Premier League awards: Team of the season, best player, the key moments and the main memory of 2018/19
The climax to the 2018/19 Premier League season brought the third-closest finish over the last 27 years as Manchester City beat Liverpool to the title by a mere point.
The 4-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion was more than enough for Pep Guardiola’s side to retain the title that they won last season, ensuring that Liverpool’s wait for the top-flight championship extends by another year to 29 since their 1989/90 triumph.
Along the way there were plenty of standout moments, while the numbers come the end of the campaign are of the like we’ve never seen before: 195 points won by the top two, 32 out of 38 games won by City and a record goal difference of 72 in the process for the champions.
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For Cardiff City, Fulham and Huddersfield Town it was a season to forget as they will start next season back in the Championship, with both Brighton and Southampton clawing their way to Premier League survival, while Wolves announced their return to the Premier League in style by powering to seventh with Watford enjoying a run to the FA Cup final where they will face a City side going for an unprecedented domestic treble. And the less said about Arsenal and Manchester United, the better.
So as we reach the end of the season, The Independent’s award-winning team of football writers look back on the campaign and pick out the moments that will remain long in the memory, along with our players of the season, the best managers and the goals that will come to define 2018/19.
Team of the year
Miguel Delaney (Chief Football Writer): Ederson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fernandinho, Moutinho, Bernardo Silva; Mane, Salah, Sterling.
Jonathan Liew (Chief Sports Writer): Etheridge; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fernandinho, Bernardo, Pogba; Sterling, Aguero, Mane.
Jack Pitt-Brooke (Football Writer): Allison; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fernandinho, Henderson, Bernardo Silva; Mane, Aguero, Sterling.
Mark Critchley (Northern Football Correspondent): Ederson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fernandinho, Wijnaldum. Bernardo Silva; Mane, Aguero, Sterling.
Luke Brown (Football Writer): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fernandinho, Moutinho, Bernardo Silva; Mane, Son, Sterling.
Player of the year
MD: Virgil van Dijk. Turned Liverpool from a top-four team to the most relentless challengers in history and one of the best sides in Europe.
JL: Raheem Sterling. Clinical, decisive and brilliant. Has taken on more responsibility than ever before, scored more important goals than ever before, and become more integral to this City team than ever before. Van Dijk and Bernardo a close second and third, for me.
JPB: Bernardo Silva. The best player on the best team in the country, his consistency, energy and intelligence have been vital to driving City on. And his opener at Old Trafford last month could be one of the most important of the year.
MC: Bernardo Silva. Losing Kevin de Bruyne for around two-thirds of the season should have badly affected City. It did not because of Bernardo.
Simon Hughes (Football Writer): Bernardo Silva. His performance against Liverpool was incredible.
LB: Raheem Sterling. Brilliant on the pitch, influential off it. He has been City’s most consistent performer this season and his eloquent fight against racism in football and wider society has already helped to make a real difference.
Manager of the Year
MD: Jurgen Klopp: Really, Liverpool just shouldn’t have been able to go so far for so long, and so impressively. That is down to Klopp, the resolve he has instilled in this team, to go with and so enhance invigorating modern football.
JL: Pep Guardiola. You could just as easily give this to Jurgen Klopp, but for me what sets Guardiola apart is the ruthless, relentless focus he’s managed to instil in his City team, despite already having won the title last season and competing on four fronts.
JPB: Mauricio Pochettino. No signings all year. No stadium until April. But he has somehow steered his team into fourth place in the table, and in Europe he has taken his team all the way to the Champions League final too.
MC: Jurgen Klopp. Any manager who rose to the level set by Pep Guardiola last year deserves immense credit, as does the City manager for maintaining that standard.
SH: Let’s say Javi Gracia, not only for surviving but for getting Watford so high in the league and reaching the cup final. He seems to believe in soft leadership in a very extreme world.
LB: Mauricio Pochettino, for hauling a Tottenham team held together by bubblegum and rubber bands into the top four — again. And for the minor feat of leading Moussa Sissoko, Kieran Trippier and Fernando bloody Llorente into the Champions League final.
MD: Vincent Kompany’s winner against Leicester City. One of the great Premier League moments, let alone one of the great goals. The context, the tension and the release – from his boot from that distance and emotionally – made it so.
JL: So it’s Manchester City v Liverpool back in January, a game dripping with all the tension and menace you would expect. And there’s a moment about half an hour in when Mo Salah is about to go clean through on goal. Except Vincent Kompany, who realises that he’s not going to beat Salah in a foot race in a million years, decides he has only one available course of action. Which is to steam into Salah, two feet off the ground, and take him out in mid-air with a well-judged clatter of the ankles. If that moment perhaps best summed up the knife-edge tension of this title race – Kompany wasn’t even sent off, a decision probably ended up costing Liverpool the title – then it’s what happened next that best summed up its character. Kompany stands over the prone Salah and mouths the words “You pussy” at him. Obviously not to be condoned, for any kids reading this. But a little bit thrilling all the same: a moment when everything that Liverpool and City have been fighting for this season bubbled spectacularly to the surface.
JPB: Mohamed Salah’s late winner at Southampton. There have been plenty of thrilling late Liverpool wins this season – Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Fulham – but St Mary’s on a Friday night in April was my favourite. A swerving run from Salah from half-way and perfect finish into the bottom corner rescued another game that threatened to go wrong.
MC: Sadio Mané hitting the post, John Stones clearing the ball against Ederson’s head, Stones then clearing it off the goal-line through Mohamed Salah’s legs.
SH: I’m writing this before Sunday so that would be Tuesday night when Jordan Henderson fell to the ground at the final whistle after Liverpool’s destruction of Barcelona. He’s taken so much unfair criticism over the years, the sort of criticism which makes you question whether modern football is worth watching. He doesn’t do the spectacular but he cares and he’s really good at football. He encapsulates where Liverpool are at as a team and as a club. It needs titles and winners’ medals to really prove its status. History will then treat him differently.
LB: Tottenham’s move to their new stadium, which meant no longer having to listen to the outstandingly angry man who used to sit next to the Wembley press box.
MD: Probably has to be Kompany’s goal against Leicester. I like players hitting the ball very hard and spectacularly in moments of high tension.
JL: Son Heung-Min against Chelsea. A 50-yard run from the right touchline to the very heart of the Chelsea goal, using every trick in the book: body feints, shoulder drops and pure, visceral speed. The right-footed counterpart to Gareth Bale’s spectacular strike in the Copa del Rey final in 2014.
JPB: Raheem Sterling started his season in the best possible way at the Emirates on the opening weekend. Cutting in from the left, he hammered the ball into the far top corner, silencing all the bad-faith critics of his World Cup performances, launching the finest season of his career.
MC: Vincent Kompany against Leicester City. Either the goal of the season or a rip in the space-time continuum.
SH: Mo Salah’s against Chelsea. I normally prefer team goals but I admired and related to the anger, frustration and technique in this. Only not the delivery…
LB: 15 touches. Nine passes. A backheel. A dummy. And the coolest of finishes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal’s third goal against Leicester in October was a triumph of team-work and intuition that evoked so many vintage memories under Arsene Wenger.
Main memory of 2018/19
MD: A great race in terms of the standard, not in terms of the drama. The Premier League feels as if it’s in a bit of a state of flux at the moment. It feels like it’s now very much in the post-Ferguson era, with City now the main power due to their wealth, but some clubs are still adjusting. Hence the huge contrast between the race for the title and race for the top four.
JL: Exceptionally tedious arguments about “bottling”. Oh, and certain people finally deciding they cared about racism.
JPB: Everyone will say this, but it can only be the relentless high quality of the two top teams, probably the two best English sides of their generation. Each one would be a great in their own right and we are lucky to experience both at the same time.
MC: Getting in at 6.15am from our office Christmas drinks and Jose Mourinho being sacked at 9.45am the same morning.
SH: The first half of the season being a blur of nothingness and the second half being a mad pursuit of what constantly felt impossible. Week after week, game after game: Liverpool hunting City, City showing their class, Liverpool on the hunt again. The last three months have been relentless.
LB: How even one of the greatest title races in Premier League history has paled in comparison to what we have seen in the knockout stages of the Champions League this season.
MD: Man City 2-1 Liverpool. A game of the highest quality and the highest tension, because you knew it might well be the title decider. The razor-thin margins of the match – from John Stones’ goalline clearance to Leroy Sane’s shot going in off the post – so raised it.
JL: Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham, December 2. City v Liverpool probably pipped it for tension, but in terms of twists and spills and atmosphere, this match was unsurpassed. Arsenal led, then Spurs led, then Arsenal led again, all of it taking place against a backdrop of pure spite and genuine antagonism. When Lucas Torreira put in Arsenal’s fourth goal late on, the outpouring of noise from the usually meek Emirates was astonishing – the startling apoplexy of a fanbase who I think realised hadn’t felt anything quite like this for some time.
JPB: The first North London derby of the season – a 4-2 win for Arsenal at the Emirates – had a bit of everything. Six goals, two penalties, a red card, plenty of needle, and a firm introduction for Unai Emery of the intensity and drama of the Premier League.
MC: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool. A game which demonstrated both how closely-matched these two are and just how far behind the rest of the league is.
SH: I tend to cover Merseyside so that restricts me to Liverpool and Everton games, really. Tuesday night at Anfield – I’m pretty sure – will never be beaten. I don’t think Barcelona played that badly. Liverpool were just better. City 2, Liverpool 1 involved unbelievable tension and this impacted on the quality but I don’t always watch football for the quality.
LB: The final few moments of the final Premier League north London derby before Tottenham’s move to their new stadium. Harry Kane scoring from the spot. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing from the spot. And a red card for Lucas Torreira. How different this season might have ended if Arsenal had held their nerve.