As we head into April and the season starts to wind down, attention is starting to turn to who will win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award for the 2016/17 season.
It may seem clear cut that N’Golo Kante of Chelsea should run away with the prize, however it is important to point out that in 1999, when Manchester United completed a remarkable treble, Tottenham’s David Ginola walked away as Player of the Year meaning nothing is assured in this game.
While we do know last year’s winner Riyad Mahrez will not be retaining his trophy, following a disappointing season for the Algerian and his Leicester teammates, many feel a member of champions elect Chelsea will take the prize while others hope the Blues can be caught.
Realistically, while Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane and Dele Alli are all having fine seasons individually for their clubs, the trophy should go to one of three players.
Here we take a look at those three.
1. N’Golo Kante
The Chelsea star is odds on to become the first player to win the Premier League twice in a row with two different clubs after winning the title under Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City last season, which makes the £32 million Antonio Conte paid for the 5’6″ midfielder seem like peanuts in today’s climate.
You only have to look a the demise of the champions since the 26-year-old’s departure to realise just how much the player has been missed by the Foxes and how he has helped Chelsea reach the summit of English football after a disastrous year as defending champions where Jose Mourinho, like Ranieri, was sacked just months after winning the title.
Even the most avid football fan would never have heard of Kante when Ranieri signed the player in 2015. His rise to the top has been remarkable and he has emerged as a key member of Didier Deschamp’s French side looking to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The ex-Caen man never seems to run out of energy and the stats show just how important Kante is to Chelsea as one of only two players in the Premier League to make 100 plus tackles and ranks among the top ten for interceptions too.
With high praise coming from former former Chelsea star Frank Lampard, labelling him as the ‘best central midfield player in the world right now’ it would be very hard to overlook the little magician for the award.
2. Eden Hazard
The Belgian international has regained the form that saw him win the title under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in 2015 and is in the running for the Player of the Season award he picked up in the same year.
While many were critical of the 26-year-old for downing tools last year as Mourinho was given his marching orders and the Chelsea title defence fizzled away, the former Lille player has enjoyed a return to form that has recently seen him linked with a move to Real Madrid.
This season has seen the tricky attacker complete 119 dribbles as he once again dazzles defences and, like Kante, has become a vital part of Conte’s side.
As the most fouled player in the league, that stat tells you clubs see the Belgian as a huge threat and that he must be stopped at all costs.
Hazard’s eleven goals and four assists in the Premier League have helped Chelsea extend their lead at the top to ten points with ten games remaining, and after defeating Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final, a meeting with Tottenham stands in the way of a Wembley final date and a chance of doing the double under Conte this season, possibly before becoming a Galactico this summer.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
A 34-year-old arriving into a physically demanding English league after a lengthy career abroad is unlikely to stand out, that’s unless you are Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Goals have been hard to come by for Jose Mourinho’s men this season with United supporters thankful they have had the former Sweden captain on their books following his 26 goals in all competitions so far.
Although both Kante and Hazard are, rightly so, ahead of Ibrahimovic in the pecking order for the award, with Manchester United sitting in fifth in the Premier League, you would have to wonder just where they would be without the former Paris St-Germain star.
Many doubted his chances of cutting it in the Premier League at his age, but the faith shown in him by Jose Mourinho has been justified and the club won the EFL Cup final at Wembley in February largely due to the Man of the Match performance from the Swede, in a game Southampton were unlucky to lose.
Jamie Carragher recently backed Ibrahimovic to be crowned Player of the Season for carrying Manchester United this year. While that may be seen as a pop against his old rival club, the fact is he, at the very least, has to make the shortlist.
With all the mega money signings in today’s market, the fact that Manchester United acquired the 35-year-old for free has to be applauded given his impact, with reports suggesting the player wants to stay on into his 36th year as he tries to win the Premier League before bowing out at the top.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena