Chelsea are in the driving seat in the Premier League title race – but will one of Antonio Conte’s men be crowned Premier League Player of the Year?
N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have been in fine form, with the Blues establishing an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been the stand-out performer for Manchester United and is also a contender for the coveted prize.
But who deserves the gong? Our reporters have their say:
Andy Dunn – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
There has arguably been no team more reliant on a single player than United and when you consider the stellar resources at Jose Mourinho’s disposal, that is remarkable.
When you consider that player is in his 36th year, it is even more remarkable.
Never mind the statistics, 24 goals in 33 starts and four substitute appearances, Ibrahimovic is the undisputed leader, an example to all at United.
Not only is he a world-class finisher, his link play is excellent and he has that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Whatever United go on to achieve this season, Ibrahimovic will have been the inspiration for it.
Quite simply, it has been a startling first season in the Premier League.
John Cross – N’Golo Kante
It absolutely has to be someone from Chelsea as they’ve been the outstanding team this season and, in my opinion, it has been Kante who has made the difference.
He is the prototype of the perfect defensive midfielder – good on the ball, aggressive, reads the game and breaks up play. This season with Chelsea, he has also pushed forward a bit more than last with Leicester when I also thought he was their best player.
There’s other big candidates like Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez and David Silva. But I think Kante is out there on his own, head and shoulders above the rest.
Neil Mcleman – Eden Hazard
The best player comes from the best team in the top flight this season.
Hazard is back to his best of Chelsea’s last title-winning season and adds the spark to Conte’s solid side which is based on defensive solidity.
The Belgian has scored 10 times for his club – and three times for his country – and looks like he is enjoying his football again.
Neil Moxley – N’Golo Kante
His selfless, industrious, under-stated excellence has been missed to such an extent by Leicester City that he is the only player missing from Claudio Ranieri’s title-winners from last season – and they are now fighting relegation.
His importance to Chelsea cannot be over-emphasised. A latter-day Claude Makelele, he offers protection to the back three and comfort to the boys up front.
I’d like to give Zlatan Ibrahimovic a mention. He’s been great for Manchester United and the Premier League in his first season.
But these awards typically go to winners. And Kante – unlucky to be over-looked last term during the Foxes’ remarkable triumph – should receive the accolade this time around.
Darren Lewis – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Defied the critics who suggested he would struggle at the age of 35 in arguably the most competitive league in the world.
Yes Kante has massive claims for his consistency and for being the only member of Leicester’s fairytale, title-winning squad to move to the next level by doing it again with Chelsea.
But I like the Zlatan story. His quality as a goalscorer has been doubted and sneered at because of the leagues in which he has grabbed his goals.
But another 24 already, in just six months, tells its own story. He is more than just a striker. He is a leader and a footballing icon. In a difficult season for United he has led the way. He is a superstar. I’d give it to him.
Simon Mullock – Diego Costa
The wild man of football seems to have finally been tamed by Antonio Conte. The Spaniard is scoring goals and roughing up defenders – and still walks a fine disciplinary tightrope. But under Conte he seems to have got the balance just right. The devil inside is under control.
Yes, Costa’s head was turned by the billions of Chinese yuan being dangled in front of him before Christmas but the bloke is after all only human.
Conte’s decision to leave him out of the team that then won at Leicester was a masterstroke and instead of sulking, the Chelsea striker seems to have become even more focused.
Chelsea have a number of contenders for the award – David Luiz, the born-again Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante – but Costa has been their talisman and goalscorer.
Steve Bates – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
He came to English football with his ability to cope with the Premier League at 35 years of age shrouded in suspicion.
But in seven slick-scoring months Zlatan Ibrahimovic has simply defied all logic, emphatically ending any debate about his class and quality and emerging as a star already well on his way to joining Manchester United’s list of great strikers.
It’s some list too with Dennis Viollet, Denis Law, Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Cristiano Ronaldo and all-time record scorer Wayne Rooney securing their place in United’s Hall of Fame.
But in little over half a season the swaggering Swede can rightly be added to that glittering array of stars, not just for his goals but for his awesome influence on Jose Mourinho’s United.
No other Premier League player this season has carried his team quite like Ibrahimovic. His performances defy all football logic.
For all that, Ibrahimovic richly deserves the Player of the Year accolade.
Ben Burrows – David Luiz
N’Golo Kante has been immense, Zlatan Ibrahimovic a revelation, but my vote would go to David Luiz.
You could count on the fingers of no hands the number of people who would have predicted the impact the Brazilian has had for Chelsea when he returned home back in August.
Antonio Conte’s system suits him to a tee but Luiz has been near-faultless in the middle of the back three and consistently showcases abilities that no other centre half around has.
The runaway league leaders’ success has been reliant on their defensive prowess and Luiz is the rock that is built on.
What a player and my player of the year.
Alex Richards – N’Golo Kante
If the French midfielder wins the Premier League two successive years running – which looks likely – then it will be a travesty if he isn’t honoured as the division’s best player.
Leicester went from relegation candidates to champs with him – and have returned to their former station following his departure.
Now Chelsea, after phoning it in for much of last season, have returned to the summit of the English game, and his tenacity and quality are THE major reasons for it.
No one makes more tackles or interceptions in midfield, but it’s his ability to then quickly pass forwards – and that’s the crucial thing – with precision to his sides’ attacking stars, that allows them to make the difference. Without him, Leicester’s players of the year last term – Messrs. Vardy and Mahrez – look shadows of their former selves, while Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro are flying.
Makes those around him better, makes the opposition look worse and since arriving from Caen has emerged as the Premier League’s most dominant singular entity.
He’s scored more goals than anyone else (17) . Only one player (De Bruyne) has more assists than him (8). Only one player (Zlatan) has had more shots than him (91). And he has played considerably more through balls (36) than anyone else.
OK, that last one might not be all that significant – but when it comes to the big, important stats, Alexis Sanchez has undoubtedly been the best player in this season’s Premier League.
No doubt some people will dismiss him on the basis of Arsenal falling out of the title race in trademark fashion. I would say that’s exactly why he SHOULD win the award. Despite being surrounded by team mates either unable or unwilling to live up to his standards, Sanchez has done everything in his power to drag them up to his level.
That alone makes him a worthy winner. Chuck in his uber-impressive numbers, and it’s case closed.
Mike Walters – Marcos Alonso
In the context of Leicester’s riches-to-rags horror story, N’Golo Kante’s contribution to the Foxes’ 5,000-1 title miracle has assumed even greater importance now that he has transported his breathless pressing shuttles to Stamford Bridge.
Kante is on course to become the first man to win back-to-back titles with different clubs since, er, Mark Schwarzer was among the back-up cast at Chelsea in 2015 and at the King Power last season. If he should have been crowned Footballer of the Year 12 months ago, the case for Kante is even more impressive now.
But for a left-field alternative, not least because he plays at left wing-back, how about Kante’s team-mate Marcos Alonso?
Chelsea’s season changed beyond recognition when manager Antonio Conte switched from a flat back four to his preferred 3-4-3 formation after the 3-0 demolition at Arsenal last September – and the upswing in their fortunes coincides with Alonso’s arrival in the starting XI.
He has brought balance, class and four goals to the Blues’ runaway juggernaut – not to mention only two yellow cards, which suggests few opponents have gone past him.
No complaints here if, as I suspect, Kante cleans up the major awards this time. But I’ve enjoyed Alonso’s combination of silk and steel, too.
Thomas Bristow – David Luiz
When Chelsea snapped up David Luiz on transfer deadline day it left everyone baffled. The common thought with the Brazilian was always that he was a cracking character to have in the game, but you probably wouldn’t want him on your team.
Luiz created himself into something of a satirical character over the years – and this couldn’t be finer personified than by his performance in World Cup 2014’s semi-final. The Brazilian neglected next to all his defensive duties as Germany battered Brazil 7-1 in their own home.
And when it was confirmed PSG were willing to let the 29-year-old leave, it hardly restored faith in the centre-back.
Luiz’s first couple of Chelsea performances again lived up to his reputation. And a shocking display with Gary Cahill during Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat to Arsenal had the critics still criticising.
But then it all changed. The teething problems ironed themselves out and Blues boss Antonio Conte deployed Luiz in the heart of a back three.
Since then the Brazilian has been a rock in Chelsea defence. Strong, fierce, one step ahead of the game and great in the air. And he’s still got those knuckle-ball free-kicks (as seen against Liverpool), much to the delight of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Chelsea are in fact now depending on Luiz, and Conte will be hoping that the defender can stave off a troublesome knee problem for the remainder of the season. If Chelsea do go on to win the league, which looks inevitable now, the signing of David Luiz will have played a major role in that feat.
The Belgian is back to his imperious best and has distinguished himself as a true match-winner, which separates himself from the phenomenally consistent N’Golo Kante and, to some extent, Diego Costa.
Diego Costa and Kante have been vital to Antonio Conte’s title push too, but Hazard has been the most special player for the Blues and the league this season.
Who should win Premier League player of the year?