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Who’s in the running for Premier League Player of the Year?

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The Premier League Player of the Year is missing its easy winner this go-round.

There’s no Mohamed Salah running away with the scoring record, no Eden Hazard or N'Golo Kante as the clear best player on the champion.

[ MORE: Key games left in the PL season ]

So let’s take a look at where the race stands heading into the final international break of the season.

The contenders

Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool: Like N’Golo Kante before him, there’s a massive underdog status to a non-striker winning the Premier League’s Player of the Year (and you might want to argue that Kante deserved a Ballon d’Or finalist position). Flub against Fulham aside, few Premier League defenders have made their case in the past as well as Van Dijk has this season. Due to his status on a team who has a lot of the ball, it’s difficult to find super gaudy defensive numbers to make his case. Still, when taking into account Premier League center backs to play more than half their teams’ matches this season, no one on advanced stats site WhoScored is close to VVD. He also doesn’t have a “times dribbled past” per-match average on the site.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea: For years, Chelsea has gone as Eden Hazard. The Belgian is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the world, and is effervescent in attack. Sure, Chelsea’s also suffered through periods of head-scratching results and effort — nothing new at Stamford Bridge and he’s one of the only players to be a part of the downfalls of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and presumably Maurizio Sarri — but his 13 goals and 11 assists make him the only player to reach double figures in both categories this season. And imagine how high that assist total could be with Alvaro Morata or Gonzalo Higuain finishing at an average or above-average clip.

Raheem Sterling, Man City: At Liverpool a few years ago, it would’ve been accurate to call Sterling, “the kid with the abysmal second touch.” But the Englishman has become better and better by the season, and he’s actually the most economical star in the running for the PL’s Golden Boot; His 2.1 shots per game is less than Sergio Aguero (3.7), Mohamed Salah (3.4), Harry Kane (3.6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2.6), Hazard (2.6), and Sadio Mane (2.4). Only Hazard and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser have more assists.

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: His average second-half of the season is going to make it difficult for him to repeat as PL Player of the Year, especially considering he has just one goal with no assists in eight matches since Jan. 30 (and four of those were 0-0 or 1-1 draws). Yet it’d be wrong to discount his 17 goals and six assists through 24 matches, and a strong finish could make him a Golden Boot, Premier League, and Champions League winner. That’s not crazy.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City: Eighteen goals and six assists make him one of four players to combine for 24 goals of production this season, and the 30-year-old may be get sympathetic votes given his surprising lack of honors during a torrential tenure in the Premier League. His three hat tricks should live in the memory of some voters, too, especially since two came against Arsenal and Chelsea. He’s there when you need him, that’s for sure.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur: Right in the Golden Boot race despite missing four matches with torn ankle ligaments, Kane has 17 goals and four assists for Spurs this season. Not that the League Cup should come into play in a PL season vote, but Spurs’ star could well be holding silverware in voters’ minds if he hadn’t been hurt before the second leg against Chelsea. Three matches against Pep Guardiola and Man City in the next few weeks will either help or hurt his argument (again, only one of those comes in league play).

FINALLY, “THE WILD CARD” — He’s not going to win this award, and probably won’t be on any short lists besides this post, but spare a though for Raul Jimenez of Wolves. The Mexican striker has been a part of 18 league markers for Nuno Espirito Santo (12 goals, six assists) during his first ever Premier League season.

He’s scored against Chelsea twice, Spurs twice, and assisted versus Manchester United, and Arsenal. Wolves are 10W-4D-2L when he gets a goal or an assist, and 2W-3D-9L when he doesn’t produce magic.

And let’s be honest: Is one of the key players above leading their team to a title as impressive as what Jimenez has done keeping his newly-promoted side in the race for a Europa League place (even given what Wolves spent around him)?

Honestly, he’s in my Top Three with Sterling and Van Dijk. Hazard is probably fourth, with Kane, Aguero, and Salah a bit behind.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Salah time and Lyon’s opportunity

Martin Rickett/PA via AP
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Liverpool’s going to need to score on Wednesday at the Allianz Arena, preferably before penalty kicks, and the Reds have just the guy to do that.

Mohamed Salah is on a five-match dry spell in terms of goals, but the Egyptian star has done plenty of playmaking in the interim.

[ MORE: Man City clobbers Schalke ]

He’ll be getting plenty of attention from Bayern Munich, because Liverpool can advance to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals via a win or scoring draw.

Still, there’s no question he could use production on a big stage like this, as he continues to draw comparisons to some of the game’s greats. While Salah has been sensational in the Premier League, scoring 17 goals with seven assists in 30 games, he’s simply been pretty good in the UCL (three goals, no assists, in seven games).

He’s completing 69 percent of his passes in the UCL compared to 76 in the PL, and 2.1 dribbles per game compared to one. With plenty of respect to Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and an acknowledgment that the standard UCL match brings more attention than the standard PL game, that’s not going to cut it.

As for Wednesday’s other second leg, Lyon has a chance to spring a monumental upset of Barcelona and turn the whole competition on its ear.

Barca and Lyon played a scoreless draw in France, meaning a score draw can do the trick for the Ligue 1 visitors on Wednesday.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has maybe the pick of the quote litter, when it comes to the challenge faced by his club.

“It will be terribly difficult. The stadium will be full with one of the best teams in the world. We have a great desire to show that a French team can go further. It would be historic. It would be an unpretentious feat, but in line with what we want to do. This team plays brilliantly against top opposition.

“It’s a pleasure to come here, but there’s also the risk of leaving with less pleasure than when we arrived. Don’t be overwhelmed, but at the same time realize that this is a great opportunity. The squad believes in itself.”

Who goes through from the 0-0 match-ups?

Liverpool outlasts Burnley at Anfield

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  • Westwood scores disputed opener
  • Firmino scores in each half
  • Gudmundsson pulls one back in stoppage
  • Mane answers back to complete brace
  • Reds back within one of Man City

Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored twice as Liverpool came from behind to punish sloppy Burnley 4-2 at Anfield on Sunday.

Burnley took an early lead when Ashley Westwood‘s corner kick sailed past an obstructed Alisson Becker, but the Reds got their just desserts to move one point back of leaders Man City.

The Clarets are 17th, two points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Full box score, lineups, stats ]

Burnley took a sixth minute lead out of nothing, and it’s a goal that never should have been awarded by referee

Roberto Firmino cut inside to rip a 14th minute shot at Tom Heaton‘s goal, but defender James Tarkowski blocked the effort.

Then Sadio Mane couldn’t quite turn a hard-hit Trent Alexander-Arnold cross on frame as the Reds continued their equalizer push.

Firmino put Liverpool level in the 20th minute, easily slotting home from inside the six when Tarkowski and Heaton made a mess of a Mohamed Salah pass.

Mane made it 2-0 in the 29th, his sixth-straight league home game with a goal, when he sent an arrow into the goal following a blocked clearance from Adam Lallana.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedulePlayer stats ]

Burnley kept it tight for the first 20 minutes of the second half, but the dam broke when Heaton’s poor kick led to Firmino’s second of the day.

Alexander-Arnold crossed for Mane in the 82nd minute, but the Senegalese star’s sliding effort bounded off the bar.

Gudmundsson scored in stoppage time to allow a few nerves at Anfield, but Mane answered the bell quickly to restore the 2-goal cushion.

Stars and duds from Manchester United 0-0 Liverpool

AP Photo/Jon Super
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Manchester United and Liverpool played an engaging if sloppy draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.

[ MORE: Match recap | JPW’s 3 Things from OT ]

The point may well give the Reds its Premier League title when all is said and done, but Liverpool was poor in attack against a United side which used all three of its subs inside of 42 minutes.

Luckily, it’s goalkeeper was wonderful. And United showed supreme composure in the face of much consternation.

Stars (Ratings in parentheses)

Alisson Becker (8) — Made a couple of fine interventions, but his best moment came when the otherwise strong Virgil Van Dijk was fooled by a Romelu Lukaku pass. Alisson slid toward Jesse Lingard, patient with his arms to control the Englishman’s bid to dribble around him.

Luke Shaw (10) — Pretty much perfect at left back, putting Mohamed Salah in his proverbial pocket. Also delivered a number of fine crosses and set piece bids.

Romelu Lukaku (8) — United’s big striker needed to play right wing with Marcus Rashford limited and wobbling around up top. He made some big tackles and sent a terrific cross into the mix that could’ve prodded a surprise winner on the edge of stoppage time.

Virgil van Dijk (7) — Even though he was fooled by Lukaku’s pass to Lingard, VVD was quite good in the face of a strong first half from United’s injured attack.

Andreas Pereira (8) — We could put Scott McTominay here, too, but the midfielder got away with at least one likely penalty. Pereira came into the game cold against a brilliant attack and had no problems adjusting to a crucial match against a heated rival.

Paul Pogba (5) — Had enough defensive moments to prod him further up the ratings scale, but days like today are made for extraordinary players to do legendary things with the ball. The Frenchman didn’t have one.

Duds

Mohamed Salah (4) — The Egyptian has been poor against top teams this season, and was nearly invisible for large stretches of the match. Take away a 1-goal, 1-assist match against Arsenal, and he has not been on the scoresheet against a Top Six side this season.

Sadio Mane (3) — The first time I noticed Mane was in a 50-50 with Romelu Lukaku deep in Liverpool’s end. It was the 77th minute.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (5) and Jurgen Klopp (5) — Solskjaer whiffed when he brought an unfit Jesse Lingard into the match and had to bring him off before halftime. And Klopp’s decision to put Daniel Sturridge in for Roberto Firmino instead of moving Mohamed Salah up top against United’s center backs was baffling and did nothing.

Lukewarm Liverpool back atop table after Manchester United draw

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  • Lingard subs on, off as United uses all 3 subs before half
  • Liverpool goes atop table
  • Reds manage just one shot on target

With the odds in its favor at Old Trafford, Liverpool’s attack was tepid in a scoreless draw with Manchester United on Sunday.

The draw pushes the Reds a point clear of Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title.

United drops into fifth with its 52nd point of the season.

[ MORE: JPW’s from OT | Stars+Duds ]

Liverpool earned the first bit of danger, when David De Gea had to deal with Ashley Young‘s poor pass and gave away an early free kick which came to nothing.

Marcus Rashford slipped in hitting a shot toward Alisson Becker in the seventh minute.

An unlikely source won a dangerous free kick for Liverpool, as Joel Matip’s fine dribble saw Ander Herrera foul the Cameroonian defender outside the box.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United was hit with another midfield injury as Ander Herrera joined Nemanja Matic on the sideline, meaning the Red Devils midfield was Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba with 70-plus minutes to play.

Then Mata was felled! Unreal scenes, with Jesse Lingard coming into the match despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s pre-match comments that he wasn’t fit for a 90-minute grind. Well, how about 64?

Paul Pogba tore into a right-footed effort that Virgil Van Dijk headed out for a corner in the 37th, and the big center back dealt with the set piece, too.

Alisson then made a terrific sliding intervention when Lukaku fooled Van Dijk to slip Lingard on goal.

United had to use its third sub in the 42nd minute, as Lingard limped off the pitch.

Alexis Sanchez replaced him, and promptly found Lukaku at the back post. Alisson collected the resulting header.

[ MORE: Box scores, lineups, more ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A second half free kick saw Pogba nod tamely to Alisson, but the Frenchman was offside as well.

Georginio Wijnaldum missed a headed chance off a 70th minute corner, and a second corner went for nought when Joel Matip couldn’t turn the ball on frame. Scott McTominay was the marker in both cases, and both players called for penalties against the Scotland international.

Matip conceded an own goal on a Luke Shaw free kick, then exhaled deeply when the offside flag was raised.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]