Virgil van Dijk
Not quite the most transformative Premier League signing since Eric Cantona, but close. Along with goalkeeper Allison, Van Dijk has given Liverpool a solidity and confidence on which to build a slightly more considered approach to overwhelming teams. Liverpool would look orphaned without him. But he is there. He is always there. Indomitable in the air and unbeatable by a dribble and seldom passed in a race, he defuses opponents and both inspires and soothes his own team. He also spreads the ball about with precision, his long-range switches of play being one way for Liverpool to unhinge rivals.
Sterling has always been a boss. He left Liverpool because they wanted to patronise him. He became an important player at Manchester City instead and then, this season, became one of their leaders. When they needed a goal, he usually delivered, either by creating or scoring it. He has honed every aspect of his game, most notably his finishing, and taken even more responsibility on the pitch, always willing to beat a player, play a decisive pass or take the telling shot. Off the pitch, too, he has schooled people who wrongly thought they were bigger and better.
Even Ryanair pilots must marvel at the fullback’s ability to fly back and forth relentlessly. A low-budget recruit from Hull, the Scotsman has emerged as the world’s outstanding player in his position, defensively sound and offensively essential. Liverpool’s full-backs provide much of their team’s width and the crossing prowess of Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold has led to many goals. Robertson, the older of the pair, is slightly more savvy defensively and he also plays with an endearing relish for challenges: the harder he runs, tackles and crosses, the more he seems to enjoy it. That makes him terrific to watch, a dream to play with and a nightmare to face.
This was the season in which the Portuguese progressed from being an excellent option to an indispensable performer for Manchester City. “Right now with the way he plays I cannot do anything else but put him on the pitch and let him play,” said Pep Guardiola in March, adding: “He’s so important for us… I love him.” Any player who can help a manager get over the loss of Kevin De Bruyne and plan for a future without David Silva is certainly worthy of love, yet Bernardo has also thrived in other roles, pushing Riyad Mahrez and even Leroy Sane into the background, which makes him preposterously good.
It would be nice to think that if any of Spurs’ England players complained about post-World Cup fatigue this season, Son told them to shut the flip up. Because the Korean had to jet off for long and arduous campaigns with his country not once but twice in the course of this season. First, he won the Asian Games, earning an exemption from military service, and then, in January, he reached the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup in Qatar. Despite that, he missed only eight Premier League matches — and played a stormer in most of the others. But not all: at Wolves in November, Mauricio Pochettino introduced him from the bench and then subbed him off later, the first time in his career that the manager replaced a substitute. Son did not moan about that. Instead he scored against Chelsea in his next start and struck another 11 league goals before the end of an outstanding campaign.