Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.

Chelsea rejects Real’s $78m Hazard offer; Anderson back-up plan

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Chelsea wants more than $150 million for Eden Hazard which could lead Real Madrid to look to a different part of London for its next playmaker, according to Sky Sports.

A Thursday report says Chelsea has shot down a $78 million bid for Hazard and is expecting at least twice that amount as desperate Real Madrid looks to revolutionize its team after a European trophy-free 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Man Utd stars set for exit? ]

The Blues may not sell at all because of its impending transfer ban, despite Hazard being able to walk away for free after the 2019-20 season.

And Hazard isn’t exactly shying away from his long-held interest in a move to Real in this sly exchange with Belgian outlet HLN:

Interviewer: “Look, I have a friend who has been playing in the Premier League for seven years. At a club that plays in blue. He has won everything there and he is ready for a new challenge. He is now in the interest of another club, one in a white outfit. What would you recommend to that boy?”

Smiling, Hazard replied: “Well, buy that friend a white shirt.”

So Real is training its eyes on West Ham United’s Felipe Anderson to the tune of an $85 million bid, a figure which would see the Irons profit in a big way following a $48 million purchase just last summer.

Anderson, who turns 26 in April, has been very good as the Irons bid for seventh place and a possible Europa League spot next season. The Brazilian has nine goals and five assists across all competitions for Manuel Pellegrini.

Hazard is two years older than Anderson, and has produced at a world class level dating back to his 20-goal, 18-assist Ligue 1 season at Lille in 2011-12.

Although, even with the transfer ban, maybe Chelsea will take the money and its medicine without Hazard, who is one of the only players who have been a part of the Blues teams to quit on Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and possibly tried to do the same to Maurizio Sarri).

Do you want the bitter Belgian playing out the string? West Ham fans probably hope the answer is, “Nope.”

Get ready for a summer of speculating that Real might buy any player on Earth outside of Lionel Messi, given chairman Florentino Perez’s penchant for hunting Galacticos; In the past week alone, Real has been linked with Neymar, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Hazard, and Anderson. Wow.

Report: Man United stars lined up for exit

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It appears that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already knows the players he wants to get rid of this summer.

We know that Antonio Valencia, the club captain, will leave this summer after the club declined to offer him a one-year contract extension, but a few others may be joining the 33-year-old Ecuadorian in heading through the exit door at Old Trafford.

A report from the Daily Star claims that both Alexis Sanchez and Marcos Rojo will be sold this summer, as caretaker boss (for now) Solskjaer plans to offload the injury-prone South American duo.

Sanchez, 30, has been a big disappointment at United following his arrival from Arsenal last January, as the highest-paid player at the club has scored just once in 17 Premier League appearances this season. The Chilean star was injured in their 3-2 win against Southampton earlier this month and isn’t expect to return to fitness until mid-April at the earliest.

As for Rojo, the 29-year-old Argentine center back suffered a serious knee injury early in the season and has struggled for fitness since as he then picked up a back injury. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones handed new contracts and United constantly linked with moves for new center backs in Toby Alderweireld and Kostas Manolas, it seems like Rojo’s five-year stay at United is almost up.

Would these exits make sense? For both the club and the player, 100 percent.

Sanchez just hasn’t looked happy at United since he arrived, as Solskjaer clearly has other players ahead of him in the pecking order. A move to PSG or maybe one of Italy’s big boys either permanently or on loan seems like the best bet for everyone, although Sanchez will be in no hurry to leave United as he still has over four years left on his huge $650,000 a week contract.

As for Rojo, the writing is on the wall for him given his poor record with injuries and United’s persistence to try and sign a new center back. He is a solid defender who can play at either center back or full back, and he did rebound well in Jose Mourinho’s first season after struggling under Louis Van Gaal. Rojo’s current contract runs until the summer of 2021 with an option to extend by a further year so, like Sanchez, he probably won’t be in a hurry to go anywhere and a loan move is probably more likely.

It remains to be seen how ruthless Solskjaer will be if and when he does take charge of United on permanent basis, but it is likely Sanchez and Rojo will not be alone in being available.

Ranking Player of the Year candidates

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In recent weeks Nick Mendola and l (Joe Prince-Wright) have put forward a shortlist of contenders to win the 2018-19 Premier League Player of the Year award.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With the international break giving us a breather and time to focus on which star player deserves this accolade, below we dig a little deeper and rank the top six contenders.

Here it goes…


1. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)
His mix-up with Alisson against Fulham was one of the most surprising moments of the season so far. Up until that point VVD hadn’t put a foot wrong and has been a colossus and the main reason Liverpool are in this title race. The stats since he arrived at Anfield last January back up their incredible improvement in defense and the Dutchman will win this award at a canter, as long as Liverpool win the title…


2. Sergio Aguero (Man City)
The main trying his best to stop Van Dijk and Co. winning the title is Aguero. The Argentine striker is already a City legend as their all-time leading goalscorer, and he has returned to his best form in recent months. Aguero leads the PL with 18 goals this season and if he finishes as the top scorer you’d fancy City to win the title. Aside from his goalscoring, Aguero’s overall game has improved and he now presses with the intensity Pep Guardiola demands.


3. Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Taking about another play who has improved under Guardiola, Sterling has had another fine campaign for City. The English winger is showing maturity on and off the pitch this season and it is easy to forget he is still just 24 years old. Aside from his 15 goals and nine assists in the PL, Sterling has been a constant threat and unlike some of City’s other attackers he is one of the first names on the teamsheet. Mahrez, Sane and even Aguero can be rested, but Sterling must start on current form.


4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Undoubtedly Liverpool’s main man this season, Mane has cranked through the gears in recent weeks with 11 goals in his last 11 games for the Reds. Jurgen Klopp‘s side were carried by Mohamed Salah this season, but Mane has improved his finishing and has his best-ever PL return of 17 goals with seven games to go. The searing pace of the Senegalese attacker means he is perfectly for Klopp’s system. We knew that over the past two seasons, and he is proving indispensable season.


5. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Okay, so he missed a big chunk of Spurs’ season through injury but there’s still no doubting Kane’s quality. He has stepped up time and time again as Tottenham have kept battling this season in the Champions League and PL. Kane has 17 goals, and probably would have at least 22 had he not missed almost two months through injury. Spurs’ top four hopes revolve around him, and Kane is not disappointing. Again, his all-round play is improving each season and he is now one goal away from scoring at least 25 goals in all competitions in each of his last five campaigns. Remarkable.


6. Fernandinho (Man City)
A proper unsung hero, the Brazilian is coming towards the end of his career. But that doesn’t mean he is getting any less important to City. If anything, the opposite is true. Like a fine wine, Fernandinho has got better with age as his passing range has improved and his ability to read the game and time his tackles to perfection launches so many of City’s attacks. At the age of 34, Guardiola knows he will not go on forever and the fact he has picked up plenty of injuries this season proves that. Fernandinho is always a 7/10 guy and he is a valuable, and key, cog in City’s imperious machine.

Why is Pogba praising Real Madrid?

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Paul Pogba appears to be keeping his options open ahead of his Manchester United contract running out in the summer of 2021, as he also has an option for a further year at Old Trafford.

The French superstar, 26, has been in fine form since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived as United’s caretaker boss in December and has United in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and in the scrap for a top four finish.

However, when asked about a possible move to Spanish giants Real Madrid ahead of France’s clash against Moldova, Pogba wasn’t exactly shy about his admiration for the club and their new manager.

“Like I’ve always said, Real Madrid is a dream for anyone. It’s one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Pogba said. “There is also [Zinedine] Zidane as a coach and it’s a dream for anybody who likes football. For now, I’m at Manchester. We don’t know what the future holds. I’m at Manchester and I’m happy.”

Now, Pogba didn’t go as far as telling Zidane and Real’s club president Florentino Perez to give him or his agent a call, but you can have a fair wager on that happening in the coming months.

Why is he so outspoken about one of United’s European rivals?

Pogba has had a mixed three seasons since returning to United from Juventus, and the central midfielder has yet to sign a new long-term contract. This could be his way (with a nudge in the right direction from his agent Mino Raiola) of getting United to kick-start contract negotiations this summer, but it could simply just be a sign of his admiration for Zidane as a French national team legend. Is the pull of Zizou enough to get Pogba to swap United for Real?

If Solskjaer remains in charge at United, something Pogba has said he wants, then it is clear he will stick around and work for the manager who has given him a free role in the team and has known him since his days in the youth team and reserve squads at United. If Solskjaer doesn’t stay at United, it is clear Pogba and his representatives will be taking a look at where he can spend the prime years of his career. Given his recent form of nine goals and seven assists in 17 games under Solskjaer, Pogba’s stock is on the rise again.

These comments suggest that Pogba wants everyone to know that, and he is starting to ramp up the pressure from his side of things. Now, it will be intriguing to see if United offer him a new deal, or at least open up negotiations, this summer. Or maybe, just maybe, they could see Pogba as a player who could be sold a profit and would fuel the squad rebuild they badly need.