Rated! YOUR Premier League club's best and worst player of 2017/18
Best: Christopher Schindler
Given the nature of their survival, it’s difficult to isolate a single player. Aaron Mooy is talented and a few others have had encouraging first seasons in the Premier League, but Huddersfield avoided relegation by virtue of their defending as a group.
With that in mind, the light falls on Schindler: present in all but one game (which he missed through suspension) and seemingly the critical organisational piece in David Wagner’s defence. The resistance in those two May games against Manchester City and Chelsea was remarkable at times and the German was, as he had been all season, right in the middle of it.
He’s not an outstanding athlete and isn’t endowed with any dominant attributes, but he is blessed with an understanding for defensive football and that, above anything else, is why Huddersfield are still here.
Wagner was active in the summer and bolder than expected in the transfer market, but there were no major blunders.
Danny Williams was surprisingly ineffective given what he had been for Reading in 2016/17, and Tom Ince looks a long way from the player he was once expected to be, but nobody actually gave a bad account of themselves – or at least not without a reasonable justification.
Best: Jamie Vardy
A strange season. As ever when a club changes manager, this year has been fractured and, within that, it’s difficult to identify any consistent themes. Harry Maguire has played quite well, albeit with a couple of nasty moments, and either side of his flounce, Riyad Mahrez also showed class.
Vardy hasn’t had his best season, but his finishing has still managed to evolve and the striker’s goalscoring range has noticeably broadened. For a long time he was assumed to be reliant on space and counter-attacking opportunity, but 2017/18 put that to rest.
His pace was still lethal and key to most of what he did, but Vardy also looked to be a wiser forward. Still a bundle of energy and still playing with that boulder of a chip on his shoulder, but also with a more nuanced understanding of how to score goals. Twenty-three of them, across all competitions.
Worst: Kelechi Iheanacho
We’ll excuse Wes Morgan his season on account of his age (34) and past achievements, but Kelechi Iheanacho was a crushing disappointment. He has no shortage of ability, as that final day effort against Spurs showed, but three Premier League goals was a meagre return for a player once thought of as a Manchester City forward-in-waiting.
It’s difficult to diagnose why the move hasn’t worked. The £25m fee was certainly large and unhelpful, but Iheanacho hasn’t really been on the pitch enough to be a victim of expectation. Instead, he’s struggled to adapt around the incumbent players and it’s that lack of adaptability which has been concerning. It’s not time to be worried or to declassify Iheanacho – he saved his two best displays for the final two matches of the season – but there’s so much more to the Nigerian than he’s shown. It’s only natural to feel shortchanged.
Best: Mohamed Salah
Coincidentally, Salah has actually acquired a Luis Suarez-esque role at Liverpool. He’s a different type of player, but his effect on those around him is very similar. The Egyptian has been excellent individually and the new Premier League goalscoring record is testament to that, but the fractures that style creates in opposing defences have enabled other parts of the team to perform well above their previous level.
Roberto Firmino has been excellent, so too Sadio Mané, and for them now, read Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge four years ago.
Worst: Every centre-half other than Virgil van Dijk
Thank goodness for Salah. Without him, Liverpool would be outside the top four and also nowhere near the Champions League final. More importantly for neutrals, without the Egyptian, the debate around the team’s inability to defend would still be continuing apace. They've improved; Van Dijk has made them better and Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have both had good seasons.
Centrally, though, all is not well. Dejan Lovren remains hapless and Joel Matip isn’t up to the required standard either – and that’s been shown in some very high-profile games. Whatever the outcome in Kiev, Jurgen Klopp will know that area of his side still needs urgent attention.
Best: Kevin De Bruyne
After any other season, De Bruyne would now be decorating his mantel with all sorts of individual awards. Alas, Salah and the richest scoring season in Premier League history have got in the way.
Nevertheless, in spite of Pep Guardiola’s coaching and the array of stars they’re stuffed with, Manchester City wouldn’t be the same without De Bruyne. Salah may have been its top scorer, but the Belgian is the top flight’s most dangerous player.
He evolved in 2017/18, too. No matter in which position he was deployed, De Bruyne brought something different to the role: penetrative running, a broad armoury of passes, or a goal threat from anywhere inside 30 yards. This was the season when the country’s best player went uncrowned.
One hundred points. The most goals scored. The fewest conceded. Some players were more influential than others, but 2017/18 was a collective success which nobody at the club deserves to be separated from.
Best: David de Gea
What’s really remarkable about De Gea is not only his consistency, but the range of his form – every season brings a highlight reel different from the last. There are new, better saves, more vivid testament to his agility, and even evidence that his reflexes are growing sharper. 2017/18 was the season in which he became the world’s best in his position.
And thank goodness, because without him, Manchester United and Jose Mourinho would be in trouble. They’re a good team, but not a very good one: vastly inferior to Manchester City and not clearly better than either Liverpool or Tottenham. Imagine how those margins would have been affected had De Gea not be as good as he was.
Worst: Victor Lindelof
The Swede did actually start 13 times in the league (a prize for you if you remember any of those matches), so wasn’t quite as peripheral as assumed. Still, that was a meagre return given his €35m+ transfer fee and nothing he did this season suggests that he has a long-term future at Old Trafford.
Whenever this kind of thing happens under Mourinho it’s worth deferring judgement. The Portuguese has a history of marginalising players, so Lindelof might just need a different manager. Either way, he certainly requires more exposure if he is to become a reliable asset to Manchester United.
Best: Jamaal Lascelles
The key to Newcastle’s survival was tone – one which, since he arrived at the club, Lascelles has done more than anyone to maintain. His partnership with Florian Lejeune has been resilient, but what he represents is arguably worth more.
The shadow of Mike Ashley has always been dark, but what often festered within it was much more damaging. Newcastle are the club of SportsDirect naffness and tight spending, but they were also known as much for apathy as anything else.
But this season has been different. Ashley predictably shortchanged Rafael Benitez last summer, leaving him without a credible forward and requiring instead a strict tactical discipline. In essence, Newcastle have survived on their commitment, team spirit and a determination to defeat the odds – all intangibles incubated by their captain.
Martin Dubravka has been excellent since arriving in January and Jonjo Shelvey has finished the season well enough to involve himself in the World Cup discussion, but Lascelles has helped to create the conditions for what has taken place this year.
Worst: Islam Slimani
A strange loan. Benitez was always going to be digging in the bargain bins come January, but Slimani was injured at the time of his move and had played so little that he was never likely to gain match fitness before the end of the season.
He played four times in the end, and did make an impact in assisting Matt Ritchie’s winner over Arsenal, but a three-match ban for violent conduct at the end of the season just about summed this one up.
Best: Oriol Romeu
A damning selection, because it illustrates the imbalance in this squad. Romeu hasn’t needed to be outstanding to be his side’s best player, instead rising to the top of the list simply by being competent.
It’s easy to miss his contribution, because his game is predicated on retrieving possession and passing it on to more cultured players. However, with a changing cast of players around, behind and in front of him, he maintained the standards he set last season. Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal at Swansea will be remembered for longer, but Romeu was probably the difference between Premier League and Championship football in 2018/19.
Worst: Fraser Forster
What a disaster. Forster eventually lost his starting job to Alex McCarthy and, when that change happened, it was really just a relief.
A struggling goalkeeper is hard to watch and, having seemingly lost the confidence of his team-mates, his manager and his supporters, Forster had started to look painfully fragile. Worse – McCarthy’s introduction made Southampton instantly more secure and his level of performance was a big part of the club’s survival.