Ed Aarons: Virgil van Dijk. Raheem Sterling runs him close but in terms of impact and influence, the big Dutchman has been peerless.
Nick Ames: A confession: at the time Liverpool paid £75m for Van Dijk this writer – having been present to cover all of his exceptionally rare rickets at Southampton – considered them barmy. Instead, he has almost single-handedly given Jürgen Klopp the ability to build from a solid base, transforming the team’s prospects. No centre-back has had this profound an influence in years.
Simon Burnton: Bernardo Silva has been an absolute joy – a wonderful combination of technique, tenacity and enthusiasm, and important both creatively and defensively.
Paul Doyle: Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The two are inseparable. Got that, Unai Emery?
Dominic Fifield: Van Dijk. The Dutchman has transformed Liverpool’s backline, with a once-porous rearguard now the stingiest in the division. The £75m they paid for his services feels like a bargain.
Ben Fisher: Sergio Agüero. He seemingly gets better every year. A consistent class act: sage, strong, ruthless and reliable. Manchester City’s trusty talisman weighed in with 21 goals, becoming only the second player to score 20 Premier League goals in five consecutive seasons – Thierry Henry being the other. It was fitting Agüero kickstarted the final-day victory dance at Brighton.
Barry Glendenning: Bernardo Silva has been the stand-out player in a squad full of extraordinarily gifted footballers at Manchester City.
Andy Hunter: Van Dijk. Transformed Liverpool the moment he arrived at Anfield. The leader of the best defence in the Premier League, and his ever-present appearance record shows his fitness is as consistent as his form.
David Hytner: Sterling. The Manchester City winger has brought the numbers and the silverware but he has also impressed hugely as a leader.
Jamie Jackson: Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese brings his own wow factor to Manchester City, with an ability to play wide or centrally, a schemer’s vision, mesmeric dribbling, and a shoot-on-sight instinct.
Stuart James: Van Dijk. Voted for him for the Football Writers’ award – he’s not just an outstanding defender but a leader, too. His influence on that Liverpool defence is there for all to see. I’d put Bernardo Silva right up there, too; the guy can do a bit of everything – who wouldn’t want a player like that? Plus, obviously Raheem Sterling has been superb.
Amy Lawrence: Sterling and Van Dijk stood out from an impressive crowd by demonstrating immense talent with an inspiring personality. Only a fool would not applaud how Sterling has grown so much in all-round influence this season.
Sachin Nakrani: Sterling. Could have easily given this award to Virgil van Dijk but Sterling gets it for not only being excellent on the pitch for Manchester City, but off it too with his important stands against racism.
Barney Ronay: Sterling. From a rough edge to City’s best player at key times. Best of all made everyone – even those not used to doing it – think a little.
Rob Smyth: Andy Robertson. An elemental force whose ascent from Hull to a World XI gives hope to drifters everywhere. For all his infectious and uniquely Scottish zest for sporting confrontation, he is cold and clinical in the final third.
Danny Taylor: Trent Alexander-Arnold. A tangent, perhaps, from the usual Sterling/Van Dijk debate, but what a player – 20 years old, part of the best defence in the league and 13 assists, a record for a defender in the Premier League era.
Louise Taylor: Eden Hazard. Virgil van Dijk was more consistent but, on his day, Hazard’s creative talent enchanted like very few others. He possesses not just the vision and technique others lack, but the bravery to normalise the audacious. Andy Robertson pushed those two close though; he has been brilliant at left-back.
EA: Jürgen Klopp. The number of late victories Liverpool have managed is astounding and it’s largely down to the belief instilled by their manager.
NA: We are spoiled as never before. The best is Pep Guardiola; his team’s response to a brilliant Liverpool side confirms that. But Mauricio Pochettino’s ability to keep Tottenham this competitive is a thing of wonder; he is a class act off the field too. For a left-field shout, Sean Dyche restoring Burnley to their indomitable old ways was a fantastic achievement.
SB: With no real insurgent minnow this year, it has to be one of the ludicrously amazing top two. Liverpool’s 22-point improvement on last season wins it for Klopp.
PD: Ralph Hasenhüttl. The difference between Southampton before and after his arrival was astonishing – and damning on his predecessors.
DF: Klopp. The title may just have eluded him, but Liverpool lost only once all season and the chasm to Manchester City closed from 25 points to just one. That in itself is a remarkable achievement, given the champions’ standards hardly dipped.
BF: Pep Guardiola is still the champ. But to steer Tottenham into the top four and a Champions League final in the manner Mauricio Pochettino has done also deserves acclaim, while Maurizio Sarri has done a better job at Chelsea than has been painted.
BG: Guardiola, for consistently taking great players and making them even better. For all his employers’ bottomless reserves of cash, it is a feat few managers can pull off with such monotonous regularity.
AH: Guardiola. Back-to-back league titles, the second one achieved with a 14-game winning streak, and the possibility of a historic domestic treble. It serves as a reminder that, when it comes to winners, the Manchester City manager has no peers in the Premier League.
DH: Guardiola, because he has led Manchester City to the brink of a domestic clean sweep. His genius even extends to getting away with wearing that sweater.
SJ: Guardiola. Hard not to give it to the manager who ends up winning the league, especially when it’s difficult to pick out anyone who massively overachieved elsewhere. Nuno Espírito Santo, who did an excellent job at Wolves in their first season back in the top flight, certainly merits a mention.
JJ: Pep Guardiola. His pursuit of excellence is a privilege to watch up close, and next season it will be fascinating to see just what he makes his team produce.
AL: Klopp. The continuing rise in standards he has engineered, the love and respect that comes so naturally from his players, the brilliant charisma. He and his work just shines on.
SN: Klopp. Took on the financial might of Manchester City and almost won. He couldn’t have done much more, and in the process the German displayed a level of tactical maturity and charismatic inspiration that could yet take Liverpool to Champions League glory.
BR: Mauricio Pochettino. Took a small, tired squad to fourth place. Improved his players. Created Moussa Sissoko 2.0.
RS: Klopp. Pound for pound, nobody got more from their squad than he does. He deserves better than to be a serial runner-up.
DT: Nuno. Phil Neville was silly to describe Wolves as the best promoted side the Premier League had ever seen – ignoring the third-placed finishes of Newcastle (1994) and Forest (1995) – but seventh is still a fine performance.
LT: Mauricio Pochettino. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, money doesn’t so much talk as swear, and he’s had a lot less of the stuff than his principal rivals. Also, Spurs play attractive football and Pochettino is ever ready to give young British players a chance. Rafa Benítez also merits an honourable mention. Under a lesser coach, Newcastle would surely have been relegated.
EA: Andros Townsend v Man City. It was always going to take something special to beat City on their own patch and Townsend’s volley from 30 yards was a strike as sweet as you will see.
NA: Many of Manchester City’s games – albeit masterclasses in control and precision – fail to stir the soul. But Vincent Kompany’s winner against Leicester was a genuine leap-from-the-sofa moment for a neutral; a reminder that even a team drilled as forensically as this can produce a startling, season-altering bolt from the blue.
SB: Even out of context, Kompany’s winner against Leicester was phenomenal, but given his status at his club and the goal’s timing in the title race, it can’t be bettered.
PD: Since Mateusz Klich’s goal for Leeds against Aston Villa in April was not in the Premier League, it’s got to be Fabian Schär’s rocket for Newcastle against Burnley. That shot was the truth.
DF: Townsend’‘s stupendous volley from distance at the Etihad Stadium, which rocked Manchester City back on their heels in a game they thought they would win at a canter. It has been playing on a permanent loop in my house ever since.
BF: Cardiff’s Junior Hoilett v Wolves. A sumptuous first-time strike from the edge of the box, destined for the top corner from the moment it left his boot. Daniel Sturridge deserves a mention for taking things into his own hands after stepping off the bench at Stamford Bridge.
BG: You’ll see few strikes sweeter than the incredible 35-yard volley Townsend sent fizzing past Ederson at the speed of light to help Crystal Palace to a most unlikely win.
AH: Kompany v Leicester. Townsend’s volley required better technique but could not match the City captain’s strike in terms of importance or general astonishment.
DH: Townsend’s title-race pigeon-scatterer at Manchester City. What. A. Hit. Also loved how Pep described the Palace winger as having scored “from his apartment”.
SJ: Townsend against Manchester City. Not even a debate about it. Yes, Kompany’s goal against Leicester was a superb strike and it was hugely significant, too, but it’s not about any wider context. Townsend showed incredible technique to connect with that dropping ball so sweetly, his body position and timing absolutely perfect. The gasps from the home crowd said it all.
JJ: Kompany v Leicester. His net-busting strike in the penultimate league game all but killed Liverpool’s hopes of a City slip-up.
AL: Sorely tempted by Aaron Ramsey at Fulham as the team goal, or Townsend as the solo strike, but Vincent Kompany, for the moment of salvation and dramatic importance, edges it.
SN: Eden Hazard v West Ham. The Belgian’s first goal of Chelsea’s 2-0 win in April was a turbo-charged, dazzling dribble through the heart of bewildered opponents that showed just why Real Madrid are so keen to land him.
BR: Kompany’s flukey long-ranger. For obvious reasons. And because it was so un-City Pep will probably fine him now.
RS: Hazard v West Ham. Many great goals could conceivably be fluked on Hackney Marshes. Hazard’s blur of skill, speed and balance could only have been scored by a handful of players in the world.
DT: Kompany. If you had to list the key moments of City’s title defence, this would be Exhibit A. The captain, 25 yards out, with various teammates shouting for him not to shoot.
LT: Has to be Kompany. Not just a wonder goal, but imbued with immense title race significance. Those who implored him to pass will surely never be allowed to forget it.
EA: Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham. The March meeting at Anfield between the two Champions League finalists had everything: high quality, emotion and comical last-minute drama as an own goal from Toby Alderweireld kept Liverpool’s title hopes alive.
NA: It did not feel like a season of classics but, looking back, the margins on which Manchester City v Liverpool were contested proved utterly crucial. At the time it felt like a wild, knife-edge kind of night, as City clawed their way back into the title race. It was a worthy, achingly tense shoot-out between the two best sides.
SB: If the best matches are those that end with at least half the participants having entirely lost control of themselves and their emotions, my vote goes to Liverpool 1-0 Everton, and Divock Origi’s extraordinary late winner.
PD: Wolves 4-3 Leicester.
DF: Manchester City 2-3 Crystal Palace. The only time the champions dropped points at home, and a game illuminated by that stunning volley from Townsend. Palace tend to be thrashed at the Etihad Stadium, but the look of bemused joy on an Roy Hodgson’s face at the final whistle summed up their afternoon.
BF: Wolves 4-3 Leicester. A preposterous game in which both teams forgot how to defend, culminating in five second-half goals and Nuno being sent off after running on to the pitch to join a celebratory pile-on.
BG: Wolves beat Leicester by the odd goal of seven in a thrilling encounter at Molineux, which ended with Nuno burying himself in a pile of players after Diogo Jota’s late, late winner. The Wolves manager was fined £8,000 for his over-exuberance, which he almost certainly considers money extremely well spent.
AH: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool. The Etihad press box offered a privileged position to appreciate the unrelenting pace and quality of January’s encounter between the finest sides in the country. Both teams left everything on the pitch and John Stones’ goal-line clearance by 11mm encapsulated the fine margins between the two.
DH: City 2-1 Liverpool. For the nerve-shredding tension, the 11.7mm and the feeling that we were watching the title decider.
SJ: City 2-1 Liverpool. Incredible intensity – off the scale when compared with other Premier League games. Showed why those two clubs finished so far ahead of the other members of the ‘big six’, never mind the rest of the league.
JJ: Manchester City 6-0 Chelsea. Did this really happen this season? Despite all the action that followed, this trouncing of Marizio Sarri’s side in February lingers for the way the visitors were shredded.
AL: Best I was at: Lucas Torreira ripping off his shirt and screaming at Arsenal’s comeback win over Tottenham. On TV, so many thrilling Liverpool games and crazed late wins to choose from, but the City v Liverpool title cruncher was something else – a season-defining example of high-tempo intensity.
SN: Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham. Six goals, one sending-off and a touchline ruck made this a north London derby to remember. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second goal was particular magnificent.
BR: Liverpool 4-3 Crystal Palace. Classic Premier League romp.
RS: Man City 2-1 Liverpool. European quality at British speed, a game of stratospheric class and importance, fine margins and controversy.
DT: Maybe this was what the season lacked: an absolute classic. I will go for Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool but the Champions League has provided the better games by some distance.
LT: Newcastle 2-3 Liverpool. Decided by Divock Origi’s 86th-minute header it emphasised Liverpool’s never-say-die mentality, but could easily have been won by Benítez’s much-improved team.
EA: He may not have come cheap at £67m but Alisson’s performances in goal have helped transform a leaky Liverpool backline into one of the hardest defences to breach in Europe.
NA: Raúl Jiménez joined Wolves on loan after a hit-and-miss spell at Benfica. Few could have expected that he had 13 Premier League goals in him, but Nuno and his backers have barely missed a beat in the last two years and the Mexico international proved another inspired choice. His permanent arrival, which will be made official on 1 July for a £30m fee, looks good value.
SB: For just £5m João Moutinho, Wolves’ little bundle of extreme awesomeness, has massively over-delivered.
PD: Yves Bissouma. Feet of a dancer, mind of an inventor, spirit of a hero.
DF: Raúl Jiménez. Wolves always had the look of a side who would be at home at the higher level, but they needed to add a goalscorer to lead the line, and struck gold with Jiménez.
BF: Bournemouth’s recruitment has been hit-and-miss since promotion in 2015 but in David Brooks, they have unearthed another gem. The 21-year-old winger hit the ground running, thriving on the biggest stage after only a handful of starts with Sheffield United. Then there are Diogo Jota and Raúl Jiménez, Wolves’ dynamite double act.
BG: Brooks was outstanding in an up-and-down season for Bournemouth. “We’ve seen enough to suggest he could be outstanding at this level,” said Eddie Howe of the 20-year-old in July. Ten months on, the rest of us have seen it too.
AH: Alisson. Klopp was genuinely bouncing with excitement after a pre-season friendly at Blackburn in July as Liverpool had just sealed the signing of his only choice to replace Loris Karius. A club-record 21 clean sheets in the Premier League and several match-defining saves justified the excitement.
DH: Alisson has made a massive difference for Liverpool but I’ve really enjoyed watching James Maddison at Leicester. Lovely balance, and always looking to open up opposing teams.
SJ: Moutinho. Signed from Monaco for £5m last summer, the 32-year-old has been brilliant for Wolves and a joy to watch alongside Rúben Neves, his protégé. He famously turned up without any laces in his boots on his first day at training. “I found it unbelievable,” Conor Coady said. “It was like he had slippers on.”
JJ: Maddison. The Leicester No 10 is only 22 but plays with a maturity and intelligence that suggests he may soon be blooded for England.
AL: Alisson. Cost a fortune for a goalkeeper but proved himself to be absolutely worth it.
SN: Brooks. Proved there is real value to be had in the lower leagues. Has impressed with his skill and composure from a wide-right position and under the guidance of Howe he could develop into a genuine star.
BR: Maddison. Unusual to see a young creative player allowed to come from the Football League and succeed. Tripled in value.
RS: Alisson. Completed the transition started by Van Dijk. Between them they have turned Liverpool’s defence from a circus into Fort Knox.
DT: Salomón Rondón. His 15 goals, on loan from West Brom, earned him Newcastle’s player-of-the-season award and played a major part in keeping the team away from relegation danger.
LT: Rondón. Benítez fought all sorts of political battles to transplant the centre-forward from the Hawthorns to St James’ Park and Rondón has repaid the compliment by ensuring Newcastle stayed up.
EA: All of Fulham’s summer signings. More than £100m splurged on 12 players, and they went down on 2 April. They would have been better served sticking with those who achieved promotion, as illustrated by the late revival under Scott Parker.
NA: André-Frank Zambo Anguissa arrived at Fulham for £30m with the reputation of an commanding deep midfielder with the potential to dominate games. Instead, he struggled terribly. In fairness, Fulham’s troubles cannot be laid solely at his door. Rather, he is the embodiment of a summer in which they flagrantly disregarded the tenets that had earned them promotion. The lessons from the embarrassment that followed should resonate.
SB: Insert name of Manchester United player here.
PD: The flops by Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi which resulted in Arsenal having three players booked for simulation in one match – at home to Huddersfield, no less.
DF: Most of Fulham’s summer signings. There was so much goodwill for them on their return to the top flight, and the £100m outlay to beef up Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad appeared ambitious and exciting. From the toils of Fabri to Jean Michaël Seri, Zambo Anguissa to Alfie Mawson, few justified their fees. The whole campaign felt like a missed opportunity.
BF: At £50m, Fred. Like a fish out of water, has played more like Fred the Red at times. Out of his depth in United’s midfield.
BG: Alexis Sánchez, whose ongoing failure to deliver at United while on wages that must cause seething resentment among his teammates make him a contender for one of the worst signings in football history.
AH: Ed Woodward. Might well be the man for a smart commercial deal but possesses a reverse Midas touch when it comes to football. Mauricio Pochettino or Ole Gunnar Solskjær for manager? Only one man would opt for the latter and, unfortunately for United, it’s the one who runs their club.
DH: There was time – admittedly, a while back at Arsenal – when I thought Sánchez was the best player in England; a celebration of furious desire and efficiency. It is incredible to see how he has lost his way.
SJ: Always some confusion as to whether this category is confined to players signed this season. If so, Fulham’s Zambo Anguissa and Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh are right up there. If not, Sánchez and Mustafi are in the mix too. And then of course, there’s Fred.
JJ: Fred. The Brazilian midfielder was a serious disappointment for Manchester United, unable to dominate games.
AL: Denis Suárez. When you lose two defenders and a striker to season-ending injuries, why not splurge the best part of £4m on a loan fee and wages for a down-in-the-dumps floaty midfielder capable of playing a total of 67 Premier League minutes?
SN: Manchester United. Sacked another manager. Hired his replacement on the back of a goal he scored 20 years ago. Played lots of terrible football. Lost lots of games. Signed Fred for £52m. Finished sixth.
BR: Zambo Anguissa. Fulham’s marquee £30m signing. Defensive midfielder in (or more often out of) a team that has conceded 72 goals.
RS: Fred. Struggled to get a game in the worst United midfield for decades.
DT: Manchester United, again. Another plodding season when, barring a couple of deceptive months, they have fulfilled their new role as Manchester’s second team with barely even an argument.
LT: Paul Pogba. Yes, he is gifted but he doesn’t make that talent count nearly often enough, or provide sufficient on-field leadership. An underachiever who likes to blame those around him, Pogba appears, albeit from a distance, a right diva. Small wonder Roy Keane is unimpressed.
EA: More than a gripe, but it has to be the return of racism. After all the progress that had been made from the dark days of the 1970s and 80s, countless incidents this season at all levels of the game have illustrated that the battle is far from over.
NA: Cut out the pre-match light shows that have crept in over the last couple of seasons. In some hapless cases they have even been put on in harsh daylight. The exhortations from PA announcers to take your seats for the spectacle might as well be direct instructions for supporters to surrender any inclination to whip up an atmosphere of their own. Will clubs ever get bored of infantilising their fans?
SB: The willingness of referees to award free-kicks for feigned or deliberately manufactured contact, particularly in defensive positions.
PD: Strategic fouls that abort attacks. These should be punished with penalties, no matter where they occur on the pitch.
DF: Just like last year, the constant chopping and changing of kick-off times, from Friday night football to five-past-the-hour kick-offs. Maybe I am an old fogey struggling to keep up with changing times, but I find it utterly confusing.
BF: Meaningless statistics, such as a promoted team’s Premier League record despite not having played in the top flight for years. And clubs’ excruciating “exclusive” interviews with their own employees.
BG: The ongoing contempt with which subscription TV channels in the UK treat match-going and armchair fans. The former are often forced to travel long distances to facilitate lunchtime or Monday night kick-offs, while the latter must shell out exorbitant monthly subscriptions to watch European football, in a year when four English teams have reached finals.
AH: Cardiff, Nantes and all those involved in the Emiliano Sala tragedy. Gripe is too flippant a word for the appalling and insensitive fallout from the death of the 28-year-old striker – and pilot David Ibbotson – in January. The squabbling over money and deflection of blame shames everyone involved.
DH: Unai Emery’s English is not that bad. It is his refusal to engage during his press conferences, to any offer crumbs of insight or information, that insults both journalists and Arsenal fans. It makes him look boring, and hurts the image of the club.
SJ: How on earth did the FA think it was fair to only use VAR in the FA Cup at Premier League grounds, even if the stadium was equipped to handle that technology? Yes, I’m still bitter about that quarter-final result at the Liberty.
JJ: The lack of VAR. If it was sophisticated enough for last summer’s World Cup, then why not the Premier League?
AL: The absolute disregard of travelling fans with some of the TV choices – late changes to the schedule and huge distances with no trains home is unnecessary. Get in the bin, along with pre-match light shows and playing Sweet Caroline at the end of a game.
SN: This was another season in which match-going supporters were treated terribly by the broadcasters. It’ll probably never change but that doesn’t make it right.
BR: Players talking with their hands over their mouths like celebrity mafioso under surveillance by the FBI. Record levels of whining about refereeing decisions as a surrogate for saying anything insightful or entertaining.
RS: The incessant, insufferable, juvenile hype. Football is brilliant enough without needing a giddy countdown to team news of Everton v Crystal Palace.
DT: Everything that has happened since the death of Emiliano Sala and the hard evidence, courtesy of Cardiff and various others, about what a horrible industry this is sometimes.
LT: Anti-social, and downright inconvenient, kick-off timings intended to suit television audiences rather than the fans who actually attend matches. Those who draw them up should be forced to ditch their expense accounts, company cars and first-class travel for a few weeks and try travelling the length and breadth of the country to watch games at awkward kick-off times.
Change for next season
EA: The introduction of VAR is almost upon us. It could make a positive impression if supporters at stadiums are kept in the loop via TV replay screens, a la rugby and cricket. If not, expect plenty of dissatisfaction from the stands.
NA: Not so much a change, as an appeal to be clever about one that has been rubber-stamped. The hope must be that VAR’s comparatively late rollout to the Premier League has allowed officials a chance to familiarise themselves properly. It needs to be deployed selectively and speedily; anything else risks turning what remains a pulsating league into a wearying circus for pedants.
SB: Rolling substitutes. Each club would have one nominated player on their bench who can come on in case of injury, and go off again when players recover. This would reduce stoppages, end the need to rapidly patch up players – particularly after head wounds – and allow time for proper assessments. Though inevitably someone would abuse it by bringing on a lumbering giant every time there’s a corner.
PD: Ole Gunnar Solskjær to manage Manchester City. So revealing.
DF: Can we abandon the planned changes to handball rules in the area and just stick with what we have, please? It will reach a stage where teams are playing Luka Milivojevic-esque penalty specialists, given the amount of spot-kicks sure to be awarded.
BF: Stop clubs’ sponsorship deals with betting firms.
BG: A late U-turn on the decision to introduce VAR to the Premier League from the beginning of next season would be very welcome.
AH: Address the financial divide. There is no chance of this happening when the so-called ‘big six’ have got their way for a greater share of the overseas broadcasting income from next season. An increasing number of stale games, with almost half the league unable or unwilling to show any adventure against the leading clubs, is a turn-off.
DH: Stadium-going fans to be ejected and arrested for chanting V-A-R.
SJ: Nuno’s programme notes. Be nice if he could add a sentence or two.
JJ: Please can at least one team challenge Manchester City and Liverpool. 25 points to Chelsea in third is a gulf.
AL: With VAR coming to a ground near you, allowing fans to see on the big screens what the referees see, and to be kept informed, could be interesting.
SN: For significant progress to be made on safe standing. It’s a sensitive topic given what happened at Hillsborough but English football is ready for it. It has been for some time.
BR: Don’t bring in VAR (see above).
RS: My change would be no change – keep VAR in storage until everyone involved learns the meaning of “clear and obvious”.
DT: More reasonable ticket prices, the introduction of safe-standing areas and more thought for supporters when rearranging matches for TV. And a yellow card for any player who does the VAR hand gesture.
LT: It should be mandatory for clubs to provide safe, lit parking close to grounds for journalists. It is often well after 11pm when reporters leave night matches clutching laptops and mobile phones and walking through the dark is never fun.