The 2017/18 season is drawing to a close, both in the Premier League and across Europe, and with most matters concerning promotion, relegation and European qualification settled, attention can turn to reflecting upon what has been another thrilling campaign.
Manchester City walked to the English top flight title, with Pep Guardiola’s men converting non-believers and setting records with their easy-on-the-eye mix of possession, precision and penetration.
While City have dominated domestically, and many of their stars have stood out on an individual level, a swathe of others have impressed in their own right, with Burnley upsetting the odds and Liverpool reaching a Champions League final.
Here, at Football Whispers, we have got together to vote on who the standout individuals of the 2017/18 season have been across a number of categories.
Player of the Year: Mohamed Salah
Liverpool forward Salah was run close in the ballot for PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer or the Year by Manchester City‘s Kevin De Bruyne, but the Egyptian streaked away with the prize here, earning 91 per cent of the vote.
City’s Belgian playmaker has enjoyed a stellar campaign, pulling the strings in midfield as Guardiola’s men enjoyed a record-breaking domestic season, but Salah cannot be denied the accolade of being English football’s top performer, netting an incredible 43 goals in all competitions.
It’s easy to forget the 25-year-old only signed for the Reds last summer, too, joining from Roma for what now looks like an absolute steal at around £36million.
Manager of the Year: Sean Dyche
With City setting new high marks for points, wins and goals scored, producing one of the most dominant English top-flight seasons in recent memory, it was always going to take something very special to prevent Guardiola winning this award.
And the voting couldn’t have been tighter, but for guiding unfancied, relegation-tipped Burnley to seventh place, and thus securing a place in next season’s Europa League for the Turf Moor side, Sean Dyche is our Manager of the Year.
The former Watford boss has defied his critics, confounded analytics and exceeded expectations to make the Clarets one of the Premier League’s most effective teams, and the best of the rest outside the ‘big six’.
Young Player of the Year: Leroy Sané
Considering only players aged 22 or under, City’s Leroy Sané was the outstanding candidate for our Young Player of the Year award, just as he was for the PFA’s version of the accolade.
The German winger got better and better as the season went on, even drawing level with De Bruyne at the top of the assists chart by creating three goals in City’s penultimate game.
A shoo-in for Joachim Löw’s squad at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with talents like Sané on their side, you wouldn’t bet against Germany retaining the crown the won in Brazil in 2014.
Goalkeeper of the Year: David de Gea
Named Manchester United‘s Player of the Year for the fourth time in five seasons, the Spaniard’s position as the Red Devils’ star attraction says plenty about the Old Trafford club’s recent plight, but there can be no questioning his status as the Premier League’s – and arguably the world’s – best goalkeeper.
De Gea has been consistently magnificent once again for United this term, producing a highlight reel of stunning reflex saves, the likes of which most keepers don’t amass in an entire career, let alone a single campaign.
The only other goalkeeper to pick up votes was Burnley’s Nick Pope, whose outstanding form has brought him into contention for a place in England’s World Cup squad.
Centre-back of the Year: Nicolás Otamendi
Ran close by Tottenham Hotspur‘s Jan Vertonghen, Otamendi is the Football Whispers Defender of the Year, which would have been considered an unlikely feat just a year ago, given the Argentinian was the butt of many a joke for his errant and inconsistent form at the Etihad.
The former Valencia stopper has been a man transformed this season, though, the reliable rock at the heart of the champions’ backline, attempting more passes than any other player in the league and maintaining a 91.9 per cent completion rate.
Solid defensively, Otamendi has also chipped in with four goals for City in what has been an outstanding campaign for the 30-year-old.
Full-back of the Year: Kyle Walker
He became the most expensive defender in football history when he joined Manchester City from Tottenham last summer – soon usurped by Virgil van Dijk‘s £75million mid-season move to Liverpool – and many questioned Walker’s £50million-plus price tag, but the England full-back has been worth every penny.
He’s yet to score for his new club but the 27-year-old has registered six Premier League assists this term, as he formed an integral part of City’s attacking and defensive structures.
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson also collected votes in our ballot. The Scottish defender struggled to crack the first team initially upon joining Liverpool from relegated Hull City, but soon grew into his new surroundings and made the left-back spot his own.
Midfielder of the Year: Kevin De Bruyne
He might have missed out on the main award, but De Bruyne walks away with our midfielder of the year gong, with Tottenham‘s Christian Eriksen the only player able to take a vote off the brilliant Belgian.
Many observers were sceptical when Guardiola elected to utilise De Bruyne in a deeper midfield role this season, with the former Wolfsburg man more accustomed to a position wide on the right or as an orthodox No.10, but the move has reaped dividends for City.
Leading the league in both assists and key passes, De Bruyne has been the main creative force behind the Etihad side’s dominance this year.
Forward of the Year: Mohamed Salah
Having already claimed the Football Whispers Player of the Year award, there was only ever one man in the running for Forward of the Year. Indeed, the only player to take a vote off Salah in this category was team-mate Roberto Firmino, whose efforts as Liverpool‘s selfless frontline facilitator this season certainly deserve recognition.
But, with 31 goals in his first season back in the Premier League since an ill-fated spell with Chelsea, the unstoppable Salah stands head and shoulders above the division’s attackers, even bringing to an end Harry Kane‘s two-year dominion over the Golden Boot.
With a Champions League final still to contest, as Liverpool take on Real Madrid, who reportedly hold a £200million interest in the Egyptian, Salah might yet take his season to new heights.
Signing of the Year: Mohamed Salah
Completing the hat-trick, Salah also takes home our Signing of the Season gong. There were cheaper purchases made last summer than the former Roma man, but none have multiplied their value as exponentially or offered a greater return on their club’s investment than the Liverpool No.11.
An honourable mention goes to Brighton & Hove Albion attacking midfielder Pascal Groß. Picked up from Ingolstadt for just £3million, the 26-year-old’s seven goals and eight assists went a long way towards ensuring the Seagulls remained in the top flight.
Indeed, earning more than a third of the ballot, Groß ran Salah closer than any contender for the other two awards the Premier League’s top scorer has won here.
Villain of the Year: Alan Pardew
Beating contenders such as Mark Hughes, Jonjo Shelvey and José Mourinho, sacked West Bromwich Albion manager Pardew is our Villain of the Year..
The former Newcastle United and Crystal Palace boss oversaw a dreadful stint in charge at the Hawthorns, condemning the Baggies to relegation while seemingly making errors of judgment and allowing lapses in discipline at every turn.
Had West Brom dumped Pardew sooner, and in turn placed current temporary manager Darren Moore in charge earlier, they might just have avoided the drop.
Taxi for Pardew . . .
Flop of the Year: Tiémoué Bakayoko
There was a clear winner in the vote for this season’s biggest flop: Chelsea midfielder Bakayoko, who was signed from Ligue 1 champions Monaco for £35million.
To compound the misery Chelsea fans felt at seeing the French powerhouse stumble through games at the heart of midfield, the Blues allowed two-time Premier League winner Nemaja Matić to join Manchester United to make way for Bakayoko.
An honourable mention must go to Renato Sanches, whose season-long loan to Swansea City was initially greeted with excitement and seen as quite a coup of the South Wales side.
However, the Bayern Munich midfielder, once Europe’s hottest prospect, proved to be desperately lacking confidence and a hinderance to the eventually relegated Swans.
Unsung Hero of the Year: James Milner
With competition from title winners Fernandinho and Otamendi, as well as Burnley’s Pope and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal, James Milner edged the voting for the distinction of 2017/18’s Unsung Hero.
The no-nonsense Liverpool midfielder has provided more Champions League assists than any other player this term, while always delivering reliable and tactically astute performances when called upon by Jürgen Klopp.
He may not be the most fashionable Premier League player, but every team could use a someone of Milner’s quality, versatility and humility.
Goal of the Season: Jamie Vardy, Leicester City vs West Bromwich Albion
Edging out Victor Wanyama’s wonder-strike for Spurs against Liverpool at Anfield, Vardy’s stunning volley for Leicester against West Brom is our Goal of the Season.
Latching on to Riyad Mahrez‘s lofted ball over the top from midfield, Vardy had plenty to do, despite the quality of the pass.
Where most strikers would have taken a touch, the England man perfectly gauged the trajectory of the dropping ball and sent a nonchalant, left-footed volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Surprise Package of the Season: Burnley
The Clarets, having finished 16th in 2016/17, just two places and six pints above the relegation zone, were tipped to battle the drop this season, not least because they had sold star performers Michael Keane and Andre Gray.
Yet Burnley, under the expert guidance of Dyche, will finish the season in seventh place, comfortably ahead of big-spending Everton and 2015/16 champions Leicester City, and a host of others with greater budgets and higher expectations.
This means the Turf Moor side will have to juggle domestic commitments with a European campaign next season, having qualified for the Europa League, that that, surely, is a challenge Dyche and his over-achievers will relish.
Europe-wide Player of the Year: Lionel Messi
He may not have been able to prevent Barcelona exiting the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, but Lionel Messi has been in typically stratospheric form this season, carrying Ernesto Valverde’s men to a domestic double.
More than ever, Barça have depended on Messi this season, and he has yet again delivered in spades, breaking the 40-goal barrier for the ninth campaign in a row, also delivering double figures for assists.
Typically, the man to run Messi closest in the ballot was Cristiano Ronaldo, whose form for Real Madrid in 2018 has been astonishing, guiding Los Blancos to another Champions League final, punctuating his fine form with a stunning bicycle kick against Juventus in the quarters.
Only one vote separated the great rivals here, while former Newcastle midfielder Florian Thauvin’s resurgent season with Marseille was also recognised in the voting.
Europe-wide Young Player of the Year: Kylian Mbappé
It wasn’t as close in the running for the Europe-Wide Young Player of the Year award, with Kylian Mbappé the runaway winner.
After a breakout season with Monaco is 2016/17, the 19-year-old forward has taken his move to Paris Saint-Germain – an initial loan that will become a €160million permanent deal this summer – in stride, scoring 27 goals in 60 games to help the Parisians to a domestic treble.