Man City won the Premier League, but who won ESPN’s awards?
Have you recovered? Not us! Premier League 2021-22 came down to the wire. 10 minutes were crucial. Both relegation and top four were in play till the conclusion. Matchday 38 summed up the entire season: continuous drama, mind-blowing peak performance, and a widespread inability to dodge rakes. Constantly, everything happened.
Ryan O’Hanlon and Bill Connelly have teamed up to give mostly made-up honors for 2021-22. Winners, congrats! Some of these “awards” are ones you don’t want to win.
Antonio Conte, Spurs. After some recuperation, one of soccer‘s most successful managers altered his views about Spurs. When he took over on Nov. 2, the squad had 15 points and a minus-7 goal differential. Spurs were the third-best team in the league from that point forward, with 56 points and a plus-36 goal differential in 28 matches, behind only City and Liverpool. We’ll see how much transfer money he can get from Tottenham this summer, but he proven himself this winter and spring.
Newcastle’s Eddie Howe Newcastle’s new owners brought in Bruno Guimaraes, Matt Targett, Chris Wood, Dan Burn, and Kieran Trippier in January to help avoid relegation. After Howe’s appointment, the team’s play improved more than its talent. Newcastle averaged 2.0 points per game from mid-January on, third-best in the league and ahead of Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea, three teams with more talent.
Brentford’s Thomas Frank. Brentford was a betting favorite to relegate in its first top-flight season since 1947. The Bees finished 13th, 11 points from relegation. Frank’s club played attractive ball, pressed in important moments, had key contributions from Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo (16 goals, 12 assists), and provided an inspired landing spot for Christian Eriksen in the winter. After a February slump, Frank led them to 22 points in 11 games and safety.
Frank was ready for whatever next season brought.
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City, and Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool. You can choose the order. Liverpool and City had extremely good squads, but so did other Premier League clubs, and they still won. They may be world-class. CONNELLY
MVP (Liverpool or Man City division)
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. The Player of the Year isn’t higher because he only played 60% of the league minutes and City gained more points in his absence. He’s the current Steven Gerrard: driving runs from the middle, incredible passing range, and goals and assists from midfield. He’s Manchester City’s defining player and one of the league’s greatest.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. His projected assists, progressive passes, through balls, and shot-creating moves lead the league. He’s 22 years old, a fullback, and he could get better than Andrea Pirlo.
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool are still a strong team without VVD, but they’re not exceptional. They appeared ineffective in attack and gave away a golden chance whenever their opponents played behind the back line. They looked similar to before van Dijk’s arrival in January 2018. Liverpool have won 93 points per game since the Dutch center-back came at Anfield. After missing most of last season with a ruptured ACL, he looked as good as ever this year.
Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo. City has no great player, which is why they’re so tough across 38 games. They rule everyone. Joao Cancelo played 90% of City’s league minutes this season, the only outfielder to do so. No one else on the team even reached 85%. He led City in shots, touches, passes, penalty-area passes, progressive passes, progressive carries, tackles, and interceptions.
Cancelo helped City win 93 points this year.
Salah, Liverpool. Total output or raw efficiency? Do penalty vs. non-penalty goals matter? Underlying performance vs. overt production? No matter, I say.
Most goals? Salah (23, tied with Son Heung-Min). Mohamed Salah most league assists (13). Most goals+assists? Salah. Most non-penalty goals+assists? Salah. Most goals and assists expected? Salah. Most non-penalty xG+xA? Salah. Most non-penalty xG+XA per 90? Salah. Most non-penalty goals+assists per 90? Salah.
Salah scored more goals per minute than any other league player. Averaged 1.01 non-penalty goals+assists per 90 minutes. Only a few players in Europe achieve it every year — seven this season — and Salah did it in the world’s toughest league. He’s just the fourth Premier League player to lead in goals and assists. Join the group, and you’ll be the MVP. —
MVP (non-Liverpool or Man City division)
Leicester’s James Maddison. Maddison had just one goal and no assists until Nov. 27. Only Son, Kane, and Kevin De Bruyne have more goals and assists since then. He may have been the best in May.
Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi. Another new Marc joined Palace from Chelsea’s loan army and soon thrived. He’s 21 and a key reason why Palace allowed 20 less goals this season. He’s a safe passer and excels at old-school centre-back tasks.
Brighton’s Marc Cucurella. The 23-year-old left-back blossomed after leaving Getafe. He was the only defender with 3,000 minutes, 40 chances created, and 59% duels won. He’s a solid ball progressor and superb interventionist without the ball. Excellent hair.
Chelsea’s Reece James. The 22-year-old is practically the perfect wing-back, able to intervene on defense and put together flawless buildup play. James and Mount combined for 14 goals and assists in 26 league games.
Saka, Arsenal. Young players struggle to establish themselves in the Premier League. Saka, 20, was a standout in a Champions League qualifier. Saka’s 11 goals and 7 assists helped Arsenal finish fourth.
Saka improved as Arsenal came close to Champions League qualification. Getty/Charlotte Wilson/Offside
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Manchester United had a horrible season after Ronaldo returned, finishing sixth and narrowly qualifying for the Europa League with a zero goal differential. It’s hard to assume they were worse off with Ronaldo’s 18 goals than without them. At 37, he still makes great shots and can’t be stopped.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Only Kane’s teammate Son has more goals and assists than Kane (26). Kane managed this despite a slow start and finish. This summer won’t be as raucous as last — Manchester City spent last summer attempting to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham, but recently signed Erling Haaland. What could Conte’s entire season bring?
West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen. Bowen and Paulo di Canio were the latest West Ham players to earn double-digit goals and assists. OMG! Bowen was a second-division star for Hull City until joining West Ham in 2020. 12 goals and 10 assists helped the Hammers reach Europe for a second straight season.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount. Thomas Tuchel moved the 23-year-old from central midfield to the right wing, and it worked well. Mount scored 11 goals and had 10 assists in league play while facilitating ball movement. Mount was a bright spot in a lackluster season for the Blues (on and off the field).
Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min. He improves. After averaging 14 goals and 10 assists over the preceding two seasons, he earned a share of the golden boot with 23 goals (from 16.0 xG) and seven assists. He’s 30 and improving. CONNELLY