Premier League 2017-18 awards


The Premier League season is over. Manchester City cruised to the league title, breaking the record for points, wins, goals and probably anything else you care to think of; Arsene Wenger finally stepped down as Arsenal manager; Mohamed Salah scooped up all the official awards for a fabulous first season in England; Sean Dyche guided Burnley from the brink of relegation to the European places; all the promoted sides steered clear of the drop; and the Premier League stints of Stoke, West Brom and Swansea came to an end.

That means it’s time to hand out some awards. FanSided’s soccer staff voted on 10 awards — some celebrating the best players and teams and managers the season had to offer, some not-celebrating the worst. Some were clearcut (sorry Everton), some were harder to choose (like the Manager of the Year), but the majority vote-getter took the prize.

Player of the Season: Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah scored 32 goals and added 10 assists in his first season back in the Premier League, meaning he has contributed directly to half of Liverpool’s 84 league goals. That number may well have been higher had the Reds not diverted so much energy to the Champions League over the final few months of the season.

The Egyptian has turned what was already a good attack into a great one, with his pace, dribbling ability and the quality of his runs in behind proving a perfect compliment to Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. The doubts about his finishing that emerged after his first few matches have quickly disappeared in a record-setting season.

Kevin De Bruyne deserves a mention as the standout player in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side, but a slight drop off in the second half of the campaign as City cruised to the title allowed Salah to overtake him. Still, the Belgian has been stunning, his vision and range of passing the key to unlocking City’s attack.

Manager of the Season: Sean Dyche

As good as City have been this season, as breathtaking as the soccer Guardiola has them playing has been, there remains a sense (fair or not) this is to be expected of a club who can spend several hundred million dollars every summer. And so while Guardiola has been superb, his achievements aren’t perhaps quite as surprising as those of Sean Dyche.

Burnley were widely tipped for relegation this season after finishing 16th on 40 points last term, and then losing arguably their best player, Michael Keane, in the summer. They finished this campaign 14 points better off, enough to qualify for next season’s Europa League, and for Dyche to begin getting some of the credit he deserves.

The Clarets don’t have any truly standout individuals, but Dyche has done exactly what a good manager does: He has gotten the very best out of the players at his disposal by placing them in a system that maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses, and he has gotten them to do their jobs as if their Premier League survival depends on it.

Young Player of the Season: Davinson Sanchez

The official PFA Young Player of the Year Award still considers Harry Kane a young player. Our award considers only players 23 or under who had made fewer than 20 Premier League appearances entering 2017-18.

For all the attacking talent at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal, Tottenham’s success over the past few seasons has been built on the foundation of one of the best defenses in the league, anchored by the center-back partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, the latter of which has missed much of this season with injury (and an unspecified dispute with his manager).

That they’ve hardly noticed his absence is testament to the form of Davinson Sanchez, the 21-year-old bought from Ajax in the summer for almost $60 million. Sanchez bedded in quickly, playing alongside Alderweireld and Vertonghen in a back three to start the season, before an injury to the former saw Pochettino switch to a back four.

The Colombian’s pace and strength in the tackle are crucial for a side that play such a high line, and while his passing range isn’t as impressive as Alderweireld’s, his positional sense and overall composure are impressive for such a young player. Sanchez looks primed to become one of the best center-backs in the league.

Signing of the Season: Mohamed Salah

When Liverpool signed Salah this season for $50 million, there was some criticism of both the price and the player, who was evaluated more on a brief, unhappy stint at Chelsea than a longer, very successful one at Roma. As Manchester United and Chelsea paid almost twice as much for Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata, however, the fee began to look smaller.

And then Salah started to play. The Egyptian, a pacey winger adept at coming inside to score, always seemed like a good fit for a Liverpool side that were over-reliant on Sadio Mane in 2016-17, but his goalscoring output caught everyone by surprise. Even if he does nothing else for the Reds, he qualifies as bargain in the current market.

Speaking of bargains, if Salah was the best signing of the season, Pascal Gross deserves a mention as the best value signing of the season. The German cost Brighton less than $4 million, and has contributed seven goals and eight assists, impressive numbers when you consider Brighton have scored only 34 goals this season. The Seagulls have been superb from back to front, but it’s hard to imagine they could have stayed up so comfortably without adding Gross in the summer.

Worst Signing of the Season: Renato Sanches

There are many kinds of bad signings, but none worse than the kind who are so bad they don’t play at all. When former Swansea manager Steve Clarke leveraged his connections at Bayern Munich to bring in Renato Sanches on a season-long loan (for the low, low price of $10 million), it was seen as something of coup, apparently for no other reason than that clubs like Swansea aren’t supposed to operate in the same market as clubs like Bayern.

Sanches struggled under Clarke, and has been unable to force himself into Carlos Carvalhal’s plans after the Swans switched managers, making only 12 league appearances in total, scoring zero goals and assisting zero more. The 20-year-old has been on a downward spiral since breaking onto the scene at Euro 2016. He’s young enough to turn things around, and hopefully he’ll get a chance somewhere, but for now he’ll go down as one of the worst signings of this or any other season, even if it was only a loan.

Sanches narrowly beat Tiemoue Bakayoko, who arrived at Chelsea for $48 million on the back of a hugely impressive season during which he played a key role for Monaco as they won Ligue 1 and made it to the semifinals of the Champions League. Chelsea could be forgiven for thinking they had upgraded on the outgoing Nemanja Matic, at least in terms of long-term value.

After missing the start of season with a knee injury, and then struggling once he returned, Bakayoko fell out of favor with Antonio Conte, and has only looked remotely like the player he was at Monaco in the last month, as Chelsea made a late push for a Champions League spot. There’s still much to like about the Frenchman, whose integration into the team has almost certainly been hampered by the ongoing drama between Conte and his bosses, but this was a rough first season.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Newcastle

An uneventful mid-table finish might not sound like much to shout about for a club the size of Newcastle, but given Mike Ashley’s refusal to spend any significant money on players, their consequent lack of Premier League-level goalscorers and the strain this has placed on his relationship with Rafa Benitez, 10th place qualifies as a major success for the Magpies in their first season since getting promoted back into the Premier League.

If there were any doubts about Benitez’s managerial credentials — and there shouldn’t be, given his trophy haul — he did a good job silencing them this year, building a team, as he is wont to do, that was stingy enough in defense the problems further forward didn’t prove fatal. Newcastle have scored only 36 goals this season, the best evidence of their lack of striking options, but they’ve conceded the eighth fewest in the league.

The emergence of Jamaal Lascelles as one of the best young center-backs in the league and the ongoing maturation of Jonjo Shelvey in central midfield have only added to the sense this Newcastle side could challenge for the Europa League spots in the near future, provided Ashley (or whoever buys the club from him) spends the necessary money on transfers. That situation is unlikely to be resolved soon, but for now the club and their fans can enjoy what has been a briefly infuriating, but ultimately very pleasing season.

Biggest Disappointment: Everton

Everton, Everton, Everton. The Toffees were always a long shot to crack the top six, as some of their more optimistic fans thought they might, but to finish with fewer points, worse goal difference (minus-12!) and worse goals scored and conceded numbers? To call that regression would be kind.

However you feel about the club’s attempt to replace Romelu Lukaku, it’s hard to argue this squad is worse than Burnley’s, who they finished five points behind. That they’re in this position comes down to bad management, and even worse managerial appointments.

Ronald Koeman endured a slow start to the season, but firing him after only nine games, five of which were against big-six teams, seemed like a knee-jerk reaction even before it became clear they had no idea what to do once he was gone. David Unsworth did his best, but he proved to be out of his depth as the club searched for a full-time replacement, and ultimately, having decided they were slipping too close to the relegation battle for comfort, settled on Sam Allardyce, who has only multiplied the indignities since.

Allardyce has done what Allardyce does, steered Everton clear of the drop and then spent the next several months doing his best to infuriate a fanbase who weren’t particularly fond of him to begin with. The soccer has been miserable, the results haven’t been much better and whatever optimism that surrounded the club at the beginning of the season has long since fizzled out.

The good news is none of the clubs that hope to challenge Everton for the title of Seventh Best Team in the League have done anything particularly impressive this season either. If the club play their cards right this summer, they will be able to forget this season with the speed it deserves to be forgotten. Unfortunately, nothing they’ve done this year suggests they’ll play their cards right this summer.

Game of the Season: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Manchester City had all but wrapped up the Premier League title by December, but they were still hoping to finish the season unbeaten heading into their Jan. 14 meeting with Liverpool at Anfield. These two sides have produced some superb matches in recent years. This one was among the very best.

A tense first half ended 1-1, before Liverpool scored three times in 10 wild second-half minutes to take a commanding lead. Not only was the Reds’ attack breathtaking, but for the first time all season City had been severely rattled, unable to maintain their composure on the ball in the face of the home side’s furious pressing game.

Guardiola’s side rallied well, however, pulling back two goals and almost snatching an equalizer deep in stoppage time only for Sergio Aguero to head Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick wide. City’s lead in the title race certainly played a role in the reaction to the match, but this one of those rare occasions where everyone involved seemed to emerge with some credit.

Goal of the Season: Sofiane Boufal vs. West Brom

There have been a few stunners in the second half of the season. Victor Wanyama’s equalizer against Liverpool was as cleanly struck a half volley as you’ll ever see. Roberto Firmino’s scooped finish against City was a wonderful combination of power and creativity. Jose Izquierdo scored one of the team goals of the season for Brighton against Stoke. City, meanwhile, could fill a whole ballot of great goals by themselves as they surged past the 100-goal barrier.

But the award goes to Sofiane Boufal, who despite continuing to struggle to live up to his immense talent, provided Southampton fans with one of the few bright spots in their season back in October against West Brom, a sensational, slalom run that saw him take on four players before finishing past Ben Foster.

The Saints have had a miserable year, but avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth. Boufal may not have contributed as much as they would have liked, but he can say that he won them at least one match, and three immensely valuable points on their way to another season in the Premier League. If ever a goal deserved to keep a team up, it was this one.