N’Golo Kante scooping both the PFA Player of the Season and Premier League Player of the Year awards represents a rare wildcard season in a usually goal driven Premier League. Despite Harry Kane firing in 29 goals, far more than past winners Riyad Mahrez’s 17 goals and Jamie Vardy’s 24 goals in 15/16, and Alexis Sanchez smashing in 24 goals and 11 assists, it was to be the year of the holding midfielder as the engine room Frenchman reigned supreme as the key cog in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 formation.
In terms of the PFA Player of the Year award, Kante was the first player to win the award with just one league goal to his name since Gary Pallister back in 1991/92 – before the Premier League’s inception. Previous to Pallister, inaugural winner Norman Hunter back in 1973/74 and Colin Todd in 1974/75 were the last outfield players to win the award without a solid goalscoring record, each going goalless from central defence. Gareth Bale in 2010/11 was the last victor with single figures with seven goals for Kante’s cross city rivals Tottenham.
As for the Premier League Player of the Year, which is recognised by the league sponsors, no outfield player has ever won it with a solitary goal – Vincent Kompany was closest, leaving victorious in 2011/12 with just three goals. Although a case could’ve been made for Kante winning both awards with Leicester last season (Jamie Vardy won the award), this season was the true anomaly to the stats. Despite Kante’s presence being likely to remain the same with champions Chelsea, Betfair have priced him at 20/1 to take the Premier League Player of the Year award once more next season. If he were to do so, Kante would be the first since Cristiano Ronaldo in 06/07 and 07/08 to do it in consecutive seasons.
For the coming season, it’s most likely that normality will resume with a plethora of attacking talent available to Premier League sides. Eden Hazard currently leads the odds at 8/1, with previously mentioned duo Harry Kane and Alexis Sanchez each coming in at 10/1. Dele Alli is available at 12/1 with proven goalscorer Sergio Aguero ranking at 14/1, but it’s next in line who appears the value in our eyes at 16/1.
It’s Manchester City’s influential playmaker Kevin de Bruyne who we believe can snatch the award this time around. Under Pep Guardiola, the Belgian was chopped and changed from his preferred trequartista role to a deep lying central midfield spot and he performed way above the standard in both positions. His league record of 18 assists was one short of Mesut Ozil’s 19 last season, although over half of de Bruyne’s games were in a more disciplined central midfield position. In his first season in Manchester, the 25 year old contributed seven goals and nine assists in only 25 appearances; three of which came from the subs bench. In more minutes and as part of multiple experiments this season, he showed his potential by doubling his assist tally.
In City’s final game of the season at Watford, de Bruyne was shifted back into his attacking midfield role in a 5-0 walloping where he, along with Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, tore the Hornets to bits, firing in two assists in the early stages of the match. It certainly felt like a sign of things to come as the Blues fired in 15 goals in their last four fixtures, perhaps laying down a message for their title rivals ahead of next season.
The last attacking midfielder to pick up the PFA Player of the Year gong was Riyad Mahrez in Leicester’s unlikely 15/16 triumph and his statistics from the year previous didn’t appear particularly convincing:
Riyad Mahrez selected stats 14/15:
4 goals, 3 assists
2.1 shots per game, 51% shot accuracy
2.6 dribbles per game, 53.10% take-on success
73.3% pass accuracy, 1.5 key passes per game, 44 chances created
Riyad Mahrez selected stats 15/16:
17 goals, 11 assists
2.3 shots per game, 64% shot accuracy
3.5 dribbles per game, 56.47% take-on success
73.6% pass accuracy, 1.8 key passes per game, 67 chances created
As you can see, Mahrez only managed 7 positive contributions to Leicester results in their survival season back in 2015, despite being one of the better players in Nigel Pearson’s side. The following season, however, the Algerian winger was extraordinary as every single attacking statistic increased. He contributed more shots on goal, his accuracy improved as his confident shot through the roof, he attempted and completed more duels against opposition defenders and he added more efficiency in creating chances to his game. His influence played a key role in the Foxes heroic title success, though his past numbers hadn’t alluded to such an enormous season incoming.
Switch focus to the last attacking midfielder to win the Premier League Player of the Season award and we look at Chelsea’s talismanic winger Eden Hazard in 2014/15. Hazard had been essential to Chelsea in their third place finish the season prior, so the slight increase in his control the year after wasn’t so shocking:
Eden Hazard selected stats 2013/14:
14 goals, 7 assists
2.1 shots per game, 59% shot accuracy
3.8 dribbles per game, 62.86% take-on success
83.4% pass accuracy, 2.7 key passes per game, 92 chances created
Eden Hazard selected stats 2014/15:
14 goals, 9 assists
2.1 shots per game, 59% shot accuracy
4.8 dribbles per game, 64.29% take-on success
86.8% pass accuracy, 2.6 key passes per game, 99 chances created
As represented in the figures, Hazard only needed to add two more assists to his positive contributions tally to make the vital difference. His shots on goal and accuracy remained exactly the same whilst his key passes per game actually dropped. He did, however, add more successful dribbles to his repertoire, along with more accurate passing and more chances created as Jose Mourinho’s team triumphed to the silverware with relative ease. With better players surrounding him, powerhouse frontman Diego Costa and fellow new signing Cesc Fabregas in particular, and additional freedom to play further up the flank, Hazard excelled and took the league by storm.
This coming season, we anticipate similar circumstances for Kevin de Bruyne as Pep Guardiola revamps an ageing City squad and adds options and quality to the ranks. As attacking players go, Bernardo Silva has already joined the club and can operate in a variety of roles including on the right flank and the deep central role de Bruyne stepped into last season. City will also be recruiting new full backs on either side of the pitch, with assist heavy Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy both heavily linked with switches. These captures would give Guardiola’s side more options on the offence with better crossing ability and positive off the ball movement which can allow de Bruyne the freedom to find space in the opposition defence. We took a look at de Bruyne’s stats for last season:
6 goals, 18 assists
2.4 shots per game, 34% shot accuracy
1.4 dribbles per game, 68.35% take-on success
82% pass accuracy, 2.9 key passes per game, 101 chances created
With 2.4 shots per game, the Belgian actually managed more shots per game than his international teammate and Leicester’s Mahrez managed in each of the formerly discussed campaigns. His accuracy on the other hand was way off the mark, hardly coming to close to Mahrez’s low of 51%, let alone the 64% he achieved in 15/16. It must be considered that the majority of de Bruyne’s efforts came from long range in a deep role, so a movement further up the pitch should allow him to massively bolster his percentages next term. With just 1.4 dribbles per game, de Bruyne didn’t come to close to others for the same reason, but his better take-on success bodes well for a more advanced position.
It’s blatant that de Bruyne has exceptional, unreached potential, a deft touch on the ball and wise positioning off the ball. If he can come close to maintaining his sensational creative numbers and he can become more accurate with his shooting, along with the helping hand of a hint of good fortune, 16/1 odds on statistically the sixth best player in the 16/17 Premier League campaign to win the Premier League Player of the Year seems fantastic. Keep in mind that the extravagantly talented de Bruyne will be playing under the illustrious, highly regarded, attack minded manager who helped coach Lionel Messi into the world’s greatest player and we could be onto a winner.
Back Kevin de Bruyne to be the Premier League Player of the Year 2017/18 – 16/1 with Paddy Power