All bets were off two weeks ago but since returning from Portugal’s friendly defeat to Italy Cristiano Ronaldo has looked a pale shadow of the world-beating uber-confident star that lit up the Premiership’s last six months. After a frustrating Manchester derby and an insipid display in Lyon (he missed the 4-0 Arsenal wrecking) — could randy Ron be overtaken in the sprint finish for the personal accolades this season ?
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
The 2007 Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year is having another incredible season and is leading his club’s assault on the major trophies. The Portuguese winker’s rehabilitation from Premiership pariah to icon is virtually complete after a relatively controversy-free campaign.
Accusations of diving for penalties and free-kicks which dogged him last season (think Middlesbrough — twice) have now virtually dissolved and he was wronged himself at Portsmouth after Richard Hughes got him sent off for an apparent headbutt that made no contact. He has also dazzled with a new-found ability to wallop free-kicks in at odd angles. After a slow start, he won January’s FA Premier League Player of the Month award and his 19 Premiership goals make him joint-top scorer. The fact that he is credited with only two Premiership assists (the same number as John O’Shea) belies the selfish streak which still occasionally frustrates his team-mates.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal)
Has gone from bit-part player and goalscoring substitute last year to first-choice striker and leader of the line in the post-Thierry Henry era. His impact on the club has been such that Robin van Persie’s injury problems have hardly been felt and his club top the table by five points going into March.
The variety of the Togo striker’s 19 Premiership goals have also demonstrated how his presence alone has brought an extra dimension to Arsenal’s play. The Gunners actually attempt to score from crosses into the box now. He has also become a massive dressing-room presence in a young team and clearly exerts a big influence over others (Nicklas Bendtner excepted) to the point where he has become the talisman of the team and a new terrace favourite. A new prototype striker, he does everything that a lone front man in a 4-5-1 must do.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Arguably it hasn’t been a great season for Liverpool and Gerrard, but he makes the list again by being fundamentally the best midfield player in Europe when he wears the red shirt. Eight Premiership goals and seven assists are modest totals by his standards, but Gerrard has carried Liverpool and you wonder where they would be without him. Fully-fit, he is one of the few true-box-to-box midfielders left in the game.
Richard Dunne (Manchester City)
Has been the most consistent defender in the Premiership for the last two years and would have earned recognition earlier had he been paired with Micah Richards regularly last season. Now they form the most physically-intimidating centre-back partnership in the top flight and have built the platform for City’s challenge for European football. Dunne gets in ahead of Richards because of his quiet leadership and organisational abilities and his much better positional sense.
David James (Portsmouth)
Would be a popular choice among the players and now finally seems to have ironed out the creases in his game that prevented him from being the undisputed England number one for the last six years. Barring one obvious blunder in the 7-4 win over Reading, it’s hard to recall any major malfunctions from the veteran. Still a penalty-saving king and now catching 95% of crosses — he instils confidence in his back four now.
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Tough call between the two Old Trafford centre-backs for the final slot in the list, but Ferdinand edges Vidic out on his performances in the big games. Man of the match at Anfield earlier this season, Ferdinand has also become an occasional goalscorer for his club and country with four strikes this term. An on-field leader and big dressing room influence, the one blot in his copybook this season was his part in organising the infamous Christmas party.
Francesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
The goals have dried up for the Spaniard since he emphatically began the campaign with seven goals in his first nine appearances. A runaway winner of the FA Premier League Player of the Month (August) award, Fabregas continues to contribute to Arsenal’s build-up play and his tally of 12 assists puts him second on the official list.
PFA Premiership Team (possible)
Sagna, Dunne, Ferdinand, Evra
Ronaldo, Mascherano, Gerrard, Petrov
Who are your picks for Player of the Year and Team of the Year?