It's Round and it's White's Premier League mid-season awards
Happy New Year and welcome to It's Round and it's White's Premier League mid-season awards.
You can forgive Liverpool fans who haven't won a Premier League title for thinking the season is done and dusted but 19 games remain. Nothing is written in stone.
That said, there are players throughout the division and at least one manager who deserve recognition for the good work they've accomplished so far. To determine who those were in the least scientific manner possible, IRAIW surveyed its own staff of intrepid writers.
We asked them to nominate the best player from each club in the top six and one from the other 14 clubs combined, the league's most impressive U23 player, the most impactful player who transferred in from elsewhere to make his PL debut, the absolute top player and the best manager.
Here are the people they rated in each of the 11 categories.
Two players garnered 85% of the vote in this category, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang drawing just over half the ballots. The flashy centre-forward from Gabon charmed our staff with his penchant for goals. He shares the Premier League lead with Harry Kane, sitting on 14 strikes in 21 appearances and two more in the Europa League.
Newly-arrived defensive midfielder Lucas Torreiera claimed roughly a third of the vote. The Uruguayan's relentless energy and tenacity were also appreciated. Why not when he averages two tackles per league game as well as 1.3 interceptions? His 89.4% passing accuracy is nothing to sneeze at either.
Young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi and Nigerian forward Alex Iwobi also claimed votes.
It shouldn't come as a shock that Eden Hazard won this category but maybe a bit of a surprise that Jorginho only squeezed one vote from him. In 20 Premier League matches the Belgian produced 10 goals and nine assists. He added two more strikes in EFL Cup play. When you look at those numbers, it's no wonder Gary Neville rated him the Premier League's best player earlier in December.
Hazard hasn't had any luck in the Europa League but he's only played 98 minutes in two appearances as Maurizio Sarri attempts to keep him fresh.
Last season, Liverpool reached the Champions League final when Mo Salah challenged the 50-goal plateau. Round and White writers are more interested in what you've done for them lately, however. The Egyptian finished a distant second in voting to Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch centre-half has made his mark this campaign leading a rearguard that threatens to break the Premier League record for fewest goals conceded. The Reds defence has been breached only eight times in 20 matches, putting them on pace to yield just 15 goals. That would match Jose Mourinho's 2004/05 Chelsea squad who hold the record.
Sadio Mane and Alisson Becker each made a single ballot in our survey.
Not that threading a pass through a compact double block is easy but they say scoring is the most difficult thing to do in football. The knock on Raheem Sterling last season was his inability to take chances. This year, he's unlocked the secret while David Silva continues to do the same to Premier League defences. Sterling is the word you would use to describe Raheem's half-season with Manchester City, however. In 17 games he's racked up nine goals and six assists. Our staff were duly impressed voting him the Sky Blues' top player by a three-to-one margin.
The other Silva, Bernard, snatched a vote as well.
Manchester United's attack awoke when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived. Previous boss Jose Mourinho couldn't settle on his best XI. In his four matches, Solskjaer has rotated everyone into his squad to tremendous success. If neither of these more qualified individuals replete with inside knowledge can settle on their preferred lineup, who are we to deliver a consensus on the best player on the Old Trafford books? In the closest race among the top-six, Anthony Martial edges out Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford in our estimation.
Benched by the Special One on Alexis Sanchez's arrival, it says a lot about the Frenchman that he's endured and come through the other side to be United's joint-top scorer on the young season, with eight goals. Set free by Solskjaer, Pogba is hot on his compatriot's heels with seven and six assists too. Rashford counts a half-dozen markers in both categories for the club that is inching their way back into the race for Champions League places.
South Korean winger Son Heung-min has been coming on in recent games for Tottenham. Maybe that recent surge nicked a vote or two from Harry Kane, but the Englishman remains atop the Premier League scoring chart and Spurs' most dangerous player.
Mauricio Pochettino's side journeyed to Wales still smarting from a 1-3 reversal at Wembley against Wolves. They quickly erased the pain with a 3-0 victory at the City Stadium. Both forwards made the scoresheet. Kane was first as easily as he was in Round and White's survey.
Widening the field from one to 14 teams made things a little trickier. Several players received votes but two rose above the competition.
Five-foot-four Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser was perhaps the more surprising but his five goals and nine assists in the Premier League speak for themselves. Only Eden Hazard has as many helpers. Everton's Brazilian is a pure finisher, however. Richarlison has just the one assist but nine goals in the season's first half. Despite their disparate styles, the duo finished in a dead heat for the best-of-the-rest award.
In another crowded field, two players emerged from the pack. This time, there was a clear winner. While Alex Iwobi's early form for Arsenal this season is changing opinions about the formerly inconsistent Nigerian, Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka topped our list for the Premier League's best young star. Although he has just one assist to his name after 20 matches, the 21-year-old from Croydon is drawing comparisons to Real Madrid's Brazilian left-back Marcelo for his eagerness to get forward and the problems he causes defenders when he does. Meanwhile, Iwobi develops into a reliable asset in attack for Unai Emery at Arsenal. The Gunner has two goals and four assists in the season's first-half.
Honourable mentions in this category go to James Maddison, David Brooks and Ben Chilwell.
The Premier League attracts new talent from other leagues every season. Young players come up from the Championship. Top stars arrive from big clubs on the continent. Stars who can't break into the Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germains sign with much wealthier mid-table teams in the English league. When a Paul Pogba arrives, it's easy to pick a top new star. When a marquee name is missing, there tend to be surprises.
This term, there's one of each. Jorginho was expected to weave his magic after following Maurizio Sarri from Napoli to Chelsea. He has. But West Ham's Felipe Anderson has settled nicely at the London Olympic to turn heads as well. The current Brazilian has eight goals and two assists for the Hammers while operating in the number 10 role on most Saturdays. Operating from a deeper position, the former Brazilian has only struck for one goal in his budding Blues career. Even so, the naturalised Italian ekes out an extra vote to claim our New Player award. Did someone say football is a funny old game?
Other notables among the newbies included Everton's Andre Gomes and Leicester City's James Maddison.
David Silva couldn't touch Raheem Sterling as Manchester City but the Spanish midfielder nearly unseated Eden Hazard as best player in the league, Gary Neville be damned. The human mind is a dangerous place filled with strange twists and turns. Then again, maybe I'm giving myself and my colleagues here at It's Round and It's White too much credit.
While Silva and Hazard were the clear frontrunners, Harry Kane, Virgil van Dijk and Paul Pogba also earned recognition.
There's one in every crowd. For his own protection, I won't name names but one IRAIW writer nominated Pep Guardiola as the best manager in this half-season. Otherwise, Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp would have taken the honour unanimously. Unbeaten Liverpool tops the league by six points over Tottenham Standpat [where are the accolades for Mauricio Pochettino?] and seven over the Cityzens.
At any rate, Pep and the Liverpool boss who has the best record against him of any manager on the planet meet this evening. When that match concludes, our lone standout may be vindicated or possibly find himself googling the process for seeking asylum at a Tibetan monastery. Time will tell.
Watch this space tomorrow for our UEFA midseason awards.