Liverpool's Mohamed Salah deserving of PFA prize over Kevin De Bruyne?
The PFA Player of the Year has been announced and it's Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah claiming the prize for 2017-18 following a tremendous season for his new club. He narrowly edged Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne for the award, so we asked FC bloggers David Usher and Dave Mooney for their thoughts on the award and its winner.
So, Salah won: Was that the right decision?
David Usher: Yes. Kevin De Bruyne has been sensational and he's a classy, likeable lad who, until the last couple of months, looked to be the favourite but the tide turned in recent weeks and Salah overtook him. The Egypt forward has been unrelenting in his goal-scoring since the very first game of the season, but he's stepped it up another level in the last month or so.
Going into this season, it was expected that De Bruyne would be brilliant, but Salah has caught everyone by surprise and surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations. With 41 goals and counting, how can anyone say he isn't a worthy winner?
David Mooney: I understand David's point that nobody expected Salah to be up there as one of the players of the season, but just because it's a surprise doesn't mean he should win. Frankly, there's been a cigarette paper between them for the influence they've had on their respective squads.
Nobody can deny Salah has been excellent, but the same can be said of De Bruyne. Over the season, De Bruyne has been the standout player in the team that has run away with the league: When games needed a star man to get City another three points on their march, he was the one who produced the goods. If the best player in the best team isn't deserving of the award, who is?
What was the defining moment that tipped the scales in Salah's favour?
Usher: Two moments, really. Scoring four against Watford made everyone really sit up and take notice. That was when Salah became a truly legitimate rival to De Bruyne, but it was the Champions League meetings between the Reds and City that sealed it. They went head-to-head and Salah came out on top, scoring in both legs while De Bruyne was kept in check by Liverpool's tireless midfield three.
Mooney: It should have been the games against Stoke and Chelsea for De Bruyne. Against Stoke, he was involved in all six of the goals City scored while he was on the pitch and provided one of the greatest balls of the season, perhaps longer, when Leroy Sane slotted in from close range. At Stamford Bridge, while Chelsea were still playing well, De Bruyne ran the show and scored a cracker despite the pressure he was under to perform. It's unfortunate for De Bruyne that his short dip in form came when everybody was voting: Salah's didn't.
What do you think are their best/worst characteristics?
Usher: Salah has frightening pace, is deceptively strong and his feet are so quick that he has been leaving defenders on their backsides all season. He also has developed a ruthlessness in front of goal that has made a mockery of the (justified) early season criticism of his finishing.
Despite the individual success, he has remained humble and that's a big part of why the Kop have taken him to their hearts. The 41 goals have helped too, obviously, but Salah is such a genial lad with an infectious personality. He's always smiling and always has time for people.
De Bruyne also seems like a top fella and he endeared himself to Liverpool fans by the way he downplayed the incident when City's bus was damaged prior to the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg, at Anfield.
As for Salah's worst characteristics? I'll let you know if he ever shows any.
Mooney: One often underrated characteristic of De Bruyne's is his willingness to keep trying even when things aren't working. Some players disappear when their through-balls are over-hit or their shots are skewing wide; De Bruyne simply dusts himself down and goes again, usually improving with his next effort. Combine that with his two-footedness; ability to spot a pass through a line of four, five or six defenders; and his ability to play it. ... He's always a dangerous player.
I'm not going to pretend De Bruyne is the perfect player -- his form can dip suddenly and when it's not working for him, he's unable to flick the switch to get it back again -- but he's damn near close to being perfect.
What do they need to do now to compete for Ballon d'Or honours?
Usher: Individually Salah has done virtually all he can, so now he's relying on his teammates to get him over the line. If the Reds go on to win the Champions League, then Salah will be a shoe-in for the Ballon d'Or but even just reaching the final should give him an excellent chance.
Mooney: The only thing stopping either of them are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Perhaps the pair has won it enough to give somebody else a turn now?
In all seriousness, there's not much more De Bruyne can do: He's the complete package. His vision and passing means he's good for an assist or second-assist every game, his work-rate means he's perfect for Guardiola's high-pressing system and dangerous when City win the ball back high up, while his finishing is incredibly good. Nobody has scored more outside the box than him in the Premier League this season and he doesn't actually try that many blasts from long range, so his conversion rate is excellent.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.