Apologies for the lack of a recap this week. Fortunately – between two FA Cup semi-finals, Wolves winning the Championship, Manchester City ensuring they will break the Prem’s single-season team goals record, Mohamed Salah equaling the single-season individual goals record, and Napoli beating Juventus in Turin with a 90th minute winner – we didn’t miss much. Just another quiet weekend in the world of football.
Onwards, then, to Tuesday Chatter. The topic this week is the PFA opting for Mo Salah as their player of the season; or, more specifically, opting for him over Kevin De Bruyne.
In most of the “opinion” pieces I’ve read online about this, the writers have sat resolutely on the fence – “well, they’re both great players, they’ve both had outstanding seasons, they’re both deserving, etc.” Well, there’s no fence-sitting when it comes to Tuesday Chatter! I felt strongly one way about it, Currey, Matt and Paddy strongly felt the other way, and – inevitably – debate ensued.
Joe: Let’s start with a quick straw poll. Who would you have voted for?
Matt: Mohamed Salah.
Joe: Perfect! Who’d like to justify their incorrect point of view first?
Matt: It was definitely a close call for me, between him and De Bruyne. They both had fantastic seasons, but Salah has been a one-man wrecking crew and a goalscoring machine.
Paddy: I just think that once records start falling, you can’t overlook that.
KDB is the beating heart of arguably the best Premier League team ever, but the records Salah is matching/breaking put him in the company of some of the most outstanding individuals to have ever played in the league.
Currey: To be honest, I’d have been happy with either.
On the one hand, KDB has run arguably one of the greatest Premier League teams we’ve seen, scored goals and got a league-high number of assists. On the other, we’ve got a player that has scored in the most games in a PL season ever, and he’s got the joint-most goals ever across a PL season; a record which he’s likely to break.
For me though, Salah is a worthy winner when you consider the simply ridiculous number and quality of goals he has scored, and the fact he can seemingly be out of a game and then come up with a Messi-esque goal out of nowhere. For me, the Champions League tie decided it – KDB went missing, and Salah ran riot against the best team in the league.
Joe: I wondered how long it would take for someone to make the Salah/Messi comparison. That was impressively quick!
It’s De Bruyne for me, all day long, for two main reasons.
Firstly, winning has to matter. KDB was the best player on the best team in the league, by far, and they won the title by a mile. Salah’s been outstanding too, but he’s still only gotten Liverpool to third or fourth. I think simple winning needs to be heavily rewarded.
Secondly, KDB has a much harder job than Salah. Salah’s brilliant at what he does, but KDB has to run an entire team. He’s the engine in that City XI, he carries a huge burden every week, and he’s done it incredibly well.
It’s the same reason N’Golo Kanté should’ve won over Riyad Mahrez, when Leicester City won the title. Mahrez was amazing, eye-catching, and he got the stats; but Kante had a far harder role, and he excelled in that role just as much as Mahrez did in his.
Currey: I agree with a lot there, but I completely disagree with KDB having a far harder job.
Having watched City on Sunday (Manchester City 5-0 Swansea), I think we’re all forgetting the quality and impact Silva has on that team. He was unplayable in that game, and he’s generally added goals to his arsenal this year too. He takes loads of pressure off KDB – they have two incredible playmakers in that City midfield – and they have Fernandinho mopping up behind. De Bruyne also has searing pace and fantastic movement around him every week – he’s able to play the way he does because his team allows him to.
Joe: There are two playmakers on that team, no doubt, but there’s also no doubt that KDB is the primary one.
City play an attacking, possession-based game, and he’s the main man that gets them from simply passing the ball around to actually threatening the goal. I’ve never fancied Silva as being particularly effective at that part of the game – he’s more a passing-the-ball-back-and-forth kind of player. KDB is the one who brings the directness which actually makes them a lethal team. Let’s not forget they’re also brilliant on the counter, and he’s the one who drives that too.
And to your other point – he and Salah are obviously both products of amazingly effective systems, which they’ve been put into by great coaches. But… City’s system has won them the league, Liverpool’s has got them to third or fourth. Again, winning has to matter.
Currey: That’s very harsh on Silva – the weight and invention of his passing on Sunday were perfect in and around the box. He might be one of the most underrated players in the league.
Paddy: Maybe, to simplify it, we can break it down into a set of categories?
1) Consistency – Salah for me; again, he’s scored in the most separate games ever.
2) Team success – KDB.
3) Individual Records – Salah.
4) Output (Goals/Assists) – Salah.
5) Expectancy? Salah has come from nowhere.
Currey: I like that. Plus, they’ve gone head-to-head four times this year, and Salah has come off better 3-1. He obliterated them at home in both games, and proved to be the catalyst for Liverpool killing the Champions League tie at the Etihad.
Joe: I do like the system, but I think that – of those categories – team success is by far the most important, and obviously KDB takes that one. The game is about glory, after all, as Spurs fans of all people hilariously love to tell us.
Currey: Would you change your mind if Liverpool kick on and win the Champions League? That would satisfy the “winning” issue.
Joe: This is a Premier League award, isn’t it?
Currey: Technically, but the voters always take cup competitions into account, and Salah has been epic in Europe. Loads of pundits have used the Champions League in their voting.
Joe: Well, if we include that then it does become more interesting. Salah’s been fantastic in Europe – just as good as he’s been in the Prem – which I definitely like.
Currey: Also, given that this is a PFA award, the voters are basically rating it on who they’ve actually come up against. That should count for a hell of a lot.
Joe: Fair point, but I think they tend to overrate goals. It’s normally just the league’s top scorer who wins the award, and it’s almost always a forward.
Overall, I just think the winner should come from the team who actually, y’know… won.
Paddy: I’m not sure that bringing position into it achieves a great deal, unfortunately. Whether right or wrong, attacking players have always had total dominance over individual awards. Whilst it’s perfectly valid to note that deeper players have wider skill sets, run the team and are often under-appreciated, that bias towards more advanced players is unlikely to change.
I see your point about the Player of the Year coming from the league winners, but it’s very rare that a team can run an entire, successful league campaign off the back of one player. It has to be a collective effort, which will inevitably mask the efforts of their key players. There are some occasions where one player is utterly dominant, but they’re pretty much always going to be recognised, and I’d agree with Currey that other top players like David Silva have made valuable contributions to City this year which compete with KDB’s.
You’re far more likely to find individuals helping their teams over-perform in that upper/mid-table region. They’re naturally going to stand out more as they enable the team to be more than just the sum of its parts.
Joe: Tell you what, Paddy. If you’d written like this at university, you’d be a lot better off right now.
Paddy: I feel that I could compare my university career to Mendy’s season. An engaging and popular figure, who had minimal input on the pitch, managed to make a brief and terrible cameo towards the end of the season, but didn’t have quite enough involvement for a winner’s medal (or in my case, a degree).
Joe: Right, so has anyone changed their minds?
Joe: Me neither. That’s the sign of a good debate! I will say that I’ve softened a little to Salah – you’ve made some good points.
Will the journalists choose Salah too when it’s their turn, or will they make the right choice?
Paddy: Kevin De Bruyne is changing the game. His range of passing is a whole level above anyone I’ve seen before. I could see them giving him the nod when taking the wider picture into account .
Currey: KDB, taking into consideration his overarching impact on City’s style of play, over Salah’s counter-attacking approach.
Matt: Salah. He hurts teams in so many ways, and needs to be double-teamed, which changes the game.
Joe: Last question – who’s been the third-best player in the Premier League this season? I’m guessing we’ll all have the same answer.
Paddy: Roberto Firmino.
Joe: I was wrong!
Matt: David de Gea.
Joe: There we go.
Currey: Christian Eriksen. He’s stepped it up this year and added more goals, while still getting assists. Honourable mentions for Harry Kane and David Silva.
Joe: Give it a rest with Silva, already.
Currey: 9 goals (more than KDB) and 11 assists this season.
Currey: He was actually only involved in four fewer goals than De Bruyne.
Joe: I’m going now, bye!