The alternative Premier League midseason awards


The story of the Premier League season so far is that Manchester City are better than everyone else, and as a result the title race has come to a premature end. But fear not! There’s still been plenty to keep us entertained, and with the season at its halfway point, it’s time to hand out some awards. The traditional prizes — best player, best manager, etc. — have been covered. These are the alternative awards.

The Antonio Valencia Award for Makeshift Full-backs: Fabian Delph

Manchester City spent over $150 million on full-backs this summer, bringing in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo to replace the outgoing Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta, whose combined age of 1023 was enough to convince Pep Guardiola it was time for some fresh legs. The money appeared well spent early on — Walker and Mendy were both excellent, and Danilo was a reliable backup — but Guardiola seemed to lose trust in Danilo as the season wore on, meaning he had no choice when Mendy went down with an ACL tear in September but to turn to, you guessed it, Fabian Delph, who I would bet money at least one City fan had forgotten played for the club. But Delph has been superb in the role. He’s clearly enjoying the fact no manager expects his full-backs to play less like full-backs than Guardiola, and has ensured Mendy’s absence has hardly been felt.

The Michu Award for He Cost How Much? Pascal Gross

Brighton seem to have received much less attention than the other newly-promoted sides so far this season. Perhaps that should come as no surprise. They’re less underdog-y than Huddersfield (and their manager is neither German, nor does he have a beard [or even glasses]) and they’re much smaller and much, much less dysfunctional than Newcastle. But the Seagulls have been mostly excellent, and stand a good chance of avoiding relegation if they maintain their current pace. Much of that is down to the performances of Pascal Gross, who cost only $3.6 million. The German midfielder has three goals and five assists so far, not stunning numbers by themselves, but hugely important considering Brighton have scored only 14 goals all season.

The Andy Carroll Award for He Cost How Much? Gylfi Sigurdsson

This was to be the year Everton finally made the leap, the Big Six was to become the Big Seven, Romelu Lukaku was going to rue the day, etc., etc. Things haven’t quite panned out. The Toffees are firmly ensconced in what is a very, very mediocre mid-table, and being managed by relegation avoider extraordinaire Sam Allardyce (for $8 million a year, no less), at least until they convince Watford to part ways with Marco Silva. Naturally, their summer transfer business, wherein they replaced Lukaku with every number 10 to ever grace the Europa League round of 32, has come under some not inconsiderably scrutiny. To be fair to the club, a lot of people thought they’d done a decent job replacing Lukaku at the time. They missed out on an actual, like-for-like replacement, but there was a feeling they’d brought in enough attacking talent to make up for it, and that the influx of creative-types would reduce their reliance on any single player. Their resurgence under Allardyce adds some weight to that conclusion, but it certainly hasn’t made Gylfi Sigurdsson look any more worth the $60 million they spent on him. The transfer market is a strange beast, and if not for the huge fee Everton received for Lukaku, it’s unlikely Sigurdsson would have cost so much. But even so, $60 million for Gylfi Sigurdsson is not a transfer the club will be allowed to live down anytime soon.

The Pepe Reina Award for He Should Be A Central Midfielder: Ederson

As any number of terrible morons have probably pointed out to you this season, City spent a lot of money in the summer, a fact which makes Pep Guardiola look somehow both better and worse when you also realize his most used starting XI this season includes only two new signings, Kyle Walker and Ederson. Walker’s been superb, but also more or less exactly what we thought he’d be. As for Ederson, well, has a keeper ever had a bigger impact on a team than he’s had on City? He’s not the sole reason they’re 16 points better off at this stage than they were last season, but he’s a big one. To be fair, it would’ve been hard for anyone to be worse than Claudio Bravo was last year (including Claudio Bravo), but Ederson has been much more than a keeper who saves more than zero percent of the shots directed at his goal. His traditional goalkeeping skills have only been sporadically tested, such is City’s dominance in most games, but he’s truly fearless — witness the absolute glee with which he threw his head into Sadio Mane’s studs when Liverpool visited the Etihad in September — and his quality on the ball is remarkable, like, he-could-play-center-mid-for-at-least-six-teams-in-the-Premier-League remarkable. And he’s only 24. $48 million well spent.

The Not Juan Cuadrado Award for Doing It In The Premier League: Mohamed Salah

Few dumber narratives have emerged this season than the one about how Mohamed Salah “failed” at Chelsea, having played 13 games there as 21/22-year-old from 2013-14, around the same time, as it happens, other notable Premier League failures, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, were also struggling to make the grade at the club. Apparently Salah’s subsequent success in Serie A, a terrible league notorious for the low quality of its defenders, wasn’t evidence that, perhaps, given the opportunity to play, a young player might improve or, you know, actually be good, but rather simply that he couldn’t hack it in England. Anyway, Salah has been superb for Liverpool, and leads the league in goals at the halfway point. This isn’t to say Chelsea shouldn’t have sold him — they’ve won more than enough trophies in the meantime to feel good about the decision — but it is to suggest maybe there’s a lesson here about drawing sweeping conclusions about 21-year-olds for not getting a chance to play at clubs and for managers whose defining feature is their unwillingness to give young players a chance.

The Guus Hiddink Award for If You’re Good Enough You’re Young Enough: Roy Hodgson

A cursory glance at the table will tell you Crystal Palace are humming along as mediocrely as we all expected, neither here nor there-ing their way to a mid-table finish. The actual details have been anything but bland, as the Eagles failed to either win (or score in) any of their first seven matches, sacked their manager and brought in Roy Hodgson, last seen guiding England to the most humiliating major tournament exit in a history littered with humiliating major tournament exits, to save them. Hodgson, who became the oldest manager in Premier League history when he was appointed, has done an outstanding job, unleashing the best version of Wilfried Zaha we’ve seen to date, as a striker in a 4-4-2, deftly handling the controversy that followed Christian Benteke’s unilateral decision to name himself penalty taker (but only when it’s a last minute penalty to win the game) and then — very, very predictably — miss and generally making the most of the talent at his disposal. This isn’t the final act many people expected for Hodgson, but it’s been unexpectedly uplifting subplot to the season so far.

The Sam Allardyce Award for Disappointing Managerial Appointments: West Brom

West Brom found themselves in an unenviable position two months into the season, drifting worryingly close to the relegation zone under the guidance of the first manager every team in the Premier League calls when they’re drifting worryingly close to the relegation. As a result, the Baggies broke the first commandment of Pulis: thou shalt never sack Tony Pulis in the middle of a relegation battle. Sure enough, having fired the man most ideally suited to getting them out of the position they were in, West Brom were forced to downgrade, bringing in Alan Pardew, who on the plus side doesn’t preach as negative a style of play as Pulis but on the minus side isn’t very good at his job. It’s a remarkable thing to have made the most depressing managerial hire of the season in a year when West Ham identified David Moyes as the manager, among all managers, to finally create some atmosphere at the London Stadium, so … congrats?

The Chris Kamara Award for Fighting Like Beavers: Burnley

Burnley have scored 16 goals this season, fewer than Newcastle and West Ham and Stoke and even Huddersfield. And yet here (or there) they are, in sixth place, making the run at the Big Six Everton assumed rightfully belonged to them. The formula is the same as it was last season, except instead of losing almost every away match they’re winning almost every away match, which is not an easy development to explain, given they’re not really doing anything differently and all their stats are more or less the same. For lack of a better explanation, we may as well call it the Sean Dyche Effect. The Clarets boss has done an extraordinary job to turn a group of mostly Championship players (which is not an insult, but a statement of fact; the majority of the squad have spent more time in the Championship than the top flight) into one of the most fearsome teams in the league.