Best Premier League players of the year: Five shining lights from 2021
Best Premier League players of the year
The year is drawing to a close and with Covid-19 once more dominating the headlines, what better way to lift the spirits by assessing those players who have made a major impact in 2021.
Manchester City cruised to the title last season and top the table at Christmas so it’s hardly a shock to see two of their players feature in our best Premier League players of the year list.
However, there is one player who stands head and shoulders above the rest over the last 12 months.
The way Salah has gone about his business at Liverpool, he is close to establishing himself as one of the greatest players to have played for the club.
The Egyptian is 13th in the all-time list of Reds goalscorers in the top flight (10th in all competitions) but his games/goals ratio stands imperiously at 1.48 (1.54 if all league, cup and European appearances are included) which is seriously impressive.
5 – Mo Salah is the first player to score 20+ goals in five consecutive seasons for Liverpool in all competitions since Ian Rush from 1981-82 to 1986-87 (six in a row). Famous. pic.twitter.com/dQSH9vHaAn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2021
Over the last 12 months, no player has come close to matching his 24 Premier League goals, with Harry Kane the next best at 16.
The Tottenham striker was his usual prolific self in the second half of last season, which covers our 2021 period.
But the goals have dried up, at least in the Premier League, in the first few months of the current campaign, completely overshadowed by Salah who leads the charts with 15.
His scoring record is ridiculously good but in 2021 only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Paul Pogba supplied more assists than the Liverpool star’s 11 in the Premier League, so he has plenty of strings to his bow.
Primarily a right-back, the Portuguese can also play on the left or as a winger and never misses an opportunity to get into an advanced position and shoot when the chance arises.
Indeed, only Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan (2.4) have taken more shots on average per game this season from City’s squad than Cancelo, who has had more efforts than Kane – a remarkable statistic for a defender in a team packed with attacking talent.
Pep Guardiola admitted Cancelo struggled when he first signed from Juventus in 2019 in a swap deal with Danilo, saying “he was confused in the beginning because he expected something that we could not offer him”, but the City boss has had nothing but praise for the defender since.
Cancelo set up three goals in November’s 4-1 win against Club Brugge and was responsible for both goals in the 2-0 victory at Old Trafford three days later while his six assists in 18 games were as many as he produced in 76 appearances in his first two seasons.
6 – João Cancelo has provided his sixth assist of the season in 18 games for Man City, as many as he produced in both of his first two seasons with the club in all competitions combined (six in 76 apps). Whip. pic.twitter.com/odftjS7AOV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 21, 2021
In the same month, the City boss was comparing Cancelo to his former Bayern Munich full-back Philipp Lahm, a player he described as “the best player I have ever seen in my life”.
Cancelo scored two goals in the Champions League and in his 100th appearance for City broke his Premier League duck for the season in the 4-0 rout of Newcastle with a sensational strike having earlier set up the opener for Ruben Dias.
The City man fully deserves to be included in our best Premier League players of the year.
The first part of the year did not go so well for the Reds defender, who was dropped from the England squad for three World Cup qualifiers in March, but has since bounced back in style.
The right-back has supplied more assists than any other Premier League player in 2021 (13) and he also chipped in with four goals, so that is a decent return by any standard.
Such has been his development this season that manager Jurgen Klopp has been forced “to adapt our team to his skills” which often sees him move inside as an auxiliary midfielder.
Only Salah has a higher player rating than Alexander-Arnold this season, according to WhoScored.com, having been named man of the match on four occasions.
Alexander-Arnold’s poor start to the year is a thing of the past and he has more than made up for it with his performances in the last nine months.
Eleven of Foden’s 18 goals in all competitions last season came after the New Year, five of which in January alone, so he hit the ground running in 2021.
Foden had a lean spell for a couple of months but scored crucial goals in both legs of City’s Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund in April.
In the absence of a recognised striker, Guardiola has been deploying Foden through the middle on occasions as he did in October’s 4-1 win at Brighton where he bagged a first-half double.
Foden’s versatility was recognised by Guardiola, who said “it doesn’t matter where he plays, he plays good. He can play striker, false nine, winger right and left…He gives us things we need at times. He has the quality to play this role.”
Foden was dropped for the 4-0 win at Newcastle having gone for a night out with Jack Grealish after the 7-0 win against Leeds in which he scored but he still makes the grade as one of the best Premier League players of the year.
Kane may be going through a lean spell in front of goal in the current campaign but he scored 17 goals in the second half of last season, so he deserves to be included in our list.
The striker’s poor goalscoring record this term is thought to be linked with Tottenham’s refusal to sell him to Manchester City but he has still been in form for England and in European competition.
Only Salah had a better combined record for goals and assists in 2021 and for that he should be recognised as one of the best Premier League players of the year.
Kane is still getting the chances and is seventh for shots per game this season so it can only be a matter of time before the net starts to bulge more consistently in the Premier League as he proved with a clinical finish in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication