Team of the Year — Manchester City
Odd as it is to select the most expensively assembled team in the history of the Premier League and one that won nothing silver in 2017, it’s statistical fact that Manchester City’s results across the calendar year are markedly superior to any rival. And this is a team that — barring the most cataclysmic of collapses — had the 2017/18 title under wraps.
Pep Guardiola’s men have suffered just two League defeats in the year to date, they’ve held to their manager’s vision of how the sports should be played (albeit one that many observers over-romanticize), improved through the course of those 12 months, and entertained with the sheer quality of their football.
Match of the Year — Arsenal 1 Man United 3
Let’s consider a couple of candidates here. The most decisive match of the year looks to be one that took place less than two months into the current campaign. Manchester City traveled to Chelsea stripped of Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero by injury yet elected to take the game to the champions by banking on their audacious control the ball in the opponents’ half tactics.
Any team plays that way against Antonio Conte at high risk of succumbing to counterattacks, but bolstered by the fatigue induced by Chelsea’s midweek Champions League victory at Atletico Madrid and a first-half injury to Alvaro Morata, City deservedly won.
Guardiola’s players are still flying high on the confidence derived from those three points. For sheer unadulterated Premier League entertainment, little stands up to Manchester United 3-1 victory at Arsenal at the beginning of December.
Brilliantly ruthless in their pressing and counterattacking, Jose Mourinho’s men went two up inside 11 minutes. Arsene Wenger changed personnel and shape then watched David De Gea deliver the goalkeeping performance of the year to keep the score at 2-1.
The best of Paul Pogba’s creativity delivered United’s third before he was controversially sent off for a challenge whose greatest beneficiary was the City side awaiting the following weekend’s Manchester derby.
Manager of the Year — Antonio Conte
There are two options here. Antonio Conte won the Premier League at the first time of asking despite being in more or less constant conflict with Chelsea’s board, and receiving very little of what he asked for in the transfer market.
Pep Guardiola had a good second half to a traumatic debut campaign in English football (by some margin the most testing and disappointing of his career), followed by a stellar first half to his second campaign there.
Merit points need to be deducted from Conte for being unburdened by European football, and winning just one trophy.
Guardiola made more unforced errors in his first year in the Premier League than almost any elite manager who preceded him; the Catalan has also had a degree of backing — both financial and structural — unprecedented in the game.
Over the piece, there can be no doubt that Guardiola had delivered the more audacious, aesthetically pleasing and successful (in terms of points gathered) football of the two.
Yet when it comes to adding value in the more challenging of circumstances, Conte’s has to be the greater achievement.
Player of The Year — Kevin De Bruyne
There is no more dangerous footballer in the Premier League at present than Kevin De Bruyne.
The inventiveness and bravery of his passing is matches by a sublime accuracy, demonstrating an ability to place the ball not only where the Belgium international wants, but landing with a speed and trajectory that enables his team-mate to take full advantage of it.
De Bruyne has scored 10 Premier League goals in 2017, Pep Guardiola has him running further than most creative midfielders would tolerate, and tackling and fouling when required. He’s adapted his positioning when faced by opponents seeking to close the Belgian out of games, dropping him deeper into a virtual holding midfield role, where De Bruyne still looks comfortable.
If the 26-year-old can sustain something close to this form for the duration of the season (something he’s had problems with in the past) England’s Player of the Year awards are only headed in one direction.
Goal of The Year — Olivier Giroud
When it came to the 2017 Puskas Award, Kevin-Prince Boateng’s scissor-kick finish for Las Palmas against Villarreal had this observer’s vote — principally because it capped some impressively executed team build-up play with not one, but two moments of extreme individual skill.
Within the confines of the Premier League, however, it’s impossible to argue with the Olivier Giroud scorpion kick that took the FIFA prize.
Arsenal’s counter against Crystal Palace is quick, precise and involves six players. Giroud’s finish wonderfully inventive. It also has a good back story. “I’m going to have the mickey taken out of me,” said Giroud after taking the global prize.
“It was very bizarre, it wasn’t the situation in which I was most at ease. It was part of the curriculum to become a PE teacher. But our teacher considered that kind of dancing a form of art, and the move I did could have been part of a choreography of my dance teacher at the time.”
Team Of The Year (4-1-2-3): David De Gea; Antonio Valencia, Toby Alderweireld, John Stones, Marcos Alonso; N’Golo Kante; Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva; Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Eden Hazard.