a few occasions at least. Valid choices all, but let’s make a special case for Sadio Mané, whose playmaking heart and disruptive skill Liverpool have so often fallen back on when the going gets tough. A scorer of great goals, but plenty of timely and important interventions too. A dependable genius.
Danny Ings (Southampton)
The feelgood hit of the winter. Even during the dark days, when the season was threatening to turn seriously pear-shaped for Southampton, Ings kept the flame a-flicker. During a dismal five-game losing run which included that defeat by Leicester and saw Saints concede 20 goals, Ings still managed to find the net four times, showing there was a way out of the mire if everyone else could just calm down and refocus. His steadfast refusal to buckle rekindled confidence, and when the nerves started to steady, Ings really got to work, scoring nine in the next 10. To be in the mix for the Golden Boot, among representatives of several Champions League chasing teams, has been some feat. After all the injuries, nobody will begrudge him this season’s successes. He’s back, baby.
Chris Basham (Sheffield United)
Like the champions, United are all about the power of the collective, so good luck getting a consensus on the star of their sensational season. Their squad isn’t exactly teeming with household names, either, though who should really care, especially as Chris Wilder’s deployment of overlapping centre backs has been exotic enough. So let’s concentrate on that oft-referenced back three. John Egan runs the show, while Jack O’Connell offers the greatest danger on the overlap, boasting a hell of a cross. This leaves us with Basham. Signed by Nigel Clough in League One, initially as a midfielder, fans worried he might not make the step up to the Championship, never mind the Premier League. But he’s found his feet on both occasions, playing every game this season, missing just 155 minutes of action. His dogged persistence embodies Wilder’s team like no other, which may explain his status as a favourite of the cognoscenti, as well as his Kaiser-tastic nickname of Bashambauer.
Michail Antonio (West Ham United)
Where does it say you have to make your mark on the entire season to be considered one of its best, and most significant, players? There doesn’t seem to be any official rule-sheet agreed by pedants worldwide, so we must conclude you most certainly do not. Michail Antonio had scored only two goals in 15 matches before lockdown, but since the restart he’s been the star of the division. His four-goal haul against Norwich appears the standout achievement at first sight, but his man-of-the-match performance against Chelsea, which included a goal and a glorious pass to set up West Ham’s last-minute winner, was season-defining work. It turned relegation worriers – the Hammers were a beaten docket before this eyebrow-raising win – into survival believers. Plus his interview after the game exuded an infectious joie de vivre – and he unequivocally slagged off VAR. Good man.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
After a slow start, Rashford gained some momentum with a big goal against his Old Trafford bunnies Liverpool, then, rather like Ings at Southampton, kept his team bobbing along during some distinctly underwhelming times. His total of 17 goals is by some distance his best league return to date, and it’s easy to forget, given he made his debut during the Louis van Gaal era, that he’s still only 22. His recent goal against Crystal Palace – a drop of the shoulder to sit an opponent down, followed by a sidefoot pass into the bottom corner – was one of the great understated finishes of the season, and a promise of more clinical brilliance to come. Also, despite all that ice running through the veins, the heart pumps warm within this exceptional young man: 1.3 million children with full bellies will attest to that. The concept of heroism is overused in sports reporting. But here we are again.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010