As the Premier League season comes to a close, Chelsea lead the race for the title with Spurs hot on their trail. The challenge for top four continues too with the likes of Liverpool, the Manchester clubs and Arsenal all fighting for a Champions League spot.
At the other end of the table, Hull City and Swansea battle it out to avoid the drop with the fate of Sunderland and Middlesbrough almost set in stone.
The FRU cast reflect back on the season and give their picks of the stand out players of the season.
N’Golo Kante – Jamie Braidwood
By already winning the PFA Player of the Year award, N’Golo Kante has finally received the individual recognition many believed he deserved last season.
Picked behind teammate Riyad Mahrez at last season’s awards following Leicester’s improbable title, there is now no question that Kante, now on the brink of a second consecutive Premier League title, is the division’s most influential midfielder. He may not grab headlines by scoring goals or making assists, in fact he has only recorded one of each this season, but it’s the small, unnoticeable things that makes Kante so invaluable.
You only have to look at what his £30m switch from Leicester to Chelsea has meant for both teams. Leicester’s title defence was unconvincing as and they were almost dragged into a relegation battle, while Chelsea rose from a position of 10th last season to become champions elect, recording the second longest winning streak in Premier League history in the process.
Without Kante, Leicester have looked a man short. The Frenchman’s energy and presence allowed the Foxes to play their remarkably effective 4-4-2 last season, a system they have been unable to replicate without him.
At Chelsea Kante has fitted perfectly into Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 formation. Again, he has allowed his manager to play a two-man central midfield and has managed to lead the league in tackles and interceptions for the second consecutive year.
Only seven players have won the Premier League with different teams. The last person to do so became the first person to do it in consecutive years. That person was veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who technically won the league with Chelsea in 2015 and Leicester in 2016 despite not playing a single minute for either team. N’Golo Kante is about to become the first player to properly win consecutive leagues with different teams, and his contribution to both sides cannot be understated. It should now also be officially recognised.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – David Ronney
“I came to the Premier League and everyone thought it would not be possible, but like always, I make them eat their balls.” These are the words of Manchester United’s Swedish striker and it perfectly sums up his first season with the club.
Many had doubted that the 35-year-old would succeed in England but after netting 28 goals for the Red Devils, the former PSG star hushed his critics.
The Swede kicked off the season by winning the Community Shield after a win over the Premier League champions, Leicester City and finished 2016 as Europe’s second top goal scorer with 50 goals, the winner Lionel Messi with 51 to his name.
In February, Ibrahimovic single handedly won United the League Cup as he netted twice in a 3-2 win over Southampton at Wembley, the 32nd trophy of his career.
While the striker will not chase down every opportunity compared to the likes of Rashford and Martial, his intelligent play recognises the best goal scoring opportunities and his world class efforts are a fear for any opponent.
Zlatan’s characteristic personality is loved by some and hated by others, however, it has brought unity to the Manchester squad as his humour and leadership qualities are something that the club has needed in recent times.
Unfortunately, the Swede will not be a part of the remainder of United’s season after sustaining an injury in the Europa league, putting him out for the rest of 2017 and his future in Manchester in doubt.
However, in his own words, “One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”
Eden Hazard – Luke Barry
Every title winning team needs their star attacker. Blackburn Rovers had Alan Shearer, Arsenal had Thierry Henry, Manchester United has Cristiano Ronaldo, Leicester City had Riyad Mahrez and Chelsea have Eden Hazard.
Since joining Chelsea in 2012, the 26-year-old has firmly established himself as one of the best attacking entities in the Premier League, notching an impressive 55 goals in all competitions in his time with the Blues.
Under Antonio Conte in 2016/17, the Belgian has silenced his critics after a lacklustre season last term saw him find the net just six times, but this time round he has been back to his defender-terrorising best.
With an unerring ability to run at and frequently past defenders at real pace, Hazard is one of the most difficult players to defend against in world football and his contribution this season saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year with Chelsea well on the way to lifting the Premier League trophy.
You need look no further than the Belgian’s stunning solo goal versus Arsenal this season to understand what a talent Eden Hazard is. He has been key to all of Chelsea’s successes this season, it is now Antonio Conte’s job to keep a hold of his superstar.
Deli Alli – Gregor Kerr
After such a promising first season in the Premier League last year, questions were raised whether or not the former MK Dons-man could better, or even reproduce those performances once again. After a challenging European Championships and a slow start to the season, the pressure only ramped up on young Alli.
This season though, young Alli has done exactly what a top player – which he without doubt is – would do; silence his critics. Not only has Tottenham’s number 20 manage to bag himself the PFA Young Player of the Season award for the second season on the bounce, he has incredibly managed to double his goal tally from 2015/16, being on target 20 times in all competitions, with 16 of those coming in the Premier League.
A number like this would be some achievement for any striker; but for a midfielder, and one of such youth to reach a figure like that is almost unheard of. In fact, he sits in 7th place in the Premier League scoring charts for this season, above the likes of Saido Mane, Jermaine Defoe and Eden Hazard.
With stats that can easily match those of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard at his age, it’s hard to see beyond Alli reaching the level of the English greats before him. Whether he can achieve that at his current club however remains to be seen.
A key part in this and last season’s title push at Tottenham, Alli has found himself as the jewel of the crown in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs revolution. The Argentine believes that his midfield star should have made the PFA Player of The Season shortlist after not being included, however, he certainly makes mine.
Thibaut Courtois – Bryce Donadlson
Many players have played a pivotal role in Conte’s side this season, none more so than keeper Thibaut Courtois. Only at age 24 the young Belgian looks set to win his 2nd premier league title in 3 campaigns with the club.
This season Courtois’ role in the squad has become ever more influential. A change in tactics by the manager has left only 3 defenders to guard Courtois’ goal, opposed to the more common 4 at the back in English teams.
Having played all but one of the team’s 32 premier league matches so far he has recorded a remarkable 13 clean sheets. His composure and experience in front of goal is clear as he has a flawless record when it comes to mistakes leading to goals. He has been crucial in securing 24 wins this season, placing Chelsea at the top of the premier league.
Courtois has also had an impressive FA Cup campaign. On the road to Wembley he recorded a clean sheet against Manchester united in the quarter-final and made many crucial saves in the semi-final against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea will play arsenal, another local rival, on the 27th of May. The match will undoubtedly be heated as Arsenal will be desperate to claim some silverware this season.
With Courtois fit to start and Chelsea favourites to win, he could become the first goalkeeper to win the league and the FA Cup in the same season since Petr Cech, also at Chelsea in 2010.
Courtois is fast becoming one of the most dominant keepers in Europe and with youth on his side looks set to expand his honours.
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